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June 22, 2010

State law claims survive ADA claim dismissal

State law claims survive ADA claim dismissal
Giordano v City of New York, CA2, 274 F.3d 740

The Giordano case illustrates the fact that sometimes it is possible to maintain a discrimination lawsuit under state law notwithstanding the fact that the federal courts have dismissed similar claims alleging violations of federal law.

In such situations the state courts should make the determination based on state law and not consider the action taken by the federal courts with respect to the issues presented for adjudication.

In Giordano, a federal district court justice ruled that the fact that a police officer may be unable to work as a full-time patrol officer for one police department does not mean that he or she is impaired with respect to working in law enforcement for another police agency or in the private sector and thus is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA.

David Giordano sued the New York City Police Department under both federal and New York State human rights laws. He alleged that the Department terminated him in viola­tion of the ADA and New York State's Human Rights Law when it mistakenly "regard[ed] him as disabled" because of his took the drug Coumadin, an anticoagulant, daily and terminated his employment.

Giordano also contended that in discharging him without giving him a personal physical examination and by continuing to employ another full-duty police officer, Thomas Rowe, who also takes Coumadin daily, the Department violated his constitutional rights under the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Giordano appealed the federal district court's granting the Department's motion for summary judgment, dismissing all of his claims that the Department had violated both federal and state discrimination law provisions.

The Circuit Court sustained the lower court's dismissal of Giordano's complaint with respect to federal law but ruled that "the district court erred by dismissing on the merits [Giordano's] pendent state law claims under the New York State Executive Law and the New York City Administrative Code."

Reversing the district court's ruling in part, the Circuit Court decided that "these claims would be more appropriately adjudicated in state court" and remanded the case back to the district court with its directions that the district court dismiss the remaining claims without prejudice to their being brought in an appropriate state forum. The basis for the court's dismissal of Giordano's ADA and other federal claims:

1. Giordano failed to offer evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that the Department "regarded him as disabled" within the meaning of the ADA; and

2. There was nothing in the record to suggest that the alleged disparate treatment of Giorda­no and Officer Rowe resulted from any illicit motivation of the Department.

The Supervising Chief Surgeon of Department recommended that Giordano "not be permitted to perform any patrol duties and be considered for disability retirement" based on the views of a number of physicians, including two department vascular surgeons, because the anticoagulation needed for Giordano's prosthetic aortic valve could result in catastrophic bleeding from even minor injuries.

Why did Giordano's state law claims survive? According to the ruling, New York's state and municipal laws define "disability" in broader terms than does the ADA. In contrast to the ADA, New York State's Human Rights Law did not require that Giordano show that his disability "substantially limits a major life activity."

This means, said the court, that a person may be disabled within the meanings of New York's state and municipal laws even if his or her impairment does not substantially limit a major life activity.

As a procedural matter, the Circuit Court noted that the statute governing supplemental jurisdiction, [28 USC 1367] did not require dismissal of pendent state-law claims such as Giordano's where all of the federal claims have been dismissed. However, said the court, "if it appears that the state issues substantially predominate, whether in terms of proof, the scope of the issues raised, or of the comprehensiveness of the remedy sought, the state claims may be dismissed without prejudice and left for resolution to state tribunals." This solution was determined to be appropriate in Giordano's situation.

Why? The Circuit Court decided that "the state-law claims should be dismissed so that state courts can, if so called upon, decide for themselves whatever questions of state law this case may present" and "we do not think that those courts should be bound, or think themselves bound, by principles of collateral estoppel or otherwise, to any findings or conclusions reached by the district court in its discussion of whether, as a matter of law, Giordano was qualified to perform the essential functions of his job."

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The Discipline Book - A concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public officers and employees in New York State. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - Determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/7401.html

Disability Benefits for fire, police and other public sector personnel - Addresses retirement for disability under the NYS Employees' Retirement System, the NYS Teachers' Retirement System, General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and similar statutes providing benefits to employees injured both "on-the-job" and "off-the-job." For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

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Text prepared by Harvey Randall except as otherwise noted. Randall, former Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service, also served as Director of Personnel for the State University System; as Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and as Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. He has an MPA from the Maxwell School, Syracuse University and a J.D. from Albany Law School.