Thursday, October 06, 2016

An employer is not liable for an employee's discriminatory acts targeting a co-worker unless the employer encouraged, condoned or approved such misconduct


An employer is not liable for an employee's discriminatory acts targeting a co-worker unless the employer encouraged, condoned or approved such misconduct
Figueroa v New York State Div. of Human Rights and Buffalo City School Dist., 2016 NY Slip Op 06319, Appellate Division, Fourth Department
Schwallie v New York State Div. of Human Rights and Buffalo City School Dist., 2016 NY Slip Op 06322, Appellate Division, Fourth Department
 
At the time of the alleged unlawful acts of employment discrimination both Rachel Figueroa and Ashleigh Schwallie were employed by the Buffalo City School District [District] and both worked at the same school.

They both alleged that they had been victims sexual harassment by a coworker. They subsequently filed separate complaints against the District alleging sexual harassment and retaliation with the New York State Division of Human Rights [Division]. The Division dismissed their respective complaints.

Then both Figueroa and Schwallie commenced separate proceedings pursuant to Executive Law §298* seeking court orders annulling the relevant decisions of the Division dismissing their complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation. The Appellate Division dismissed both appeals “on the merits.”

The court said it agreed with the District that substantial evidence supported the determinations of the Division that the District was not liable for the coworker's discriminatory conduct. The Appellate Division explained that "[u]nder [New York State’s] Human Rights Law, an employer cannot be held liable for an employee's discriminatory act[s] unless the employer became a party to [them] by encouraging, condoning, or approving [them]."

Neither Figueroa nor Schwallie had established that the District became a party to the alleged sexual harassment by a co-worker. Indeed, said the court, “the record establishes that [the District] reasonably investigated complaints of discriminatory conduct and took corrective action.”

The Appellate Division also found that substantial evidence supported the Division’s determinations that neither Figueroa nor Schwallie were subjected to retaliation by the District for complaining about alleged acts of unlawful discrimination by the co-worker. While both had established  prima facie cases of retaliation, the court found that the District "came forward with legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reasons to support its employment decision[s]" and neither Figueroa not Schwallie had shown that that those reasons were pretextual,

With respect to alleged acts of alleged retaliation for filing a human rights complaint, where the employer has presented a lawful reason or explanation to rebut a charging party's prima facie evidence of retaliation, the burden shifts to the charging party to present facts to rebut each reason or explanation advanced by the employer in it defense against the charge of retaliation.

The Appellate Division unanimously confirmed the Division’s decisions and dismissed both petitions.

* §298 of the Executive Law provides for judicial review and enforcement of determinations by the New York State Division of Human Rights and provides, in pertinent part that “Any complainant, respondent or other person aggrieved by an order of the commissioner which is an order after public hearing … dismissing a complaint, … may obtain judicial review thereof ….”

The Figueroa decision is posted on the Internet at:

The Schwallie 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/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions 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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