Will My Employment Discrimination Case be Heard in State or Federal Court?

If you have been the target of employment discrimination in New York City, you may be able to seek relief under a number of federal, state, and local laws, but you must be careful in deciding how to pursue your case. Different laws cover different types of illegal conduct, and if you are not careful, you may find yourself in an unintended legal situation.

Judge Holds FMLA-Related Claims do Not Constitute Discrimination Under NYSHRL or NYCHRL

For example, it may be to your advantage to pursue an employment discrimination case under state law in New York State Supreme Court. If your lawsuit also claims that your employer violated your rights under a federal statute, then the case may be removed–transferred–to federal court instead. You cannot avoid removal by simply trying to pass off a federal claim as a state or city claim.

Here is a recent case on point. The plaintiff in this lawsuit sued her former employer in Queens Supreme Court, alleging discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and its municipal counterpart, the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). The thrust of the plaintiff's complaint is that she was fired after exercising her right to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The problem is that FMLA is a federal statute. The defendants removed the case to federal court on that basis. The plaintiff moved for remand–an order returning the case to Queens Supreme Court–on the grounds that she is only alleging state-law violations.

The federal judge presently overseeing the litigation denied the plaintiff's motion. As the judge explained, the NYSHRL and NYCHRL only prohibit “retaliation” for “opposing practices forbidden by” or “pursuing or assisting in legal action under” those laws. But neither of these laws cover FMLA leave.

Of course, if the defendant fired the plaintiff for taking FMLA leave, that would be prohibited retaliation under FMLA, but FMLA is a federal statute. The defendant has every right to have a FMLA-related case heard in federal court–and the plaintiff cannot avoid this reality by “framing a federal question in terms of state law,” according to the judge.

That said, the judge held that the plaintiff could amend and refile her complaint to clearly exclude any federal claims. Indeed, the judge noted the facts alleged in the plaintiff's prior complaint could be framed as disability discrimination, which is prohibited under the NYSHRL and NYCHRL and, more importantly, can be adjudicated without any reference to federal law.

Get Help from a New York Disability Discrimination Attorney Today

Where to file a lawsuit is just one of several critical decisions you face when pursuing an employment discrimination claim. An experienced New York City disability discrimination attorney can help you understand the law in this area and make the best decisions with respect to your case. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, at (646) 760-6493 to schedule a consultation with a member of our team today.