The Second Circuit is once again seeking guidance from the New York Court of Appeals, this time on the question of the appropriate standard for awarding punitive damages for unlawful discriminatory acts under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”).  The NYCHRL provides that punitive damages may be available where employers are found directly liable for discriminatory practices, as well as in certain circumstances where liability may be imputed based on an employer’s failure to take steps to prevent or correct discriminatory conduct by its employees.  However, the law does not articulate the standard for establishing employer liability for punitive damages in either instance.

The case, Chauca v. Park Management Systems, involves a former employee who brought suit against her employer and two of its employees under Title VII and the NYCHRL, alleging pregnancy discrimination following her termination while on maternity leave.  The district court denied the former employee’s request to provide a jury instruction on punitive damages under the NYCHRL.  The district court applied the Title VII standard for awarding punitive damages and found that the former employee had failed to show evidence that the employer intentionally discriminated against her with “malice” or “reckless indifference.”

The former employee appealed, arguing that the district court failed to construe the NYCHRL’s standard for punitive damages liability “liberally” and to analyze it “independently” of federal law, in accordance with the stated intent of the New York City Council when it amended the law in 2005, i.e., that the law should be “construed liberally . . . regardless of whether federal or New York State civil and human rights laws . . . have been so construed.”

Finding that neither the text of the NYCHRL nor New York case law resolves the question, the Second Circuit certified the following to the New York Court of Appeals:

  • “What is the standard for finding a defendant liable for punitive damages under the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8‐502?”

We will continue to monitor this case and report on further developments.

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Photo of Joseph Baumgarten Joseph Baumgarten

Joseph Baumgarten is a partner and former co-chair in Proskauer’s Labor & Employment Law Department. Joe has been widely recognized as a leading labor and employment lawyer by Chambers, US Legal 500, HR Executive Law Dragon and Best Lawyers. He was also named…

Joseph Baumgarten is a partner and former co-chair in Proskauer’s Labor & Employment Law Department. Joe has been widely recognized as a leading labor and employment lawyer by Chambers, US Legal 500, HR Executive Law Dragon and Best Lawyers. He was also named one of the 2013 BTI Client Service All-Stars, an elite group of attorneys nominated solely by clients as the very best in client service.

Joe represents publicly held and privately owned employers in virtually all areas of labor and employment law, including claims under the National Labor Relations Act, Title VII, the ADEA, ADA, FLSA, WARN and Sarbanes-Oxley, as well as breach of contract claims arising out of executive compensation disputes. He regularly: defends employers in single and multiple plaintiff cases, and class actions, in federal and state trial and appellate courts, before federal, state and local administrative agencies, and in FINRA, AAA and JAMS arbitrations of employment claims; represents unionized employers in collective bargaining negotiations, in grievance arbitrations and before the National Labor Relations Board; and counsels employers with respect to internal investigations, restrictive covenants, reductions in force, restructurings, and labor and employment related issues related to corporate transactions.

Joe practices across a range of different industries and has extensive experience representing employers in the banking, insurance, broker-dealer, television, professional sports, newspaper, health care, trucking and retail sectors.

Photo of Laura Fant Laura Fant

Laura Fant is a special employment law counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-administrative leader of the Counseling, Training & Pay Equity Practice Group. Her practice is dedicated to providing clients with practical solutions to common (and uncommon) employment concerns…

Laura Fant is a special employment law counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-administrative leader of the Counseling, Training & Pay Equity Practice Group. Her practice is dedicated to providing clients with practical solutions to common (and uncommon) employment concerns, with a focus on legal compliance, risk management and mitigation strategies, and workplace culture considerations.

Laura regularly counsels clients across numerous industries on a wide variety of employment matters involving recruitment and hiring, employee leave and reasonable accommodation issues, performance management, and termination of employment . She also advises on preparing, implementing and enforcing employment and separation agreements, employee handbooks and company policies, as well as provides training on topics including discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Laura is a frequent contributor to Proskauer’s Law and the Workplace blog and The Proskauer Brief podcast.