November 12, 2020

Discrimination complaint dismissed by court in the absence of facts inferring that the employee's disability was a consideration in terminating her employment

In this CPLR Article 78* action the petitioner [Plaintiff] alleged that the City of New York[Defendants] had discriminated against her on the basis of her disability when it terminated her employment shortly after she told her supervisor that she was being treated for depression.

Plaintiff's complaint, however, also indicated that before she revealed her disability to her supervisor Plaintiff had been investigated for violating certain of the Defendants' policies and procedures and that she was aware of this investigation.

Supreme Court granted the Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint and Plaintiff appealed. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the Supreme Court's ruling, explaining that:

1. "The complaint fails to state a cause of action under the State and City Human Rights Laws because it alleges no facts from which it can be inferred that [Plaintiff's] disability was a factor in the termination of her employment";

2. "The complaint does not allege that anyone other than [Plaintiff's] immediate supervisor was aware of her disability or that the supervisor was consulted about the termination"; and

3. To the extent Plaintiff relies on the "temporal proximity between her revelation to her supervisor of her disability and her termination from employment," her complaint did not recite any allegations suggesting a causal connection between the two events.

* N.B. §297.9 of the Executive Law, in pertinent part, currently provides for an election of remedies whereby "Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful discriminatory practice shall have a cause of action in any court of appropriate jurisdiction unless such person had filed a complaint ... with any local commission on human rights, or with the superintendent ... or where the division has dismissed such complaint on the grounds of administrative convenience, on the grounds of untimeliness, or on the grounds that the election of remedies is annulled" or "At any time prior to a hearing before a hearing examiner...." An amended Executive Law §297.9 will take effect January 5, 2021 and provides as follows:

9. Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful discriminatory practice shall have a cause of action in any court of appropriate jurisdiction for damages, including, in cases of employment discrimination related to private employers and housing discrimination only, punitive damages, and such other remedies as may be appropriate, including any civil fines and penalties provided in subdivision four of this section, unless such person had filed a complaint hereunder or with any local commission on human rights, or with the superintendent pursuant to the provisions of section two hundred ninety-six-a of this chapter, provided that, where the division has dismissed such complaint on the grounds of administrative convenience, on the grounds of untimeliness, or on the grounds that the election of remedies is annulled, such person shall maintain all rights to bring suit as if no complaint had been filed with the division. At any time prior to a hearing before a hearing examiner, a person who has a complaint pending at the division may request that the division dismiss the complaint and annul his or her election of remedies so that the human rights law claim may be pursued in court, and the division may, upon such request, dismiss the complaint on the grounds that such person's election of an administrative remedy is annulled. Notwithstanding subdivision (a) of section two hundred four of the civil practice law and rules, if a complaint is so annulled by the division, upon the request of the party bringing such complaint before the division, such party's rights to bring such cause of action before a court of appropriate jurisdiction shall be limited by the statute of limitations in effect in such court at the time the complaint was initially filed with the division. Any party to a housing discrimination complaint shall have the right within twenty days following a determination of probable cause pursuant to subdivision two of this section to elect to have an action commenced in a civil court, and an attorney representing the division of human rights will be appointed to present the complaint in court, or, with the consent of the division, the case may be presented by complainant's attorney. A complaint filed by the equal employment opportunity commission to comply with the requirements of 42 USC 2000e-5(c) and 42 USC 12117(a) and 29 USC 633(b) shall not constitute the filing of a complaint within the meaning of this subdivision. No person who has initiated any action in a court of competent jurisdiction or who has an action pending before any administrative agency under any other law of the state based upon an act which would be an unlawful discriminatory practice under this article, may file a complaint with respect to the same grievance under this section or under section two hundred ninety-six-a of this article. In cases of housing discrimination only, a person whose complaint has been dismissed by the division after investigation for lack of jurisdiction or lack of probable cause may file the same cause of action in a court of appropriate jurisdiction pursuant to this section, unless judicial review of such dismissal has been sought pursuant to section two hundred ninety-eight of this article.

The decision of the Appellate Division is posted on the Internet at http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_06383.htm

 

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