U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Confirms Broader Construction Under New York City Human Rights Law

In 2005, the New York City Council amended the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) to make it clear that courts should construe New York City’s anti-discrimination protections more broadly than federal discrimination protections. Under the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2005, the New York City Council alerted courts to their mistaken assumption that interpretations of the NYCHRL should be coextensive with federal and New York State discrimination law. Consequently, courts began construing the NYCHRL much more broadly and in favor of discrimination claimants. Now, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont) has confirmed that the NYCHRL is broader in its protections and application.
In Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreaux North America Inc. (11-3361-cv) (April 26, 2013) , the Second Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer on plaintiff’s sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation claims. Specifically, the Second Circuit found that the District Court had applied federal standards in determining whether the employer was liable under the NYCHRL
The court summed up its conclusions as follows:


(1) NYCHRL claims must be analyzed separately and independently from federal and state discrimination claims, . . . (citations omitted);
(2) the totality of the circumstances must be considered because “the overall context in which [the challenged conduct occurs] cannot be ignored,” . . . (citations omitted);
(3) the federal severe or pervasive standard of liability no longer applies to NYCHRL claims, and the severity or pervasiveness of conduct is relevant only to the scope of damages. . . .(citations omitted);
(4) the NYCHRL is not a general civility code, . . . (citations omitted), and a defendant is not liable if the plaintiff fails to prove the conduct is caused at least in part by discriminatory or retaliatory motives, . . . (citations omitted), or if the defendant proves the conduct was nothing more than “petty slights or trivial inconveniences,” . . . (citations omitted);
(5) while courts may still dismiss “truly insubstantial cases,” even a single comment may be actionable in the proper context, . . . (citations omitted); and
(6) summary judgment is still appropriate in NYCHRL cases, but only if the record establishes as a matter of law that a reasonable jury could not find the employer liable under any theory . . . (citations omitted).
The Second Circuit’s decision in Mihalik confirmed that although the NYCHRL is not a “general civility code,” a single discriminatory comment could result in a finding of discrimination under the NYCHRL. By further reinforcing the notion that conduct need not be “severe or pervasive,” the Second Circuit emphasizes that the true test is whether employees of one sex are being treated differently from employees of the opposite sex.

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