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First Department Appellate Court Reinforces Liberal Standard for Hostile Work Environment Claims Under the New York City Human Rights Law

Authors: Aaron Warshaw (New York City), Allison E. Ianni (New York City)

Published Date: January 29, 2013

Hernandez v. Kaisman, No. 104989/07 (1st Dep’t Dec. 27, 2012): A group of female plaintiffs alleged that the defendant, a doctor who owned and operated a medical office, created a sexually hostile work environment in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law (the State Law) and the New York City Human Rights Law (the City Law). Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendant sent them, as well as other male and female employees, a series of offensive emails, and made various sexually suggestive comments and gestures toward them, including remarks regarding their breast size. The lower court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion, holding that the defendant’s conduct could be considered equally offensive to male and female employees. On appeal, the First Department appellate court held that a jury could reasonably determine that the defendant sent the emails to provoke a reaction from women in the office, and that the plaintiffs were singled out from the male employees. Under the State Law, the court held that the plaintiffs’ evidence fell short of meeting the severe and pervasive standard required to state a claim. Under the City Law, however, questions of severity and pervasiveness are irrelevant to a determination of liability. The court thus found that the plaintiffs’ claim survived summary judgment because the comments and emails objectifying women’s bodies and exposing them to sexual ridicule, even if “isolated,” signaled that the defendant considered it appropriate to foster an office environment that degraded women. The court therefore reinstated the plaintiffs’ claim under the City Law. This decision demonstrates that courts will continue to analyze claims under the City Law separately and more liberally than claims brought under analogous state and federal laws.

Note: This article was published in the January 2013 issue of the New York eAuthority.

Aaron Warshaw  (New York City)

Aaron Warshaw
Aaron Warshaw is an experienced attorney who represents a diverse array of clients in labor and employment matters. He is one of the founding attorneys of the New York City office. Aaron’s first-chair experience includes representing Fortune 500 companies in single-plaintiff and class-action employment cases. He has actively litigated and appeared in many jurisdictions throughout New York State, including before state courts, federal courts, appellate courts, and administrative agencies....

Allison E. Ianni  (New York City)

Allison E. Ianni
Allison Ianni is Of Counsel in the New York City office of Ogletree Deakins, where she represents and advises management in all aspects of employment law. Ms. Ianni regularly defends employers against claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wage and hour violations, in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies and arbitration panels. In particular, she has represented clients in the media, higher education, insurance, hospitality, and consulting industries. Ms....