October 26, 2020

Claim of having an "invisible" or "hidden" disability undermines unlawful disability discrimination complaint

New York State Division of Human Rights [DHR] found no probable cause to believe that the New York City Human Resources Administration [HRA] had discriminated or retaliated against the petitioner [Plaintiff] in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law and dismissed Plaintiff's compliant. Plaintiff filed a CPLR Article 78 petition challenging DHR's determination.

The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed DHR's ruling, explaining that the DHR's determination of no probable cause to find that HRA engaged in disability discrimination against Plaintiff was rationally based in the record and not arbitrary and capricious.

Plaintiff had described her traumatic brain injury condition as an "invisible" or "hidden" disability, meaning that the "symptoms are invisible" and "not immediately apparent." This, said the court, "undermines [Plaintiff's] interactive dialogue contention, and indeed her disability discrimination and reasonable accommodation claims, since it suggests that it would not have been evident to HRA staff interacting with her that she was in fact disabled."

Further, noted the Appellate Division, it also did not appear that 'Plaintiff ever substantiated her disability for the HRA staff she interacted with," such as by presenting of a doctor's note" nor did Plaintiff ever demonstrate to HRA that her disability reasonably warranted the accommodation she requested. Addressing Petitioner's "broader disability discrimination claim -- that HRA staff "mistreated her and sidetracked her application because of animus against disabled persons" -- the court again opined that such an assertion was undermined by her claim that her traumatic brain injury is "invisible."

Coupled with Plaintiff's own claim that "HRA staff mistreated everyone at the job center," the Appellate Division concluded that DHR had rationally determined that Plaintiff failed to show that she was treated adversely under circumstances warranting an inference of discrimination.

As to Plaintiff's allegations of retaliation, the court decided that DHR rationally determined that HRA did not retaliate against Plaintiff and that HRA's initial denial of her application was not arbitrary in view of the fact that is was accompanied by an explanation that Plaintiff had "failed federal poverty guidelines." Plaintiff, said the Appellate Division, presented no evidence that this explanation "was false or pretextual and that discrimination and/or retaliation was the real reason" for HRA's action.

The decision is posted on the Internet at http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_06038.htm

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