United States: New York Federal Court Applies New York City Human Rights Law’s Liability Provision To Employer’s Agent

Last Updated: April 15 2015
Article by Michael S. Arnold

The New York City Human Rights Law specifically says that an employer's agent can be held liable for discrimination, but its liability provision doesn't address the circumstances under which that agent may be held liable for the discriminatory actions of the agent's employee.  A New York Federal Court has now addressed this gap in the law.

Background

In Suarez v. City of New York, the New York City Department of Transportation (the DOT or City) hired the plaintiff as a deckhand on the Staten Island Ferry.  The plaintiff complained to her immediate DOT supervisor about sexual harassment by a security guard employed by Allied Security Services, which had contracted with the DOT to provide security services on the ferry.  The DOT alerted Allied about the complaint, but rebuffed Allied's efforts to participate in the investigation.  Allied still reminded the security guard about its harassment policy, warned him that "future instances [of inappropriate behavior] would constitute harassment," and reassigned him to a different part of the ferry so he wouldn't cross paths with the plaintiff.  The City later fired the plaintiff and she subsequently sued both the City and Allied alleging, among other things, a hostile work environment.

Allied eventually asked the Court to enter summary judgment in its favor because (1) Allied didn't employ the plaintiff and therefore she lacked standing to sue Allied under the New York City Human Rights Law; and (2) even if she did have standing, the alleged conduct did not amount to a hostile work environment.  The Court obliged Allied, but not for the reasons Allied said were applicable.

The Eastern District Court Finds That Allied Is Not Liable to Plaintiff For Its Security's Guard's Discriminatory Actions

The Court quickly brushed aside Allied's "standing" argument since the Human Rights Law explicitly provides for liability by employers and their employees and agents (§8-107(1)).  As the City's agent, the court found, Allied could be held liable.  But should it?  This is where this decision caught my eye.

Employers, employees and agents are held liable where they actually participate in the discriminatory acts.  The City Human Rights Law has an explicit provision (§8-107(13)(b)) that defines when an employer is considered to have "participated" in the discrimination based on the actions of the employer's employees and agents.  It identifies three ways:

  1. the employee or agent exercised managerial or supervisory responsibility; or
  2. the employer knew of the employee's or agent's discriminatory conduct, and acquiesced in such conduct or failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action; or
  3. the employer should have known of the employee's or agent's discriminatory conduct and failed to exercise reasonable diligence to prevent such discriminatory conduct.

Curiously though, while the law makes "agents" potentially liable (§8-107(1)), this specific provision (§8-107(13)(b)) only references when employers can be held liable for the actions of their employees and agents, and it doesn't reference when agents can be held liable for the actions of their own employees.  And that is where we come back to Suarez where the court spotted this statutory gap, but quickly concluded that §8-107(13)(b) should apply with "equal force" to agents like Allied because it "would make little sense" to hold Allied "strictly liable for the conduct of its non-supervisory employees."

Having filled in this statutory gap, the court then analyzed whether the plaintiff could show that Allied knew or should have known of its security guard's unlawful discriminatory conduct and acquiesced in it or failed to exercise reasonable diligence to prevent it in the first place.  The Court found that the plaintiff could not make this showing because, in fact, Allied didn't know and couldn't have known about the alleged harassment until the plaintiff complained, and once she did complain, Allied sought to fix the problem by warning the security guard and moving him to another part of the ferry.

Takeaways

Allied got away unscathed here – legally, that is.  It had an anti-harassment policy in place, and once it heard about the problem, it took steps to eliminate it.  Had Allied turned a blind eye and relied on the DOT to solve this problem or had the harasser been in a supervisory position, the story may have had a different ending.  The lesson here is that employers and their corporate agents should be proactive about instituting broad-based anti-discrimination/harassment policies and training their staff members to understand these policies (including the complaint reporting mechanism) and that violations thereof will not be tolerated. By taking proactive measures, they can stop discrimination or harassment from happening in the first place, especially by supervisors or managers since employers and their corporate agents can be held strictly liable for their actions under the City Human Rights Law. And if for some reason it still happens, they will be well-positioned to quickly address and eliminate the problem and reduce and corresponding exposure.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Michael S. Arnold
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions