Public Accommodation Sexual Harassment is Actionable Under the NYC Human Rights Law, Court Holds

In Vasquez v. Manhattan Physician Group, 2018 WL 587135, 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 30157(U) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Jan. 29, 2018), the court denied the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant, a medical office, on plaintiff’s claim of sexual harassment under the New York City Human Rights Law.

In sum, this cases arose from the termination of a doctor-patient relationship following a gynecological exam. Plaintiff asserted, inter alia, that the defendant doctor said that she had a “pretty face”, touched her neck tattoo without prompting or medical purpose, and touched her inappropriately during an exam.

Initially, the court held that the NYC Human Rights Law applied:

A medical office treating patients is a public accommodation under the City HRL (see e.g., Cahill v Rosa, applying the City HRL to a dentist who refused to treat a patient diagnosed with AIDS). The threshold question here is whether the rule articulated in Williams – that a gender discrimination violation of the City HRL is present when a plaintiff has been treated less well than other employees because of her gender – applies to public accommodations, such as a doctor’s office. Here, the language of Administrative Code § 8-107 [4] [1] [a], which precludes gender discrimination in [places of public accommodation], is broadly worded, like the language of Administrative Code § 8-107 [1] [a], which precludes gender discrimination in the workplace. While this appears to be a novel question of law, there is no reason why Justice Acosta’s formulation regarding disparate treatment does not apply equally to public accommodations. In other words, the City HRL prohibits sexual harassment not only in the workplace, but also by the providers of public accommodations.

Having found the statute applicable, the court held:

[P]laintiff raises an issue of fact as to whether Karamitsos, overall, treated her less well than other patients because of her gender. Although men are not typically treated by gynecologists, would a similarly situated man, at a urology appointment, be told, repeatedly, that he has a pretty face? Would the urologist touch his neck for a non-medical purpose? These are questions of fact for a jury, and not suitable to resolution at this stage.