Does Filing an Administrative Complaint Affect My Rights to Sue for Race Discrimination?

Employment discrimination differs from other types of New York law in that a victim may choose to pursue either an administrative remedy or direct litigation. This choice is important because the two remedies are considered mutually exclusive. That is to say, if you file an administrative complaint against your employer, you cannot then pursue a separate civil lawsuit unless the applicable agency dismisses the case first.

Court Rejects Indian Worker's State, City Claims on Jurisdictional Grounds

Generally, if you are the victim of any kind of illegal discrimination in the workplace, you can seek redress by lodging a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR), or if you live in New York City, with the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR). These agencies then retain exclusive jurisdiction to investigate your case and pursue administrative remedies against the employer. By law, filing an administrative complaint bars you from bringing a separate civil lawsuit in state or federal court related to the same alleged acts of discrimination.

This bar also covers other parties or legal theories that may arise from the initial administrative complaint. Here is an illustration of this principle from a recent Manhattan federal court decision. The plaintiff in this case, who represented himself without the assistance of a qualified New York employment discrimination attorney, sued his former employer. He alleged that he was the victim of discrimination due to his Indian heritage.

More specifically, the plaintiff said he was subject to a hostile work environment created by a contractor working for the defendant's property manager. He complained to the defendant's human resources manager, who was also named as a co-defendant, but the plaintiff said the harassment continued to escalate. Ultimately, the plaintiff said he was fired “without any prior notice” because the contractor was purportedly dissatisfied with the plaintiff's job performance.

About three months after his termination, the plaintiff filed an administrative complaint against the defendant with the NYSDHR. Following an investigation, the Division concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the plaintiff's discrimination allegations. The Division then informed the plaintiff he could appeal its decision in the New York State courts.

Instead, the plaintiff filed a separate civil lawsuit in federal court, alleging multiple violations of federal, state, and New York City anti-discrimination laws. The judge granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's state and city claims. As the judge explained, the court simply lacks jurisdiction to hear those issues because of the plaintiff's prior decision to file an administrative complaint with the NYSDHR. The lawsuit presents the “same claims, based on the same events” as the administrative complaint. That said, the plaintiff could proceed with his federal claim, as that was not covered by the prior administrative proceeding.

Do Not Deal With Discrimination Alone

Employment discrimination involves a complex web of laws, courts, and agencies. You should never attempt to deal with a discrimination problem on your own. If you need advice and guidance from an experienced New York employment attorney, contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar at 800.496.3076.