Absence of Employer/Employee Relationship Dooms NYS Human Rights Law Gender Discrimination Claim

In Williams v. Genmill LLC, No. 652706/2020, 2023 WL 2650427, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 30942(U) (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Mar. 27, 2023), the court, inter alia, granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim of gender discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law.

The plaintiff here alleged, among other things, that defendant terminated his employment based on false accusations of sexual misconduct that were motivated by gender animus.

From the decision:

This court concurs with defendant that, as an independent contractor, plaintiff was “not eligible for protection under Executive Law § 296(1)(a)”, Scott v Massachusetts Life Ins Co, 86 NY2d 429, 433 (1995). In its supporting papers, defendant submits a copy of Tax Form 1099, for calendar year 2019. Such fo **6 rm, as opposed to a Tax Form W2, is evidence that plaintiff was an independent contractor, not an employee of defendant. Moreover, in the complaint at bar, plaintiff alleges that defendant paid him as a function of the number of students per class that he taught, rather than an hourly, weekly or monthly salary and that his accusers were employed by him. Moreover, in the complaints in the actions entitled Williams v Star Struck Dance Inc, Index No. 150967/2020 (Supreme Court, New York County 2020) and Williams v Protect NYC Dancers, 20 CV 02684 (US Court, SDNY 2020), plaintiff alleges that from November 2018 through January 2020, while he worked for defendant, he also worked for Broadway Dance Centers, Dance Expression and Star Struck Dance. Such judicial admissions establish that he was free to engage in other employment, thus having an unfixed schedule with defendant, contradicting any implication that he was a teacher, employed “full-time” by defendant. Assuming the truth of the material allegations of plaintiff’s complaint, as this court must on defendant’s motion to dismiss (Leder v Spiegel, 31 Ad3d 266, 267 [1st Dept 2006]), such claims allege only “incidental control over the results produced [by plaintiff] without further indicia of control over the means employed to achieve the results” by defendant. Plaintiff’s insufficient assertions of an employer/employee relationship, as a matter of law and fact, allege that plaintiff was an independent contractor, Bynog v Cipriani Group, 1 NY3d 193, 198 [2003]). Therefore, as on the face of his complaint, plaintiff fails to allege an employee-employee relationship between the parties, his gender discrimination cause of action fails to state a claim under New York State Executive Law § 296(1)(a). This court notes that the absence of allegations of an employer/employer relationship is fatal to plaintiff’s claim pursuant to Executive Law § 296(1)(a). [Cleaned up.]

The court noted, though, that “[h]ad plaintiff alleged such a relationship, the remaining allegations of the complaint s to gender discrimination would have been sufficient to allege a cognizable claim pursuant to” the NYSHRL.

Finally, it explained that ” even assuming arguendo, that plaintiff was an employee of defendant, and that the accusers were likewise employed, there is no theory of liability, tort or otherwise, that would impose a duty, respondeat superior on defendant, as employer, to plaintiff, as an employee falsely accused of sexual misconduct.”

Therefore, it followed that “since there is no such duty on the part of the employer, with respect to accusations by plaintiff’s co-workers that were ultimately determined to be false, there is no duty, in tort or otherwise, that defendant employer owed to plaintiff, its alleged employee, to investigate whether the sexual misconduct accusations against plaintiff made by his alleged co-workers were falsehoods.”

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