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SPH Obtains Significant Decision In A Marital Status Discrimination Case

Schwartz Perry & Heller recently obtained a significant victory in a marital status discrimination case brought under the New York City Human Rights Law.

The plaintiff in our case was a preeminent Professor at Columbia, focusing on the study of schizophrenia. In April 2014, the plaintiff, as a result of her accomplishments, was invited to join Columbia’s prestigious Zuckerman Institute. The plaintiff’s husband, who was also a Professor at Columbia, had already been invited to join the Zuckerman Institute because he was a part of Columbia’s Department of Neurology.

Columbia rescinded the invitation to the plaintiff in March 2015 because it had learned that she and her husband had divorced and her ex-husband would be “uncomfortable” if she were to come to the Zuckerman Institute. Columbia did not want “controversy” and there was “little choice but to back” the husband. The plaintiff complained that she was being discriminated against because of her marital status, but Columbia’s EEO department determined that her complaint was unfounded.

In Karayiorgou v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., 2021 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 185, *1 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cty. Jan. 14, 2021), the court denied Columbia’s motion to grant summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s case.

The court rejected Columbia’s claim that the plaintiff had only been invited to the Zuckerman Institute because of her “collaboration” with her ex-husband. The court recognized that the plaintiff had built a career, was a recognized scientist and there was no support for Columbia’s claim that she was only invited to the Institute because of her husband.

In fact, the court found that Columbia’s diminishment of the plaintiff in favor of her husband “is not only insulting but boarders on sexism,” and that “the insinuation that plaintiff played a secondary or subservient role to [her former husband] and that her career as a scientist was as a result of [him] is an inappropriate mischaracterization of the facts.”

This case exposes how women have been undervalued and minimized in academia. Columbia disregarded the plaintiff as merely helping her ex-husband, when the truth is that she made the groundbreaking scientific discovery and was the driving force behind the research. SPH is pleased a jury will now be able to address Columbia’s discrimination.

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