Monday, September 14, 2015

Negative SDHR finding is not the death knell for a discrmination lawsuit

If you want to bring a federal employment discrimination lawsuit, you have to first file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the State Division of Human Rights. If those agencies decide that you have no case, can you still file a lawsuit?

The case is Cortes v. MTA New York City Transit, decided on September 4. The plaintiff brought an action against the Transit Authority in the State Division of Human Rights, which found "no probable cause" following an investigation. When plaintiff then filed the lawsuit in federal court, the Eastern District of New York chucked it, interpreting the Second Circuit's ruling in Collins v. New York City Transit to mean that the SDHR's dismissal of the claim is entitled to "almost preclusive weight." In Plain English, this means the court thought that Collins means that the SDHR's negative findings are strongly suggestive that the plaintiff has no case. The EDNY misinterpreted the Collins ruling, the Court of Appeals holds.

Collins holds that when the plaintiff loses her discrimination claim at binding arbitration with the employer, that loss weighs heavily against the plaintiff's lawsuit. More particularly:

In Collins, ... we held only that while “a negative arbitration decision rendered under a CBA does not preclude a Title VII action by a discharged employee[,] . . . a decision by an independent tribunal that is not itself subject to a claim of bias will attenuate a plaintiff's proof of the requisite causal link.” Under such circumstances, when an arbitral decision “follows an evidentiary hearing and is based on substantial evidence, the Title VII plaintiff, to survive a motion for summary judgment, must present strong evidence that the decision was wrong as a matter of fact -- e.g. new evidence not before the tribunal -- or that the impartiality of the proceeding was somehow compromised.”
Few plaintiffs can get around Collins if they lost their case at arbitration. But Collins does not apply here because Cortes did not lose an arbitration but simply got a negative finding from the SDHR. While the SDHR's findings are admissible evidence that the employer can use to show the plaintiff has no case, that is a far cry from Collins preclusion. The case is sent back to the EDNY for further review.

No comments: