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SPH Obtains Significant Appellate Decision in a Marital Status Discrimination Case


Schwartz Perry & Heller obtains another appellate victory for our clients.

In Karayiorgou v. Trustees of Columbia, the plaintiff was a preeminent Professor at Columbia, focusing on the study of schizophrenia. In April 2014, as a result of her accomplishments, the plaintiff was invited to join Columbia’s prestigious Zuckerman Institute. That invitation was rescinded in March 2015. The reason that Columbia gave the plaintiff was that she and her husband, who was also a professor at Columbia, had divorced and her former husband would be “uncomfortable” if she were to come to the Zuckerman Institute, and they did not want “controversy.”

Following discovery, Columbia moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims, arguing that no jury could possibly find her in favor. In a decision on January 14, 2021, the trial court denied that motion. The court rejected Columbia’s claim that the plaintiff had only been invited to the Zuckerman Institute because of her “collaboration” with her former husband. The court recognized that the plaintiff had built a career was a recognized scientist and that there was no support for Columbia’s claim that she was only invited to the Institute because of her husband.

Columbia then appealed that case to the First Department, the appellate court sitting in Manhattan. Video of the oral argument of that appeal can be found at starting at approximately 3:04:55. Brian Heller’s oral argument in favor of the plaintiff is at 3:13:00 – 3:39:10.

On October 28, 2021, the First Department affirmed the lower court and denied Columbia’s motion to dismiss. The Court held that the plaintiff’s testimony stating that she was invited to the Zuckerman Institute on her own merit “alone” raises questions about the truthfulness of Columbia’s explanation. The Court recognized that a jury could find that Columbia “fabricated a condition for the offer that never existed – that she work with her husband – as a reason for rescinding her invitation.”

This case affirms the rights of women in the workplace, who are too often, especially in the sciences, subordinated in favor of men. We are pleased a jury will now be able to address Columbia’s discrimination.