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New York Court Permits Discovery of Prior Acts in a Discrimination Case

July 7, 2020

In many instances, when an employer engages in discriminatory acts to the detriment of an employee, the employee is not the sole victim of the employer’s inappropriate behavior but is merely the most recent party to face adverse effects due to the employer’s undertakings. As such, evidence regarding the employer’s prior discriminatory behavior may be helpful to establish that the employer has a practice of engaging in discrimination. In a recent New York employment discrimination case in which the defendant objected to discovery seeking information regarding other claims, the court explained when evidence of similar acts is discoverable. If you were the victim of workplace discrimination, it is prudent to speak to a knowledgeable New York employment discrimination attorney about your rights.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the plaintiff worked as a physician assistant at the defendant medical center. He suffered from back pain and cataracts and alleged that despite receiving positive performance reviews, he was treated adversely due to his health issues. He was assigned to move to the interventional radiology department but advised his supervisor that the transfer would negatively affect his health. He was informed, however, that if he did not accept the transfer, he would be seen as quitting. While he met with a human resources manager to discuss the potential transfer and his request for accommodations, he was ultimately terminated.

Reportedly, the plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging claims of disability discrimination. During the discovery phase of the case, the plaintiff sought documents regarding prior complaints or charges of discrimination in any of the defendant’s departments as well as claims against specific employees, and prior requests for accommodations from the interventional radiology department. The defendant objected to the discovery requests and offered to produce documents that solely related to claims against the specific employees.

Relevant Evidence in an Employment Discrimination Claim

The federal rules of civil procedure allow discovery into any information that is not protected by privilege and is relevant to a party’s claim or defense. Relevance should be broadly construed to include any information that bears on or could lead to information that bears on a claim or defense. Thus, generally speaking, evidence regarding an employer’s similar acts is relevant in an employment discrimination claim.

As explained by the court, evidence regarding company-wide practices may demonstrate patterns of discrimination, which may increase the likelihood that an employer’s explanation for allegedly discriminatory behavior is a mere pretext. Even when discovery of discriminatory practices is permitted, however, it is usually limited to a plaintiff’s supervisor and division and must be proportional to the needs of the case. In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiff set forth sufficient allegations to demonstrate that the documents requested from the specific employees and the interventional radiology department were relevant and, therefore, discoverable. The court declined to allow the plaintiff to obtain documents regarding alleged discrimination in other departments, however.

Speak to a Seasoned Employment Attorney

If you suffered discrimination in the workplace, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney regarding what evidence you may be able to set forth to prove your employer should be held liable. The seasoned New York employment discrimination attorneys of Gerstman Schwartz LLP are adept at gathering the evidence needed to obtain a successful outcome and we will fight tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact us at our Manhattan office by calling (212) 227-7070 and at our Garden City office by calling (516) 880-8170. You can also contact us via our form online to schedule a meeting.

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