Murray Schwartz (1925-2015)
Throughout his over 60 years of practice, Murray Schwartz was involved in several areas of law, but always with an emphasis on litigation. More than 20 years ago, he commenced directing and focusing the firm toward representing victims of employment discrimination in all its forms, including other matters relating to employment law. Mr. Schwartz’s dedication to this ideal has resulted in a successful and expanding plaintiffs’ side employment law practice in which his daughter, Davida S. Perry, joined him in 1991. The firm has grown continuously since that time.
From the beginning, Mr. Schwartz was involved in a number of first impression cases which have had a lasting influence on employment law in New York. The most notable are three landmark sexual harassment cases - Bracker v. Cohen, Thoreson v. Penthouse Magazine and Robert Guccione and McIntyre v. Manhattan Ford, Lincoln Mercury.
In 1991, the City of New York enacted a Human Rights Law authorizing a private cause of judicial action for victims of employment discrimination. The New York City law was challenged in Bracker v. Cohen, the first case brought under the law. Mr. Schwartz represented the plaintiff in oral argument, during which the defendant sought to nullify the law. When Mr. Schwartz argued the validity of the law, he was requested by the City of New York to argue on its behalf, as well. Bracker v. Cohen was a case of first impression which confirmed the validity and constitutionality of the New York City Human Rights Law, and as a result, a multitude of cases have been instituted under that law. The city law permits punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and is not subject to a cap in damages.
Mr. Schwartz was widely recognized as the lead trial and appellate attorney who represented the plaintiff throughout the trial in the Appellate Division, and thereafter in the Court of Appeals of New York, in the landmark case of Thoreson v. Penthouse Magazine and Robert Guccione. In Thoreson, the finding of sexual harassment was sustained on appeal by both the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals, which held that a claim of sexual harassment can be established based on the victim’s testimony alone.
Mr. Schwartz also represented and served as the lead trial attorney for the plaintiff in McIntyre v. Manhattan Ford, Lincoln Mercury, a sexual harassment, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress suit. A Manhattan jury awarded the plaintiff $6.6 million, which, even after being reduced by the trial court and then by the appellate court, still stands as one of the highest awards for sexual harassment in the entire nation. The case, after trial, continued through the appellate process involving the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals and was concluded, with judgment paid, in 1999.
The McIntyre case continues to be cited and is significant because it helped to document a standard by which to evaluate a fair recovery for the humiliation a victim of sexual harassment can suffer. The decision of the trial court in response to a motion made following the verdict, quoting the Talmud, reminds us that "humiliation murders the soul." The plaintiff in McIntyre, as well as Mr. Schwartz and Davida S. Perry, were celebrated at a ceremony for Courageous Plaintiffs conducted by the New York Chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association.
The legislative history of the New York City Human Rights Law "clearly contemplates that the New York City Human Rights Law be liberally and independently construed with the aim of making it the most progressive in the nation." In 2005, The New York City Council recognized that the New York City Human Rights Law was being interpreted similarly to comparable state and federal statutes in certain cases, despite the City Law’s clear mandate otherwise. In October 2005, the New York City Council enacted The Local Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2005 which stated that the federal law "should merely serve as a base for the New York City Human Rights Law, not its ceiling."
In June 2006, following a two-week trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the jury returned a verdict in favor of a client of Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP in the amount of $2.5 million, of which $300,000 was an award for punitive damages. The verdict was based upon a retaliation claim arising from the plaintiff’s allegation of age discrimination. Since the action was brought under the New York City Law and was removed to Federal court, the amount was not subject to the Federal cap. After adding damages, interest and attorneys’ fees, the amount of the final judgment paid totaled nearly $4 million. This case was tried by Murray Schwartz as the lead attorney. Davida Perry and Brian Heller also actively participated, with Mr. Schwartz, throughout the entire trial.
In addition to practicing law, Mr. Schwartz frequently served as a consultant for attorneys in the field of employment law across the country. He wrote and lectured extensively and has also appeared as a panelist at symposiums sponsored by the New York County Lawyers’ Association, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the New York State Bar Association, the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), as well as the New York Chapter of NELA, the Practising Law Institute, St. John’s University and also Syracuse University College of Law.
Mr. Schwartz appeared on Fox TV and local news networks, as well as Court TV and talk shows such as Larry King Live. Additionally, Mr. Schwartz was frequently called upon by major New York newspapers to comment on employment law issues.