NY Court of Appeals Provides Plaintiff-Favorable Interpretation of Criminal Conviction Discrimination Law

In Sassi v. Mobile Life Support Services, No. 55, 2021 N.Y. Slip Op. 05449, 2021 WL 4732794 (N.Y., Oct. 12, 2021), the New York Court of Appeals broadly construed the New York laws prohibiting discrimination based on a prior criminal conviction.

From the decision:

On this appeal, based on the arguments preserved by the parties, the only question before us is whether plaintiff adequately alleged a violation of the antidiscrimination statutes. While the legislative history suggests that the legislature may not have considered this specific scenario—a request for reemployment with a pre-incarceration employer—we conclude that the factual allegations are sufficient to survive defendant’s pre-answer motion to dismiss. Nothing in the statutory language, scheme, or legislative history indicates that the legislature intended for article 23–A or Executive Law § 296(15) to exempt a previous employer from the reach of those statutes. Instead, the statutes broadly refer to “any application by any person for … employment at any public or private employer, who has previously been convicted of one or more criminal offenses” (Correction Law § 751). Thus, this case does not fall outside the scope of the antidiscrimination statutes merely because plaintiff previously worked for Mobile Life.

In this case, plaintiff alleged that he was terminated for job abandonment soon after he was incarcerated. Applying our liberal standard, the complaint further may be read to allege that, after he completed his sentence, he applied for reemployment in the dispatcher position that he previously held, and Mobile Life denied the application solely because of the prior conviction. Plaintiff alleged that he was advised that, although some supervisors wanted him to return, defendant’s policy was to terminate employees who had been incarcerated. Plaintiff’s allegation that he was told that his request was being denied due solely to his conviction supports the inference that he was not denied employment for some other reason (for example, because the position had been filled during his incarceration).

In sum, the court reversed the Appellate Division’s order, and held that defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7).

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