Disability Discrimination Case Survives Summary Judgment Against City of New York Business Integrity Commission

In Kornmann v. City of New York Business Integrity Commission, 2020 WL 3165537 (E.D.N.Y. June 15, 2020), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of plaintiff’s claim of disability discrimination.

From the decision:

For purposes of this motion, defendants do not dispute that plaintiff has satisfied the first three factors for his prima facie case, but contest whether plaintiff has shown the fourth factor, i.e., that his termination was the result of his disability.

However, plaintiff has easily met his de minimis burden. His claim is that instead of making a reasonable scheduling accommodation for his chondromalacia, Del Pino: (1) put him on a schedule that plaintiff’s condition would make painful or impossible to keep, thus setting him up for failure; (2) rather than waiting for him to file and proceed to a grievance hearing for the failure to accommodate, Del Pino made up a story about a gun threat; and (3) BIC determined to fire plaintiff, at the possible cost of his pension, based on the false gun threat, even if an ALJ at an OATH hearing recommended against it, unless plaintiff agreed to resign.

Construing the record in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the recitation of the evidence in this decision shows that there is at least circumstantial evidence to support each one of these contentions, and direct evidence to support most of them.

BIC has a proffered a bona fide business justification for plaintiff’s termination – the gun threat – and has thereby discharged its burden at step two of McDonnell-Douglas. However, the dispute as to whether plaintiff even made the gun statement leaves us with a factual issue at step three.

If Del Pino fabricated the gun statement, as I must assume for purposes of this motion, then a jury has to determine why. It might find that Del Pino was tired of plaintiff’s complaining about his disability and didn’t want to accommodate his schedule. It might also find that Del Pino thought that plaintiff’s complaints about his disability would continue to make him a problematic employee in terms of his time and attendance, and therefore dismissed consideration of plaintiff’s chondromalacia.

Of course, the jury might instead find that plaintiff actually made the gun statement. Or it might find that plaintiff was goldbricking, exaggerating his disability to request accommodations that he didn’t need. But I am not going resolve these factual issues on summary judgment.

[Paragraphing altered; citations omitted.]

This decision underscores the important principle that in the context of a motion for summary judgment – which if granted cuts of a party’s ability to have their case heard by a jury – the court is issue identification, rather than issue resolution.

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