Citing Geographical Limitations of NY State and City Human Rights Laws, First Department Dismisses Plaintiff’s Employment Discrimination Complaint

The New York State and City Human Rights Laws are powerful weapons in the civil rights plaintiff’s arsenal. For example, they reach a broader range of people, and offer broader coverage, than their federal counterparts. However, as illusratd by a recent First Department decision, Benham v. eCommission Solutions (decided June 24, 2014), they are limited in one sense: geography.

In Benham, plaintiff sued, alleging disability and gender discrimination in violation of the NY State and City Human Rights Laws, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The First Department reversed the trial court’s denial of defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint.

Citing Hoffman v. Parade Publications, the court held that “[b]ecause the alleged conduct occurred while plaintiff was physically situated outside of New York, none of her concrete allegations of harassing behavior or other discriminatory conduct had the ‘impact’ on plaintiff in New York required to support claims under the State and City HRL” and hence dismissed those claims due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that “because she filed New York State nonresident income tax returns and paid income taxes here, she is entitled to the “protections, benefits and values” of New York government, including the State and City HRL”, reasoning that “[w]hether New York courts have subject matter jurisdiction over a nonresident plaintiff’s claims under the HRLs turns primarily on her physical location at the time of the alleged discriminatory acts, and not on her taxpayer status.”

It also dismissed plaintiff’s breach of contract and promissory estoppel claim, reasoning that “at most, the parties had a mere “agreement to agree” that plaintiff should receive some sort of equity stake in defendant … with the terms of that stake subject to future negotiations and approval” and that “[t]he failure of the parties to agree on the precise form of the equity stake causes plaintiff’s contract claim to fail for lack of definiteness in the material terms of her equity compensation.”

Finally, it dismissed plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim as duplicative of and “indistinguishable from” her breach of contract claim, and dismissed her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim since her “allegations fall well short of the level of outrageousness necessary to establish” that claim.

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