In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many women have taken steps to confront and address sexual harassment in the workplace. This has led to some concerns about men facing false or unsubstantiated allegations that may negatively affect their careers. In some cases, some employees have gone to court in an effort to clear their names and fight back against what they perceive as illegal gender discrimination targeting men.
Judge Rejects Ex-Hofstra Coach's Lawsuit Over Sexual Harassment Allegations
It is important to understand that such claims are not inherently without merit. Employment discrimination laws protect men and women equally. So, an employer that maintains policies or practices that put men or a subset of men–such as white men–at a disadvantage with respect to employment could be held liable under state or federal law.
At the same time, a man cannot simply stand up and cry “discrimination” just because he was disciplined or fired by a female boss. Even in cases in which a man believes he was unfairly terminated following an allegation of sexual harassment against him, a judge still needs to see hard evidence of sex-based discrimination. In other words, a man must still prove he was fired because he was a man, not for some other, legitimate reason.
This brings us to a recent decision by a Brooklyn federal judge in the case of Menaker v. Hofstra University. The plaintiff in this case previously worked as a men's and women's tennis coach for Hofstra University. Four months into the plaintiff's tenure, a dispute arose between the plaintiff and one of his first-year players over her scholarship. According to the plaintiff, the player claimed she was promised an increase in her scholarship by the plaintiff's predecessor. The plaintiff said he investigated the claim but could not find any evidence of such a promise. He subsequently offered to increase her scholarship for her third and fourth years but not her second year. The player eventually asked for a release from her scholarship so she could transfer to another school.
About two months later, Hofstra officials investigated the plaintiff after the player accused him of sexual harassment. Among the allegations, the player said the plaintiff “had a strange obsession with [her] menstrual cycle” and that he was “inappropriately concerned with the physical appearance and presentation of women on the team.” The plaintiff denied the allegations. But following a meeting with three Hofstra administrators–all women–the university fired the plaintiff for “unprofessional conduct.”
Menaker then sued Hofstra for sex discrimination under federal and state law. U.S. District Judge Denis R. Hurley granted Hofstra's motion to dismiss, however, holding that even if the plaintiff's allegations were true–he was fired due to false accusations of sexual harassment–there was no evidence the university's actions were due to his gender. In other words, there was “nothing in the record that would suggest that the circumstances would have been different if Plaintiff had been a woman who had been accused of the same misconduct toward a young student.”
Higher Court Challenges the Previous Ruling, Giving Menaker Another Chance
Judge Hurley’s ruling in Menaker v. Hofstra University was appealed up to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where Judge Jose Cabranes, Peter Hall, and Timothy Stanceu interpreted the situation and the law differently. According to Judge Cabranes, who wrote the majority opinion, the lower court failed to correctly interpret the allegations brought forth by Menaker in what might have been a misinterpretation of the allegations first brought against him. Judge Cabranes warned that the policies upheld by the lower court’s decision were “fearfully deferring to invidious stereotypes and crediting malicious accusations […].”
In its challenge of the lower court’s ruling, the Second Circuit pointed to procedural failings throughout the case that unfairly tipped matters out of balance. For example, Menaker had identified witnesses who were never interviewed for their input. Even statements from the Hofstra University vice president that said it was known that the tennis player had made at least one false accusation of sexual harassment were seemingly not considered. Indeed, through these procedural failures, it was determined that Hofstra University may have unknowingly and negligently helped facilitate the player’s own sexist agenda against Menaker.
As a result of the Second Circuit’s decision, Menaker has regained the legal right to sue Hofstra University over its mishandling of the harassment probe and his firing. Given the pending outcome of Menaker’s lawsuit, it may be that the yarn of this story completely reverses by the time of its conclusion. Beyond Menaker’s own lawsuit, though, the case may stand as legal precedent for others found in the same situation who need to seek justice for their good name wrongfully tarnished.
Speak with a New York City Gender Discrimination Lawyer Today
If you have been terminated or otherwise penalized at work and you believe discrimination played a role, you should speak with a qualified employment attorney right away. In New York, you can contact the Law Offices of Nisar Law Group, P.C. to speak with our lawyers. We proudly stand up against companies and employers who have ignored the rights of their employees and done them wrong.
Free consultations are available. Call (646) 760-6493.