NYPD Transit Officer Settles Disability Harassment Claim Against NY City

By Douglas Lipsky

A New York City transit cop recently received a $275,000 settlement from the city over claims that his supervisors failed to accommodate his handicap and subjected him to disability harassment. This case highlights how public and private employees who have been victims of workplace harassment need the advice and counsel of experienced employment law attorneys.

The Backdrop

In a federal lawsuit filed in 2015, the transit officer claimed he was forced to work under life-threatening conditions and bullied about his 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy-related illnesses.

After apparently being traumatized by failing to save a drowning victim during Sandy, the officer developed an alcohol abuse problem that led to a 6-month stint in rehab in 2013. Upon his return to work in December of that year, he started seeing posters mocking his drinking problem, one of which depicted a man hooked up to IVs filled with scotch and soda. 

The officer also claimed that his work at Ground Zero caused a number of health issues, including PTSD, low blood pressure and a kidney ailment that prevented him from standing in the heat too long. However, his supervisor failed to accommodate his request for modified duty and forced him to work without air conditioning. 

After no action was taken on a complaint the officer filed with the NYPD Office of Equal Employment Opportunity in August 2014, he filed a discrimination claim with the New York State Division of Human Rights, which found that the NYPD had engaged in discriminatory practices. The officer then filed a federal lawsuit in October 2015. 

The city settled the claim saying that it was in their best interest to do so. A spokesman for the NYPD said the department “is committed to fostering a professional, inclusive work environment and there is no admission of wrongdoing in this case.” 

What is disability discrimination?

Under local, state and federal law, employers are prohibited from discriminating against disabled employees. It is also unlawful to harass an employee who has a disability or is believed to have a permanent physical or mental impairment. 

While harassment may involve offensive comments or displays about an employee’s disability, it does not include simple teasing or isolated, non-serious incidents. For disability harassment to be considered illegal, it must be frequent or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment  or result in an adverse employment action (e.g. firing, demotion). If you believe you have been discriminated against due to a disability, contact Lipsky Lowe LLP. 

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.