The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) applies to most public and private employers in the city. In some circumstances, another statute might preclude a sexual harassment claim against a public employer, such as a government agency. A currently-pending sexual harassment lawsuit involves claims against a public transportation authority, which was established by state law, and its subsidiaries. Jenkins, et al v. N.Y.C. Tr. Auth., et al, No. 153761/2013, complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty., Apr. 25, 2013). The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that state law precluded lawsuits under the NYCHRL. The court found that, while another public transportation authority in New York is exempted from suit, this exemption does not apply to all similar authorities.
The principle of sovereign immunity holds that government agencies are immune from suit when not expressly allowed by statute or agreement. The NYCHRL expressly permits lawsuits against public employers in the city. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-401. The statute defines “employer” as any individual, business, or organization with “four [or more] persons in his or her employ,” id. at § 8-102(5), and it does not make a distinction between public and private employees. Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, constitutes an “unlawful discriminatory practice” under the NYCHRL, id. at § 8-107(1)(a).
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is a public benefit corporation created by state law to administer a district that includes the five counties comprising New York City, the other two counties of Long Island, and Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester Counties. N.Y. Pub. Auth. L. §§ 1262, 1263. Its subsidiary, the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), oversees public transportation for the city. The NYCTA is further subdivided to manage subway, bus, and rail systems.
The plaintiffs in Jenkins worked as bus drivers at a depot in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood. They all complained of sexual harassment by the same supervisor. One plaintiff claims that the supervisor made “brazenly vulgar and humiliating sexual comments to female Bus Operators.” Jenkins, complaint at 3. She also alleges that the supervisor “licked the left side of [her] face, from her left chin up to her temple.” Id. at 4. Other plaintiffs allege similar conduct over a time period ranging from 1999 to 2012. The lawsuit asserts claims for sexual harassment and retaliation under the NYCHRL.
The defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit in 2014, arguing that the NYCHRL was inapplicable to the MTA. They cited a provision of the MTA that states that “local laws…conflicting with this title…shall not be applicable to the activities or operations of the authority and its subsidiaries.” N.Y. Pub. Auth. L. § 1266(8). Two recent appellate decisions, however, ruled that the NYCHRL does not conflict with any MTA rules, and is therefore applicable. Bumpus v. N.Y.C. Tr. Auth., 66 A.D.3d 26 (2d Dep. 2009); Tang v. N.Y.C. Tr. Auth., 55 A.D.3d 720 (2d Dep. 2009). The defendants therefore cited the statute exempting the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA), which covers the Albany area, from laws like the NYCHRL. N.Y. Pub. Auth. L. § 1307(7). The court rejected this argument, finding the wording different in the MTA and CDTA statutes. The case is therefore still pending.
The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for job seekers, employees, and former employees in New York City. Please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case with a member of our team.
More Blog Posts:
New York City Lawsuit Includes Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Lawyer Blog, April 27, 2017
Jury Returns $1 Million Verdict in Sexual Harassment, Bullying Case, New York Employment Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2017
New York City College Agrees to Reforms after Sexual Harassment Investigation, New York Employment Lawyer Blog, April 11, 2017