Federal Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over Sexual Harassment Claims Adjudicated at State Agency

In Graham v. Goodwill Industries, Inc., 16-cv-6468, 2018 WL 1318988 (EDNY March 14, 2018), the court held, inter alia, that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff’s sexual harassment claims under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.[1]The court also, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as they were based on “conclusory and vague allegations of offhand comments by unnamed individuals under unspecified circumstances (e.g., time and place).”

Plaintiff had filed a complaint with the NYSDHR alleging (inter alia), sexual harassment, based on alleged “groping” by a program participant. The NYSDHR dismissed that claim, concluding that “this one-time incident cannot be considered sufficiently severe, pervasive, or both, as to constitute a violation of the Human Rights Law,” that defendant “took reasonable steps to address the behavior once informed.”

The court explained that “[o]nce a plaintiff brings a case before the NYSDHR, he or she may appeal only to the Supreme Court of the State of New York.” Here, “[p]laintiff never challenged the NYSDHR’s dismissal of her NYSHRL and NYCHRL claims in New York Supreme Court as required,” and instead – improperly – filed her complaint in federal court. Accordingly, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state and city claims, and dismissed them.

1 The court also, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as they were based on “conclusory and vague allegations of offhand comments by unnamed individuals under unspecified circumstances (e.g., time and place).”
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