As a general rule, laws protecting workers against employment discrimination include harassment or other “adverse employment actions” designed to discourage someone from exercising their legal rights. For example, a supervisor cannot bully, ridicule, or threaten an employee who requires medical leave to care for a documented disability. Indeed, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) expressly protects employees in such situations.
Judge Declines Motion to Dismiss Court Officer's Lawsuit for FMLA, NYCHRL Retaliation
A pattern of such behavior could also give rise to a claim of disability discrimination under state or New York City law. Consider this lawsuit currently pending before a federal judge in Manhattan. The plaintiff actually worked as a court officer, providing security and related services for a variety of New York City courthouses.
The work of court officers is often underappreciated. Officers are often required to deal with hostile (and potentially violent) litigators who take their anger out against the officers. In fact, the plaintiff in this case sustained a number of injuries in the line of duty related to problematic litigants. This, in turn, gave rise to a pattern of alleged harassment and bullying on the part of the plaintiff's supervisors and co-workers.
The plaintiff initially worked as a court officer in Bronx Family Court. One day he was responding to a distress call from another court officer who required “emergency assistance.” While running to assist the other officer, the plaintiff tripped and fell, seriously injuring his knee. Although the plaintiff did not seek immediate medical treatment, his knee condition worsened and required surgery, eventually forcing him to take medical leave.
According to the plaintiff, when he returned to work following his leave, his supervisor at the Bronx court told the plaintiff he was “broken” and indicated he should no longer be a court officer. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff was transferred to Manhattan Family Court. Several months later, the plaintiff sustained a second on-the-job injury as the result of an altercation with a combative litigant.
Following this second incident, the plaintiff said he was subject to regular workplace bullying. Supervisors and co-workers started referring to the plaintiff by a derogatory nickname that persisted during the remainder of his tenure as a court officer. The plaintiff said a court officer went so far as to circulate pictures of the plaintiff laying in his hospital bed in order to encourage further “mockery.” This continued and escalated after the plaintiff sustained a third work-related injury.
Currently, the plaintiff remains out on medical leave. He sued the New York State Unified Court System and a number of individuals, alleging illegal retaliation under the FMLA and violations of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). On May 15, 2018, a federal judge denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the case. Among other findings, the judge said the plaintiff had plausibly alleged the defendants' actions–specifically the alleged bullying and mockery–“could plausibly dissuade a worker from exercising rights under the FMLA.”
Speak With a New York Disability Discrimination Lawyer Today
Workplace bullying is never acceptable. It is especially egregious when an employee is targeted for mockery and shame based on the fact that he or she sustained a serious work-related injury. If you have been the target of any kind of disability discrimination and need advice from a qualified New York employment law attorney, contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, today.