Anti-Semitic Comments Support Employment Discrimination Claim by Non-Jewish Employee Married to Jewish Woman

In Chiara v. Town of New Castle, decided January 14, 2015, the Appellate Division, 2nd Dept. explicitly recognized a cause of action for discrimination “by association” under the New York State Human Rights Law, codified at Executive Law § 296.

Specifically, it concluded that

a plaintiff alleging discrimination in employment on the basis of religion in violation of [the New York State Human Rights Law] can establish a prima facie case by alleging that he was discriminated against because of the religion of his spouse.

In Chiara, plaintiff – who is not Jewish but who is married to a Jewish woman – alleged that his co-workers repeatedly made anti-Semitic remarks in his presence and harassed him after he told them that his wife was Jewish. He also claims that he was terminated, at least in part because of his wife’s religion.

To establish liability under the State Human Rights Law, plaintiff has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating

(1) that he or she is a member of the class protected by the statute, (2) that he or she was actively or constructively discharged, (3) that he or she was qualified to hold the position from which he or she was terminated, and (4) that the discharge occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.

Protected Class

As to the first element, defendants argued that “plaintiff is not a member of a protected class because he is not himself a member of the Jewish faith.”

The court disagreed. Noting that claims under the State Human Rights Law are “analytically identical to claims brought under Title VII” and citing federal appellate authority recognizing so-called associational discrimination claims under Title VII, the court held that “plaintiff sufficiently demonstrated his membership in a protected class by virtue of the defendants’ alleged discriminatory conduct stemming from his marriage to a Jewish person.”

Inference of Discrimination

The court also held that triable issues of fact exist as to whether defendant’s reasons for terminating the plaintiff were “merely a pretext for discrimination or were motivated, in part, by discrimination.”

In particular:

The record demonstrates that the supervisors employed by the Town made various anti-Semitic remarks in the plaintiff’s presence during the time that the disciplinary charges were made against him, and that some of those supervisors testified against him during the administrative hearing, which resulted in the termination of his employment. Thus, a trier of fact could determine that there was a causal connection between the supervisors’ discriminatory comments and the Town’s decision to terminate the plaintiff’s employment.

Since summary judgment is a “drastic remedy which should only be employed when there is no doubt as to the absence of triable issues, it is better to err on the side of permitting the factfinder to decide such issues.”