Women and Justice: Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Domestic Case Law

Saks v. Franklin Covey Co. United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2003)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff’s employee health benefit plan denied coverage for certain infertility procedures that can only be performed on women, including in vitro fertilization (“IVF”). She sued her employer for unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and state law. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer. On the plaintiff’s appeal, the Second Circuit analyzed the issue differently than the district court but ultimately affirmed the grant of summary judgment, finding that the health plan’s exclusion of coverage for surgical implantation procedures limited its infertility procedures for male and female employees equally and as a result did not amount to unlawful discrimination.



Lavin-McEleney v. Marist College United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2001)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The plaintiff, a female professor sued the defendant, alleging that her salary raises were less than those of comparable male professors in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. At trial, both parties’ experts provided statistical evidence based on multiple regression analyses controlled to eliminate any observed gender disparity, including rank, years of service, division, tenure status, and degrees earned. Both experts found a difference in pay between comparable men and women, but disagreed about the statistical significance of that difference. The District Court for the Southern District of New York entered judgment for the plaintiff. The defendant appealed, arguing that the plaintiff had failed to make a case for discrimination because she had not identified a specific higher-paid male professor in her department and that she had impermissibly compared herself to a male employee statistical composite rather than an actual male employee. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, holding that the plaintiff had identified a specific male comparator since only two other professors were comparable in each of the five categories identified by the expert witnesses, and one of them was a male professor who received higher pay. The Second Circuit further held that it was proper for the professor to introduce



Raniola v. Bratton United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2001)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff, a female police officer sued a police department, alleging hostile work environment, sexual harassment, and retaliation claims under Title VII. The plaintiff alleged that she suffered years of abuse because she was a woman, including derogatory remarks, disproportionately burdensome assignments, sabotage of her work, threats, and false accusations of misconduct. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law. The Second Circuit reviewed all the evidence in the light most favorable to the officer and found that a reasonable jury could have arrived at a different conclusion than the district court. The Second Circuit determined that the evidence presented by the officer formed a sufficient basis for a reasonable jury to conclude that she was subjected to hostile work environment because she was a woman and that she was suspended, put on probation, and then terminated in retaliation for having complained about her treatment. The Second Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the claims for retrial.



Bah v. Mukasey United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2008)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices, International law

Three plaintiffs from Guinea who underwent female genital mutilation (“FGM”) appealed decisions from the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), which had denied their claims for relief and withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture based on FGM. An applicant who demonstrates past persecution benefits from the presumption that he or she faces future persecution, unless the government shows either a change of circumstances such that the applicant’s life or freedom would not be threatened upon return to his or her native country, or a reasonable possibility of internal relocation within the country. Here, the BIA found that the presumption was automatically rebutted because the FGM had already occurred. On appeal, the Second Circuit held that the fact that an applicant had already undergone FGM cannot, in and of itself, rebut the presumption that her life or freedom will be threatened in the future. In doing so, the Second Circuit found that the BIA had committed two significant errors in its analysis. First, it assumed that FGM is a one-time act without placing the burden on the government to show that the individuals in this case are not at risk of further mutilation. Second, to rebut the presumption, the government must show that changed conditions in the country obviate the risk to life or freedom related to the original claim; it is not enough that the particular act of persecution suffered by the victim in the past might not reoccur. The Second Circuit accordingly vacated the BIA decisions and remanded the cases.



Kone v. Holder United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2010)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Harmful traditional practices, International law

The plaintiff, who was from Côte d'Ivoire, appealed a Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) decision affirming the denial of her asylum application, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. Her asylum claim was based on female genital mutilation (“FGM”) and her fear that her daughters would be subjected to FGM if she was removed. An applicant who demonstrates past persecution benefits from the presumption that he or she faces future persecution unless the government rebuts that presumption by showing that there is either a change of circumstances such that the applicant’s life or freedom would not be threatened upon return to his or her native country, or a reasonable possibility of internal relocation within the country. Here, the BIA found that the plaintiff’s several voluntary return trips to her native country prior to her application for asylum rebutted that presumption and undermined her credibility. The Second Circuit disagreed, finding that a safe return on one occasion does not preclude potential future harm and that the regulation does not require an applicant to show that she would immediately be persecuted upon return. Similarly, the Second Circuit also found that an applicant’s return trips are not sufficient to undermine an applicant’s credibility. The Second Circuit accordingly vacated the BIA decision and remanded the case, noting that the agency may wish to consider the application for “humanitarian asylum.”



U.S. v. Robinson United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2012)

Statutory rape or defilement, Trafficking in persons

A federal grand jury convicted the defendant-appellant of child sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. A minor victim testified that she started dating the defendant when she was 17 years old but had told him and others that she was 19 years old. She insisted that the defendant was only living off her income as a prostitute and was not a pimp facilitating prostitution.  However, the prosecution introduced videotaped statements in which the defendant repeatedly implored Doe to make money for him and threatened her when she failed to deliver the money. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of two counts of sex trafficking of a minor. On appeal, the Second Circuit considered the construction of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(c), an evidentiary provision added by the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (“TVPRA”), which provides that “[i]n a prosecution . . . in which the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe [the victim], the Government need not prove that the defendant knew that the person had not attained the age of 18 years.” The Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding that this provision imposes strict liability with regard to the defendant’s awareness of the victim’s age and relieves the government’s usual burden to prove knowledge or reckless disregard of the victim’s underage status under § 1591(a). The Second Circuit rejected the defendant’s challenges to this provision as lacking merit and affirmed the judgment of the district court.



Hollander v. United States United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2009)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

A group of husbands filed suit against the United States and other U.S. officials, challenging the validity of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In particular, they were challenging the portion that permitted aliens who had been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by their spouses to self-petition for legal permanent resident status. The plaintiffs claimed this created an incentive for their wives and ex-wives to file false police complaints and false applications for temporary restraining orders against them. They further argued that their reputations were harmed and that confidential information about them was being released to third parties. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed their suit for lack of standing. Accordingly, the plaintiffs could not challenge VAWA or its self-petition provision. On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court held that the plaintiffs’ injury was not fairly traceable to the defendants, but rather to independent actions of their wives or ex-wives who were not before the court. The plaintiffs further failed to state an injury-in-fact, because their claimed injuries were purely speculative. The fear of disclosing confidential information to third parties was dispelled based on the confidentiality provisions of VAWA. Thus, the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue the government and challenge VAWA.



Abankwah v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv. United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (1999)

Harmful traditional practices

Ms. Abankwah, a native of Ghana, was a member of a tribe that punishes women who engage in premarital sex with female genital mutilation (“FGM”). While Ms. Abankwah was away from her tribe, she had a sexual relationship. Subsequently, she learned that she would be the next Queen Mother of her tribe, a position that requires a woman to remain a virgin until marriage. She knew this meant the tribe would discover she had engaged in premarital sex and she would be punished with FGM. Ms. Abankwah fled but her tribe came after her. She decided it was unsafe for her to remain in Ghana and purchased a falsified Ghanaian passport and U.S. visa and fled to the United States. Immigration authorities arrested Ms. Abankwah when she arrived in the United States and commenced deportation proceedings against her. Ms. Abankwah sought to remain in the United States by seeking asylum. To obtain asylum, she needed to establish, among other requirements, that she was unable or unwilling to return to her native country because of a “well-founded” fear of persecution, pursuant to section 208(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. section 1158(a). Ms. Abankwah explained that she feared returning to Ghana because, if she did, her tribe would perform FGM on her. The immigration court denied her petition for asylum because it concluded that her fear of FGM was not objectively reasonable. On appeal, however, the court found that Ms. Abankwah was a credible witness and her fear was objectively reasonable because it was “based on her knowledge of and experience with customs of her tribe.” As such, Ms. Abankwah was granted asylum and allowed to stay in the United States.



McCormick v. School District of Mamaroneck United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2004)

Gender discrimination

Two school districts scheduled their girls’ high school soccer season in the spring and the boys’ high school soccer in the fall. The effect of that schedule was that boys but not girls were able to compete in the regional and state championship games. Parents of the female students sued the school districts pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 and 20 U.S.C. section 1681 (“Title IX”), which requires schools, among others, to provide equal athletic opportunities to its male and female students. The appellate court held that the schools violated Title IX when they scheduled girls’ soccer in the spring because it denied female students an equal athletic opportunity. The court noted that because the females could not compete in championship games, it implied that the schools did not value their athletic abilities as much as it valued the boys’ athletic abilities, which is illegal.



Gregory v. Daly United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2001)

Gender discrimination

Plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and that when she complained, her employer fired her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Plaintiff argued that her executive director subjected her to sexual ridicule, advances, and intimidation. He also intensified his harassment in response to her complaints, deprived her of work responsibilities, undermined her ability to do her job, and ultimately fired her. The lower court dismissed her case. On appeal, however, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal reversed that decision. It found that Plaintiff could reasonably have found her workplace to be both physically and sexually threatening, based on her allegations about the executive director. It reasoned that the alleged environment could have hurt Plaintiff’s job performance, discouraged her from remaining on the job, or kept her from advancing in her career. Thus, the court concluded, the conduct alleged was contrary to Title VII’s objective of promoting workplace equality. The appeals court also found that Plaintiff could proceed with her case against her employer for retaliation because he fired her after she complained about his behavior.