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Animosity is Not Actionable

The New York State Court of Appeals has held that, “animosity on the job is not actionable.” Forrest v. Jewish Guild of the Blind, 3 N.Y. 2d 295 (2004).  Simply put, while discrimination has no place in society, it is simply not the law that every dispute or wrongful act that arises in the work-place is necessarily of a discriminatory nature.  The reality is most of us are at-will employees.  As such, employers have the luxury to be able to treat (or mistreat) their employees in any manner that pleases them, for any reason, or no reason at all so long as it is not discriminatory or retaliatory in nature.  While courts do not equate personal animosity and fickleness with discrimination proscribed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the New York State Human Rights Law, the evidence is judged by a totality of the circumstances standard. The primary motivation for an employer’s seemingly adverse actions can be indicative of discrimination, as can differences in age, sex, race, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or identity, and disability status. Mere personality conflicts must not be mistaken for unlawful discrimination, lest the antidiscrimination laws “become a general civility code.” Id. at 394. General mistreatment such as excessive work, unfavorable schedules, being yelled at, receiving unfair criticism or other seemingly adverse actions, have not been held as materially adverse changes in the terms, conditions or privileges of employment. See e.g. Katz v. Beth Israel Med. Ctr., 2001 WL 11064, *14, 2001 U.S. Dist LEXIS 29, *44 [S.D.N.Y., Jan. 4, 2001]. What may seem like employment discrimination may in reality be a non-discriminatory and legal personal vendetta. Still, context may salvage the circumstances and provide proof of discrimination. The question remains, is it discrimination, or does he just dislike you?


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