In a sex discrimination case filed by New York employment lawyers Famighetti & Weinick PLLC, the New York State Division of Human Rights has issued a determination of Probable Cause. This means a judge will hold a hearing to determine liability and damages. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the case and the decision.
The foregoing is taken from the filed charge of discrimination, and the Division’s investigation report:
F&W filed a charge of discrimination with the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR), on behalf its client, a former volunteer firefighter who applied to volunteer with the Ladies Auxiliary of the fire department. The NYSDHR is an administrative agency of the State which investigates claims of unlawful discrimination.
As alleged in the charge, the client, a male, had volunteered with a Nassau County fire department for many years. His wife and son were also members of the fire department. After a non line of duty injury, the firefighter resigned from the fire department.
The fire department ladies auxiliary is a sub-unit of the fire department. According to its by-laws, mothers, daughters, and spouses of firefighters can join the ladies auxiliary. The unit provides support to the fire department.
After resigning from the fire department, F&W’s client sought to apply for membership with the ladies auxiliary unit. The client made several requests for an application, but received no response. Eventually, the client was able to obtain an application. After completing the application, the Ladies Auxiliary asked the client to attend a general meeting so they could vote on his application. At the meeting, members asked the male applicant if he would have a problem wearing a skirt, which was part of the uniform. The vote ended in a tie.
Months later, the Ladies Auxiliary held another vote. This time, the vote resulted in a denial of the client’s application. In other words, the Ladies Auxiliary denied the male applicant’s membership. As alleged, this application was the only application denied in fifteen years.
After receiving the charge of discrimination from the NYSDHR, the fire department and Ladies Auxiliary made several legal arguments which they contended required that the case be dismissed. First, the fire department argued that the ladies auxiliary is a completely separate and distinct entity from the fire department. Based on this separation, the fire department argued it cannot be held liable.
Next, the fire department argued that Ladies Auxiliary members are not compensated, so the members are not employees. Because they are not employees, they are not protected by the employment laws which F&W alleged the Ladies Auxiliary had violated.
Finally, the Ladies Auxiliary argued that the vote was based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.
F&W filed a rebuttal with the NYSDHR, arguing against each of the fire department’s and the ladies auxiliary’s arguments. Concerning the separate entity argument, F&W noted that the very same fire department had, in a previous matter for the NYSDHR, told the NYSDHR that the ladies auxiliary is indeed a sub-unit of the fire department. Thus, it could not argue in this case, that they are different.
Further, F&W pointed out that ladies auxiliary and fire department’s regulations are intertwined and show a high level of cooperation with one another. Moreover, the leadership of the ladies auxiliary is listed on the fire department’s website, showing their relationship.
On the question of whether the ladies auxiliary is covered by the Human Rights Law, F&W noted that law specifically applies to volunteer fire companies. Since the ladies auxiliary is a fire company, then the anti-discrimination laws apply to it.
Finally, F&W showed the circumstantial evidence of discrimination, including that the client was in all ways qualified to be a member, no non-female had ever applied for membership with the ladies auxiliary, his membership was the only one denied, and that members made sex-based comments at the membership meeting.
The NYSDHR Regional Director reviewed the arguments and determined the investigation supported that issues of fact exist concerning each argument. Accordingly, the Regional Director made a determination of Probable Cause. The case will be assigned to an administrative law judge who will hold a public hearing. A public hearing at the NYSDHR is akin to a trial. The judge will hear witnesses give sworn testimony and review evidence offered. Then, the judge will determine whether the Ladies Auxiliary and/or Fire Department are liable for sex discrimination. If so, the judge may also make an award of damages.
Famighetti & Weinick PLLC is a law firm experienced in representing volunteer firefighters on Long Island and in New York. The firm has represented fire department members from matters including 209-l hearings, First Amendment free speech issues, religious discrimination, and due process violations. To speak to an attorney experienced in handling volunteer fire department lawsuits, contact Famighetti & Weinick PLLC at (631) 352-0050. More information is available on our website at http://linycemploymentlaw.com.