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Recent Appellate Decision Broadens Protections Against a Hostile Environment

Appellate Decision

The First Department, the state appellate court located in Manhattan, broadened protections for employees suffering a hostile work environment, particularly where the hostility creates a dangerous workplace.

In Doe v. New York City Police Department, 2021 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3 (1st Dept. Jan. 5, 2021), the plaintiff, a gay police officer, alleged that he was subjected to “homophobic derision, harassment, and verbal abuse.” The officer alleged that the harassment escalated to his being singled out for dangerous assignments, including being alone with prisoners in their cells and midnight solo patrols. The plaintiff ultimately left the NYPD because of this harassment.

Remarkably, the lower court dismissed the case, finding that the plaintiff’s allegations did not rise to the level of being actionable under the New York City Human Rights Law.

The First Department reversed, finding that the harassment the plaintiff alleged met the broad standards of the New York City Human Rights Law. The court also noted that the dangerous assignments the plaintiff was required to do were actionable and that they supported his claim for a constructive discharge.

The First Department, in reinstating the case, cited three cases that Schwartz Perry & Heller has handled. As we often say, it is difficult to find any court decision relating to employment law in New York City that does not cite one of our cases.