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New York Court Discusses Discrimination Claims Against Public Employers

June 13, 2020

When an employee is subject to discrimination in the workplace, it is often actionable under state and federal law. Additionally, if the party engaging in the discriminatory activity is a public employer, it may be considered a violation of the employee’s civil rights. In a recent New York case in which the plaintiff alleged claims of sex discrimination and hostile work environment, the court discussed what a plaintiff alleging civil rights violations in the workplace must prove to recover damages. If you work for a public employer in New York and are subject to discrimination in the workplace, it is advisable to contact a trusted New York employment discrimination attorney to discuss your rights.

Factual Background

It is reported that the plaintiff worked for defendant County as a corrections officer. In 2011 the plaintiff took an examination for promotion. Individuals who took the exam were ranked according to score, and those with the highest scores were promoted when positions became available. The scores were valid for four years, but during the four-year period, twenty men and no women received promotions. Thus, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant alleging sex discrimination and a hostile work environment created by the preferential treatment of women who were in relationships with male officers, which created a de facto policy of discrimination for which the County should be held liable. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted. The plaintiff then appealed.

Sex Discrimination in Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment

A public employee subject to sex discrimination in violation of his or her Fourteenth Amendment rights can pursue claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against his or her employer, which essentially alleges that his or her civil rights were violated under the color of law. Under § 1983, a municipality will only be held liable if the plaintiff’s rights were deprived because of government policy, custom, or usage of the municipality. Municipal liability may be established not only by showing a formal policy but also through a final decision made by a policymaker or where a widespread practice is so settled and permanent that it becomes policy with the force of law. Isolated acts of a non-policymaking person can be grounds for liability as well, if it was done pursuant to municipal policy or if the acts were so widespread, they constituted a policy or custom.

In the subject case, with regards to the hostile work environment claims, the court found that the plaintiff’s complaint did not allege a formal or official policy of preferring men over women in promotions or that created a work environment that was hostile to women. Further, the court noted the plaintiff relied on conclusory assertions rather than factual allegations. As such, the court found the plaintiff failed to set forth facts sufficient to support claims of municipal liability and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak With a Skilled Employment Attorney

If your employer discriminated against you in the workplace, it is in your best interest to speak with a skilled New York employment discrimination attorney to discuss what damages you may be owed. The dedicated attorneys of Gerstman Schwartz LLP take pride in helping employees subject to discriminatory acts seek justice in civil lawsuits, and we will work tirelessly on your behalf. We can be reached at our Manhattan office at (212) 227-7070 and at our Garden City office at (516) 880-8170. You can also contact us through our online form to schedule a meeting to discuss your potential claims.

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