The opinion of the court was delivered by: KAPLAN
LEWIS A. KAPLAN, District Judge.
This is an employment discrimination action brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended,
and the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.
Plaintiff, formerly senior vice president and publisher of The New Yorker, claims that she first was demoted and then fired by reason of her having become pregnant with a second child. Defendants move to dismiss the fifth and sixth claims for relief -- which seek recovery on theories of intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision, respectively -- on the ground that each fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
The fifth claim for relief alleges that "the tortious conduct consisted of sexual discrimination in the form of comments that either disparaged or stereotyped plaintiff Silberstein because of sex and the condition of her being pregnant." (Cpt P 46)
Recovery for intentional infliction of emotional distress is available under New York law only in narrowly defined circumstances. As the New York Court of Appeals recently has emphasized:
"The tort has four elements: (i) extreme and outrageous conduct; (ii) intent to cause, or disregard of a substantial probability of causing, severe emotional distress; (iii) a causal connection between the conduct and the injury; and (iv) severe emotional distress. The first element -- outrageous conduct -- serves the dual function of filtering out petty and trivial complaints that do not belong in court, and assuring that plaintiff's claim of severe emotional distress is genuine."
The Court underscored the exceptional nature of the conduct necessary to trigger possible liability on this theory by noting that every such case ever considered by the New York Court of Appeals "failed because the alleged conduct was not sufficiently outrageous."
And the issue whether the alleged conduct is sufficiently outrageous to permit submission to a jury is a question of law for the court.
In a sense, of course, the conduct alleged, if it occurred, was "outrageous." The very statutes upon which plaintiff bases her principal claims demonstrate that our society has determined that discrimination on the basis of gender or condition of pregnancy, among other bases, is intolerable. That alone, however, is insufficient to lift plaintiff's case over the hurdle established by the New York Court of Appeals.
Plaintiff's claim is insufficient on two grounds, each independently sufficient to require its dismissal.
This view draws support from the New York Court of Appeals' comment in Fischer v. Maloney that it is questionable "whether the doctrine of liability for intentional infliction of extreme emotional distress should be applicable where the conduct complained of falls well within the ambit of other traditional tort liability..."
-- a comment that repeatedly has been construed to mean that such liability is precluded.
Whatever the force of the argument that there should be no liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on conduct falling within traditional bounds of common law -- and therefore judicially created -- torts, the case for precluding such liability based on conduct for which the Legislature has created carefully limited statutory remedies is compelling.
A second objection to plaintiff's claim is that the conduct alleged here is no more "outrageous" than that found insufficient in numerous other cases.
While the conduct alleged here, if it occurred, was reprehensible, this Court believes that the courts of New York, the judgment of which it is obliged to respect on this issue of state law, would find it an insufficient basis for liability.
Critics of the diversity jurisdiction often have complained that it places federal judges in the position of a "ventriloquist's dummy to the [state] courts"
when state law is clear and otherwise requires them to attempt to predict state law by "exhaustively dissecting each piece of evidence thought to cast light on what the highest state court would ultimately decide."
This difficulty largely has been eliminated for the Second Circuit with respect to New York law by its ability to certify questions of state law to New York's highest court.
And it was in the context of considering whether New York law was sufficiently unclear to warrant such a certification that the Bender panel made its comments.
This Court, on the other hand, cannot certify the issue to the state courts. It is obliged to make its own best judgment ...