Gender Discrimination Claims Trump Dismissal For Cause

The 2nd Circuit last week reversed a summary judgment dismissal of Plaintiff’s Claims for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliatory dismissal. In Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux North America, Inc. the Court found that although evidence of Plaintiff’s poor work performance supported her termination, there was also sufficient evidence of a hostile work environment such that a reasonable trier of fact could find that Plaintiff’s termination was in retaliation for her harassment claims. Evidence included Defendant’s CEO making improper sexual comments and suggestions and generally creating a “boys club” workplace environment. Plaintiff conversely was alleged to have failed to complete cold-calling assignments and Followup with client opportunities.

The Court stated, “while we agree that the evidence of Mihalik’s (Plaintiff) poor performance was substantial, we also conclude that a jury could find, notwithstanding that poor performance, that Cheuvreux was not yet ready to fire Mihalik and that it did so only after Peacock (Defendant’s CEO) became angry that Mihalik raised the issue of his sexual advances.  Moreover, because Peacock had never criticized Mihalik’s performance before she rejected his propositions, a jury could find that he used her shortcomings as an excuse to humiliate and punish her for opposing his discriminatory behavior. If a jury so found, it would be free to infer that Cheuvreux is using Mihalik’s poor performance now as a mere cover-up for retaliation.”

The specific allegations are not dissimilar to those made against other prominent financial services firms by those aggrieved. The reversal stems primarily from a reinterpretation of the New York City Human Rights Law that lessens the standard of federal law in gender discrimination, harassment claims and retaliatory dismissal cases.   The takeaway here:  Retaliatory conduct will be scrutinized, even that stemming from an employee’s poor performance, if done in response to gender discrimination or sexual harassment complaints.

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