Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NYC Human Rights Law Broadly Interpreted

Lampner v. Pryer Cashman, ___Misc.3d___(Kings Co. Nov. 6, 2009), demonstrates the importance of state employment discrimination law. The court in refusing to dismiss the complaint, described how New York law is more liberal than the federal counter part:

The core of the Restoration Act was the revision of Administrative Code ยง8-130, the construction provision of the New York City Human Rights Law, which states "The provisions of this title shall be construed liberally for the accomplishment of the uniquely broad and remedial purposes thereof, regardless of whether the federal or New York State civil and human rights laws, including those laws with provisions comparably-worded to provisions of this title, have been so construed." (Williams v. NYCHA. supra, 61 AD3d at 66). "As a result of this revision, the City HRL now explicitly requires an independent liberal construction analysis in all circumstances, even where state and federal civil rights law have comparable language" which analysis must be targeted to understanding and fulfilling its uniquely broad, remedial purposes (Williams, id). The Restoration Act stated that the provisions of the City HRL were construed too narrowly to ensure protection of the civil rights of all persons covered by the law, and mandated that the interpretations of the state or federal provisions may be viewed as a floor below which the City law cannot fall rather than a ceiling above which the local law cannot rise. The act provided that the discrimination complained of need not result in an ultimate action with respect to employment, provided that the discriminatory act or acts complained of must be reasonable likely to deter a person from engaging in protected activity. Noting that there is a wide spectrum falling between "severe or pervasive" on one hand and "merely offensive" on the other, and interpreting the City HRL in its broader and more remedial sense, the court, in considering a purported act of sexual harassment, held that questions of severity and pervasiveness were applicable to damages, but not to the question of liability (id at 76). However, the court recognized that employers could avoid liability if they prove that the conduct complained of consists of nothing more than what a reasonable victim of discrimination would consider petty slights and trivial inconveniences (id at 79-80).

Regarding the law to be applied by a trial-level court where the Appellate Division in another judicial department has ruled, the "general principle of appellate procedure * * * necessary to maintain uniformity and consistency" is that trial courts are required to follow precedents set by the Appellate Division of another department until the Court of Appeals or the Appellate Division in the trial court's department pronounces a contrary rule (see Mountain View Coach Lines v. Storms, 102 AD2d 663, 664 [The Appellate Division is a single statewide court divided into departments for administrative convenience]; accord, People v. Turner, 5 NY3d 476 [a 1914 Third Department case, York City, supra, and in furtherance of the broad and remedial purpose of the City's human rights law, plaintiff does not have to satisfy that test. Rather, the complaint must be sustained as stating a cause of action unless the conduct complained of consisted of nothing more than what a reasonable victim of discrimination would consider petty slights and trivial inconveniences.

Plaintiff here alleges that due to his religion, defendants, inter alia, put him in a cubicle, put another employee of lower rank in his office, took away his privileges, monitored his phone conversations, and encouraged him not to continue observing his religious tenets. Affording plaintiff the benefit of all favorable inferences, it cannot be said that the allegations of the complaint constitute petty slights or trivial inconveniences, and, thus, the complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a cause of action.

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

Employment Discrimination | Permalink


Would it be more accurate to state that the court described how New York City law is more liberal than the federal counterpart? After all, about one-half the people who live in "New York" are not affected by the New York City law.

Posted by: David M. Pellow | Dec 23, 2009 4:49:10 AM

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