The Second Circuit Affirms Claims of Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Against the New York City Administration for Children’s Services

Yarelyn Mena

On February 28, 2014, Dawn Littlejohn sued her former employer, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) alleging that ACS subjected her to a hostile work environment and terminated her because she was African-American, as well as retaliated against her because of her complaints regarding such discrimination. Ms. Littlejohn also alleged that ACS’s Director of Employee Relations, Brandon Stradford, sexually harassed her. The Southern District dismissed all claims against ACS; however, the Second Circuit disagreed, allowing Ms. Littlejohn to pursue her hostile environment and retaliation claims.

In April 2009, Ms. Littlejohn began working for ACS as the Director of its Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO), leading investigations regarding discrimination, training staff to spot and prevent discrimination, and advising EEO staff on office policies. In December 2009, Ms. Littlejohn began reporting to the Chief of Staff, Amy Baker, a white woman, who reported to ACS’s Commissioner, John Mattingly. Ms. Baker treated Ms. Littlejohn with hostility from the outset of their office relationship. Ms. Baker allegedly made huffing noises in front of manager’s when Ms. Littlejohn walked in the room, directed Ms. Littlejohn to unnecessarily re-create projects that were already completed, and frequently excluded her from the management meetings – which she used to attend, substituting her with a white, male subordinate. When Ms. Littlejohn discussed Ms. Baker’s conduct with her, Ms. Baker responded that Ms. Littlejohn was “just feeling left out” and that she did not “understand the culture” at ACS. Ms. Baker and other White managers continued to isolate Ms. Littlejohn and prevent her from attending meetings until a merger with the City’s Department of Juvenile Justice’s brought on a new Assistant Commissioner, who demanded that Ms. Littlejohn attend the meetings.

As the Director of Employee Relations, Ms. Littlejohn spoke to Ms. Baker and Mr. Mattingly several times regarding their practice of terminating, demoting, and unfavorably reassigning African-American and Hispanic employees at a rate significantly higher than white employees. Ms. Littlejohn also emphasized the lack of African-American women in management positions, along with a wage gap between African-American and white employees. Ms. Baker and Mr. Mattingly continued to ignore not only her personal complaints but her complaints about unequal treatment of colored employees at ACS.

In 2011, Ms. Littlejohn was involuntarily reassigned and demoted to an Administrative Staff Analyst. As a result, Ms. Littlejohn received a $2,000 per-year pay cut. Ms. Littlejohn’s more senior position was given to a white female. Her replacement allegedly had no EEO experience, received more pay than Ms. Littlejohn received while working the same position, and received an assistant, which ACS never offered to Ms. Littlejohn. Ms. Littlejohn is continuing to litigate her remaining claims.

Lawsuits like these continue to give employees the confidence to speak out against discrimination in the workplace. Often times employers try to persuade their employees to believe the isolation they endure in the workplace is not real. Employees must recognize that when management impedes their ability to work effectively, it might be due to discrimination.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.