Ex-NYC Council Speaker Faces Lawsuit Over Allegedly Pressuring Housing Authority to Replace African-American Manager

Discrimination in the workplace is rarely the fault of one person. It often reflects a culture that fosters and protects those who engage in discriminatory acts. For this reason, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) makes it illegal “for any person to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts” that are considered employment discrimination.

Judge Reverses Earlier Decision After Reviewing the NY Court of Appeals Ruling

According to a 2017 decision by the New York Court of Appeals, Griffin v. Sirva, this “aiding and abetting” clause of the NYSHRL “extends liability to persons and entities beyond joint employers, and … should be construed broadly.” How broadly? Well, a more recent decision from a federal judge in Manhattan, Colon v. The city of New York dives into that question in greater detail.

The plaintiff in this case previously worked for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), where she managed several housing projects in the Bronx. In July 2015, the plaintiff was called to a meeting with an NYCHA vice president and the then New York City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito. According to the plaintiff, Mark-Viverito was “unhappy with the management” of several projects under the plaintiff's control. The speaker wanted one particular manager, an African-American, replaced with a Spanish-speaking manager. The plaintiff said her supervisor subsequently insisted on transferring out the current manager in favor of a “Latino.”

The plaintiff said she thought it was not “the correct, or legal thing” to remove the current manager. A city human resources official further told the plaintiff such a decision “was illegal and that Plaintiff could be sued.” When the plaintiff relayed these concerns to the vice president, she said he told her she had to make the transfer anyways because “the Council Speaker want[ed] it done!”

The plaintiff said she has subsequently reassigned herself to a “much less prestigious position” at the NYCHA, and she resigned, fearing her career at the agency was effectively over. She subsequently sued a number of defendants, including Mark-Viverito, alleging multiple violations of federal and state law.

As notable here, the plaintiff alleged Mark-Viverito “aided and abetted” employment discrimination as defined by the NYSHRL. In March 2018, the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit dismissed the claims against Mark-Viverito. But in a March 2019 decision, the judge reversed course after acknowledging he “failed to consider” the New York Court of Appeals' “controlling decision” in the Griffin case.

Initially, the judge agreed with Mark-Viverito that the NYSHRL did not apply to her in this case because, as council speaker, she was not the plaintiff's employer. But as noted above, the Court of Appeals in Griffin said the “aiding and abetting” provision of the NYSHRL applies “broadly” to people who are not necessarily direct employers. As the judge explained here, there is, in fact, a “legal relationship” between the office of the Council Speaker and the NYCHRA. After all, the Speaker is the elected leader of the Council, and the Council itself “has jurisdiction over the New York City Housing Authority.”

More to the point, the plaintiff's lawsuit contains facts that, if proven true, would “plausibly suggest that the Council Speaker had some influence on the discriminatory acts of NYCHA.” The judge, therefore, ruled the plaintiff's aiding and abetting claim against Mark-Viverito could proceed to the next stage of the litigation.

Speak with a New York City Race Discrimination Lawyer Today

If your boss, or someone with influence over your employer, asks you to commit an act of racial discrimination, you have the right–and the obligation–to say no. If you are fired or demoted as a result of such a refusal, you need to speak with a qualified New York City employment attorney right away. Contact the Nisar Law Group, P.C., to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team today.

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