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April 2018: Employment Defense Verdict in Discrimination and Retaliation Case

April 12, 2018

MCB obtained a defense verdict in an employment discrimination and retaliation case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

 

The Plaintiff, a former employee of our client hospital, filed a lawsuit alleging race and disability discrimination and retaliation claims. Plaintiff also alleged that the hospital interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) by delaying the processing of her FMLA request and terminating her for taking FMLA leave. The Hospital employed Plaintiff for nearly 14 years. Throughout her employment, Plaintiff suffered from various serious health conditions for which the Hospital previously granted her FMLA and disability leave. 

 

Plaintiff again requested FMLA leave 2014. The hospital granted Plaintiff’s request, but only after more than a month’s delay caused by various reasons, including Plaintiff’s submission of a deficient application. Thereafter, while on FMLA leave, the Plaintiff’s supervisors wrote her up three times for disciplinary reasons and performance deficiencies. One of the disciplinary write-ups was for lateness and absences that she claimed should have been covered under the FMLA.

 

The trial of this matter raised several challenges. The most difficult fact was that the hospital disciplined the Plaintiff while she was on FMLA leave. After presentation of the facts related to this discipline, the jury agreed that the hospital’s discipline of the Plaintiff was not related to her protected status or her receipt of FMLA leave. The other difficulty was that Plaintiff’s discrimination and retaliation claims were raised under the New York City Human Rights law, which places a lower evidentiary burden on plaintiff employees. Specifically, under the federal law, an employee must prove discrimination by demonstrating that he/she would not have suffered an adverse employment consequence “but for” their protected status. However, under the New York City law, to prove discrimination employees need show only that they were treated “less well” than other employees. Similarly, the legal standard in New York for employees to prove FMLA violations is lower than in other states. Thus, in other jurisdictions employees must prove that they would not have been fired “but for” the employee's receipt of FMLA leave, but in New York the plaintiff employee need only show that her receipt of FMLA leave was “a factor” in the decision to fire.


There are several reasons for our success in overcoming the above challenges. Among those factors, the client hospital was generous with its time and resources in the preparation of the defendant’s witnesses and, in fact, the hospital’s V.P. for Human Resources actively aided in the defense and sat at counsel’s table throughout the trial. MCB also succeeded in several pre-trial motions to exclude evidence harmful to the defense, including prejudicial documents and the testimony from several witnesses proposed by plaintiff. In addition, the firm leveraged sophisticated jury selection analysis and technology both before and during the trial. Thus, particularly effective was cross examinations where we were able to impeach plaintiff on the fly using clips from her prior videotaped deposition testimony. Likewise, MCB’s use of visual aids and real-time court reporting (where all trial testimony was instantaneously sent electronically “word for word” to defendant’s counsel as the trial progressed) permitted effective impeachment of plaintiff and other of plaintiff’s witnesses based on their fresh trial testimony made during their direct examinations by plaintiff’s counsel.

 

The trial lasted five days with the ten-person jury rendering its verdict in less than two hours.

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