Employment-New York Court Of Appeals Holds That Plaintiff ‘s Claim Of Disability Discrimination Under New York City Human Rights Law Survives Motion To Dismiss

In Romanello v. Intesa Sanpaolo, S.p.A. (2013 NY Slip Op 06600), the plaintiff, Giuseppe Romanello (“Romanello”), had been an executive of the financial services firm, defendant Intesa Sanpaola, S.p.A. (“Intesa”). Romanello had worked for Intesa and its predecessor for approximately 25 years when he became ill and unable to work. He was diagnosed with a series of disorders including major depression. After a period of absence, Intesa terminated Romanello’s employment. Romanello then brought this suit, claiming that, by terminating him, Intesa discriminated against him on the basis of his disability in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law (the “State HRL”) and the New York City Human Rights Law (the “City HRL”).

In analyzing the case, the New York Court of Appeals (the “Court”) ruled that Romanello did not state a claim under the State HRL, since indefinite leave is not an accommodation under State HRL, and here Romanello never indicated when he might return to work from his absence. However, the Court said that the City HRL affords broader protections than the State HRL . The City HRL declares that it shall be construed liberally for the accomplishment of the uniquely broad and remedial purposes thereof, regardless of whether federal or New York State civil and human rights laws have been so construed. As such, the Court said that it has held that the provisions of the City HRL should be construed broadly in favor of discrimination of plaintiffs, to the extent that such a construction is reasonably possible.

Continuing, the Court said that the City HRL requires that an employer make reasonable accommodation to enable a person with a disability to satisfy the essential requisites of a job, provided that the disability is known or should have been known by the employer. Contrary to the State HRL, it is the employer’s burden to prove undue hardship to avoid the need to provide reasonable accommodation. Also, the City HRL provides employers an affirmative defense if the employee cannot, with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job. Thus, the employer, not the employee, has the pleading obligation to prove that the employee could not, with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job.

In this case, Romanello, by letter from his counsel, made his disability known to Intesa. Intesa did not meet its obligation under the City HRL to plead and prove that plaintiff could not perform his essential job functions with an accommodation. The Court ruled that, because Intesa made no such allegation or showing the City HRL claim must survive Intesa’s motion to dismiss.