Articles Posted in Employment Discrimination

Employees facing discrimination in the workplace must usually rely on statutes to sue their employers. Governments, however, must operate within the boundaries of the Constitution, including when the government acts as an employer. So, employees who work for a government, such as a state, town, city, or special district, may be able to bring legal claims against their employer when the government violates the employees’ Constitutional rights. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses a recent appellate court decision in New York which raises the bar for employment related claims against municipalities.

Elizabeth Naumovski worked for SUNY Binghamton as an assistant basketball coach. Soon after she started working, rumors circulated that Naumovski was having an “inappropriate relationship” with “J.W.,” a gay female-student athlete.  The rumors continued into the next academic year, so the school responded by imposing restrictions on interactions between students and coaches.

Yet, the rumors allegedly continued to persist into the next year. In early February 2010, the defendant head coach and athletic director spoke by phone and agreed to terminate Naumovski, allegedly because Naumovski demonstrated favoritism to some students.

The phrase “sexual harassment” has certainly been in the news lately. But, it may be hard to discern when an individual has been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, at least in the eyes of the law. The United States Supreme Court has established standards for courts to follow when analyzing sexual harassment claims, yet it is still difficult for judges around the country to determine whether an employer has participated in unlawful activity.

The Supreme court has created a high standard under federal law that plaintiff-employees must clear in order to prove that they were victims of sexual harassment. Fortunately for New York employees, on June 19, 2019, the New York State Legislature approved a bill (S.B.6577) that offers more workplace protections for workers. Below are some of the amendments the bill seeks to make to New York State sexual harassment laws.

Elimination of the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating and retaliating against employees. Employers who violate Title VII may be subject to a lawsuit in federal court. Before filing a lawsuit, however, employees who believe their employer has violated the law must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. But, is this rule a jurisdictional requirement or a procedural rule? Courts across the country have debated this, but on June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States settled the question. Today’s Long Island employment law blog explains the difference in the distinctions, SCOTUS’s decision, and the implications.

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Further, Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law. As part of Title VII, Congress included a requirement that aggrieved employees must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or local discrimination enforcement agency, before filing a lawsuit in federal court. Congress, however, did not expressly state whether this rule is a jurisdictional requirement or a procedural requirement. Because of this, federal courts across the country have been split on whether the rule is the latter or the former.

What’s the difference between a jurisdictional requirement and a procedural requirement? It’s not merely an academic point. Jurisdiction is a rule which allows a federal court the authority to hear a case. Jurisdiction can never be waived. In other words, if a court does not have authority to hear the particular kind of case before it, a party can raise the issue at any point during the litigation. In fact, a court may raise the issue on its own and may dismiss a case if it decides, at any point, that it does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Earlier this month, we wrote about the intersection of medical marijuana use and employment discrimination laws.  Based, in part, on this conflict, the New York City Council passed a law which would prohibit New York City employers from testing prospective employees for marijuana as part of the employer’s pre-hiring procedures. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses this new law.

In 2014, New York State passed the Compassionate Care Act which legalized marijuana for medical use. In early April 2014, we blogged about the complications which can arise when an employee lawfully uses medical marijuana, but the employer tests employees for marijuana use. A New Jersey court ruled that an employer may have engaged in disability discrimination when the employer terminated the employee after he tested positive for marijuana, which he used to treat a medical condition.

The New York City Council acknowledged that New York City residents may lawfully use marijuana to treat medical conditions. It further concluded that at least 34 states across the country allow citizens to use marijuana either for recreational and/or medical purposes. The Council determined that it would be unjust to allow New York City employers to test employees for the presence of marijuana, when the employee may have used it legally.

In employment discrimination claims, courts generally apply one of two methods of analyzing the claims. In a mixed-motives analysis, plaintiffs must show the employer was motivated, at least in part, by a discriminatory animus. This is considered a more lenient standard. In but-for causation, the plaintiff must show that discrimination was the but-for cause of the employment action taken against the employee. This is considered a stricter standard. On April 18, 2019, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, New York’s highest federal court, ruled that but-for causation is the appropriate legal standard applicable to disability discrimination claims. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the decision.

In Natofsky v. City of New York, the plaintiff alleged disability discrimination and retaliation against the City of New York. He brought his claims under the Rehabilitation Act. The trial court applied a standard requiring the plaintiff to show that discrimination was the “sole” reason that the employer took a adverse actions against him. Applying this standard, the trial court dismissed the employee’s claims, then the employee appealed.

On appeal, the Second Circuit first looked at whether the employee was required to show that discrimination was the sole reason for the acts taken against him. The court determined that the Rehabilitation Act incorporates the standards from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So, although the Rehabilitation Act indeed uses language indicating discrimination must be the sole reason, subsequent amendments to the Act made clear that courts were to look to the ADA for the appropriate standard.

For federal workplace discrimination claims in New York, employees must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 300 days of the discriminatory act in order to preserve their right to sue the employer. But, oftentimes for hostile work environment claims, the employee doesn’t reach a breaking point until after enduring perhaps months or years of abuse. Does the employee lose the right to sue based on acts which occurred before the 300 day filing period? On April 8, 2019, New York’s federal appellate court answered that question, and clarified several other important points of law concerning employment cases.  Today’s Long Island employment law blog explains.

For an employee to have a hostile work environment claim against an employer, the employee must be able to show the employer’s abusive conduct was either severe or pervasive. When showing pervasive conduct, the employee must show many hostile and abusive acts took place frequently over a period of time. But, employees must file charges of discrimination within 300 days of the discriminator act.

In Davis-Garett v. Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, the plaintiff alleged she was subjected to a hostile work environment at three different store locations and over the course of more than a year, ending in September 2013.  But, the plaintiff did not file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC until December 2013. The trial court ruled that the everything that happened from before 300 days before the EEOC charge was filed, would not be considered.

As more states enact legislation legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, issues concerning employers’ regulation of employees’ marijuana use are on the rise. Can employers regulate an employee’s lawful use of marijuana outside of work? Like most legal questions, the answer is complicated. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses a recent New Jersey court’s opinion on the question of medical marijuana use relating to a disability.

New Jersey has enacted the Compassionate Use Act. In brief, the Act is intended to prevent the prosecution of patients and caregivers involved in the use of marijuana to alleviate suffering from medical conditions. The portion of the Act relevant to the New Jersey case also notes that employers are not required to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in the workplace.

In the New Jersey case, Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., the plaintiff was diagnosed with cancer and was prescribed marijuana as part of his medical treatment. He continued working as a licensed funeral director.

Are you facing a hostile work environment? You may think so, but courts may not agree.  Employment law requires employees to show that they faced severe or pervasive abusive conduct in the workplace, to prove a hostile work environment claim.  What is severe or pervasive conduct?  Today’s Long Island employment law blog explains.

Courts have long stated that their role is not to keep workplaces civil.  So, many employees may believe their bosses and/or coworkers are mistreating them, but the law would not regard the conduct as unlawful.  Employment laws only prohibit abusive conduct which is directed at employees based on the employee’s protected characteristics, such as sex, gender, race, or national origin.  Moreover, the conduct must be severe or pervasive.  The legal definition of severe of pervasive has been settled for a while, but because it’s a somewhat of a nebulous definition, courts and lawyers sometimes have trouble discerning when conduct meets that standard.

In Fox v. Costco, decided on March 6, 2019, the Second Circuit provided insight into questions. First, can an employee claim he subjected to a hostile work environment based on a disability?  Second, what kind of conduct can be severe or pervasive.  Let’s take the questions in turn.

On February 14, 2019, Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott sponsored a bill in the United States House of Representatives which would amend the Age Discrimination in Employment (ADEA) laws. Entitled the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, the act is a reaction to a Supreme Court ruling issued nearly 10 years ago which was seen as limiting employees ability to prove age discrimination claims.  Today’s Long Island Employment Law blog discusses the proposed amendment.

In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, the United Supreme Court considered the standard of proof an employee must show to prove an age discrimination case. The dispute centered on whether employees can show mixed motives or whether an employee must show that discrimination was the but-for reason for an adverse employment action.

In mixed motive cases, an employee can prevail by showing that an employer was motivated, at least in part, by a discriminatory purpose. In other words, the employer may have had many reason to fire or demote an employee, but if discrimination was one of the reasons that motivated the employer to act, and if the employee could prove that, then the employee could win.  In but for cases, employees must prove that the employee would not have been fired or demoted in the absence of discriminatory intent.

In February 2019, the New York City Commission of Human Rights issued enforcement guidance concerning race discrimination based on hair.  Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses this new guidance.

Federal law, New York State law, and New York City law have all made race discrimination unlawful and have done so for many years.  But, New York City has tried to set itself apart from other laws and other jurisdictions by ensuring its laws are liberally construed and that they provide the most protection possible to employees and the public.  Indeed, the New York City Human Rights Law directs courts and administrative agencies to interpret the law separately and distinctly from any other similar laws.

In its latest attempt to distinguish itself as leading the way in anti-discrimination laws, the Commission issued guidance about hair discrimination.  To begin with, the guidance makes clear that discrimination based on racial stereotypes is illegal.  Moreover, the guidance makes clear that hair discrimination can relate to other types of discrimination such as sex, gender, religion, disability, or national origin.  But, the Commission sought to “affirm” that acts which would tend to ban or otherwise inhibit hairstyles associated with Black people is illegal.

Contact Information