New York Appellate Court Broadly Interprets State’s Human Rights Law

On January 14, 2015, the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, issued a decision which effectively expands the scope of the State’s anti-discrimination statute, the Human Rights Law. In Chiara v.

Town of New Castle, The Court held that employers may be liable for discriminating against an employee because of that employee’s association with a person of a particular race, religion, national origin, gender, or other “protected classes.”

In an employment discrimination case, the first fact an employee must prove is that he is in a “protected class.” New York’s Human Rights Law protects several classes, such as a person’s race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and sexual orientation. So, if an employer directs conduct at an employee because of the clothes the employee likes to wear, that conduct is likely not unlawful because it is not directed at the employee because of the employee’s membership in one of the protected classes. But, if an employer mistreats an employee because of a disability the employee has, such conduct may be unlawful.

In Chiara, the employee alleged that his employer mistreated him because his wife was Jewish. The employer argued that Chiara’s claim should be dismissed because Chiara was not Jewish and so the mistreatment was not directed at him because of his membership in the protected class, i.e. the Jewish religion. Although the trial court agreed with the employer and dismissed the case, the Appellate Court disagreed. Relying on several Federal Court decisions, the Second Department held that anti-discrimination statutes, such as the State Human Rights Laws, not only protect individuals who are members of a protected class, but they also protect individuals from discriminatory conduct directed at the individual because of his marriage to another person in the protected class being targeted. The Court further noted that such “association claims” have long been recognized to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Chiara decision is a reminder that the New York’s Courts and Legislature will not tolerate mistreatment of employees because of biases and prejudices. If you believe you are being mistreated at work based on discrimination or your association with someone else, the experienced employment lawyers at Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC may be able to help. For a free case evaluation call 631-352-0050 or visit our website at

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