Court Explains Individual Liability Under State Human Rights Law

A recent district court decision, Patrick v. Garlick, No. 13-CV-6365L, 2014 WL 6883634 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 4, 2014), explains the differences between federal and state anti-discrimination law  regarding individual liability of the alleged harasser.

There, plaintiffs, employees of Seneca Lake State Park, sued Steve Garlick (the park’s branch manager and the plaintiffs’ supervisor), alleging that Garlick subjected them to sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law.

Initially, the court granted plaintiffs’ motion to add the Department of Parks as a defendant.

Next, it addressed Garlick’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint, on the asserted ground that he was not the plaintiffs’ employer and therefore could not be held liable for plaintiffs’ employment discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII and the NYSHRL.

While the court easily dismissed plaintiffs’ Title VII claims against him – citing to well-established law that individuals are not amenable to suit under Title VII – it reached a different conclusion as to plaintiffs’ state law claims:

The plaintiffs’ state law claims are another matter, however. In contrast to discrimination claims under federal law, a supervisor may be an “employer” for purposes of establishing liability under the NYSHRL if that supervisor actually participates in the discriminatory conduct. See Rojas v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, 660 F.3d 98, 107 n. 10 (2d Cir.2011) (“[w]e have observed that claims brought under New York State’s Human Rights Law are analytically identical to claims brought under Title VII … One notable exception to this rule is that, while an individual defendant with supervisory control may not be held personally liable under Title VII, an individual defendant may be held liable under the aiding and abetting provision of the NYSHRL if he actually participates in the conduct giving rise to a discrimination claim”) (internal quotations and citations omitted). …

With the addition of the Department of Parks as a defendant, plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that their employer engaged (or knowingly permitted one of its supervisors, Garlick, to engage) in discrimination and retaliation against the plaintiffs, and that Garlick, the Branch Manager for the Park at which plaintiffs worked and their “boss” for all intents and purposes, actively aided and abetted in that activity, as the plaintiffs’ sole harasser. Thus, accepting plaintiffs’ allegations as true, as I must on a motion to dismiss, I find that plaintiffs have stated claims of discrimination and retaliation against Garlick under the NYHRL, and decline to dismiss those claims at this juncture.

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