Taking on an Age Discrimination Case Under the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law… or Both

In nearly any civil lawsuit, one of the most important hurdles you, as a plaintiff, have to clear is the defense’s motion for summary judgment. If the defense wins, your case gets tossed before even making it to trial. If the defense loses, you may proceed, and you may also discover that the terms of settlement offers proposed by the defense are much fairer than they were before your victory on the summary judgment motion. Wherever you are in the process of pursuing your discrimination case – trial, dispositive pre-trial motions, or just getting started – it pays to have powerful and reliable legal representation from an experienced New York discrimination lawyer.

Here in New York City, workers harmed by discrimination have the advantage of multiple options. They may be able to bring claims under the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law, or both.

A recent age discrimination case involving a Brooklyn doctor gives a good view of how the process works, how you can use these laws to your benefit, and what it takes to defeat a defense motion for summary judgment.

J.W. was a highly decorated neonatologist who had worked for New York City’s public hospitals since 1987, receiving commendations and awards from insurance companies, the March of Dimes, and the City Council.

Then, one day in April 2019, the employer abruptly fired J.W., according to his complaint. The basis the employer gave was certain “infractions” that, the doctor alleged, were minor and typically “would not amount to the discharge of a physician with an excellent track record” like his.

J.W. was 62 at the time of his termination. Allegedly, he had heard comments at work about how he “looked older now” and should “start thinking about retirement.” The doctor’s lawsuit also asserted that his termination was part of a pattern of firing or otherwise forcing out older doctors and replacing them with younger ones.

In his lawsuit, the doctor brought age discrimination claims under both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law. For each of these laws, you, as the harmed worker, have to demonstrate several things to the court. You must establish that you were a part of a protected group, that you suffered an adverse employment action, that you were qualified for the job you had, and that the adverse employment action you incurred took place “under circumstances giving rise to an inference of” illegal discrimination.

In the neonatologist’s case, he was 62, making him clearly a member of a protected age group. Here in New York City, you don’t have to be an older worker to bring an age discrimination case. Even young workers in their 20s can pursue an age discrimination case under the New York City Human Rights Law if they can meet all of the elements of an age discrimination case.

The employer clearly fired the doctor. Termination is an adverse employment action, but it is not the only possibility. Other actions that can be part of the foundation of your case can include suspension, demotion, refusal to hire, reduction in pay or benefits, reduction in hours, or transfer to a less prestigious or desirable role.

Given the neonatologist’s long list of awards and accolades, the employer did not even contest that J.W. was qualified for his job.

NYC Law Requires that Age Play ‘No Role’ in the Employment Decision

The key to this case was whether the doctor’s termination “occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of age discrimination.” This is an area where knowing your legal options helps greatly. Both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law have what’s called “liberal pleading standards,” meaning that a defendant faces a high hurdle to throw out your case on a summary judgment motion. The New York City Human Rights Law is particularly favorable, though. It requires that “unlawful discrimination play ‘no role'” at all in the employment decision in question.

J.W. won this battle to continue forward with his case. His allegations of a termination that occurred as part of a “pattern” of eliminating older doctors and staff to replace them with younger workers, along with his allegations of “specific ageist comments” directed toward him, comprised enough to defeat the employer’s motion for summary judgment.

It is said that every great journey begins with a single step. Likewise, every great legal victory begins with taking that first step of deciding to take action. If you have been harmed at work by age discrimination, reach out to the skilled New York age discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Our attorneys know that you want to be judged on your merits, not your age, and we have many years of fighting for workers just like you. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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