March 13, 2019

Courts may not interfere with an administrative tribunal's proper exercise of its discretion


In this appeal Petitioner challenged Supreme Court's dismissal of Plaintiff's Article 78 petition seeking to annul the determination of New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR) that there was no probable cause to believe that Petitioner's employer, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute Corporation (Roswell), engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice against her in its entirety.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's dismissal of the Article 78 action, rejecting Petitioner's contention that Supreme Court must determine whether substantial evidence supported SDHR's determination. The court explained that when SDHR renders a determination of no probable cause without holding a hearing, the appropriate standard of review is whether the probable cause determination was arbitrary and capricious or lacked a rational basis."

Citing Matter of Sullivan v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 160 AD3d 1395, the Appellate Division also rejected Petitioner's argument that SDHR was required to hold a hearing on her complaint before it could make a probable cause determination. SDHR, said the Appellate Division, "has the discretion to determine the method to be used in investigating a [complaint], and a hearing is not required in all cases," noting that the record indicated that Petitioner "had a full and fair opportunity to present her case and that [SDHR's] investigation was neither abbreviated nor one-sided." The fact that there was conflicting evidence before SDHR, opined the Appellate Division, did not create a material issue of fact that warranted a formal hearing"

In addition the Appellate Division indicated that:

1. probable cause exists only when, after giving full credence to the complainant's version of the events, there is some evidence of unlawful discrimination;

2. there must be a factual basis in the evidence sufficient to warrant a cautious person to believe that discrimination had been practiced; and

3. the court's standard of review is an "extremely deferential one.

In effect, courts cannot interfere with an administrative tribunal's exercise of discretion "unless there is no rational basis for its exercise or the action complained of is arbitrary and capricious, a test which chiefly relates to whether a particular action should have been taken or is justified and whether the administrative action is without foundation in fact."

The bottom line: The Appellate Division found that Supreme Court properly concluded that SDHR's determination that there was no probable cause to believe that Roswell discriminated against Petitioner was not arbitrary or capricious and had a rational basis in the record.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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