Court Upholds NYSDHR Finding of National Origin Discrimination & Hostile Work Environment and Resulting Damages

In Matter of NYS Div. of Human Rights v. SUV Prod., Inc., 2017 NY Slip Op 02910 (NY App. Div. 1st Dept. April 13, 2017), the court unanimously confirmed the findings of the New York State Division of Human Rights’ (DHR) December 19, 2008 Order concluding that respondent subjected complainants to discrimination and a hostile work environment based on their national origin (Hispanic), and imposing damages (3 months’ back pay, and $5,000 for mental anguish and humiliation, for each complainant).

The First Department held that the “DHR’s findings are supported by substantial evidence”, that “[t]he hearing testimony amply demonstrated that respondent discriminated against Perez and Rivera on account of their national origin and subjected them to a hostile work environment”, and that the awarded damages were proper.

While the First Department’s 2017 ruling does not go into detail regarding the underlying facts, the particulars are set out in the Recommended Findings of Fact, Opinion and Decision, and Order issued by the DHR on October 22, 2008.

That document summarized testimony that, inter alia:

  • The complainants and other Hispanic workers “performed the most difficult work such as deliveries and unloading”,
  • Complainants’ superior “alluding to [one complainant’s] Mexican heritage and the fact that the Hispanics did the most difficult work, referred to [the complainant] as ‘Mexicow'”, “said that Hispanics were like burros and pack mules”, and “called the Hispanic workers ‘motherfucker’ and ‘stupid'” while not speaking to Chinese workers in this way,
  • Hispanic workers were disciplined for mistakes on the job while Chinese workers were not,
  • “Hispanic workers were sent home when there was no work while its Chinese workers would remain”, resulting in the Hispanic workers being the first to be laid off or fired.

The DHR concluded that a hostile work environment existed, noting that complainants’ “superior regularly addressed them with vulgar epithets, and used demeaning terms which compared each to beasts of burden” and that “[t]his abusive, hostile and insulting treatment negatively impacted the psychological well-being of both men.”

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