Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mistaken Perception of Alcoholism Is Not Protected Under The NYC Human Rights Law

Makinen v. City of New York, ___N.Y.3d___(Oct. 17, 2017), is an interesting case to be aware of. The case addressed a certified question from the Second Circuit, namely whether the mistaken perception of alcoholism is protected under the NYC Human Rights Law and the Court concluded that it was not. As the Court explained:
As the Second Circuit noted, there is no ambiguity about the plain language of the NYCHRL, which is only open to one reasonable interpretation: the disability of alcoholism "shall only apply to a person who (1) is recovering or has recovered and (2) currently is free of such abuse" (Makinen, 857 F3d at 496). Indeed, by its plain language, the NYCHRL does not regulate employer actions  motivated by concern with respect to the abuse of alcohol. Rather, the NYCHRL covers circumstances in which employers unfairly typecast alcoholics who have sought treatment and who are not presently abusing alcohol, so as to ensure that such persons are afforded a fair opportunity at recovery. Said differently, the NYCHRL provides that, with respect to alcoholism, a person is considered to be disabled (so as to trigger the protections of that law) only when he or she "is recovering or has recovered" and "currently is free of such abuse" (§ 8-102 [16] [c]; see § 8-107 [1] [a] [3]).

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Duty of Fair Representation Does Not Preempt NYS Human Rights Law

Figueroa v. Foster, ____F.3d____(2d Cir. July 17, 2017), is an interesting decision. The Duty of Fair Representation outlaws unions actions that are arbitrary, discriminatory or in bad faith. But the NYS Human Rights law also outlaws discrimination. Is it preempted? No, says the 2d Circuit, in an exhaustive opinion reasoning, in part:

As noted above, the anti‐discrimination roots of the duty of fair representation are long‐established. In Vaca, the Supreme Court observed that the “statutory duty of fair representation was developed [in the 1940s] in a series of cases involving alleged racial discrimination by unions certified as exclusive bargaining representatives under the Railway Labor Act [(“RLA”)], and was soon extended to unions certified under the [NLRA].” 386 U.S. at 177 (citations omitted). As this Court more recently explained, “[a] union breaches its duty of  fair representation if its actions with respect to a member are arbitrary,  discriminatory, or taken in bad faith.” Fowlkes, 790 F.3d at 388. The purpose of  the duty of fair representation, therefore, can easily be said to encompass a  purpose of prohibiting discrimination. Indeed, the Local and the Commissioner agree that the NYSHRL serves the  same purpose of prohibiting discrimination as does the NLRA’s duty of fair representation. Each serves to reinforce the anti‐discriminatory purpose of the other. This mutual service is not a conflict such that the duty of fair representation and the NYSHRL “cannot be reconciled or consistently stand together.” In re MTBE Prod. Liab. Litig., 725 F.3d at 102. Instead, the two work in tandem to protect union members from invidious discrimination in all of its forms. This opinion addresses only the Local’s claim that the duty of fair representation preempts the NYSHRL in its entirety when applied to unions acting in their capacity as collective bargaining agents. We do not purport to address every potential conflict between the NYSHRL and federal law. For  example, NYSHRL claims are subject to a one‐year statute of limitations, see N.Y.  Exec. Law § 297(5), whereas private duty of fair representation claims are subject to a six‐month statute of limitations, see 29 U.S.C. § 160(b); DelCostello v. Int’l Bhd. 13 of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 154‐55 (1983), and overlapping Title VII claims filed  with the SDHR are subject to a 300‐day statute of limitations, see Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 78‐79 (2d Cir. 2015). We need not decide today which of these statutes of limitations applies to NYSHRL claims against unions because the present appeal does not raise facts that implicate any  such conflict. We hold only that the NYSHRL presents no potential conflict so incompatible with federal labor laws that all of its provisions must fall. We leave for other cases to resolve more specific conflicts between the NYSHRL and federal law as they arise.  
So, why is this significant? First, as indicated by the 2d Circuit itself, different statute of limitations apply to DFR claims than to discrimination claims. But, second and more importantly, much more deference is paid to union actions under the DFR standard than under a discrimination standard. Undoubtedly, that is why  the plaintiff here was the President of a large labor union seeking to declare that in DFR cases alleging discrimination, state law was preempted, leaving the DFR standard which is more favorable towards unions.

Stay tuned as this issue is not over. Law review commentary would be most welcome.

The Discipline Book

Harvey and Eric Randall just updated their wonderful treatise called "The Discipline Book" which is available on Amazon now. https...