Marital Status Discrimination Claim Survives Against Columbia University

In Karayiorgou v. The Trustees of Columbia University, No. 150788/18, 2021 WL 143472 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Jan. 14, 2021), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff’s “marital status” discrimination claim under the New York City Human Rights Law survived summary judgment.

From the decision:

Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment dismissing the marital discrimination claim. Here, plaintiff has met her burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination based on marital status. Plaintiff has shown that she was qualified as a leading researcher and scientist to join the Zuck-erman Institute, that an offer to join the Zuckerman Institute was made to her and that her offer was rescinded in March 2015 only after Colombia learned that plaintiff and Gogos divorced in December 2014.

The court disagrees with defendant’s factual assertion that the “invitation to the Zucker Institute had been extended because of her collaboration with Gogos”. There is nothing in the record to support that characterization. In fact, defendant’s claim that the offer was extended because of her collaboration with Gogos or as per Zuker, plaintiff was only offered a “limited presence in connection with work with Gogos” is not supported in the record before the court. If the invitation was extended to plaintiff because of her collaboration with Gogos, then that same invitation would have been extended to plaintiff in 2009, the same year Gogos received his invite. Columbia’s invitation came almost five years later in 2014. Furthermore, the invitation to plaintiff in early 2014 did not reference she was invited because of Gogos or to play a supporting role to Gogos. Moreover, plaintiff and Gogos were collaborating for years. A jury could justifiably find that defendants discriminated against plaintiff based on her marital status. Plaintiff also satisfies her burden under a mixed motive analysis.

Under each evidentiary framework, Morse [v. Fidessa Corp., 165 AD3d 61 [1st Dept 2018], mixed motive and McDonnell-Douglas, a jury could find that defendants’ actions were motivated by plaintiff’s marital status. Defendants reasons were offered only after Gogos’ March 2015 email that he and plaintiff had divorced. A jury could find that Columbia rescinded its invitation only after it received Gogos email on March 1, 2015 because of plaintiff’s marital status. Indeed, there is no dispute that the parties were in the midst of a divorce in 2014 at the time the invitation was extended to plaintiff.

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