MA Professor’s NYC Human Rights Law Sexual Harassment Claim Lacked Geographic Connection to NYC; Leave to Amend Complaint Denied as Futile

In Hay v. New York Media LLC, 20-CV-6135, 2021 WL 2741653 (S.D.N.Y. July 1, 2021), the court discussed and applied the geographic limitations of the New York City Human Rights Law.

The plaintiff in this case is Bruce Hay, a professor at Harvard Law School. He brought this lawsuit against the author (Kera Bolonik) and the publisher of two articles that appeared in New York magazine and its online journal: “The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge” (published July 22, 2019); and “The Harvard Professor Scam Gets Even Weirder” (published August 8, 2019).

Plaintiff initially asserted claims for breach of contract, defamation, and gender-based discrimination. Since doing so, he agreed to dismissal of his defamation claim, and now moves to file a (second) amended complaint asserting claims for breach of contract and gender discrimination under the NYCHRL.

The court denied plaintiff’s motion, since the proposed complaint fails to state a claim and the amendment would be futile.

After disposing of plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, the court turned to his NYCHRL claim. It explained:

Hay also alleges sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in violation of the NYCHRL. Defendants argue that Hay’s NYCHRL claim fails because the statute applies only to conduct felt in New York City, and because its protections do not extend to Hay. In Hoffman v. Parade Publs., the New York Court of Appeals held that, when a nonresident plaintiff invokes the NYCHRL, such plaintiff “must demonstrate that the alleged discriminatory conduct had an ‘impact’ within the city.” In that case, the plaintiff, a Georgia resident, had attempted to assert a NYCHRL claim, alleging that the phone call terminating him was made from New York City. The Court of Appeals rejected the claim on the ground that the alleged discrimination had no impact within the City. Hay argues that the conduct at issue here is distinguishable, because “the alleged sexual harassment was continuously emanating from New York over a long period of time.” Because the sexual harassment was “planned, carried out and consummated in and from New York,” Hay contends, the NYCHRL applies.

Hay’s argument, though, runs directly into Hoffman’s warning against “expand[ing] NYCHRL protections to nonresidents who have, at most, tangential contacts with the city.” The “impact requirement,” the Court of Appeals continued, “confines the protections of the NYCHRL to those who are meant to be protected—those who work in the city.” [Citations omitted; cleaned up.]

Here, concluded the court, since Hay is a Massachusetts citizen living in Cambridge, and Bolonik traveled to Massachusetts to meet with him, there was no alleged impact in New York City. Based on this, it denied plaintiff leave to amend the complaint to assert the NYCHRL claim as futile.

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