Discrimination Actions in New York When You Work for an Academic Employer

When it becomes necessary to initiate an employment discrimination lawsuit, you can probably expect your employer to throw up many arguments against you. They may say that you’ve filed too late. They may say you have no right to sue. They may contend that you did not comply with some aspect of a rule of trial procedure. The best way to prepare yourself to take on — and overcome — defense arguments like these is to ensure you have a powerful and knowledgeable New York age discrimination on your side from the start.

E.R.’s age discrimination case was an example of one of those instances where a worker overcame that kind of defense argument.

E.R. was a highly accomplished university professor. After 23 years at CUNY-Baruch College, he accepted a position at Long Island University in 2015. He was in his early 60s at the time. For his first three years at LIU, he served as the dean of the business school.

According to the professor, the university had agreed to provide him with a one-year sabbatical after he completed his three-year stint as dean and, after the sabbatical’s conclusion, a “full professor” position earning 75% of his salary as a dean.

The university, however, did not handle E.R. in that manner. It allegedly gave him no sabbatical after he finished his time as the dean of the business school, then placed him in a professor position paying him less than half what he was expecting to earn ($86,000 as opposed to $190,000+.) Subsequently, the professor sued for age discrimination.

The university asserted that the professor was not even entitled to pursue a discrimination action under the New York State Human Rights Law or the New York City Human Rights Law, arguing that the professor’s lone avenue for seeking recourse was something called a “special proceeding,” which is set out in Article 78 of the CPLR.

That argument had an added potential benefit for the employer. The statute of limitations for Article 78 special proceedings is shorter than discrimination lawsuits under the NYSHRL and/or NYCHRL. While the professor’s claim was timely under discrimination law, it would have fallen outside the deadline period for an Article 78 special proceeding.

The trial court rejected the employer’s argument and, earlier this month, the Appellate Division court upheld that ruling. The trial court explained that, while it is true that the courts “have a restricted role in dealing with and reviewing controversies involving” strictly academic matters, that standard does not apply in all situations.

Academic Employers are Bound by NY’s Anti-Discrimination Laws

If a dispute involves a purely academic matter, then an Article 78 special proceeding is the technique an employee must utilize. On the other hand, when issues of possible employment discrimination have occurred, the rules are different. As the trial judge explained, “while it is true that the courts are reluctant to intervene in controversies involving purely academic determinations of educational institutions, the fact that an employer is an educational institution does not permit it to discriminate against its employees on the basis of age, or otherwise insulate it from liability for violations” of the NYSHRL and NYCHRL.

The Appellate Division court also hammered home the same point. Just because a worker’s employer is an academic institution, that alone doesn’t necessarily mean that the personnel decisions it makes automatically are “academic matters” that can only be resolved through an Article 78 special proceeding.

In E.R.’s case, his cause of action was age discrimination. Whether or not the university engaged in discrimination on the basis of E.R.’s advanced age was something that specifically related to a non-academic matter and one for which an employee may seek recovery in an NYSHRL and/or NYCHRL discrimination action in civil court.

New York law has created special proceedings under Article 78 to address disputes surrounding certain “academic” decisions made by institutions of learning as an acknowledgment of the courts’ limited role in certain forms of “purely academic” decision-making. However, if you’re an employee of an academic institution, don’t be misled into thinking that you are entitled to anything less than the full protection of the laws (federal, state, and city) when it comes to prohibitions against workplace discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, etc. When that happens to you, you’re entitled to bring your case in a civil action just the same as any other New York worker. The skilled New York age discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. Age discrimination is wrong and our diligent attorneys are passionate about holding those responsible for it accountable for their actions. To find out more, contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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