Picault v. World Business Lenders
OPINION AND ORDER: re: 47 FIRST MOTION for Summary Judgment Notice of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment filed by World Business Lenders. For the foregoing reasons, WBL's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court is directed to close the motion at Docket Number 47 and to close this case. SO ORDERED. (Signed by Judge J. Paul Oetken on 2/07/2018) Copies Mailed By Chambers. (ama)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
-vWORLD BUSINESS LENDERS,
OPINION AND ORDER
J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge:
This is an employment discrimination case. Pro se Plaintiff Henry Picault, who is
Haitian-American, claims that Defendant World Business Lenders, his former employer,
discriminated against him on the basis of his national origin. Defendant moves for summary
judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.
Defendant World Business Lenders (“WBL”) makes small business loans to companies
around the world. Plaintiff Henry Picault worked as a salesperson for WBL for five months in
2015. Picault claims that WBL discriminated against him, in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, based on the following events.
First, Picault was given a written warning for unsatisfactory job performance because he
did not meet WBL’s requirement of closing $50,000 in loans each month. (Dkt. No. 58 at ¶ 36–
37.) Picault claims that WBL selectively enforced this requirement. (Dkt No. 66 ¶ 20.)
Second, Picault received another warning that he was not meeting WBL’s requirement of
making 100 sales calls per day. Picault likewise claims that this requirement was selectively
enforced. (Dkt No. 66 ¶ 20.)
Third, Picault claims that his supervisor, Dario Rodriguez, impeded Picault’s attempt to
close a potentially lucrative loan because Rodriguez wanted to take credit for the loan himself.
(See, e.g., Dkt. No. 2 at 9.)
Fourth, after that deal fell through, another manager, Kurtis Miller, said to Picault: “What
is it, you using Haitian voodoo on these people?” (Dkt. No. 60-4 at 164.)
Finally, right when Picault began working on another potentially lucrative new client, he
was fired. Picault claims that WBL fired him to avoid paying him any commissions.
WBL filed this motion for summary judgment. Picault filed an opposing Rule 56.1
statement, but did not file a brief.
Summary judgment is appropriate where “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). A fact is
material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The movant bears the initial burden to provide
evidence on each material element of his claim or defense. See Vt. Teddy Bear Co. v. 1–800
Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004). The non-moving party must then respond with
specific facts demonstrating that there are remaining issues for trial. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557
U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). The court
views all “evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party,” and summary judgment
may be granted only if “no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party.”
Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Lunds, Inc. v. Chem. Bank, 870 F.2d
840, 844 (2d Cir. 1989)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
When, as here, a litigant is proceeding pro se, courts construe that litigant’s filings
liberally and read them to raise the strongest arguments they suggest. See Burgos v. Hopkins, 14
F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.1994). The rule favoring liberal construction of pro se submissions is
especially applicable to civil rights claims. See Cruz v. Midwood Ambulance & Oxygen Serv.,
Inc., 136 F. App’x 414, 415 (2d Cir. 2005). Nevertheless, mere “conclusory statements,
conjecture, or speculation by the party resisting the motion will not defeat summary judgment.”
Kulak v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996).
Picault’s suit has one major problem: he does not provide any evidence that WBL’s
actions had anything to do with his Haitian national origin. It is not enough that WBL may have
treated Picault unfairly; at the end of the day, Picault must provide evidence supporting a
reasonable inference that the unfair treatment was linked to his national origin. There is simply
not enough evidence for a reasonable juror to find for Picault.
The McDonnell Douglas Framework
This case is governed by the three-step framework established by the Supreme Court in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under this framework, a plaintiff
must make a prima facie showing of discrimination by showing (1) that he belonged to a
protected class; (2) that his job performance was satisfactory; (3) that he was subject to an
adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances surrounding the adverse action give rise
to an inference of discrimination. See Wolf v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., 421 F. App’x 8, 10
(2d Cir. 2011). If the plaintiff fails to make this initial showing, the suit fails.
If the plaintiff makes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to show a
legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the plaintiff’s termination. Id. If the defendant
successfully makes such a showing, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the
defendant’s nondiscriminatory reasons were pretextual. Id. “Conclusory allegations of
discrimination are insufficient to show that a defendant’s non-discriminatory reasons are pretexts
and avoid summary judgment.” Trane v. Northrop Grumman Corp., 94 F. Supp. 3d 367, 375
(E.D.N.Y. 2015) (collecting cases), aff’d, 639 F. App’x 50 (2d Cir. 2016).
Picault’s Prima Facie Showing
Picault has failed to make his initial showing of discrimination. Specifically, he has
failed to show that his job performance was satisfactory, and, more importantly, he has failed to
show that the circumstances surrounding his firing give rise to an inference of national-origin
As discussed above, Picault must satisfy his initial burden by showing (1) that he
belonged to a protected class; (2) that his job performance was satisfactory; (3) that he was
subject to an adverse employment action; and (4) that the circumstances surrounding the adverse
action give rise to an inference of discrimination. WBL does not contest the first and third
elements: As a Haitian-American, Picault was a member of a protected class, and Picault was
subject to adverse employment action because he was fired. (Dkt. No. 53 at 5.) But Picault has
not satisfied prongs two and four.
First, Picault has not shown that his job performance was satisfactory. By his own
admission, he did not meet WBL’s requirement of closing $50,000 in loans per month. He also
did not make the required 100 phone calls per day. (Dkt. No. 58 at ¶¶ 20, 37; Dkt. No. 66 at
¶ 20.) Picault received a written warning that he would be fired if he did not close $50,000 in
loans within thirty days, but did not meet that number in the allotted time. (Dkt. No. 58 ¶¶ 36–
37; Dkt. No. 66 ¶¶ 36–37.))
Second, and more importantly, Picault has not adduced any evidence showing that the
circumstances surrounding his firing give rise to an inference of discrimination. “An inference
of discrimination can arise from circumstances including, but not limited to, ‘the employer’s
criticism of the plaintiff’s performance in ethnically degrading terms, the employer’s invidious
comments about others in the employee’s protected group, the more favorable treatment of
employees not in the protected group, or the sequence of events leading to the plaintiff’s
discharge.’” Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 312 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Leibowitz
v. Cornell Univ., 584 F.3d 487, 502 (2d Cir. 2009)).
Picault has not shown any of the above. The only evidence involving his national origin
is that after a deal fell through, one of his managers, Kurtis Miller, said to Picault: “What is it,
you using Haitian voodoo on these people?” The Second Circuit has held that “stray remarks,
even if made by a decision-maker, do not constitute sufficient evidence to make out a case of
employment discrimination” unless there are “other indicia of discrimination” such that a jury
could conclude “that they bear a more ominous significance.” Danzer v. Norden Sys., Inc., 151
F.3d 50, 56 (2d Cir. 1998). In evaluating stray remarks, courts generally look to
(1) who made the remark (i.e., a decision-maker, a supervisor, or a
low-level co-worker); (2) when the remark was made in relation to
the employment decision at issue; (3) the content of the remark (i.e.,
whether a reasonable juror could view the remark as
discriminatory); and (4) the context in which the remark was made
(i.e., whether it was related to the decision-making process).
Henry v. Wyeth Pharm., Inc., 616 F.3d 134, 149 (2d Cir. 2010).
Here, although Miller was Picault’s supervisor at the time, Picault fails to allege any
connection between this incident and his firing, and does not allege that Miller was involved in
his firing. Nor has Picault adduced any evidence that the comment was intended to be hostile or
hurtful (see, e.g., Dkt. No. 60-4 at 165), or that Miller otherwise acted in a discriminatory way.
And Picault points to no other indicia of national-origin discrimination besides Miller’s stray
remark. Nor has Picault shown that similarly situated non-Haitian-American employees were
treated differently. While the Complaint asserts that Picault was treated differently than others,
he has not adduced evidence showing, for example, that non-Haitian-American employees with
similar sales numbers kept their jobs.
In fact, Picault himself testified several times that WBL’s adverse actions against him
were motivated by factors other than his national origin. Specifically, Picault believes that WBL
fired him so it could take away a potential client. (See e.g., Dkt. No. 60-4 at 30 (“Q: “What
about [the potential client] do you believe you were terminated over?” A: “They wanted to take
it.” Q: “And so that’s why they fired you?” A: “Absolutely.”); see also Dkt. No. 60-4 at 207–
08.) But regardless of whether it is true that WBL fired Picault in part for that reason, Picault’s
claim fails in the absence of a connection to discrimination based on national origin. 1
Other Potential Claims
Given that this is a pro se action, the Court evaluates whether the facts adduced support
any other potential claims, and concludes that they do not.
First, Picault has not adduced evidence supporting a potential retaliation claim.
Specifically, there is no indication that Picault was engaged in any protected activity before his
firing. Picault never complained to anyone at WBL that he was being treated differently based
on his race or national origin. (See Dkt. No. 60-4 at 204 (Q: “So during your employment, did
you ever complain to anyone that you were being treated differently based on your race or
national origin?” A: “No.”).) When he did complain about unfair treatment, he never mentioned
any discrimination. Indeed, Picault testified at his deposition that he thinks Rodriguez’s motive
Moreover, even if Picault had satisfied his prima facie showing, WBL has set
forth a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for his termination, namely his failure to meet its
sales goals and phone call minimums, and Picault has not provided sufficient evidence that those
reasons were pretextual.
was that Rodriguez wanted to take credit for certain loans himself rather than give the credit to
Picault. (See e.g., Dkt. No. 60-4 at 207–08.)
Second, Picault has not adduced evidence to support a potential hostile-workenvironment claim. For the same reasons as above, Miller’s stray remark, without more, is
insufficient. See, e.g., Paul v. Postgraduate Ctr. for Mental Health, 97 F. Supp. 3d 141, 167
Finally, any potential state discrimination or retaliation claims would fail for the same
reasons as Picault’s federal claims. Discrimination claims under the New York State Human
Rights Law are governed by the same framework as Title VII. See Pucino v. Verizon Wireless
Commc’ns, Inc., 618 F.3d 112, 117 n.2 (2d Cir. 2010). The same goes for hostile work
environment claims. See Tolbert v. Smith, 790 F.3d 427, 439 (2d Cir. 2015). Even under the
New York City Human Rights Law, which is most solicitous to plaintiffs, see, e.g., Gorman v.
Covidien, LLC, 146 F. Supp. 3d 509, 529–30 (S.D.N.Y. 2015), Picault fails to connect his
perceived unfair treatment to his national origin.
For the foregoing reasons, WBL’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. The
Clerk of Court is directed to close the motion at Docket Number 47 and to close this case.
Dated: February 7, 2018
New York, New York
J. PAUL OETKEN
United States District Judge
COPY MAILED TO PRO SE PARTIES BY CHAMBERS
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