NY Court of Appeals Hears Oral Argument in Case as to Individual Liability (Here, of Michael Bloomberg) Under the NYC Human Rights Law

On January 7, 2020, the New York Court of Appeals – which, for those unfamiliar with New York’s court system, is our highest court – heard (remote) oral argument in the case captioned Doe v. Bloomberg, L.P. et al.

In this case, plaintiff alleges, among other things, that while employed as a temporary employee for Bloomberg L.P., she was subject to sexual harassment (including sexual advances and rape) by her direct supervisor, the Global Business Director of the Bloomberg Brief Newsletter Division.

In 2019, the Appellate Division, First Department reversed a lower court decision and dismissed plaintiff’s lawsuit against Michael Bloomberg individually under the New York City Human Rights Law, on the ground that she “failed to allege that Mr. Bloomberg encouraged, condoned or approved the specific discriminatory conduct allegedly committed by Mr. Ferris.”

The issue, per the Court of Appeals’ “New Filings Digest – Quarterly Update” for December 2019, is:

Whether an individual owner or officer of corporate employer may be held strictly liable under the New York City Human Rights Law (Administrative Code of City of NY § 8-107[13][b]) where plaintiff fails to allege that individual owner or officer encouraged, condoned or approved of alleged discriminatory conduct.

Per the New York Law Journal, plaintiff’s counsel contended that personal liability can act as a strong incentive to comply with the law, while defense counsel argues that the statute “does not provide for individual liability for somebody simply because they are a shareholder or they hold a high level within the company[.]”

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