Friday, October 21, 2016

An employer may seek summary judgment in human rights action by offering a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason rebutting allegations of unlawful discrimination



An employer may seek summary judgment in human rights action by offering a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason rebutting allegations of unlawful discrimination  
Tibbetts v Pelham Union Free School Dist., 2016 NY Slip Op 06699, Appellate Division, Second Department

§296(1)(a) of the New York State Human Rights Law provides that "[i]t shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice . . . [f]or an employer . . . because of an individual's . . . disability . . . to discharge from employment such individual."

To establish a prima facieviolation of §296(1)(a), a plaintiff must show that (1) he or she is a member of a protected class; (2) he or she was qualified to hold the position; (3) he or she was terminated from employment or suffered another adverse employment action; and (4) the discharge or other adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.



Jennifer Tibbetts sued the Pelham Union Free School District to recover damages for alleged employment discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of Executive Law §296. Tibbetts, a probationary music teacher, alleged that she was injured in a slip-and-fall accident and was unable to work for approximately a week while she recovered from her injuries. She alleged that the accident left her disabled, and approximately two weeks after she returned to work, she was terminated because of her disability.

Supreme Court, Westchester County granted Pelham’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing Tibbetts’ complaint. Tibbetts appealed the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Sustaining the lower court’s decision, the Appellate Division said that Pelham had submitted evidence that it terminated Tibbetts’ employment “due to an unusually large number of documented complaints from parents about her interactions with students,” which began shortly after she was appointed to her position and continued throughout the course of her employment. Pelham also submitted evidence that it had no notice of Tibbetts’ alleged disability at the time that she was terminated.

Considering Supreme Court’s granting Pelham’s motion for summary judgment, the Appellate Division explained that “… a defendant, upon offering legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the challenged action, is also required to demonstrate the absence of a triable issue of fact as to whether its explanation for its termination of the plaintiff's employment was pretextual.” In the court’s opinion Pelham had satisfied both requirements.

The Appellate Division found that Pelham had met its burden on its motion for summary judgment of offering legitimate, nonpretextual reasons for terminating Tibbetts’ employment. Rejecting Tibbetts’ contention that “the temporal proximity between the alleged onset of her disability and her discharge” supports an inference of discrimination in this action, the court said that Pelham had demonstrated that it had no knowledge of her alleged disability at the time that she was dismissed from her position.

As Tibbetts failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether Pelham’s explanation for her termination "was false, misleading, or incomplete" and her affidavit “was based on speculation and presented what appear to be feigned issues of fact designed to avoid the consequences of her earlier deposition testimony,” the Appellate Division concluded that “Supreme Court properly granted [Pelham’s] motion for summary judgment dismissing the amended complaint insofar as asserted against it.”

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/

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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