Can I Sue New York City For Wrongful Termination?

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Gregory W. Kirschenbaum - Employment & Labor - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Gregory W. Kirschenbaum

Phillips & Associates, Attorneys at Law PLLC
New York, NY
Phone: 212-235-1109
Fax: 212-901-2107

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If you worked for the city of New York and were fired, you may feel angry and frustrated. Many people feel that their termination was unfair. But bringing an action against New York City for wrongful termination requires that you meet certain legal requirements beyond unfairness. Fortunately, New York City must comply with the same employment laws as any other New York employer. The process, however, may look a little different, and you may not be able to recover the same types of damages as you would from a private employer. 

Understanding wrongful termination

Most New York City employees are “at will,” which means either the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship for any reason or for no reason. However, Federal, state and city laws do prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on certain protected classes. Protected classes include:

  • Race
  • Age
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy and/or family status

Employers cannot fire an employee based on any of these reasons. In fact, employers cannot take any negative action against an employee or applicant based on these traits, including turning down a job applicant, harassing them at work or refusing to promote them. 


The employer also cannot retaliate against someone for asserting a legal right in the workplace, such as filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting sexual harassment. City workers have special whistleblower protection under the New York Civil Service law if they report unlawful activity happening in the workplace. They also have the right to participate in union activities and complain about labor law violations. 

Employment contracts and labor union employees

Some city employees have an employment contract with the city, and the city cannot fire them unless allowed under the terms of the contract. To properly terminate an employee with such an employment contract, the city would have to show that the employee violated the contract in some way, or the contract expired and the city chose not to renew it. If you are part of a labor union, your union may provide support and representation during your termination. Other unions allow you to choose your own attorney. With employment contracts and unions, you may have to go through arbitration or an administrative law process instead of a traditional law suit. 

Shortened filing time

Most legal claims have a limited time in which to file. The time limits can vary, but many are three years in New York. When you sue the city of New York, however, you generally must file a “Notice of Claim” within 90 days. Thereafter, you usually have to initiate your lawsuit against the city within one year and 90 days of the incident. The time frames do vary for some city agencies, so you should consult with an attorney immediately if you plan to bring a claim against the city. 

Choosing the right defendants

Bringing an action against an entity as large as New York City can be a complicated process. You must know who to serve with your Notice of Claim, and what entity to name as a defendant. In most situations, you will name the city of New York as the defendant, rather than the agency for which you worked. Please note that this rule does have certain exceptions. 

Additionally, you cannot sue a government entity for punitive damages in New York. Therefore, you may want to include the individuals who committed the discriminatory acts as defendants in your legal action. That way, you can pursue punitive damages against them. In many cases, the city indemnifies the individual, which means they would pay any punitive damages for the individual defendant. 

You should always consult with an experienced employment law attorney regarding your specific situation, but hopefully we have provided you with a basic understanding of the requirements for suing the city of New York for wrongful termination. 

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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