The case is Doe v. Bloomberg, L.P., issued by the First Department on September 24. The plaintiff claims she was sexually harassed by Nicholas Ferris while employed by the company formed by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She is suing him personally, in part, on the basis that Bloomberg created a culture of sexual harassment at his company. The First Department notes that, while the statute imposes strict liability on "employers," the law "does not provide a definition of 'employer' and the legislature has not provided guidance as to how 'employer' should be defined under the statute." Here are the basis rules governing employer defendants:
The Court of Appeals has held that section 8-107(13)(b)(1) of the Administrative Code holds corporate employers strictly liable for the discriminatory acts of their managers and supervisors. Additionally, pursuant to the plain language of the statute, where the only employer is an individual and there is no corporate employer, the individual may be held strictly liable for the discriminatory acts of his or her managers and supervisors as such individual is the only possible employer under the statute. However, the Court of Appeals has never addressed the issue of when an individual, in addition to the corporate employer, may be held strictly liable under section 8-107(13)(b)(1) of the Administrative Code.
Looking at this issue anew, the First Department holds in a 3-2 vote that "in order to hold an individual owner or officer of a corporate employer, in addition to the separately charged corporate employer, strictly liable under section 8-107(13)(b)(1) of the Administrative Code, a plaintiff must allege that the individual has an ownership interest or has the power to do more than carry out personnel decisions made by others and must allege that the individual encouraged, condoned or approved the specific conduct which gave rise to the claim." In other words, the corporate officer must have some personal involvement in the discriminatory violation. It is not enough that he is a corporate officer.
The First Department provides this explanation:
holding an individual owner or officer of a corporate employer liable under the City HRL as an employer, without even an allegation that the individual participated, in some way, in the specific conduct that gave rise to the claim, would have the effect of imposing strict liability on every individual owner or high-ranking executive of any business in New York City. The City HRL is not so broad that it imposes strict liability on an individual for simply holding an ownership stake or a leadership position in a liable corporate employer.Michael Bloomberg cannot be sued in this case under this new interpretation. The First Department says the complaint "fails to allege any facts from which it can be inferred that Mr. Bloomberg was aware or should have been aware of the discriminatory conduct committed by Mr. Ferris. Plaintiff never complained to Bloomberg L.P.'s HR Department about Mr. Ferris's conduct and there are no allegations in the complaint that Mr. Bloomberg knew or should have known about Mr. Ferris's conduct toward plaintiff, that Mr. Bloomberg knew or should have known that Mr. Ferris behaved in a discriminatory manner toward women other than the plaintiff or that Mr. Bloomberg had any involvement or interactions with Mr. Ferris at any point."
Since this case was decided 3-2, it looks like this dispute will reach the New York Court of Appeals, which has authority to hear divided cases like this.