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“Marital Status” Discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law Expanded by the Appellate Division

marital statusDecisions issued by both federal courts and state courts in New York have recognized that the New York City Human Rights Law (“City HRL”) is far more expansive than other state and federal laws protecting employees from discrimination. The Appellate Division, First Department again affirmed this notion on September 6, 2018 in its recent decision in Morse v. Fidessa Corp.

In Morse v. Fidessa Corp., the First Department decided, as a matter of first impression, that the City HRL’s prohibition against discrimination based on “marital status” encompasses a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of the identity of a person’s spouse and not just on a person’s marital status. In upholding the lower court’s decision denying Fidessa’s motion to dismiss the complaint, the First Department held that “marital status” not only includes an individual’s status as married or not married, but also includes an individual’s marital status with respect to a particular person.

One of the many protections that employees have under the City HRL, is the prohibition against discrimination in employment based on the employee’s actual or perceived marital status. Here, Morse, a former employee of Fidessa, alleged that he was suspended and then terminated by Fidessa because a co-employee that Fidessa perceived to be his spouse, had left Fidessa for another employer. Morse also alleged that he was told Fidessa had terminated his employment because of this perceived marital relationship, and that, if he divorced this co-employee, he would be reconsidered for re-employment.

The Court found that the factor in terminating plaintiff’s employment was plaintiff’s marital status in relation to the employee who left the company, and accordingly, plaintiff’s termination was based on his marital status. In reaching this conclusion, the Court noted that only a broader interpretation of the term “marital status” will further the City HRL’s purpose and mandate that discrimination be allowed to play no role in the workplace. Additionally, the Court stated that, “the goal of discrimination law is to move decision-makers away from using protected class status.”

Thus, under the City HRL, “marital status” is not limited exclusively to whether an employee is married or unmarried. It is also a discriminatory practice for an employer to take any adverse employment action against an employee because of the employee’s marriage to a particular person.

If you feel that your rights have been violated, please contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a consultation.

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