An individual filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights (the “Commission”), alleging hostile work environment and disability discrimination by a former employer. The Commission found “no probable cause” and dismissed his complaint. The former employee was unhappy with this result and sued the Commission in federal court, alleging that the Commission’s investigators failed to adequately investigate his claims before they were dismissed. The lawsuit asserted that the Commission’s procedures violate the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution because they “permit a reviewer to dismiss an administrative complaint for insufficient information or investigation in the absence of a hearing and without allowing complainant to cross-examine witnesses or have access to the investigative file.”
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this claim in Rosu v. City of New York, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 2402 (2d Cir. 2014), finding that the Commission’s procedures “facially satisfy the due process requirements” under applicable U.S. Supreme Court authority. In particular, the lack of an evidentiary hearing before the Commission does not violate due process because an aggrieved complainant can challenge the dismissal of his case by commencing an Article 78 proceeding in state court, in which a judge can decide whether the Commission arbitrarily denied plaintiff a hearing.
A key point: the NY City Human Rights Law often provides relief substantially greater than that is available under federal law – including uncapped punitive damages and the ability to name individual supervisors and executives as parties. However, an alleged victim of discrimination does not have to bring an administrative charge with the Commission. He or she may choose to bypass the administrative process and go directly into state court, where discovery and a potential jury trial are available, neither of which are available within the Commission’s procedures.