Court Dismisses NYC Human Rights Law Claims (Sexual Harassment Etc.) Against Non-NYC Company

A recent New York state court decision, Fernandez v. POP Displays & Active Staffing Services (NY Sup. Ct. NY Cty. 154516/2016 Jan. 5, 2017), illustrates the limitations on the geographic reach of the New York City Human Rights Law. The court granted defendant POP Display’s motion to dismiss under CPLR 3211(a)(2) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

In her complaint, plaintiff asserts claims of sexual harassment, disparate treatment (gender discrimination) and retaliation. Plaintiff resides in the Bronx. She secured her position with Yonkers-based defendant POP Displays through defendant recruiter/employment agency Active Staffing.

POP Displays argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over it because the alleged discriminatory conduct it engaged in did not occur within NYC; plaintiff counters that the NYC Human Rights Law applies “because she is a resident of New York City and the alleged acts of discrimination had an impact in New York City.”

The court agreed with the defendant.

The law, as summarized by the court:

Title 8 of the New York City Administrative Code [the New York City Human Rights Law, or NYCHRL] makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge from employment, or to discriminate against in compensation or in the terms, conditions or privileges of employment, any person based on their “actual or perceived age, race, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status. To state a claim under the NYCHRL, plaintiff must allege that the defendant discriminated against her within the boundaries of New York City. In analyzing where the discrimination occurred the courts look to the location of the impact of the offensive conduct. Where the alleged discriminatory act takes place outside of New York City, the relevant location of the injury for purposes of the impact analysis is not the Plaintiff’s residence, but the Plaintiff’s place of employment.

Applying the law, the court explained:

In the instant action, plaintiff argues that because she resides in New York City, plaintiff’s termination of employment affected her in New York City, and thus had an impact in New York City. Plaintiff does not assert that she ever worked in New York City. To the contrary, plaintiff was employed by and worked at defendant POP Display’s company, which is located in Yonkers, outside of New York City. Plaintiff’s contention, thus, is insufficient to apply the NYCHRL to a defendant who does not maintain offices in New York City and where the alleged discrimination giving rise to the claims occurred well outside the boundaries of New York City. Accordingly, NYCHRL does not apply to the plaintiff’s first, second and third causes of action as against defendant POP Displays.

The court also dismissed plaintiff’s second cause of action, disparate treatment due to gender, for failure to state a claim – or, more specifically, as duplicative of plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim:

Plaintiff’s disparate treatment claim arises from the allegation that defendant POP Displays purposefully hired women, instead of men, so that they could be sexually harassed. Under this cause of action, plaintiff alleges she suffered disparate treatment based on her gender because defendant only hired females so that they could be sexually harassed. This claim is based on allegations that constitute a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment cannot alone be considered an adverse employment action lest every … harassment claim would give rise to a disparate treatment claim and vice vers[a]. Thus, the claims under the guise of disparate treatment are identical and duplicative of the first cause of action.

The court set the matter down for a preliminary conference, so that discovery can proceed.

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