Unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State and City Human Rights Laws do provide for individual liability in certain circumstances.
A recent decision, Popat v. Levy et al, No. 1:15-CV-01052 EAW, 2017 WL 2210762 (W.D.N.Y. May 19, 2017), explains and applies the principles regarding individual liability under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL).
Summarizing the law, the court explained:
Under the NYSHRL, an individual may be liable for employment discrimination in two ways. First, an individual can be liable for discrimination under New York Executive Law § 296(1) if the individual qualifies as an employer, that is, one who has any ownership interest or any power to do more than carry out personnel decisions made by others.
Second, an individual may be liable under New York Executive Law § 296(6) as an aider or abettor of the discriminatory conduct. Section 296(6) provides that it is an unlawful discriminatory practice for any person to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden under this article, or to attempt to do so. [A]n individual defendant may be held liable under the aiding and abetting provision of the NYSHRL if he actually participates in the conduct giving rise to a discrimination claim.
Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff’s complaint contained sufficient allegations regarding the liability of individual defendant Dr. Levy:
Plaintiff plausibly alleges that Dr. Levy participated in the conduct giving rise to the discrimination and retaliation claims. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Levy engaged in “severe and pervasive harassment toward Plaintiff due to his race and national origin, and has otherwise created a hostile work environment for dark-skinned employees” (Dkt. 21 at ¶ 27), and that he “fosters a culture at the University, UBNS, and Kaleida permitting sexist remarks, sexually explicit statements, and discriminatory comments about race and national origin” (id. at ¶ 28). Plaintiff also alleges that Dr. Levy, “in retaliation for Plaintiff having filed the discrimination complaints,” ceased referrals to Plaintiff’s current employer, the Delaware Medical Group. (Id. at ¶ 42). Construing these allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that he has adequately stated a claim of discrimination and retaliation against Dr. Levy as an aider and abettor under the NYSHRL.
The court sidestepped case law stating that “an individual cannot be held liable for merely aiding and abetting her own discriminatory conduct”, noting that “[t]hat distinction would not affect the result in this case” since “[p]laintiff asserts his NYSHRL claims against all Defendants, not just Dr. Levy; as a result, it is plausible that Dr. Levy aided and abetted the discriminatory conduct of other Defendants.”