New York

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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.



In re Romano New York Court of Appeals (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, removed Romano, a town and village justice, from office, in part, because of his insensitivity to victims of domestic violence.  The justice engaged in egregious misconduct in his courtroom, at an arraignment, where a defendant was charged with violating a protection order and assaulting his wife.  After reviewing the charges, Romano stated, from the bench, “What’s wrong with that?  You’ve got to keep them in line once in a while.”  The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence in the record supported the Commission’s findings that Romano seriously abused his judicial authority.  The court reasoned that Romano’s misconduct demonstrated a pattern of serious disregard for the standards of judicial conduct that “exist to maintain respect toward everyone who appears in a court.”



People v. Liberta New York Court of Appeals (1984)

Sexual violence and rape

The defendant's wife filed a criminal complaint against him, claiming that he raped her. He moved to dismiss the charge because, under New York Penal Law section 130.35 (“Section 130.35”), which contained a marital exemption, a husband could not be convicted of raping his wife.  The trial court granted Defendant’s motion and dismissed the indictment based on the marital exemption.  The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded the case for trial.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division, finding Section 130.35 was unconstitutional due to the marital exemption provision.  “Where a statute draws a distinction based on marital status, the classification must be reasonable and must be based upon ‘some ground of difference that rationally explains the different treatment.’”  The court found that there was no rational basis for distinguishing between marital rape and non-marital rape and thus declared the marital exemption unconstitutional.  The court reasoned that the marital rape exemption denies married women equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the New York and United States Constitutions.  Further, the court stated, “Rape is not simply a sexual act to which one party does not consent.  Rather, it is a degrading, violent act which violates the bodily integrity of the victim and frequently causes severe, long-lasting physical and psychic harm.  To ever imply consent to such an act is irrational and absurd.  A marriage license should not be viewed as a license for a husband to forcibly rape his wife with impunity.  A married woman has the same right to control her own body as does an unmarried woman.” 



Reynolds v. Fraser Supreme Court, New York County (2004)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Ms. Reynolds was fired from her job at the NYC Department of Correction (“Department”) for violating its sick leave policy. Ms. Reynolds was a victim of domestic violence. In 2002, she requested vacation time to find a home after leaving her abuser. When she did not find a home within her given vacation time, she requested more time off to continue searching for a place to live. As a result of her request, her employer put her on immediate sick leave and demanded that she provide them with an address. When Ms. Reynolds told them she was currently homeless, she was told she could not work at the Department without providing them with a current address. Faced with the threat of termination, even after she explained her homelessness, she gave her husband’s address. It was the Department’s policy to police sick leave abuse by sending monitors to a sick employee’s home for surprise visits. When a monitor appeared at Ms. Reynolds’s husband’s home to check in on her, she was not present. Ms. Reynolds was fired as a result. She brought suit against her employer for violating the law prohibiting employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. In 2001 New York enacted an amendment to the City’s Human Rights Law, also known as the Local Law I (the “Law”), to prevent employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. The stated purpose of this amendment was “to protect the economic viability of victims of domestic violence and to support their efforts to gain independence from their abusers by enabling victims of domestic violence to speak with their employers without fear of reprisal, about domestic violence incidents or about possible steps that will enhance their ability to perform their job without causing undue hardship.” The Supreme Court, New York County (a New York State trial court) found that the Department violated the Law when it did not make reasonable accommodations for Ms. Reynolds’s status as a homeless victim of domestic violence. The court reasoned, “the end result here, [Ms. Reynolds’s] loss of a job at the point when she was finally getting her living situation under control, is exactly the kind of fallout that Local Law 1 was enacted to prevent.”



Metro N. Owners, LLC v. Thorpe Civil Court of the City of New York (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Property and inheritance rights

Ms. Thorpe was a victim of domestic violence.  Her landlord sought to evict her from her apartment, alleging nuisance in violation of the lease.  Ms. Thrope was the only person on the lease.  Her landlord’s nuisance claim was based on a fight that had occurred between Ms. Thorpe and her husband.  Ms. Thorpe moved for summary judgment based on the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (“VAWA 2005”).  Under VAWA 2005, “an incident of domestic violence will not be construed to violate a public-housing or government-assisted tenancy and shall not be good cause to terminate a public-housing or government-assisted tenancy if the tenant is the victim or threatened victim of domestic violence.”  Ms. Thorpe argued that because her landlord’s allegations of nuisance were based solely on acts of domestic violence committed against her, he could not terminate her government-assisted tenancy.  To prove that she was a victim of domestic violence, Ms. Thorpe provided three complaint reports that she had filed with the New York Police Department, along with a protective order she obtained against her husband from the New York City Criminal Court.  The court granted Ms. Thorpe’s motion for summary judgment because she was a victim of domestic violence, and as such, VAWA 2005 prohibited her landlord from terminating her lease.  The court reasoned that “VAWA’s goal is to prevent a landlord from penalizing a tenant for being a victim of domestic violence,” as Ms. Thorpe was here.