Court Addresses Geographical Reach of NYC Human Rights Law in Associational Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

In Anderson v. HotelsAB, LLC, No. 15CV712-LTS-JLC, 2015 WL 5008771 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 24, 2015), plaintiff alleged that defendants discriminated against her in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) by refusing to hire her because of her relationship with her disabled son. This decision addresses the geographical reach of the NYCHRL.

The facts, briefly: Plaintiff applied for a position as a controller with defendant. This position would have required her to work at the Sunset Beach Hotel on Shelter Island from May through September (five months), and at the Company’s corporate office in Manhattan from October through April (seven months), each year. As a final step of the interview, plaintiff met with defendant Andre Balazs. During that meeting, plaintiff alleges, Balazs called her “crazy” and said that plaintiff could never work for him because her disabled son would prevent her from being able to devote adequate time to her work.

Plaintiff sued in the Southern District of New York. Defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), on the ground that plaintiff “failed to show that any alleged discriminatory conduct had an impact within New York City, arguing that Plaintiff allegedly faced discrimination only on Shelter Island, where she was interviewed and where Defendant Balazs allegedly made the discriminatory statements and hiring decision.” The court disagreed, and denied the motion.

Here is the law:

To state a claim under the NYCHRL, a plaintiff must allege that he was discriminated against by the defendant within New York City. Courts have consistently held that the plaintiff must plead and prove that the alleged discriminatory conduct had an impact in New York. To determine where the alleged discriminatory conduct occurred, courts have looked to the location of the impact of the offensive conduct. … Furthermore, it is the site of impact, not the place of origination, that determines where discriminatory acts occur. Where the discriminatory conduct occurs outside the geographical bounds of New York City, courts have found that the impact requirement is satisfied if the plaintiff alleges that the conduct has affected the terms and conditions of plaintiff’s employment within the city. (Citations omitted, paragraphing modified.)

Relying on Robles v. Cox & Co., 841 F. Supp. 2d 615 (EDNY 2012), defendants argued that both the alleged “initial discriminatory act” and “original experience of injury” occurred in Suffolk County, where Shelter Island is located, and not New York City.

The court disagreed, finding that Robles did not “limit the ‘impact’ of an allegedly discriminatory act to such a narrow set of circumstances” and rejected defendants’ “strictly literal” reading of that case.  The court continued:

Because courts have consistently emphasized that the location of the impact of the offensive conduct is the location where the plaintiff feels the impact of a violation of the NYCHRL on his or her employment, a similar analysis must be applied to Plaintiff’s failure to hire claim, premised on the factual allegations that she has presented. Although the alleged discriminatory conduct here (Defendant Balazs’ decision not to hire Plaintiff) occurred outside the geographical bounds of New York City, Plaintiff’s Complaint sufficiently alleges that Defendants’ conduct had an impact with respect to her prospective employment responsibilities in New York City.Plaintiff has alleged that she would have worked in New York for a period of seven months and that the requirements of the controller position would have required her to do so each year. Reading this allegation together with allegations regarding the corporate headquarters of the Company, the Court can reasonably infer that Plaintiff’s employment responsibilities would have brought her within the boundaries of New York City.

Finally, citing the breadth of the NYC Human Rights Law, the court rejected defendants’ argument that “because the job for which Plaintiff was rejected would not have required her to shift the locus of her employment to New York City until several months after she commenced work on Long Island, Plaintiff’s claim of an impact in New York City is overly speculative.”

The court explained:

While it is true that Plaintiff could have resigned or been fired before the time set for transition to New York City, Defendants’ argument would cabin unduly the remedial purposes of the NYCHRL, which was amended in 2005 to broaden its protections because the provisions of the City HRL had been construed too narrowly to ensure protection of the civil rights of all persons covered by the law. … Defendants’ interpretation of the NYCHRL would deny protection against hiring discrimination to anyone who did not actually cross the employer’s threshold in New York. Such a reading is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the law, and the Court rejects it. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff interviewed for, and was denied, a position that included duties in a New York City workplace. Her rejection from the position denied her the opportunity to work in New York City, thus providing the necessary New York City workplace nexus for her claim of a NYCHRL-covered injury. The Court thus finds Plaintiff’s allegations sufficient to satisfy the impact requirement of the NYCHRL and that she has successfully stated a claim under the statute.