Disability Discrimination Claim, Based on Stutter, Survives Motion to Dismiss

In Horwitz v. Loop Capital Markets LLC (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty., Index No. 650944/2016, Dec. 5, 2016), the court denied defendant’s CPLR 3211(a)(7) motion to dismiss and held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged a claim for discrimination based on a disability (here, a stutter) under the New York City Human Rights Law.[1]The court also ruled on plaintiff’s breach of contract, NY Labor Law Art. 6, fraud, and quantum meruit claims.

“A discrimination claim advanced pursuant to the New York City Human Rights Law [] is subject to federal pleading requirements, pursuant to which a plaintiff need not allege specific facts, but need only give fair notice of the nature of the claim and its grounds.”

Here, the court found, plaintiff did so:

Plaintiff pleads that his stutter first became apparent and uncontrollable when he met with [defendant’s senior vice president Bill] James and [defendant’s CEO Jim] Reynolds in person in Chicago, and that as a result, defendant falsely claimed that it canceled the scheduled meeting where he was to make a presentation, and sent him home without explanation. These facts, plaintiff contends, raise an inference that defendant discharged him because of his disability in order to avoid embarrassment at the meeting. …

Accepting plaintiffs allegations as true, and absent any dispute that plaintiffs alleged stutter is a protected disability, it may be inferred from the pleadings that, given plaintiffs TOB [Tender Option Bonds] expertise, defendant hoped that his October 16 presentation would be persuasive. Thus, defendant’s unexpected cancellation of the meeting and termination of plaintiff support an inference that plaintiff’s disability was the actual reason, given a fear that it would jeopardize defendant’s success at the meeting.

The court also rejected defendant’s reliance on the so-called “same actor inference”, reasoning that “while there is a presumption against discrimination where the same actor hires and fires the plaintiff, it is not dispositive.” It continued: “In any event, plaintiff alleges that his stutter did not fully manifest until his in-person meeting with defendant’s principals in Chicago, and defendant provides no basis for believing or inferring that James or Reynolds were aware of his stutter before October 14, 2014.”

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1. The court also ruled on plaintiff’s breach of contract, NY Labor Law Art. 6, fraud, and quantum meruit claims.