Court Dismisses Attorney’s Disability Discrimination Claims

The Southern District of New York’s recent decision in Eisner v. City of New York, 15-cv-1888, provides a good overview of how courts analyze discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

It also reaffirms the principle that, absent the critical element of causation, merely being in a protected class and suffering an adverse action is insufficient to establish a claim. In addition, the court determined that the appropriate standard for determining causation under the ADA is the so-called “but-for” standard, as opposed to a “mixed motive” standard.

In this case, plaintiff – an Assistant Corporation Counsel in NYC’s Law Department, alleged that “as a result of her disability and the filing of earlier disability discrimination complaints she received negative employment reviews, had pay withheld, and was ultimately terminated.”

The court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. As to her discrimination claims, the court explained:

Eisner has failed to adduce any facts that would give rise to an inference of disability discrimination. She contends that “every single adverse action against [her] flows from her initial disclosure of her disability.” Such a temporal argument is unavailing. Her initial request for accommodation of her disability occurred in 2009, and she was restored to her full-time position in the Appeals Division in April 2012 after filing multiple EEO complaints. The claimed adverse actions occurred over three years after the initial disclosure of her disability, during which time she never again requested accommodation or attributed poor performance to her disability. … Eisner’s disability discrimination claim is nothing more than an argument that because she suffered from a disability and endured an adverse employment action, the former must have caused the latter. Such a tenuous connection fails to make out even a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA or NYCHRL

As to plaintiff’s retaliation claim, the court held that plaintiff “failed to carry her burden of demonstrating that retaliation was the but-for cause of the[] [alleged] adverse employment actions.”

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