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How Being Treated "Less Well" at Work May Qualify as Employment Discrimination

Although employment discrimination is prohibited at the federal, state, and city levels, each law is different in its scope and application. In fact, the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) offers a much lower threshold for employees to clear than either its state or federal counterparts. Essentially, to prove discrimination under the NYCHRL a plaintiff need only prove that he or she was treated “less well” by the employer based on sex, gender, race, or another legally protected characteristic.

Federal Court Reinstates NYCHRL Claim Against Hospital

A recent unpublished decision from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Shojae v. Harlem Hospital Center, illustrates the application of the “less well” standard in practice. The plaintiff is a Muslim Persian female pharmacist who previously worked for the defendants' hospital. She alleged a number of discriminatory acts during her employment.

For example, the plaintiff said she was initially offered a $10,000 signing bonus for accepting her position. Yet she never received this money. When she asked her supervisor about the bonus, she said he told her that a “regular Pakistani woman” would “never ask for a signing bonus” and that it is “improper behavior for a woman.”

The supervisor was eventually replaced by another employee, who happened to be a Muslim woman of Indian descent. According to the defendants, there were two “altercations” between the plaintiff and this new supervisor. This led to disciplinary letters against the plaintiff. For her part, the plaintiff claimed the altercations were the product of retaliation against her for complaining about the prior supervisor's discriminatory acts. Eventually, the plaintiff was fired from her job after the employer claimed a psychiatric evaluation found she “not fit to perform the duties and responsibilities of her position as” a pharmacist.

A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit, which alleged violations of federal, state, and city employment discrimination laws. In essence, the judge concluded the plaintiff failed to prove “she was persistently discriminated against on account of her religion, national origin, and gender.” For instance, the judge noted that the plaintiff alleged her former supervisor made “three comments over a four-year period,” which by itself “cannot rise to the level of pervasiveness that the law requires.”

On appeal, the Second Circuit disagreed, at least with respect to the NYCHRL. While the appeals court agreed it was appropriate to dismiss the plaintiff's federal- and state-law claims, her NYCHRL case could proceed. The appeals court noted there was “at least some admissible evidence that she was treated 'less well' based on her gender, race, or national origin,” which is all the NYCHRL requires. In particular, the Court noted the supervisor's comments regarding the unpaid bonus as well as the plaintiff's testimony that he “made derogatory comments to her about her gender, identity as a Shia Muslim, and Persian ethnicity, and openly favored employees of Pakistani origin.”

Speak with a New York City Religious Discrimination Lawyer Today

When it comes to employment discrimination, you may have multiple legal avenues available to seek justice. That is why you should speak with an experienced New York City employment law attorney if you have been the victim of hostile comments or actions at work based on your sex, religion, national origin, or any other legally protected characteristic. Contact the Nisar Law Group, P.C., to schedule a free consultation with an employment discrimination lawyer today.

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