Appellete Division, First Department, concludes that “the identification of the framework for evaluating the sufficiency of evidence in discrimination cases does not in any way constitute an exception to the Section 8-130 rule that all aspects of the City HRL must be interpreted to accomplish the uniquely broad and remedial purposes of the law,” and for the court to “create an exemption from the sweep of the Restoration Act for the most basic provision of the City HRL that it is unlawful ‘to discriminate’ would impermissibly invade the legislative province.” 92 A.D.3d at 34-35, 936 N.Y.S.2d at 116-17.
The court ruled that the Supreme Court’s summary judgment standard failed to take sufficiently into account factors required to achieve the City Human Rights Law’s uniquely broad and remedial purposes: “(a) the traditional power to be accorded to the inference of wrongdoing that arises from evidence of consciousness of guilt; (b) the importance of deterring a defendant’s proffer of false reasons for its conduct; and (c) the impropriety of a court weighing the strength of evidence in the context of a summary judgment motion.” 92 A.D.3d at 42, 936 N.Y.S.2d at 122.
Bennett holds that:
“(1) If a court were to find it necessary to consider the question of whether a prima facie case has been made out, it would need to ask the question, ’Do the initial facts described by the plaintiff, if not otherwise explained, give rise to the McDonnell Douglas inference of discrimination?’”
“(2) Where a defendant has put forward evidence of one or more non-discriminatory motivations for its actions, however, a court should ordinarily avoid the unnecessary and sometimes confusing effort of going back to the question of whether a prima facie case has been made out. Instead, it should turn to the question of whether the defendant has sufficiently met its burden, as the moving party, of showing that, based on the evidence before the court and drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiff’s favor, no jury could find defendant liable under any of the evidentiary routes- McDonnell Douglas, mixed motive, “direct” evidence, or some combination thereof.”
“(3) If the plaintiff responds with some evidence that at least one of the reasons proffered by defendant is false, misleading, or incomplete, a host of determinations properly made only by a jury come into play, and thus such evidence of pretext should in almost every case indicate to the court that a motion for summary judgment must be denied.” 92 A.D.3d at 45, 936 N.Y.S.2d at 124.
The court also disapproved of federal district court decisions that were ruling too easily that the Williams affirmative defense in harassment cases has been made out. The court reiterated that the Williams affirmative defense be treated as the “narrowly drawn affirmative defense” it was intended to be, that it was important for “borderline” fact patterns be allowed to be heard by a jury, and it be understood that one could “easily imagine a single comment that objectifies women being made in circumstances where [the] comment would, for example, signal views about the role of women in the workplace and be actionable.” 92 A.D.3d at 44, fn. 16, 936 N.Y.S.2d at 123. The court rejected district court decisions in Wilson and Mihalik for, among other things, “ignoring the Williams holding” and relying on cases that “nominally acknowledge Williams but ignore its teaching.”