Recent court decisions had afforded employees with no connection with the state of New York or New York City the right to pursue claims under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law on the basis that the alleged discriminatory decision was made within the state of New York or New York City. However, in Hoffman v Parade Publications (2010)(1) the New York Court of Appeals overruled the prior decisions and limited the class of potential plaintiffs under the New York state and city human rights laws.

In Hoffman, the plaintiff was informed that the Atlanta, Georgia office in which he worked would be closed by year's end and that his employment was being terminated. The employee was informed of this via telephone by the president and publisher of the employer, who was based in the employer's New York City headquarters. The employee thereafter commenced an age discrimination action, asserting that his termination violated the New York state and city human rights laws.

The employee was a resident of Georgia who did not service any accounts in New York. He claimed that:

  • he had attended quarterly meetings of the employer in New York City;
  • his group was managed from (and all corporate contracts were negotiated through) the employer's New York City office; and
  • the defendant's decision to terminate him was made and executed in New York City.

The court of appeals held that a "non-resident of the city and state must plead and prove that the alleged discriminatory conduct had an impact within those respective boundaries". As the employee was not a resident of or employed in either New York City or the state of New York, and did not otherwise state a claim that the alleged discriminatory conduct had any impact in either of those locations, the court of appeals ruled that the employee's age discrimination claims under the New York state and city human rights law were properly dismissed by the trial court for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

In establishing this rule, the court of appeals relied on the text of the state and city human rights laws and deemed the 'impact requirement' as practical and simple to apply:

"The Appellate Division's rule that a plaintiff need only plead and prove that the employer's decision to terminate was made in the city is impractical, would lead to inconsistent and arbitrary results, and expands [City Human Rights Law] protections to non-residents who have, at most, tangential contacts with the city... In contrast, the impact requirement is relatively simple for courts to apply and litigants to follow, leads to predictable results, and confines the protections of the [City Human Rights Law] to those who are meant to be protected - those who work in the city."

Unsurprisingly, the Court of Appeals ruled that non-residents who worked in the state of New York or New York City could invoke the protection of the applicable statutes. New York-based employers with operations outside of the state of New York or New York City are the major beneficiaries of the Hoffman decision. Generally, non-resident employees who work outside of these territorial boundaries will be unable to invoke the protections of the state and city human rights laws. When confronted with claims by such non-residents, employers should quickly attack the sufficiency of these complaints.

For further information on this topic please contact Kevin B Leblang or Robert N Holtzman at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP by telephone (+1 212 715 9100), fax (+1 212 715 8000) or email (kleblang@kramerlevin.com or rholtzman@kramerlevin.com).

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Endnotes

(1) 15 NY3d 285, 907 NYS2d 145.