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April 04, 2014

New York State's Human Rights Law and the New York City's Human Rights Law are not identical


New York State's Human Rights Law and the New York City's Human Rights Law are not identical
2014 NY Slip Op 02098, Court of Appeals

Initially employed by the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation [HHC] in 1979, Plaintiff was diagnosed with an occupational lung disease. In 2007, HHC terminated Plaintiff. About a year later Plaintiff filed a complaint pursuant to State Human Rights Law (SHRL) and the City Human Rights Law (CHRL) alleging HHC HC had unlawfully discriminated on the basis of his disability.

Supreme Court granted HHC motion seeking summary judgment, holding that Plaintiff could not, even with a reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of his job. The Appellate Division affirmed.

The Court of Appeals ruled that HHC was not entitled to summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff’s SHRL and CHRL claims, explaining that summary judgment in favor of an employer under SHRL or CHRL where the employer has failed to demonstrate that it responded to a disabled employee’s request for a particular accommodation by engaging in a good faith interactive process regarding the feasibility of that accommodation.

The Court of Appeals set out the following guidelines in its decision:

1. An employer's failure to consider the reasonableness of a proposed accommodation for a generally qualified employee's disability via a good faith interactive process precludes the employer from obtaining summary judgment in the action.

2. The State Human Rights Law and the City Human Rights Law set forth distinct legal standards for establishing the existence of a covered disability that can be reasonably accommodated.

3. These statutes generally preclude summary judgment in favor of an employer where the employer has failed to demonstrate that it responded to a disabled employee's request for a particular accommodation by engaging in a good faith interactive process regarding the feasibility of that accommodation.

4. An employee's complaint states a prima facie case of discrimination under both the State HRL and City HRL if the employee suffers from a statutorily defined disability and the disability caused the behavior for which the employee was terminated.

Turning from the summary judgment burden to the substance of the statutes at issue, the SHRL forbids employment discrimination on the basis of an employee's disability, and the CHRL provides even greater protection against disability-based discrimination.

As to SHRL:

1. Under the State HRL, if an employee has a physical impairment that prevents the employee from performing the core duties of his or her job even with a reasonable accommodation, the employee does not have a disability covered by the statute, and consequently, the employer is free to take adverse employment action against the employee based on that impairment.

2. If a reasonable accommodation would permit the employee to perform the essential functions of the employee's position, the employee has a "disability" within the meaning of the State statute, and the employer cannot disadvantage the employee based on that disability.

3. A "reasonable accommodation" for an employee's impairment is one which "permit[s] an employee with a disability to perform in a reasonable manner activities involved in the job" and does not impose an "undue hardship" on the employer's business.

4. A proper State HRL claim must be supported by substantiated allegations that, "'upon the provision of reasonable accommodations, [the employee] could perform the essential functions of [his or] her job,'" and the employee bears the burden of proof on this issue at trial.

5. The SHRL's definitions of "reasonable accommodation" and "disability" requires that, where the employee seeks a specific accommodation for his or her disability, the employer must give individualized consideration to that request and may not arbitrarily reject the employee's proposal without further inquiry.

6. At a trial on a State HRL claim, the plaintiff employee bears the burden of proving the existence of a reasonable accommodation that would have enabled the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her position

As to the CHRL:

1. The CHRL's definition of 'disability' does not include 'reasonable accommodation' or the ability to perform a job in a reasonable manner," but rather "defines 'disability' solely in terms of impairments."

2. The CHRL forbids employment discrimination against physically and mentally impaired individuals, and employers may raise the inability of disabled employees to "with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the[ir] job[s]" only as an affirmative defense to a CHRL claim.

3. The CHRL places the burden on the employer to show the unavailability of any safe and reasonable accommodation and to show that any proposed accommodation would place an undue hardship on its business.

4. At trial on a CHRL claim, the employer does not automatically fail to establish the affirmative defense premised on the lack of any reasonable accommodation solely because it did not participate in an interactive process, though that failure poses a formidable obstacle to the employer's attempt to prove that no reasonable accommodation existed for the employee's disability

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_02098.htm
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