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Williams v. New York City Housing Authority

January 27, 2009

GINA WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



Plaintiff appeals from an order of the Supreme Court, New York County (Michael D. Stallman, J.), entered August 14, 2007, which granted defendants summary judgment dismissing the amended complaint.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Acosta, J.

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

Richard T. Andrias, J.P., David B. Saxe, Luis A. Gonzalez, James M. Catterson, Rolando T. Acosta, JJ.

115453/01

Introduction

This appeal presents us with the opportunity to construe for the first time the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2005 (Local Law No. 85 of City of New York [2005]).

Defendants' summary judgment motion addressed to an amended complaint alleging a hostile work environment, disparate treatment on the basis of sex, and retaliation in violation of applicable provisions of the Executive Law and the New York City Administrative Code was granted in its entirety. While we agree with the motion court that the claims arising under both State and City human rights laws must be dismissed, we take a different approach and consider the City claims under the commands of the Restoration Act, as a distinct analysis is required to fully appreciate and understand the distinctive and unique contours of the local law in this area.

Background

Plaintiff was, at all times relevant to the action, an employee of defendant Housing Authority. From November 1995 to June 2004, she worked as a heating plant technician assigned to the Authority's South Jamaica Houses development. As such, she was responsible for maintaining the development's heating system.

The pro se plaintiff commenced this action in August 2001. After converting defendants' dismissal motion to one for summary judgment, Justice Louise Gruner Gans dismissed the claims asserted under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended), and otherwise granted plaintiff's motion for leave to amend the complaint. In the 2003 amended complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendants engaged in, or permitted, a hostile work environment, disparate treatment on the basis of sex, and retaliation, all in violation of Executive Law 296(a)(1), (6) and (7), and Administrative Code § 8-107(a)(1), (6) and (7).

Plaintiff alleged she was sexually harassed in January 1997, when her supervisor allegedly told her, after she had requested facilities to take a shower, "You can take a shower at my house." Plaintiff alleged a second incident on October 21, 1998, where sex-based remarks were made in her presence, although not directed at her. Plaintiff interpreted some of those remarks as being complimentary to a co-worker, and a disparaging reference to the supervisor's own wife.

For her disparate treatment claim, plaintiff alleged that her supervisor denied her tools that she needed for her work, preferred (higher paying) shifts, and some training, all during her probationary year (i.e., no later than 1996). Plaintiff acknowledges that she was ultimately permitted to work the preferred shifts when they were vacated by employees of longer standing. She also alleged that she was denied two training opportunities in 1999. The record reflects that plaintiff did participate in other substantial training throughout her tenure.

Plaintiff asserted that she was retaliated against after making complaints about discriminatory treatment. She alleges that in August 1999 she had to do work outside of her regular duties; specifically, she was required to strip and wax the boiler room office floor, a task that she completed in two regular workdays. Plaintiff also asserted that in August 2001, she was required to perform work in the field and to respond to tenant complaints, work she claimed was customarily given to utility staff. She alleged that a 2002 incident of retaliation consisted of her supervisor's refusal to permit her to take "excused time" to resolve a parking ticket she had received.

Plaintiff was promoted in June 2004 to become an assistant superintendent.

In August 2007, the court (Michael D. Stallman, J.) granted defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the amended complaint in its entirety. The sexual harassment claim was dismissed on the basis that the conduct complained of was not "severe or pervasive."

On the disparate treatment claim, the court found the allegations from plaintiff's probationary year were time-barred because they were not part of a continuing pattern of discriminatory conduct. He also found that plaintiff had attended at least nine one- or two-day training courses, and did not allege that she suffered any injury as a result of not attending more. Finally, he found that plaintiff accepted a promotion offered in May 2004, and had not claimed that she would have been promoted earlier had she taken more classes. The court characterized the disparate treatment claim as missing the necessary element of an "adverse employment action."

Evaluating the retaliation claim, the court found that a one-time assignment to perform a task arguably within plaintiff's duties did not constitute retaliation, and that the other claims did not involve being treated differently from workers who had not complained.

We agree with the court's analysis as it pertains to plaintiff's State claims under the Executive Law. The decision dismissing the action failed, however, to properly construe plaintiff's claims under the local Restoration Act,*fn1 which mandates that courts be sensitive to the distinctive language, purposes, and method of analysis required by the City HRL, requiring an analysis more stringent than that called for under either Title VII or the State HRL. In light of this explicit legislative policy choice by the City Council, we separately analyze plaintiff's HRL claims.

I. Requirements and Purposes of the Restoration Act

While the Restoration Act amended the City HRL in a variety of respects,*fn2 the core of the measure was its revision of Administrative Code § 8-130, the construction provision of the City HRL (Local Law 85, § 7, deleted language, new language italicized):

The provisions of this [chapter] title shall be construed liberally for the accomplishment of the uniquely broad and remedial purposes thereof, regardless of whether federal or New York State civil and human rights laws, including those laws with provisions comparably-worded to provisions of this title, have been so construed.

As a result of this revision, the City HRL now explicitly requires an independent liberal construction analysis in all circumstances, even where State and federal civil rights laws have comparable language. The independent analysis must be targeted to understanding and fulfilling what the statute characterizes as the City HRL's "uniquely broad and ...


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