A federal court recently ruled that an employee working remotely from New Jersey cannot assert claims under New York State’s and New York City’s Human Rights Laws.
Judge Edgardo Ramos said that the alleged discriminatory conduct must have an impact on the plaintiff in New York State for the NYSHRL to apply and in New York City for the NYCHRL to apply.
Background on the New York laws
The New York state and City Human Rights Laws are some of the nation’s most employee-friendly — especially the City law. They have many more protected categories than federal Title VII, such as marital and partnership status, arrest and conviction record, and caregiver status. Moreover, it is much easier under the New York laws for an individual to prove discrimination. For example, under the NYSHRL, employers cannot rely on the Faragher-Ellerth defense that applies to some federal harassment claims, and employees do not have to provide comparator evidence to prove discrimination. Under the City law, an employee can prevail by merely proving that the employer treated him or her “less well” based on the employee’s membership in a protected class.
Plaintiff Kathryn Shiber, a New Jersey resident, began working for Centerview Partners, LLC, in June 2020. Centerview is in New York City. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Shiber had to work remotely from her home in New Jersey, but with the understanding that she would work out of Centerview’s New York City office when it reopened.
By late August, Ms. Shiber realized that she was expected to work extremely long hours, which she said exacerbated her anxiety disorder and a mood disorder that required consistent sleep. She complained to Human Resources and to a manager that she needed eight to nine hours of sleep a night as a reasonable accommodation. Her employment was terminated on September 15, 2020, before the New York City office had reopened.
Ms. Shiber sued, alleging disability discrimination under the New York State and New York City human rights laws. Centerview moved to dismiss the claims on the ground that Ms. Shiber was not a New York resident and had worked exclusively in New Jersey. Therefore, the company argued, she had no protection under the New York laws.
Although the allegedly discriminatory impact of Centerview’s actions originated in New York, Judge Ramos said, it was experienced by Ms. Shiber in New Jersey. Therefore, he said, she was not protected by the New York laws.
Judge Ramos rejected Ms. Shiber’s arguments that a different standard should have applied because of the pandemic, and because the plan was for her to eventually work out of the company’s New York City office when it reopened. According to Judge Ramos, this would have impermissibly broadened the scope of both New York laws.
Good news for New York employers with out-of-state employees
The Shiber decision is a much-needed victory for employers who are concerned about being subject to New York’s broad anti-discrimination laws even though their employees do not work there or travel there occasionally. If the impact of the employment decision is felt outside of New York State or New York City, then the New York human rights laws will not apply.
Employers should be aware, though, that the outcome could have been different if Ms. Shiber had worked in New York before she started working remotely due to the pandemic. Coverage of the New York laws under these circumstances is still unclear.