Sex discrimination is usually presented in the context of a woman passed over for a job or promotion in favor of a less-qualified man. But what about cases in which a woman is replaced by a less-qualified woman? Can you establish a claim for sex discrimination in such scenarios?
Judge: Town May Have Committed Age Discrimination, but Not Sex Discrimination
A federal judge on Long Island recently considered these questions and answered “no.” The plaintiff is a woman in her late 50s. For approximately 14 years, she worked for the Town of Huntington in eastern Suffolk County, serving as executive secretary to the town's public safety director.
In 2015, a new director took over the department. He decided to replace the plaintiff as executive secretary with another woman, who was 23 years old and less qualified and, in the plaintiff's words, “more attractive” and “more receptive” to the director's attention. The plaintiff further alleged that the director offered no explanation for replacing the plaintiff, and that she had served the town “without any documented instances of verbal or written warning for any inappropriate behaviors, actions or statements.”
The plaintiff subsequently sued the Town of Huntington and her former boss, alleging both sex and age discrimination. The judge overseeing the case dismissed the sex discrimination claims in a May 2 order. First, the plaintiff could not sue the director individually under federal civil rights law.
Second, the judge said the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint did not add up to sex discrimination. In any discrimination case the plaintiff must present factual allegations that support at least an “inference” of discriminatory intent by the defendant. In this case, the judge noted, the plaintiff was replaced by a woman. It is difficult to infer discrimination in this context, the judge said. While it is possible to base a sex discrimination claim on “sexual stereotyping,” the plaintiff presented no evidence that was the case here. The mere fact the plaintiff's replacement “received undue attention” from the director and other men in the office was not, by itself, enough to support an inference of discrimination.
That said, the judge said the plaintiff did present at least plausible claim for age discrimination. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers over the age of 40 from being fired or replaced solely on the basis of age. Given that the plaintiff had a spotless work history, and given the fact that her replacement was a much younger woman, that was sufficient at this stage of the litigation to support an inference of age discrimination.
Get Help from a New York Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today
Employment discrimination cases are never as easy to prove as you might think. While most of us might look at the scenario above and think it is obvious the plaintiff was a victim, the law imposes a certain burden of proof on plaintiffs that go beyond “common sense.” This is why it is important to work with an experienced New York employment discrimination attorney who understands the law in this area and can guide you through the litigation process from start to finish. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty today if you have been the victim of workplace discrimination and need to speak with a lawyer right away.