New York State law prohibits employment discrimination based on “marital status.” Among other things, this means an employer cannot refuse to hire you because you are single, married, divorced, or in a non-traditional relationship. Nor can an employer condition promotions or employment opportunities on marital status–e.g., your boss cannot say, “We prefer to have a married man in this position.”
Manhattan Judge Allows Marital Status Discrimination Case to Proceed
Is it illegal for an employer to discriminate based on who you married, as opposed to whether you are married? A Manhattan Supreme Court judge recently addressed this question and found that while such actions are not prohibited by state law, New York City's Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) may provide a remedy.
The plaintiff in this case worked for the defendant, a financial services firm, for 15 years. During the course of his employment, the plaintiff married a co-worker. According to the plaintiff, he was fired after his wife left for a competing firm and a supervisor informed him that he could only regain his job “if he ended his marriage.” In fact, the plaintiff and his wife divorced in 2011 but continued to live together with their children. However, the plaintiff's lawsuit alleged the company still assumed the couple was married when it fired him.
The judge presiding over the case rejected the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims under the NYCHRL. While the defendant's alleged acts were not prohibited under state law, the city's regulations are designed to be read more “broadly,” the judge said. Indeed, the New York City Council amended the NYCHRL in 2005 in response to prior court decisions that restricted the definition of marital status discrimination.
The judge said there was no “controlling case interpreting the meaning of marital status under the NYCHRL after 2005.” Looking to similar cases in other states, the judge cited a 1981 decision by the Montana Supreme Court where “marital status” encompassed the identity of the spouse. In that case, the Minnesota court said that a school district's policy banning the spouses of administrators from working “in any capacity” for the system fell within the scope of marital status discrimination. Such a policy was absurd, the justices noted, because it would let married workers keep their jobs if they simply got a divorce.
Similarly, the judge in the present case said the plaintiff alleged his employment was conditioned on whether or not he was married. This was enough to state a “cognizable cause of action.” In short, “Plaintiff should not be forced to choose between his marriage (although here plaintiff was already divorced) or his employment.”
Are You a Victim of Marital Status Discrimination?
This case highlights an often-overlooked form of discrimination. New York employers have no business interfering with the private relationships of their employees. Your boss can no more demand that you divorce your spouse then he or she can insist you marry someone else. If you have been the victim of marital status discrimination and need assistance from a qualified New York employment law attorney, contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar in New York City or Long Island today.