You guys remember ‘Central Park Karen,’ right?
I wrote about her last year. ‘Central Park Karen’ (not her real name) is a white woman who worked as a portfolio manager for an investment company in New York. That is until a video went viral on social media. That video depicted her in Central Park confronting a birdwatcher, a black man, while walking her dog.
Eventually, the video got so big—garnering millions of views— that the unwanted attention that followed earned the woman the unfortunate moniker ‘Central Park Karen’ on social media. 🎻 The next day, her employer announced that it had conducted an internal review of the incident and terminated the woman’s employment.
So ‘Central Park Karen’ became the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit, asserting claims of gender and race discrimination, defamation, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
When I first blogged about this lawsuit, the employment law blogger community was skeptical (I’m being polite) that the plaintiff could get past a motion to dismiss.
We were right. Yesterday, a NY federal judge dismissed her lawsuit.
I’m going to focus here just on the discrimination claims.
Let’s start with the plaintiff’s claim of race discrimination.
She argued that the defendants implicated her race (white) with each public communication about the incident by repeatedly connecting their stance against racism with their termination of the plaintiff.
In other words, their condemnation of racism made them racist.
Forget for a moment that the defendants never publicly mentioned the plaintiff’s race; ‘ racism’ is not a ‘race.’ So, discrimination based on alleged racism is not the same as discrimination based on race. Put another way, the court underscored that “a statement that someone is a ‘racist,’ while potentially indicating unfair dislike, does not indicate that the object of the statement is being rejected because of her race.”
So, what about the plaintiff’s gender discrimination claims? They had to be better, right? (They couldn’t be much worse.)
Without any direct evidence of gender discrimination, the plaintiff needed to show that the company had treated similarly-situated men more favorably. That usually starts with identifying comparators who have the same or substantially similar positions within the organization, seniority, job responsibilities, business unit, performance, length of experience, or even geography.
Unfortunately, the plaintiff didn’t have any of that. What she did have, however, was a
fakakta novel theory that “the only similarity that matters is her and her comparators’ shared employment by [the investment company], because she is challenging a company-wide double standard between males who received no scrutiny or discipline for alleged wrongdoing, and a female who instantly received the ultimate punishment.” (cleaned up)
Let’s say that the judge was not impressed.
Plaintiff cites to no case, however, in which a court found that mutual employment by the same company—without more—is sufficient to render two individuals “similarly situated,” nor is the Court aware of any such authority. Under her construction of the “similarly situated” standard, an inference of discrimination may arise whenever two employees of different races or genders work at the same company and are disciplined in unequal ways for misconduct, even if they have vastly different jobs, different work locations, and different supervisors, and even if they committed entirely different offenses. Not so.
Discrimination claims dismissed.
Perhaps, the incomparable ‘Central Park Karens’ of the world are better off not doubling down on unemployment with a questionable (again, I’m being polite) discrimination lawsuit.
Hey, before you go, don’t forget to register (here) for the return of The Employer Handbook Zoom Happy Hour: “Offboarding the C-Suite” on Friday, September 30, 2022 at Noon ET. It’s totally FREE!
My guest will be Bob Ellerbrock, who focuses his practice on executive compensation, employee benefits, and ERISA.
Bob and I will explore workplace investigations of executive wrongdoing, terminations, and resignations. We’ll also discuss common drafting errors in C-Suite employment and separation agreements, enforcing post-employment obligations, and communicating the change to your workforce.