United States District Court, S.D. New York
the plaintiff: Jeremy Heisler Inayat Ali Hemani Sanford
the defendants: Thomas M. Wilde Vedder Price P.C.
OPINION AND ORDER
COTE United States District Judge
an employment discrimination action by plaintiff Hongmei
“Janice” Li (“Li”) against her former
employer, Cushman & Wakefield, Inc.
(“C&W”) and her former supervisor at C&W,
Peter Victor (“Victor”). Li alleges that C&W
and Victor demoted and then discharged her improperly on the
basis of her national origin, age, and gender. She sues under
the New York State Human Rights Law, as codified at N.Y.
Executive Law § 296 et seq.
(“NYSHRL”), and the New York City Human Rights
Law, as codified in the Administrative Code of the City of
New York § 8- 107 et seq.
(“NYCHRL”). The defendants move for summary
judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted
following describes the evidence which is either undisputed
or taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
C&W is a global real estate services firm with over 250
offices worldwide. C&W provides services including
commercial leasing and valuation. The International Desk
(“iDesk”) is a group within C&W that develops
and facilitates cross-border transactions and connects
brokers and clients from different regions of the world. In
July 2012, Li was hired to work at C&W as an Associate
Director on the iDesk. Li is a woman of Chinese national
origin and was 43 years old at the time she was hired.
received two performance reviews in 2013 and 2014 from her
C&W supervisor Kaustuv Roy (“Roy”). They were
largely positive, although they noted some difficulties,
including a need to improve written English skills. In March
2015, Roy recommended that Li be promoted from Associate
Director to Director. On April 1, 2015, C&W promoted
plaintiff, then age 47, to Director and raised her base
her time at C&W, Li describes two incidents which she
believes demonstrate discrimination based on national origin.
In June of 2013, a Chairman of Global Brokerage at C&W
(the “Chairman”) told Li that he would pay $10,
000 to sponsor an event with a Chinese finance organization.
After the event, he attempted to renege on his promise to
pay. Li alleges that after the Chinese finance organization
sent an email about the bill, the Chairman angrily said to
her: “This Chinese group, I [have] never see[n] people
like money so much.” In July of 2015, Li was on a
conference call with C&W's San Francisco office to
help them prepare for a call with a Chinese client. At the
end of the call, she heard a female broker in the San
Francisco office (the “Broker”) laugh and say to
another broker something to the effect of: “What kind
of translator did you find? I can't understand what she
is talking about.” Li emailed the Broker and the others
on the conference call, summarizing the comments, and asking
the Broker to inform Li if she could not understand her
rather than making comments to others. The Broker wrote back
to apologize to Li and the team.
2015, C&W and DTZ, another commercial real estate firm,
announced plans to merge. DTZ had its own, smaller, iDesk
function with three employees reporting into another
department:Michael Baker, who was based in London,
Alan Brass, and Peter Stanford. The DTZ iDesk employees are
younger than Li and none are of Chinese national origin.
the date the merger was announced, C&W's iDesk
contained two regional groups working in tandem. It had two
supervisors, each of whom supervised one other iDesk
employee. Victor lead the Europe, Middle East, and Africa
(“EMEA”) group from the London office. Victor
supervised Sam King (“King”), who was hired in
March 2014 as a Director of the EMEA iDesk
team. King is a Caucasian male who is younger
than King. King spent his first six months in the London
office before moving to the New York office and assuming a
Managing Director role. Roy led the Asia-Pacific
(“APAC”) group from the New York office. Roy
C&W and DTZ merger was completed on September 2, 2015,
and the C&W and DTZ iDesks were reorganized to form one
group of four employees. Victor became the global lead for
the iDesk team to whom the other three employees would
report. Michael Baker led the EMEA team from London. The U.S.
market was split into east and west teams. Prerana Daga
(“Daga”) was hired in May or June of 2015 as an
Executive Director and led the west team from C&W's
San Franscio office. Daga is younger than Li and of Indian
national origin. King led the east team. Li was initially
placed in a support role to Daga and King, but her position
was terminated in December. Comparing the pre- and
post-merger C&W and DTZ iDesk teams, seven employees were
reduced to four in number. Roy's supervisory position was
eliminated and three supervisee positions were eliminated:
those of Stanford and Brass, who had been at the iDesk at
DTZ, and Li's position. Daga was hired.
December 1, 2015, Li was notified of her discharge. According
to Li, Victor said that they were looking to create a more
junior role to support King in New York, and to hire someone
who was a generalist instead of a specialist. Plaintiff
expressed interest in the junior position and said she was
willing to take a pay cut. The position was never filled. On
December 31, 2015, Li's employment at C&W ended.
March 3, 2016, Li filed a complaint against Victor and
C&W in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. On
April 4, the defendants removed the case to federal court on
the basis of diversity jurisdiction. On June 27, Li filed the
first amended complaint. Li alleges that the defendants
demoted her by putting her in a support role and ultimately
discharged her because of her national origin, age, and
gender, in violation of the NYCHRL and the NYSHRL. C&W
filed the instant motion for summary judgment on January 20,
2017. The motion became fully submitted on February 24.
judgment may not be granted unless all of the submissions
taken together “show that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
“Summary judgment is appropriate where the record taken
as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the non-moving party.” Smith v. Cty. of
Suffolk, 776 F.3d 114, 121 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation
omitted). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating
the absence of a material factual question, and in making
this determination, the court must view all facts in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party. Eastman
Kodak Co. v. Image Tech. Servs., Inc., 504 U.S. 451, 456
(1992); Gemmink v. Jay Peak Inc., 807 F.3d. 46, 48