Watch out! If you are involved—even in a small way—in any activity that leads to a discrimination claim, you may be personally liable. Under the New York Human Relations Act, any individual who “actually participates in the conduct giving rise to a discrimination claim” can be sued, even if that individual doesn’t have the power to hire or fire anyone.
The types of discrimination claims covered include age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, genetic predisposition, carrier status or marital status. Turning a blind eye to a possibly hostile work environment also counts as discrimination.
Advice: A simple reminder to supervisors and managers of their personal liability under New York law should be enough to discourage discriminatory behavior.
Recent case: When William Banks lost his contractual job with the Correctional Services Corporation, he didn’t just sue the company—he also sued the individuals he alleged helped the company get him fired. Banks was 74 years old and said he had heard he was being cut because the company wanted “younger blood.”
The court concluded that if the reasons were illegal, any employee involved in the decision to fire Banks could be sued individually. That’s true even if that individual wasn’t the ultimate decision-maker. Luckily for them, the ones Banks sued were able to prove they had nothing to do with the matter. (Banks v. Correctional Services, et al., No. 06-CV-3414, ED NY, 2007)