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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The doctrine of judicial estoppel bars a party securing a ruling in his or her favor based on taking a certain position from advancing a contrary position in another action

The doctrine of judicial estoppel bars a party securing a ruling in his or her favor based on taking a certain position from advancing a contrary position in another action
2013 NY Slip Op 06783, Appellate Division, First Department

The assistant director [AD] of a day care center applied facility applied for a position with New York City Department of Health (DOH) as an Early Childhood Education Consultant (ECEC). In August 2007, DOH notified plaintiff that she was hired and was to start her new job on September 5, 2007.

As the result of a number of mishaps related to her pregnancy, AD was ultimately told that DOH could "no longer grant [her] employment" on September 6, 2007.

AD then contacted the day care center seeking reemployment and the center “agreed to take her back.”

After reporting for work at the day care center on September 12, 2007 AD went to she her doctor during her lunch break on the same day. She returned to the office with a note from her doctor indicating that she had "preterm labor" and "restrictions" on walking. According to AD, “On either September 13, 2007, or September 17, 2007” the center terminated her.

AD sued DOH alleging “gender- and pregnancy/disability-based discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law.” Subsequently AD commenced an action against the day care center “asserting claims of gender- and pregnancy-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.”

The day care center defaulted and the District Court granted AD’s motion for a default judgment and held that she was entitled to damages. Significantly, the federal district court, based on the representation set out in AD’s deposition,* ruled that she had been employed at the day care center "from April 2005 until September 17, 2007."

When Supreme Court granted DOH’s motion for summary judgment dismissing AD’s complaint against DOH that had been filed in state court, AD appealed.

The Appellate Division sustained the Supreme Court’s ruling, explaining that “The doctrine of judicial estoppel prevents a party who assumed a certain position in a prior proceeding and secured a ruling in his or her favor from advancing a contrary position in another action, simply because his or her interests have changed.” Also referred to as the "doctrine of estoppel against inconsistent positions," said the court, the doctrine "rests upon the principle that a litigant should not be permitted to lead a court to find a fact one way and then contend in another judicial proceeding that the same fact should be found otherwise."

The Appellate Division found that AD failed to show that she was "qualified" for the DOH position in her state court action, as required to make out a prima facie case of discrimination, as she was “judicially estopped from denying that, at the time she was allegedly discriminated against by [DOH], she was actually employed with [the day care center] which would make it impossible for her to carry out her duties for [DOH].”

Although AD argued that “there is no inconsistency between the positions she took in the federal action and those she has taken in this action,” the Appellate Division disagreed, noting that AD had “neglected to inform the District Court that, while employed at [the day care center], she pursued and accepted another job with DOH which she was slated to start on September 4, 2007, left [the day care center], was allegedly discriminated against by the City, and returned to [the day care center] prior to being discriminated against there and terminated after a single day.

The Appellate Division said that “These facts would have been highly material to her claim against [the day care center], and it was highly misleading, at best, for [AD] to omit her City employment from her submissions to the District Court.”

Noting that “based on [AD's] submissions, the District Court expressly found that she was employed by [the day care center] from April 2005 until September 17, 2007,” the Appellate Division said that it the District Court’s finding was incorrect, “then it was incumbent upon [AD] to move to correct the finding, or else be bound by it in subsequent legal proceedings.”

* Although AD testified at her 2010 deposition that she was terminated on September 13, 2007, she conceded that she was uncertain of the actual date of her termination. Based on AD's allegations in the federal lawsuit, she was awarded a default judgment based on a termination date of September 17, 2007.

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