NewYork’s highest court ruled unanimously today that, on a motion to dismiss under the expansive NYC Human Rights Law, an indefinite leave for a disability is not per an unreasonable accommodation, but that it is the employer’s burden to plead and prove undue hardship.
This ruling, although virtually preordained by the City law’s edict that it be construed “broadly in favor of discrimination plaintiffs” to effectuate the law’s “uniquely broad and remedial purposes” (as this Court reiterated) is nonetheless a blow to employers who have relied upon interpretations of New York state and federal statutes which have found that an indefinite leave is not a reasonable accommodation.
The Court held that:
“Unlike the State HRL, the City HRL’s definition of ‘disability’ does not include ‘reasonable accommodation’ or the ability to perform a job in a reasonable manner. Rather, the City HRL defines ‘disability’ solely in terms of impairments. … The City HRL requires that an employer ‘make reasonable accommodation to enable a person with a disability to satisfy the essential requisites of a job … provided that the disability is known or should have been known by the [employer]’ . … Contrary to the State HRL, it is the employer’s burden toprove undue hardship … And, the City HRL provides employers an affirmative defense if the employee cannot, with reasonable accommodation, ‘satisfy the essential requisites of the job’ … Thus, the employer, not the employee, has the ‘pleading obligation’ to prove that the employee ‘could not, with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job … (emphasis added).’”