Manhattan Court Upholds National Origin Discrimination Verdict Against State Agency

When it comes to race and nationality discrimination, it is critical to distinguish an individual employee from their native country. In other words, even if the United States Government is involved in a political conflict with a foreign country, that does not permit employers to discriminate against employees who happen to come from that country. All employees, regardless of national origin, are entitled to the same consideration with respect to hiring and promotion decisions.

Judge Orders NYS Department of Financial Services to Pay $125,000 for Iran-born Employee's “Emotional Distress”

Unfortunately, there are many employers–including some public agencies–who allow their own prejudices to overrule common-sense and the law. For example, a federal judge in Manhattan recently upheld an employment discrimination judgment against the New York State Department of Financial Services after it refused to promote an employee who happened to be from Iran. Although the judge reduced the amount of damages previously awarded by a jury, the court nevertheless found there was substantial evidence supporting the verdict on liability.

The plaintiff is an American citizen with several advanced degrees. He started working for the New York State Banking Department in 2001. In 2011, New York State merged its banking and insurance departments into the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS). The following year, the plaintiff applied for a higher position within the DFS.

Despite the plaintiff's qualifications, DFS management never interviewed him for the position. Instead, DFS hired someone from outside the Department who “had never worked for a regulatory agency,” according to court records. In fact, the plaintiff was responsible for training the new hire due to the latter's “technical deficiencies.”

The plaintiff subsequently filed a “work grievance” seeking to change his pay grade. This led to a supervisor questioning the plaintiff's “work product.” Management suddenly claimed the plaintiff was “hostile towards his co-workers.” At the end of 2013, the plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The next year, the plaintiff said he was the target of a hostile work environment. Specifically, a co-worker remarked that employees needed to take a course in handling hazardous materials because the plaintiff “is hiding yellow cake in his cubicle,” a reference to material used in the production of nuclear weapons. Later, management informed the plaintiff he was subject to disciplinary action. In reference to that hearing, a DFS official told the plaintiff, “I didn't waterboard you, did I?,” referring to a controversial interrogation technique used against suspected terrorists.

The plaintiff eventually sued DFS for employment discrimination, largely related around the failure to promote him back in 2013. After a six-day trial, a jury ruled in the plaintiff's failure and awarded $2.5 million in damages for “emotional distress.” The judge later reduced that award to $125,000, which he said was more typical of “garden variety” emotional distress verdicts in New York. But the judge otherwise allowed the jury's verdict to stand.

Speak with a New York City Nationality Discrimination Lawyer Today

Cases like this send an important message that national origin discrimination will not be tolerated in New York. If you have been denied a hiring or promotion opportunity because of where you are from, you need to speak with a qualified New York employment attorney who can advise you of your legal rights. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team today.