Thursday, July 14, 2016

New York State’s Human Rights Law does not protect an employee from all retaliation, only from retaliation that results in an injury or harm


New York State’s Human Rights Law does not protect an employee from all retaliation, only from retaliation that results in an injury or harm
Napierala v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 2016 NY Slip Op 04832, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

Lisa Napierala challenged New York State Division of Human Rights’ [SDHR] determination of "no probable cause" with respect to her complaint that Erie Community College [ECC] had retaliated against her in violation of the State’s Human Rights Law. Supreme Court granted Napierala’s CPLR Article 78 petition and the SDHR appealed.

The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the Supreme Court’s ruling “on the law” and reinstated SDHR’s determination.

Napierala, a security officer at ECC had alleged that ECC had retaliated against her "by subjecting her to adverse employment actions after she complained of discrimination." In particular, she contended that:

1. ECC retaliated against her by assigning her to guard duty in its athletic center at a time when the gymnasium floor was being polyurethaned and strong fumes resulted in her becoming ill near the end of her shift.*  

2. ECC retaliated against her when it allegedly lost her "On-the-Job-Training Certificate," which led to the lapse of her security license and resulted in her suspension without pay.

In reinstating SDHR’s finding of "no probable cause" the Appellate Division observed that when SDHR renders a determination of no probable cause without holding a hearing, the appropriate standard of judicial review is whether the "no probable cause" determination was arbitrary and capricious or lacked a rational basis. Further, noted the court, SDHR "has broad discretion to determine the method to be employed in investigating complaints … and its determinations are entitled to considerable deference due to its expertise in evaluating discrimination claims."

The court said that in its view, SDHR's determination is not arbitrary or capricious and it has a rational basis. Further, the record established that Napierala "had a full and fair opportunity to present her case and that [SDHR's] investigation was neither abbreviated nor one-sided." Probable cause exists, explained the Appellate Division, "only when, after giving full credence to the complainant’s version of the events, there is some evidence of unlawful discrimination."

Crediting Napierala’s contention that ECC intentionally assigned her to its athletic center knowing that the gym floor was being polyurethaned, the Appellate Division concluded that there is no evidence of unlawful discrimination as Napierala:

[1] was not forced to stay at the athletic center against her will, nor 

[2] was she disciplined for leaving work early. 

The New York State’s Human Rights Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and, in the words of the Appellate Division, "are textually similar and ultimately employ the same standards of recovery," and thus "federal case law in this area . . . proves helpful to the resolution of this appeal." The Appellate Division then pointed out that the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has opined that Title VII "does not protect an employee from all retaliation, but only retaliation that produces an injury or harm.  ... and in Napieralasituation there was no injury or harm."

Turning to Napierala’s allegation concerning the security license lapse issue, the Appellate Division stated that it did not appear from the record that ECC ever was in possession of Napierala’s training certificate. In any event, the court said that the record shows that ECC provided Napierala with an opportunity to rectify the situation. While Napierala was ultimately suspended without pay, this suspension was initiated only after she failed to rectify the situation, an action consistent with ECC’s treatment of other security officers with lapsed licenses.

As to SDHR’s failure to hold a hearing concerning Napierala’s complaint, the Appellate Division explained that “there was no need for a hearing ‘because the record does not demonstrate the existence of unresolved questions that required further scrutiny.’”

Citing McFarland v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 241 AD2d 108, the court explained that "[A]s long as the investigation is sufficient and the [petitioner is] afforded a full opportunity to present his [or her] claims, [i]t is within the discretion of [SDHR] to decide the method or methods to be employed in investigating a claim." As SDHR had contacted both Napierala and ECC and had requested specified answers and documents related to Napierala’s allegations, "the conflicting evidence before SDHR did not create a material issue of fact that warranted a formal hearing."

* Napieralaleft work after leaving a voice message with her supervisor advising him that she had to leave her shift early. She subsequently met with the Human Resources Department to discuss why she went home sick without first obtaining her supervisor's permission. However, no disciplinary action against her was taken.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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