U.S. District Court Judge Dismisses Civil Rights Action based on Employee Status

Caitrin Kennedy filed a lawsuit against the New York State Assembly, the former New York State Assembly Member Dennis Gabryszak, former chief of staff Adam Locher, and former State Assembly Member and Speaker Sheldon Silver.  The claims of a hostile work environment and sexual harassment were filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and under New York State Human Rights Law. On March 3, 2016, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny dismissed the Title VII claims against the former New York Assembly Speaker by holding that Title VII actions by staff members are barred when against the elected officials they work for.  The remaining state claims against the former Assembly Member, though, were not dismissed.

The plaintiff, Ms. Kennedy, was hired as a Director of Community Relations for Mr. Gabryszak’s office in September 2013.  Ms. Kennedy remained in the office until resigning in January of 2014.  Her immediate supervisor was Mr. Locher.  Throughout the time Ms. Kennedy worked in the office, she alleged that Mr. Gabryszak sexually harassed her by asking her improper questions, making inappropriate comments, and giving her a gift in an inappropriate manner.  Ms. Kennedy alleged that her complaints to Mr. Locher were not taken seriously, and that Mr. Locher replied that “was just how Dennis [Gabryszak] was.”

The Title VII federal action alleged that Ms. Kennedy was discriminated against because of her gender.  Under Title VII, the U.S. District Court will not be able to hear a case if the plaintiff was a member of the “personal staff” of the defendant’s.  The parties each argued as to whether Ms. Kennedy was an “employee” or not, thereby determining if she could bring a Title VII action.  The court weighed not only language from Title VII and conference committee reports from the U.S. House and Senate, but also the facts and circumstances of Ms. Kennedy’s employment.  Some factors taken into account were the type of working relationship between the parties, official duties and descriptions, and whether the employee “occupie[d] a position of trust and sensitivity.”  The Court held that Ms. Kennedy met these standards, and therefore would be considered “personal staff” to the former Assembly Member Gabryszak, and thus the Title VII action was barred.

If you feel you have been discriminated against by an employer, contacting an experienced civil rights attorney can help you protect your rights.  Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.


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