Doctor’s Age Discrimination Complaint Sufficiently Alleged Against Physician Affiliate Group of New YorkNeonatologist

In Watman v. Physician Affiliate Group of New York, P.C., No. 527615/2019, 2021 WL 840020, 2021 N.Y. Slip Op. 30651(U) (N.Y. Sup Ct, Kings County Mar. 04, 2021), the court held that plaintiff – a 62 year-old neonatologist – sufficiently alleged age discrimination under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

The court summarized the pertinent law as follows:

To state a cause of action alleging age discrimination under the New York Human Rights Law (Executive Law § 296), a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) that he or she was a member of a protected class, (2) that he or she was actively or constructively discharged (3) that he or she was qualified to hold the position for which he or she was terminated, and (4) that the discharge occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of age discrimination. Under the CHRL, a plaintiff sustains an adverse employment action if he or she endures a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment, which must be more disruptive than mere inconvenience or alteration of job responsibilities (see Ferrante v. American Lung Assn., 90 N.Y.2d 623, 665 N.Y.S.2d 25; Ehmann v. Good Samaritan Hosp. Med. Ctr., 90 A.D.3d 985, 935 N.Y.S.2d 639; Balsamo v. Savin Corp., 61 A.D.3d 622, 877 N.Y.S.2d 146; Wiesen v. New York Univ., 304 A.D.2d 459, 758 N.Y.S.2d 51; Terranova v. Liberty Lines Tr., 292 A.D.2d 441, 738 N.Y.S.2d 693; Kassner v. 2nd Avenue Delicatessen Inc., 496 F.3d 229, 238 [2d Cir.]).

In addition, employment discrimination cases are themselves generally reviewed under notice pleading standards. For example, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it has been held that a plaintiff alleging employment discrimination need not plead specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination but need only give “fair notice of the nature of the claim and its grounds (Vig v. NY Hair spray Co., 67 A.D.3d 140; Artis v. Random House, Inc., 34 Misc.3d 858, 936 N.Y.S.2d 479; Swierkiewicz v. Sorema NA 534 US 506, 122 S Court 992 (2002)).

Applying these “liberal pleading standards”, the court held

that plaintiff has stated causes of action for violations of both NYS HRL 296 and NYC HRL 8-101. Though analyzed under a similar framework as the NYS HRL, the more broadly construed NYC HRL has been interpreted as requiring “that unlawful discrimination play ‘no role’ in an employment decision” (Bennett v. Health Mgt. Sys., Inc., 92 A.D.3d 29, 936 N.Y.S.2d 112, Williams Jr. v. New York City Transit Authority, 171 A.D.3d 990, 97 N.Y.S.3d 692). The court notes that defendants do not dispute that the complaint satisfies three (3) of the four (4) elements necessary to state a claim for age discrimination. Here, plaintiff has stated a claim for age discrimination under NYS HRL 296 by **4 alleging the four elements of the claim namely that: 1) at age 62 he is a member of a protected class, 2) that he was discharged on April 19, 2019, 3) that he is qualified to hold his position as neonatologist and Director of Newborn Services having the required licenses, training and qualifications, and 4) that the discharge occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of age discrimination; namely that there were no legitimate grounds for discharge. Plaintiff states in his complaint that he was not subject to any malpractice or disciplinary actions. He states that his termination was part of defendant’s pattern of terminating older doctors and staff and replacing them with younger doctors and staff and that older and younger employees are treated differently. Further, plaintiff states that CIH personnel have directed specific ageist comments at him. Accordingly, defendant’s 3211(a)(7) motion to dismiss is denied.

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