Many people have a misguided view of how the civil justice system works. Some may oversimplify it to something on the order of: File suit. Go to trial and, if successful, get compensated. A successful civil case is vastly more complex and intricate than that. There are many details and “boxes” to check, and failure to attend to each of these may turn your successful case into an unsuccessful one. For those reasons and more, it pays to retain an experienced New York City employment discrimination lawyer to handle your case and to do so as soon as possible.
Recently, a worker lost his race discrimination case in state court, and his loss highlights exactly what we mean. The worker, L.F., was a Black man who began working for the Mount Vernon Department of Public Works in 1990.
In 2016, the worker allegedly began encountering multiple problems, including unpaid overtime and racially discriminatory comments from a white coworker (including observations about how “black” L.F. was and that a new commissioner would not believe him because he was Black and the commissioner was white.) L.F. also began experiencing a hostile work environment and retaliation based upon his complaints about unpaid overtime, discrimination, and a hostile work environment.
L.F.’s case never even made it to trial. That outcome might seem surprising. One could easily look at the alleged facts and guess that the worker at least had enough to survive a motion for summary judgment by his employer. So what happened?
The employer succeeded — and the worker’s case failed — on the basis of the worker’s failure to clear a procedural hurdle, which was the filing of something called a “notice of claim.”
The Rules About When — and How Quickly — You Must File
A notice of claim is a required procedural step when you seek to pursue certain types of cases against the state government, a local government, or a government agent, officer, or employee. One of the key state statutes governing the notice of claim process is General Municipal Law Section 50-e, which says that in “any case founded upon tort where a notice of claim is required by law as a condition precedent to the commencement of an action or special proceeding against a public corporation,” the deadline for filing is 90 days.
If you’re versed in legal terminology, then you may have spotted the word “tort” in the statute. Torts are, generally speaking, civil legal wrongs arising under common law and include things like negligence, assault, battery, false imprisonment, and trespass to land. At this point, perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “This man’s case was a discrimination matter, not negligence. The misconduct he alleged was a statutory violation, not a tort violation, so why was L.F. required to file a notice of claim at all?”
Again, the answer comes down to details and being on top of all of them. State law isn’t the only authority that can impact your discrimination case. L.F. worked for the City of Mount Vernon, and that city’s charter said the city “shall not be liable in a civil action… of any name or nature whatsoever… alleged to have been caused or sustained in whole or in part, by or because of any omission of duty, wrongful act, fault, neglect, misfeasance or negligence on the part of the city or any of its agents, officers, or employees, unless a written notice of claim shall have been made and served in compliance with Section 50-e of the General Municipal Law.”
So, while a worker suing the City of New York for discrimination wouldn’t have an obligation to file a notice of claim, a worker pursuing the same case against the City of Mount Vernon would. L.F., by his own admission, didn’t, so his case failed after the city requested (and obtained) summary judgment in its favor.
As noted above, a case like the one that this worker sought to pursue is one where you must not only file your notice of claim (if state or local require it,) you must do so within the 90-day filing period. This is a reminder that, if you think you’ve encountered workplace discrimination, acting promptly is crucial. That starts with retaining skillful legal counsel. The knowledgeable New York race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help, offering clients in New York City, Westchester County, Long Island, and throughout the Tristate Area representation that is equal parts powerful, experience-driven, and detail-oriented. To find out more, don’t wait — contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.