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Court Discusses Discrimination of Domestic Violence Victims


The complainant woman was hired by the City Department of Correction and was subject to a two-year probation period. A New York Criminal Lawyer said she is the mother of two pre-teenage children and a victim of abuse by her crack and alcohol addict husband who also happens to have a criminal history. The woman moved out with her children and went to live with a relative. Things did not work out and she was ejected from the apartment. The woman requested a vacation time to find a home and was granted a leave through April 4, 2002.

On April 5, 2002, the still homeless woman asked the Department’s Health Management Division (HMD) for further time off to continue her search for a place to live. The Health Management Division put her on immediate sick leave due to stress. They also confiscated the woman’s identification and directed her to obtain a new one which reflected she was psychologically unfit to carry a firearm. At that same meeting, the Health Management Division demanded that the woman provide them with an address. When the woman told the Health Management Division that she was homeless and lacked an address, she was told she could not work at the Department without one. Faced with the threat even after she had explained her homelessness, she gave her husband’s address.

The Health Management Division conducted a visit to the woman at her husband’s address. When she was not found there, they required her to appear at the Health Management Division the following day to explain her unauthorized absence from home. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the woman was informed by her mother-in-law the woman appeared at the Health Management Division and at their request wrote a report explaining her circumstances and homelessness. Nonetheless, the Health Management Division made four subsequent visits to the husband’s residence expecting to find the petitioner there. The petitioner remained homeless, sleeping variously in her car, hotels, shelters or friends’ homes. The woman did return to her husband’s home twice, but both times he assaulted her and she had to seek police intervention and leave again.

The woman finally obtained a stable residence upon her admission to a domestic violence shelter. According to the petitioner, the Health Management Division does not allow its residents to divulge their exact address to anyone who does not sign a confidentiality agreement, so when she called the Health Management Division to apprise them of her new address. The woman gave them the shelter’s office address as the place to contact her. When the Health Management Division’s monitor attempted to visit the woman at the shelter, she was told by the staff that the petitioner’s residence would not be disclosed unless she signed a confidentiality agreement.

The day after that visit, the woman went to the hospital for surgery and returned to the shelter on May 25, having been told by her doctor to stay out of work for six weeks due to the surgery. The Health Management Division approved the leave and scheduled the petitioner to return to work. After another abortive visit, the Housing Authority Division signed the confidentiality agreement at which time petitioner was told to return to HMD. It is unclear whether any further visits to the shelter were made after.

The woman went to her appointment at the Health Management Division. A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said he was given a termination letter backdated without explanation, and her shield and identification were taken. Pursuing an unemployment claim, petitioner learned she was fired for being away from her residence while on sick leave.

The woman contends that her termination was illegal because it was solely based on the fact that, as a victim of domestic violence, she was unreachable while on sick leave due to the Health Management Division’s failure to sign the confidentiality agreement prior to the visit. The accused party’s position is that petitioner was a probationary employee and as such was dismissible without cause, and at any rate cause existed even without the sick leave violations.

Domestic violence, often fueled by alcohol and drugs, is blight on the American family—and society at large. Its victims come from all walks of life. The one thing they have in common is the experience of living in fear every day, for themselves and frequently their children. The combination of constant danger, fruitless vigilance, exposure to another’s rage, physical and psychic injury and pain, and inability to infuse sanity into reality—all without surcease because it generally happens in one’s own home, the one place that should be safe and sacrosanct—is at best crippling and at worst lethal. It is well established that the only sure solution is for the victim to escape the abuser. Formerly, the plight of victims of domestic abuse was generally addressed by the courts of the state in three disjointed contexts: Family Court proceedings, criminal actions and matrimonial.

In 2001, based on the foregoing public policy considerations, the City Council enacted an amendment to the City’s Human Rights Law to prevent employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. A probationary employee can be dismissed without a hearing and without a statement of reasons in the absence of any demonstration that dismissal was for a constitutionally impermissible purpose or in violation of statutory or decisional law. Judicial review of such a determination is limited to an inquiry as to whether the termination was made in bad faith.

It is clear that the woman falls under the statutory definition of a victim of domestic violence. The dispositive issue is whether the Department’s sick leave policy—or its implementation with respect to petitioner and those similarly situated—is impermissibly discriminatory.A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the City Correction had produced evidence that the woman’s job performance, especially in the first year, was not exemplary. She had excessive tardiness and absenteeism and had an altercation with a coworker. Clearly, had they chosen to fire her at that point, they would have been totally within their rights. However, they did not do so. They kept her on and it was only when she was living in a shelter for abused women with an apparent unverifiable address that they terminated her employment.

The City Correction may not have intentionally acted in bad faith, as the woman contends, but they did act in contravention of the Local Law and in that, they failed to make reasonable accommodations for the woman’s status as a homeless victim of domestic violence. The petitioner woman’s loss of a job at the point when she was finally getting her living situation under control, is exactly the kind of fallout that Local Law was enacted to prevent. Fortunately, the law recognizes that the forms and guides of discriminatory conduct do not always fall neatly into readily identifiable packages and affords relief so long as the victim can establish that the conduct occurred under circumstances which give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.

Accordingly, the court ordered and adjudged that the petition is granted to the extent that the City Correction’s determination to terminate the woman’s employment based on her being unavailable when the Health Management Division monitors visited her is hereby vacated and the matter is remanded to the City Correction for reinstatement and back pay in accordance with the Court’s decision.

When an employee is bothered with domestic problem, his or her job performance will surely suffer. If any of your company employees is a victim of violence at home, advise them to consult a NY Domestic Violence Lawyer from Stephen Bilkis and Associates. If you know of any violence that resulted to crime, have them call the team of New York Criminal Lawyers for sound legal advice.

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