Monday, October 31, 2016

Certified Question on Punitive Damages in Cases under New York City Human Rights Law

What is the standard for assessing punitive damages in a pregnancy discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law?.  The law itself doesn't set a standard, so the district judge in Chauca v. Abraham, borrowed the standard  from the standard under the federal Title VII and based on that standard declined to give a punitive damages instruction to the jury.  On appeal, the plaintiff contended that this was error because the Human Rights Law should be construed liberally and independently of federal law.  Because there is no controlling New York precedent setting the standard and because that standard is an important issue of state law, the Second Circuit certified a question to the New York State Court of Appeals, asking it to decide as follows:

What is the standard for finding a defendant liable for punitive damages under the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8‐502?

The decision in Chauca can be found here.

Clear and Unmistakable.

The Second Circuit has reiterated its holding that if a contract agreement provides for arbitration for discrimination claims does not include statutory claims unless the contract's language is clear and unmistakable that such statutory claims are included.  The contract at issue in Winston Lawrence v. Sol G Atlas Realty Co. did not meet this standard.  While the contract stated that discrimination was prohibited and that any violation of the anti-discrimination provision were subject to arbitration.  Because nothing was stated as to claims  under anti-discriminatory statutes, the Court held that the contract did not clearly and unmistakably require such statutory claims be resolved in arbitration.  Accordingly, the District Court's decision sending the case to arbitration and dismissing the action was vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings.  The Court noted that its decision was in concert with decisions of other circuits that have addressed the issue.

The decision in this case can be found here.