Tackling a New York City Human Rights Law Discrimination Case When Your Employer is a Public Entity

A common saying that suggests that someone who serves as his own lawyer “shall be sure to have a fool for a client,” dates all the way back to the 17th Century, but it’s still true today. Even licensed New York attorneys understand that, if they’ve endured discrimination at work, they should not try to pursue their case on their own, especially if they’re not experienced in employment discrimination matters. After you encountered discrimination at work, make sure you have the representation you need by hiring a knowledgeable New York City workplace discrimination lawyer.

M.B. was one of those lawyers. M.B., a Black woman, was an employee with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. After some time with the MTA, she sought a promotion to an “Attorney II” position. M.B. didn’t receive that promotion. Instead, the MTA awarded the promotion to a white woman who allegedly had less experience than M.B. had. Specifically, M.B. asserted that the employer’s standards required that all “Attorney II” lawyers have three years of experience, which she had and the white woman did not.

So the Black attorney sued, and retained counsel to handle her case. Her complaint alleged that racial discrimination was the reason that the employer promoted a less-experienced white woman over her.

The employer made a motion asking the trial judge to issue a judgment in its favor “as a matter of law.” This means there is no set of facts the plaintiff can present that would make her case legally sufficient, and her action should be thrown out even without a trial.

When an employer makes a motion like this, the law imposes various requirements on it before a court can grant it. These are important to keep in mind because an employer’s failure to meet one or more of these criteria can get the employer’s motion denied and allow you to proceed toward trial with your case.

The first thing an employer making this kind of motion must do is establish certain baseline (or “prima facie”) things. Specifically, the law says that an employer seeking judgment as a matter of law in a workplace race discrimination case must persuade the trial judge “that there was no evidentiary route that could allow a jury to find that discrimination on the basis of [race] played a role in their challenged actions.”

The defense in M.B.’s case argued that, as a public corporation, it was exempt from the requirements of the New York City Human Rights Law. The employee’s success in defeating this claim is an important outcome for all people who work for entities like MTA to keep in mind.

New York’s Public Authorities Law Generally Doesn’t Prohibit Discrimination Actions

Section 1266 of New York Public Authorities Law contains a provision exempting certain public entities from some civil actions. That exemption, however, doesn’t apply to the NYCHRL’s anti-discrimination requirements. Back in 2008, the Appellate Division addressed this argument and ruled that Section 1266 does not exempt entities like MTA from all “local laws affecting its activities and operations, but rather, only those… that interfered with the accomplishment of its transportation purposes.” Because complying with the anti-discrimination requirements of the NYCHRL would do nothing to impede the transportation function of MTA, the exemption didn’t apply.

A 2009 case, though not an employment discrimination dispute, further reiterates this point. The plaintiff was a trans woman who, while inside a subway station, allegedly incurred a slew of “discriminatory epithets” from a transit authority worker. The trans woman filed an NYCHRL lawsuit against both the transit authority and the worker.

The worker alleged that, due to Section 1266, the trial court had no jurisdiction to enter a judgment against her. Again, the court pointed out that Section 1266 only applies if a local law impairs the “activities and operations” of the entity. (Implicitly, that generally results in the defendant bearing the burden of showing that a conflict exists.) In this trans woman’s case, the employee didn’t demonstrate the existence of a conflict between city anti-discrimination law and the activities and operation of the subway, so the argument failed and the plaintiff was allowed to continue pursuing her discrimination case.

Any workplace discrimination case may come with unforeseen hurdles and pitfalls. One of the best ways to ensure you’re fully equipped to address all of these and still emerge successful is by having the right legal team advocating for you. The experienced New York race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help you tackle whatever you face as part of your discrimination case, and to emerge with a positive outcome. Contact us online or at (866) 490-5193 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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