Sexual Harassment Claim Sufficiently Alleged; Dismissal of Federal and State Claims Did Not Operate as “Collateral Estoppel”

In a recent case, Domingo v. Avis Budget Group, et al., No. 2021-02638, 709558/20, 2023 WL 5599153 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept., Aug. 30, 2023), the court modified a lower court decision to deny defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s causes of action for hostile work environment and aiding and abetting.

In sum, plaintiff commenced an action alleging discrimination and retaliation in federal court in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. That court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state and city law claims.

Plaintiff then commenced this action in state court, and defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds of “collateral estoppel” and failure to state a claim.

In explaining its conclusion that plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim was not subject to dismissal, the court provides informative guidance on the difference in scope between federal and state law, on the one hand, and New York City law, on the other:

Here, the factual determinations made by the District Court with regard to the cause of action alleging retaliation under Title VII and NYSHRL were determinative of the causes of action alleging retaliation and interference asserted in this action pursuant to NYCHRL. However, the Supreme Court erred in granting dismissal of the cause of action alleging hostile work environment pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5). The District Court analyzed the hostile work environment claims under the standards set by Title VII and NYSHRL, and determined that those claims were neither “pervasive” nor “extraordinarily severe.” Under NYCHRL, a claimant must only prove that they were “treated less well than other employees” because of their gender.

[Cleaned up.]

The court concluded that since “the plaintiff’s allegations of sexual harassment and improper touching could constitute ‘more than petty slights and trivial inconveniences’ without rising to the level of being severe and pervasive, Supreme Court should not have granted dismissal of this cause of action pursuant to the doctrine of collateral estoppel.”

It held, in addition, that “the factual determinations of the [federal] District Court were not determinative of the cause of action alleging aiding and abetting, and the plaintiff sufficiently alleged this cause of action to survive a motion to dismiss.”

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