Question

Can I Sue New York City For Racial Discrimination in New York?

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Steven Fingerhut - Employment & Labor - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Steven Fingerhut

Located in New York, NYPhillips & Associates, Attorneys at Law PLLC

New York, NY
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Suing a public entity like the city of New York includes many legal hurdles, but it can be done. Not only is the city subject to federal and state civil rights laws that prohibit racial discrimination, but it is also subject to New York City Human Rights Law that specifically targets discrimination within the city. 

You have a limited time file a suit against the City. You will need to consult with an attorney experienced in suing the city of New York right away to make sure you meet all filing deadlines. 

Definition Of Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination is the unfair treatment or bias against someone or a group of people on the basis of their race. Civil rights laws prohibit racial discrimination in many places, including the workplace, public spaces, housing and profiling by law enforcement. Sometimes the basis for the discrimination may not be obvious; especially if you belong to more than one protected category (i.e. race, gender, disability, etc.). People express racism in different ways, even in a city as diverse as New York City. The type of lawsuit you bring may depend on where and how you experienced racism. 

Racism In The Workplace

As a New York City employee, you would hope your employer would be fair-minded and treat everyone equally. Encountering racism at work is both hurtful and frightening. Your livelihood is at stake, after all. Your employer or coworkers may discriminate against you in the following ways:

  • Passing or sharing racist comments, images or jokes
  • Refusing to hire or promote based on race
  • Terminating or demoting giving less desirable work
  • Harassment based on race

If you complain verbally or in writing against the City as your employer, they cannot retaliate against you under the law. If they do, you will have an additional claim against them. 

As a New York City employee, you may also belong to a union. Note that union employees may or may not have representation through the union when they have a grievance related to retaliation. Your union representative will advise you whether you may hire your own attorney to represent you. Some union members go through an arbitration process regarding the complaints. 

Other Types Of Lawsuits

As noted above, there are many other types of racial discrimination cases you may bring against New York City. Perhaps the public school has discriminated against your child based on race, or the New York City Housing Authority discriminated against your family when you applied for housing. If you think law enforcement has targeted you based on a racial bias, you may also report the misconduct to the Civilian Complaint Review Board for investigation. These may all give rise to a lawsuit, but only a skilled attorney can advise you based on the specific facts of your situation. 

Choosing Your Defendant

You must choose the correct defendant when suing the city of New York. In most cases, you will sue the city directly, rather than the agency or department that perpetrated the discrimination. This rule does have exceptions, however. A skilled discrimination attorney will advise you of the proper defendant to name. 

In addition, you may choose to name the individual person who discriminated against you as a second defendant. In some cases, you may not pursue punitive damages against the city of New York. You may sue an individual for punitive damages, however, so you will want to name both in order to collect the full amount of your potential damages. The city often ends up indemnifying the individual, which means they pay the individual’s punitive damages. 

Suing the City of New York is complicated and difficult, but can be done. Consult with an experienced attorney to make sure you follow the proper procedures and accurately name your defendants.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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