Manhattan Judge Upholds National Origin Discrimination Verdict Against University

Under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), an employer may not treat an employee less well “at least in part” based on certain characteristics, include race and national origin. The NYCHRL imposes a stricter standard than similar federal employment discrimination laws in this respect. An employer can only escape liability under the City statute if it can demonstrate that the challenged action was not motivated at all by race or national origin.

Judge Cuts “Excessive” Award for Plaintiff's Emotional Suffering

That said, there may be judicially imposed limits to certain kinds of damages related to employment discrimination. Consider this recent post-trial ruling from a federal judge in Manhattan. The plaintiff, an Iranian-born female, worked for the defendant university as a research scientist. After the defendant declined to renew her contract, the plaintiff sued, alleging race and national origin discrimination under the NYCHRL.

The case was tried before a jury, which ruled in the plaintiff's favor on the question of direct discrimination. The jury awarded damages of $250,000 in back pay and another $2 million for the plaintiff's emotional suffering. The defendant then asked for a new trial, attacking several procedural rulings made by the judge as well as the “sufficiency” of the plaintiff's evidence.

Of note, the defense argued that the jury placed too much emphasis on a single email introduced into evidence. The email, sent by one of the plaintiff's former co-workers, contained a term commonly used as a racial slur against people from the Middle East. The defendant maintained that the term was simply a joke, and in any event such a “stray remark” was not enough to prove race and national origin discrimination. As the judge explained, the jury was free to evaluate this email “in light of the entire record” and decide what weight to afford it.

Another nitpick by the defense revolved around the plaintiff's purported admission that she was “white,” and therefore somehow not subject to race or national origin discrimination. In fact, the basis for this “admission” was a self-identification form produced by the defendant–and which did not contain an option to identify as “Middle Easterner.” As the judge pointed out, while many scientists classify individuals from the Middle East as “Caucasian,” they can still “assert a claim for racial discrimination under discrimination laws.”

However, the judge did agree with the defense on one issue - the $2 million award for emotional damages. Although it is impossible to affix a precise dollar amount for such suffering, the judge said that compared to similar cases in New York, the amount awarded by the jury here “is excessive.” The judge said an award of $200,000 was more appropriate. The plaintiff has the option of accepting this reduced figure or agreeing to a new trial solely on the issue of emotional damages.

Speak with a New York Race Discrimination Lawyer Today

Even with a reduction in damages, the case above illustrates the serious consequences for employers who run afoul of New York City anti-discrimination laws. If you have been the victim of race or national origin discrimination and need advice from a qualified New York employment attorney, contact the Law Offices of Nisar Law Group, P.C., today.