Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Race Discrimination Case Against Davis Polk

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On November 21, 2017, in Martinez v. Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a race discrimination case at summary judgment. Plaintiff Eunice Martinez, a web editor at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP (“Davis Polk”), claimed that Davis Polk—despite Martinez’s repeated requests to be promoted to a management-level position—awarded her lower salary raises and failed to promote her into a managerial position because she is Hispanic. The district court concluded that Martinez failed to establish a prima facie case for either claim. Second Circuit Judges Rosemary S. Pooler, Debra Ann Livingston, and Denny Chin affirmed the decision.

To prove pay discrimination, Martinez had to satisfy the “demanding” standard of the equal work inquiry, which requires evidence that the jobs compared are “substantially equal.” Showing that two positions are “substantially equal” is easier said than done, as even small differences in duties or responsibilities can suffice to show that two positions are not “substantially equal.” Here, Martinez conceded that she “holds a unique position and there is no point of comparison” for her particular job and testified during her deposition that she was not qualified to do the jobs of six of her proposed seven comparators. As a result, Martinez could not show that her comparators were “substantially equal” and therefore could not show that they did “equal work.”

Furthermore, the evidence in the record did not support Martinez’s claim of lower salary raises for Hispanics. Martinez pointed to a few years in which Davis Polk had awarded her non-Hispanic coworkers raises greater than three percent and argued that she and her Hispanic coworkers had been “systematically receiving smaller percentage annual merit raises than whites.” Yet Martinez neglected to address the many instances in which she and her Hispanic coworkers had also received raises in excess of three percent. In addition, not only was Martinez the highest-paid non-managerial employee in her department, but her salary (including overtime wages) was—at least in some years—in fact higher than those of two managerial employees. Martinez thus could not establish a prima facie case that she has been subjected to salary discrimination based on race.

The Second Circuit also found that the district court did not err in rejecting Martinez’s discrimination claim based on Davis Polk’s alleged failure to promote or upgrade the positions of Hispanic employees in her department. Martinez relied only on statistically insignificant data showing that Hispanic employees had never been upgraded from non-managerial to managerial positions, even though several non-Hispanic employees had been promoted. Although courts can consider statistically insignificant data as relevant to a discrimination claim, the Second Circuit held that, here, “more particularized evidence [than what Martinez produced] relating to the individual plaintiff is necessary to show discriminatory treatment.” Additionally, even if Martinez could set forth a prima facie case, Davis Polk proffered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not promoting Martinez to a manager-level position—that her responsibilities were “administrative and clerical, not managerial”—which Martinez failed to present any evidence to rebuke.

Discrimination claims, especially those concerning failures to promote and equal pay act violations, are extremely difficult to litigate. That’s why it’s important that you contact a law firm that specializes in discrimination cases if you believe that your employer has discriminated against you. If your employer has discriminated against you based on your race or any other protected characteristic, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.