Plaintiff Plausibly Alleges Disability Discrimination/Hostile Work Environment Based on Perceived Mental Illness

In Williams v. Rosenblatt Sec. Inc., No. 14-CV-4390 (JGK), 2016 WL 4120654 (S.D.N.Y. July 22, 2016), the court held that plaintiff – a former securities strategist – plausibly alleged various discrimination claims, including a hostile work environment claim based on his perceived mental illness. The court evaluated plaintiff’s claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

The court rejected defendants’ argument that “because the plaintiff characterizes much of the adverse treatment he received as retaliation for his report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), he cannot claim that the same adverse treatment resulted from hostility to his perceived disability.” It reasoned:

The plaintiff specifically alleges that starting the first week of June 2012 and continuing into September 2012, he suffered from a campaign of constant taunts and ridicule. During his employment at RSI, he was forced by Rosenblatt to undergo psychiatric counselling. (FAC ¶¶ 121, 179, 199). At various times he was called “dramatic,” “mad,” “crazy,” or otherwise verbally abused, (FAC ¶¶ 8 at 3,1 17(c), 124, 131, 135, 136, 218(a)); he was constantly trivialized, shamed, ignored, or otherwise emotionally abused, (FAC 11 16, 17, 124); it was suggested that he move off the trading floor, (FAC ¶¶ 17, 106); and he was required to take psychotropic medication as a precondition to work on a consulting opportunity. (FAC ¶ 182.) The plaintiff also alleges that Rosenblatt, Gawronski, and Wishnow refused to investigate his complaints of abuse, harassment, and work sabotage because they regarded the plaintiff as being unreasonably disruptive as a result of his mental illness. (See FAC ¶¶ 17(a)-(c).) The plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that the defendants regarded him as mentally ill, and that his alleged adverse treatment was plausibly connected to the perceived mental illness.

It also held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the alleged discriminatory conduct was objectively severe to make out a hostile work environment claim:

[P]laintiff alleges that from June to September 2012 he suffered frequent insults and ridicule because of his perceived mental illness. (See, e.g., FAC ¶¶ 8 at 3, 16, 17(c), 124, 125, 131, 135, 136, 218.) Specifically, the plaintiff was insulted and humiliated when RSI employees allegedly called him a “mad scientist,” “crazy,” “dramatic,” or when several individual defendants laughed in his face. (FAC ¶¶ 17(c), 218.) These mental disability related insults or abuses allegedly caused the plaintiff to be marginalized and isolated in the firm, and prevented him from collaborating with colleagues for whom his work might be useful. (FAC ¶ 218.) The plaintiff’s complaints about work sabotage or inadequate support were allegedly dismissed as imaginary or dramatic because of his perceived mental illness, which in turn compromised his job performance. (See, e.g., FAC ¶¶ 8 at 3, 16, 17(c), 111, 112, 138, 141.) Taking these allegations as true and drawing inferences most favorable to the plaintiff, the Court cannot decide that these allegations fall short of objective severity.

Plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege “aiding and abetting” liability against several individual defendants, since plaintiff’s complaint was “devoid of any non-conclusory allegation regarding any direct involvement by [those persons] in the alleged medical inquiry, disclosure of medical information, or the campaign to harass, neglect, and isolate the plaintiff.”

However, that claim was sustained against one individual, since the complaint “made specific allegations that [that person] directly participated in imposing on the plaintiff a condition of psychiatric treatment for a consulting opportunity.”

Share This: