Employment-Second Circuit Rules That Plaintiff’s Retaliation Claim Fails

In Kim v. Columbia University, No. 10-3076-cv (2nd Cir. 2012) (Summary Order), the plaintiff, John Y. Kim (“Kim”), was appealing from an award of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Columbia University (“Columbia”), on Kim’s claim of Columbia’s retaliation against him for filing suit against Columbia alleging violations of Title VII, the ADA and ERISA.

On appeal, Kim had argued that the temporal proximity between Columbia’s May 2007 closure of his retirement account-and the resultant forfeiture of unvested retirement benefits (the adverse employer action)- and the April 2007 settlement proceedings in his then-pending discrimination case (the protected activity) was sufficient to permit an inference of retaliation. As to this argument, the Court said that, although temporal proximity between protected activity and adverse action may be sufficient to satisfy the causality element of a prima facie retaliation claim, this period is measured from the date of the employer’s knowledge of the protected activity. This court has not identified an outer limit beyond which a temporal relationship is too attenuated to support a finding of causality. Instead, the Court said that it will exercise its judgment about the permissible inferences that can be drawn from temporal proximity in the context of particular cases.

Here, Kim filed his discrimination claim in federal court in June 2006, and Columbia closed his retirement account approximately eleven months later in May 2007. Kim acknowledges, however, that he initially filed a discrimination complaint against Columbia with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July 1992, and admits that Columbia had ample knowledge for at least the past fifteen (15) years of his protected activities. The Court said that this lapse in time, coupled with the undisputed evidence that Kim’s retirement account was closed pursuant to Columbia’s forfeiture of approximately 2,000 other putatively unvested accounts, is sufficient to eliminate any genuine issue of material fact regarding causation. As such, the Court concluded that Kim did not make out a prima facie case of retaliation, and the Court affirmed the district court’s summary judgment against him.