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Burgis v. New York City Dep't of Sanitation

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 31, 2015

ANDRENIA BURGIS, CHRISTOPHER BURGOS, LETICIA SMITH, SAMUEL DUNCAN, ALONZO HUDGINS, RASHID SMITH, DOREN PINK, ANTHONY JOSEPH, ISRAEL DEJESUS, on their own behalf and on behalf of others similarly situated, [1] Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF SANITATION, JOHN J. DOHERTY, Defendants-Appellees, JOHN DOES, 1-10, Defendants

Argued March 5, 2015

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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In this putative class action, plaintiffs allege discrimination on the basis of race and/or national origin in the New York City Department of Sanitation's promotional practices, relying essentially on statistics that allegedly show disparities in the composition of various supervisory positions within the department. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' Equal Protection and § 1981 claims for failure to allege discriminatory intent, and dismissed the Title VII disparate impact claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. We conclude that (1) while statistics alone may be sufficient in some circumstances to show discriminatory intent in an Equal Protection or § 1981 class claim, the statistics here alleged in the complaint were insufficient for this purpose, and (2) plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies prior to filing the Title VII disparate impact claim. Accordingly, the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Griesa, J.) is hereby AFFIRMED.

FOR APPELLANTS: ARTHUR Z. SCHWARTZ and Tracey L. Kiernan, Advocates for Justice, Chartered Attorneys, New York, New York.

FOR APPELLEES: FAY NG and Pamela Seider Dolgow for Zachary Carter, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, New York.

Before: GUIDO CALABRESI, PETER W. HALL, Circuit Judges, and JED S. RAKOFF, District Judge.[2]

OPINION

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Jed S. Rakoff, Senior District Judge:

Plaintiffs are individuals employed by the New York City Department of Sanitation (" DSNY" ), who allege that the defendants, the City of New York[3] and John J. Doherty, Commissioner of the DSNY, discriminated against them and others similarly situated on the basis of their race and/or national origin in the DSNY's promotional practices. Plaintiffs bring this putative class action suit under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, under Title VII (42 U.S.C. § 2000e), and under the New York State and City human rights laws. The district court dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

The second amended complaint[4] (" SAC" ) makes the following factual allegations. After the DSNY promotes individuals in its ranks of sanitation workers to supervisors, it may then promote those supervisors to the position of general superintendent, ranging from general superintendent level 1 (the lowest level) to general superintendent level 4 (the highest level). Prior to 1979, DSNY based promotion to supervisor and to general superintendent levels 1-3 on written examinations, but after 1979 the examinations were eliminated for promotions to levels 2 and 3. Promotions to levels 2, 3, and 4 are now done on the basis of recommendations.

Plaintiffs allege that by using recommendations in this way, the DSNY has created a supervisory workforce that is not representative of the racial and/or national origin composition of the sanitation worker workforce. The SAC includes the following chart, which summarizes the racial makeup of sanitation workers, supervisors, and general superintendents in Fiscal Year 2011:

Title

% White

% Black

% Hispanic

Sanitation Worker

56

23.5

18

Supervisor

81

11

10

General Superintendent Level 1

81

13

9

General Superintendent Level 2 & 3

91

4

3

General Superintendent Level 4

80

10

10

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Plaintiffs further allege that there are qualified candidates for supervisor in the same percentages racially as the percentages for these races that are present in the sanitation worker workforce as a whole. Finally, they allege that even with respect to the positions requiring a written test ( i.e., supervisor and general superintendent level 1), the selection process invites some subjective evaluation of candidates.

As to the individual plaintiffs, the SAC alleges as follows:

Plaintiff Andrenia Burgis, a Black female, started as a sanitation worker in 1998; she was promoted to supervisor in 2003, and, in 2007, she was promoted to general superintendent level 1. By 2009, Ms. Burgis had obtained the prerequisites for promotion to level 2, but instead she was replaced in her command at level 1 by a White male. He was subsequently promoted to level 2. She did not obtain another command until 2012, and a number of less qualified White individuals were and have since been promoted.

Plaintiff Christopher Burgos, a Hispanic male, started at DSNY as a sanitation worker in 2000; he was promoted to supervisor in 2006. He took the exam for promotion to level 1 and is currently on the list for promotion.

Plaintiff Leticia Smith, a Hispanic female, started at DSNY as a sanitation worker in 1995; she was promoted to supervisor in 2001, and she was promoted to general superintendent level 1 in 2007. She has never been recommended for level 2, though she has the requisite experience and White females and males with less experience have been promoted.

Plaintiff Samuel Duncan, a Hispanic/Black male, started at DSNY as a sanitation worker in 2001; he was promoted to supervisor in 2008. He was demoted during a probationary period, while White supervisors in the same position were allowed to finish probation and remain as supervisors.

Plaintiff Alonzo Hudgins, a Black male, started at DSNY as a sanitation worker in 1995; he was promoted to supervisor in 2001, and was subsequently promoted to general superintendent level 1. He has never been recommended to level 2, even though White males in his borough have been recommended and promoted.

Plaintiff Rashid Smith, a Black male, started at DSNY as a sanitation worker in 1995; he was promoted to supervisor in 2000, and he was subsequently promoted to general superintendent level 1. He has never been recommended for level 2, even though less qualified White males in his borough have been recommended and promoted.

Plaintiff Doren Pink, a Black male, started at DSNY as a sanitation worker in 1999; he was promoted to supervisor in 2004. He took the test for promotion to general superintendent level 1, but has not been promoted, though many of his White counterparts who took the test at the same time have been promoted despite being less qualified.

Plaintiff Anthony Joseph, a Black male, started at DSNY as a sanitation worker in 1989; he was subsequently promoted to supervisor. Despite having passed the

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exam, he has not been promoted to general superintendent level 1, while White employees with lower scores have been promoted.

Plaintiff Israel Dejesus, a Hispanic male, started at DSNY as a sanitation worker in 1995; he was promoted to supervisor in 2005, and he was promoted to general superintendent level 1 in 2008. He has never been recommended for level 2, even though less qualified White employees have been recommended and promoted.

As for individual defendant Doherty, plaintiffs allege that he " at all times, was aware that his supervisory workforce was skewed and did not reflect either the racial or national origin makeup of DSNY's nonsupervisory workforce, or the general population of the City of New York. Doherty, reflecting his approval of this disparate classification, has taken no action to change it, and has, therefore condoned the discrimination."

On March 31, 2014, the district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. With respect to the § 1981 and Equal Protection claims, the district court held that plaintiffs had failed to sufficiently allege discriminatory intent. As to the City and defendant Doherty in his official capacity, the district court further found that plaintiffs had not sufficiently pleaded that the alleged discrimination was the result of an official policy, custom, or practice. As to defendant Doherty in his individual capacity, the district court concluded that plaintiffs had not adequately alleged that he was personally involved in the alleged discriminatory promotion practices and only made conclusory allegations that he knew the racial composition of the workforce. Finally, the district court dismissed plaintiffs' Title VII disparate impact claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

DISCUSSION

We review de novo a grant of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), accepting as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor. Anschutz Corp. v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 690 F.3d 98, 107 (2d Cir. 2012). However, the complaint " must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

I

To state a discrimination claim under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause and/or § 1981, plaintiffs must sufficiently allege that defendants acted with discriminatory intent. Gen. Bldg. Contractors Ass'n v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375, 391, 102 S.Ct. 3141, 73 L.Ed.2d 835 (1982). Here, plaintiffs fail to allege in other than conclusory fashion any specific instances of discrimination with respect to any individual plaintiff or others similarly situated. Indeed, each plaintiff has at some point been promoted from a sanitation worker to supervisor, and five of the nine were subsequently promoted to general superintendent level 1. While the SAC generally alleges with respect to seven plaintiffs that they have been passed over for subsequent promotions while White individuals, who were allegedly less qualified, were promoted, the SAC fails to provide meaningful specifics of the alleged difference in qualifications, let alone discriminatory intent. With respect to the other two plaintiffs, plaintiffs Burgos and Duncan, the SAC alleges even less. It simply alleges that plaintiff Burgos was promoted to supervisor in 2006, has taken the exam for general superintendent level

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1, and is currently on the list for promotion. Plaintiff Duncan, it alleges, was promoted to supervisor but subsequently was demoted during a probationary period while White individuals in an allegedly similar situation were not demoted.

These bare allegations do not present circumstances that " give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination." Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). Without any specificity as to the qualifications considered for each position and without any reference to specific statements or individual circumstances that suggest discriminatory treatment, plaintiffs' allegations do not support a finding that defendants acted with a discriminatory purpose. For all that one can tell from the SAC (plaintiffs' " third bite at the apple" ), it is equally possible that plaintiffs have not been promoted for valid, non-discriminatory reasons. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ( " Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Plaintiffs argue, however, that statistics alone may be sufficient to warrant a plausible inference of discriminatory intent if they show a pattern or practice that cannot be explained except on the basis of intentional discrimination. This is an issue of first impression for this Circuit in the context of a putative class action alleging employment discrimination under § 1981 and/or the Equal Protection Clause.[5] We now hold that, as some of our Title VII cases have hinted, in certain circumstances (described below), statistics alone may be sufficient. Cf. United States v. City of New York, 717 F.3d 72, 84 (2d Cir. 2013) (noting that while, in a Title VII disparate treatment pattern or practice case, " instances of discrimination against particular employees are relevant to show a policy of intentional discrimination, they are not required; a statistical showing of disparate impact might suffice" ); see also Hudson v. Int'l Bus. Machines Corp., 620 F.2d 351, 355 (2d Cir. 1980) (stating, in a case preceding Iqbal, that " in class actions alleging racially discriminatory employment practices, statistical evidence may establish a prima facie case of discriminatory effect" ). However, to show discriminatory intent in a § 1981 or Equal Protection case based on statistics alone, the statistics must not only be statistically significant in the mathematical sense, but they must also be of a level that makes other plausible non-discriminatory explanations very unlikely. Cf. Hazelwood Sch. Dist. v. United States, 433 U.S. 299, 307-08, 97 S.Ct. 2736, 53 L.Ed.2d 768 (1977) (holding that to " constitute prima facie proof of a pattern or practice of discrimination," a plaintiff must show " gross statistical disparities" ); Ottaviani v. State Univ. of New York at New Paltz, 875 F.2d 365, 371 (2d Cir. 1989) (" The threshold question in [Title VII pattern-or-practice] disparate treatment cases, then, is: " At what point is the disparity in selection rates sufficiently large, or the probability that chance was the cause sufficiently low, for the numbers alone to establish a legitimate inference of discrimination?'" (quoting Palmer v.

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Shultz, 815 F.2d 84, 92, 259 U.S.App.D.C. 246 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (alterations omitted))).[6]

In the instant case, plaintiffs have failed to allege statistics that meet the standards articulated above. Among other shortcomings, the statistics provided by plaintiffs show only the raw percentages of White, Black, and Hispanic individuals at each employment level, without providing any detail as to the number of individuals at each level, the qualifications of individuals in the applicant pool and of those hired for each position, or the number of openings at each level. See Lomotey v. Conn.-DOT, 355 F.App'x 478, 481 (2d Cir. 2009) (summary order) (" [Plaintiff's] evidence that only Caucasians were selected for [job] placements amounts to nothing more than raw numbers which, without further information on key considerations such as the racial composition of the qualified labor pool, cannot support an inference of discrimination." ).

Furthermore, the fact that each of the plaintiffs has been promoted at some point to the position of supervisor undermines their allegations of discrimination in the promotion of sanitation workers to supervisors. Five of the nine plaintiffs have also been promoted from supervisor to general superintendent level 1, again calling into doubt their allegations of discrimination at that phase, especially given that the racial composition between individuals in the supervisor and general superintendent level 1 positions is essentially the same. While there is an increase in racial and national origin disparities between general superintendent level 1 and levels 2 and 3, the racial composition returns at level 4 to essentially the same percentage as at level 1.[7] Accordingly, the district court's decision granting defendants' motion to dismiss the Equal Protection and § 1981 claims is affirmed. [8]

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II

Turning to plaintiffs' Title VII claim, here discriminatory intent need not be alleged in a case based on so-called " disparate impact." But we need not decide whether plaintiffs' statistics show any disparate impact, because we agree with the district court that the Title VII claim must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

To bring a claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must first have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) or a state equivalent--here, the New York State Division of Human Rights (" SDHR" ). See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5. Courts may only hear claims " reasonably related" to allegations set forth in the administrative complaint. Kirkland v. Buffalo Bd. of Educ., 622 F.2d 1066, 1068 (2d Cir. 1980).

Here, plaintiffs Burgis and Burgos submitted complaints of racial discrimination to the SDHR and received letters to sue from the EEOC. However, plaintiff Burgos's administrative complaint does not allege discrimination in defendants' promotion practices. And while plaintiff Burgis's complaint alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of race when defendants removed her as general superintendent level 1 for approximately three years before giving her another assignment, and by failing to promote her to level 2 when the White male who initially replaced her was promoted, her complaints of individualized disparate treatment are not reasonably related to a Title VII disparate impact claim alleging class-wide discrimination. Woodman v. WWOR-TV, Inc., 293 F.Supp.2d 381, 390 (S.D.N.Y. 2003), aff'd, 411 F.3d 69 (2d Cir. 2005).[9] Accordingly, plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing the Title VII disparate impact claim in this action, and the district court order dismissing plaintiffs' Title VII claim is affirmed.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.


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