An employee who alleged she was subjected to retaliation because she testified before a grand jury was not engaged in “protected activity” within the meaning of the State’s Human Rights Law
Clarson v City of Long Beach, 2015 NY Slip Op 07614, Appellate Division, Second Department
Sandra Yu Clarson, an Asian-American woman, served as the City Comptroller for the City of Long Beach [City]. Alleging that the City had terminated her employment in retaliation against her because "she cooperated and provided testimony to a grand jury regarding alleged criminal activity of a city councilperson, and that the City subsequently hired a less qualified, white male to fill her former position," Clarson sued the City to recover damages for unlawful retaliation in violation of Executive Law §296, New York State’s Human Rights Law.
The City moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action but Supreme Court denied the City's motion. The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s decision.
The Appellate Division explained that when considering a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, the court must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true, afford the plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory.
In this instance, said the court, Clarson failed to state a cause of action alleging retaliation in violation of Executive Law §296(1)(e), which section provides that “it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee because he or she opposed statutorily forbidden discriminatory practices."
In order to make a prima facie showing of retaliation within the meaning of Executive Law §296, a plaintiff is required to show that:
(1) he or she was engaged in protected activity;
(2) his or her employer was aware that he or she participated in such activity;
(3) he or she suffered an adverse employment action based upon his or her activity; and
(4) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action."
The Appellate Division said that an employee engages in a "protected activity" by "opposing or complaining about unlawful discrimination."
However, the court found that Clarson’s testimony before the grand jury “was unrelated to opposing or complaining about statutorily prohibited discrimination,” and, therefore, “was not ‘protected activity' as contemplated by the [the State's Human Rights Law].”
Further, notwithstanding Clarson’s contention to the contrary, the court said that her complaint does not allege a cause of action for retaliation based on whistle-blowing activities in violation of Civil Service Law §75-b.
The Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court’s decision “on the law,” and granted the City’s motion to dismiss the complaint is granted.
The decision is posted on the Internet at: