Plaintiff Adequately Pleads “Aiding and Abetting” Claim Against Individual Under the New York City Human Rights Law

In Baldwin v. Bank of America, N.A., the New York Supreme Court, Kings County, recently held that plaintiff adequately pled “aiding and abetting” claims against her former supervisor, Perez.

Plaintiff alleged discrimination on the basis of gender, pregnancy, and disability. Her complaint contained four causes of action: three against the defendant Bank, and the fourth against Perez, charging him with “aiding, abetting, inciting, compelling and coercing the discriminatory practices suffered by Plaintiff.” She also alleged that “Defendants” fired her.

Initially, the court noted that the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) is broader than the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) in general, and in particular with respect to individual liability:

In contrast to [NYSHRL] § 296(1)(a), which in defining those who may be held liable for unlawful discriminatory practices speaks of an employer without mention of employees and agents, [the NYCHRL] § 8–107(1)(a) expressly provides that it is unlawful for an employer or an employee or an agent thereof to engage in discriminatory employment practices. Thus, the [City Human Rights Law] provides for individual liability of an employee regardless of ownership or decisionmaking power. …

Even though … aiding-and-abetting liability under the [NYSHRL] has been limited in order to avoid undermining the limited direct individual liability under that Law, courts apply the same standards to aiding-and-abetting liability under the [NYCHRL], without considering the effect of the broader direct individual liability under the City Law.

It concluded that plaintiff adequately stated a claim under the “notice pleading” standard applicable to employment discrimination cases:

Plaintiff alleges that defendant Perez was the Bank’s “Branch Manager and Plaintiff’s supervisor”; and that “Defendants terminated Plaintiff’s employment”. Plaintiff does not allege that defendant Perez is directly liable under [NYCHRL] § 8–107(1)(a), but only that, under § 8–107(6), he is liable for aiding and abetting the “discriminatory employment practices suffered by Plaintiff”. Even applying the standards for aiding-and-abetting liability under the [NYSHRL] (which, again, is not alleged), the minimal allegations as to defendant Perez’s status with the Bank do not include allegations of fact that would allow a determination that Defendant had sufficient authority to hire and fire so as to be subject to the limited direct liability under the [NYSHRL]. Similarly, the complaint includes no allegations as to the participants in Plaintiff’s termination, which may or may not have included coemployees in addition to Defendant, and, if there were others, the manner in which the determination to terminate Plaintiff was made or the respective roles of Defendant and of any coemployee other than Defendant.

Again, Defendant points out the lack of allegations of specific facts, but does not cite any authority that they are necessary to a viable pleading, nor has the Court seen any. The allegations that do appear in the complaint do not suggest other facts that would preclude defendant Perez’s liability, even under the standards for aiding-and-abetting liability under the [NYSHRL].

While the court found that plaintiff stated a claim, it was careful to note that defendant will have the opportunity to “test the legal and factual bases for his liability after appropriate discovery with a motion for summary judgment.”