New York Court Denies Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under most employment discrimination statutes in the U.S. New York City sexual harassment attorneys can bring claims under laws at three levels — federal, state, and city — depending on the circumstances of a particular case. A defendant can try to dispose of a case before it goes to trial by various means, including summary judgment. This is a type of judgment where a judge finds that no “material issues of fact” are in dispute. In February, a New York City court denied a motion for summary judgment in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender, including sexual harassment. One type of sexual harassment claim alleges that unwanted sexual conduct was pervasive or severe enough that it created a hostile work environment and prevented the plaintiff from performing their job duties. The NYCHRL also bars employers from retaliating against an employee who reports unlawful discrimination.

When a defendant moves for summary judgment on a claim under the NYCHRL, courts apply a “burden-shifting analysis” established by the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). If the plaintiff can show that they belong to a protected class, that they were qualified for their job, and that they suffered some adverse consequence because of their membership in the protected class, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to show a nondiscriminatory reason for its action. The plaintiff may then have a chance to show that the employer’s reasons were a pretext for discrimination.

New York City courts do not use the burden-shifting analysis on all parts of a sexual harassment claim based on the NYCHRL. In the order denying summary judgment mentioned earlier, the court cites a 2018 decision by the New York Appellate Division, First Department, which alleged three acts of gender discrimination: hostile work environment, failure to promote, and unlawful termination. The appellate court declined to use the burden-shifting analysis on the hostile work environment claim, holding that it would “not serve the [NYCHRL’s] broad remedial purpose” to require a rebuttal to the defendant’s explanation for how the plaintiff was treated.

The plaintiff in the present case alleges facts that are similar to those presented in the 2018 appellate court decision. She claims that she was initially successful at her job with the defendant, but that this changed after she rebuffed sexual advances by her direct supervisor. He allegedly began to treat her with “constant unwarranted hostility and criticism.” She further alleges that the employer retaliated against her when she complained, and that she was compelled to resign due to the hostile work environment.

The court followed the appellate court’s decision and did not apply the burden-shifting analysis to the plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim. Instead, it focused on her allegation that the supervisor treated her poorly because of her gender. It ruled that the plaintiff raised a material issue of fact in her claim that “her treatment at the workplace deteriorated” after she rejected the supervisor’s advances. It denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on that claim.

Phillips & Associates’ experienced and skilled sexual harassment attorneys represent New York City workers in discrimination and harassment claims. Please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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