Court of Appeals October Session: Arguments of Interest for October 10, 2017

The Court of Appeals’ October session begins on Tuesday, October 10, 2017, with three cases on the argument calendar (the Court’s case summaries can be found here). The Court will face the following issues: (1) whether a Cayman precondition to continuing a derivative suit must be satisfied before the derivative claims may be pursued in New York courts; (2) whether a criminal defendant has an absolute right to be present at his resentencing where a procedural defect in the original sentence is cured and the same sentence is reimposed; (3) what is the standard for finding a defendant liable for punitive damages under the New York City Human Rights Law.

No. 113 Chauca v Abraham

In this case alleging pregnancy discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law, Chauca prevailed at trial and was awarded $65,500 in damages for lost compensation and pain and suffering.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, however, declined to charge the jury on punitive damages.  The Court held instead that although the NYCHRL calls for liberal construction of its provisions, Chauca had not shown that her employer had intentionally discriminated with “malice” or “reckless indifference.”  The Court, thus, in effect applied the Title VII standard for punitive damages to the NYCHRL.

Chauca appealed the damages award to the Second Circuit, arguing that the District Court had improperly applied Title VII’s punitive damages standard to her NYCHRL claims.  The Second Circuit acknowledged that its prior decision in Farias v Instructional Systems, Inc. (259 F3d 91 [2001]) on the issue required the District Court to apply the Title VII standard, but noted that its decision has been called into question in the years after it was handed down. Particularly, the New York City Council has twice amended the NYCHRL to ensure that it it broadly construed, regardless of how similar state and federal statutes are interpreted. That, the Second Circuit reasoned, suggested that the Title VII standard for punitive damages might not be the right one.

Because, however, the New York courts have not yet addressed the question of what is the standard for punitive damage awards under the NYCHRL, the Second Circuit certified the question to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals will now hear arguments on what standard should apply.

The Second Circuit’s opinion can be found here and the Court of Appeals’ decision accepting the certified question here.

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