On February 13, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reiterated that courts must analyze claims under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) “separately and independently from any [related] federal and state law claims.”

In Velazco v. Columbus Citizens Found., No. 14-842, 2015 WL 613035 (2d Cir. Feb. 13, 2015), the plaintiff brought age discrimination claims against his former employer under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the NYCHRL.  In February 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment for the defendants on both claims, finding that the plaintiff’s age was not a motivating factor in the decision to terminate his employment.  On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s ADEA claim.  However, it vacated the lower court’s dismissal of the NYCHRL claim, holding that the district court did not specify “whether the evidence was insufficient to support any causal link between age bias and plaintiff’s firing, as required by the NYCHRL … or whether the evidence was simply insufficient to support the but-for causation required by the ADEA.”

In its decision, the Second Circuit reiterated that, under the New York Local Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2005, “provisions of [the NYCHRL] are to be construed independently from similar or identical provisions of New York state or federal statutes.”  Accordingly‚ “even if the challenged conduct is not actionable under federal and state law, federal courts must consider separately whether it is actionable under the broader New York City standards.”

Velazco is an important reminder to New York City employers to ensure that employment decisions are supported by ample evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory rationale.  Doing so will increase an employer’s ability to defeat meritless discrimination claims at the summary judgment stage, avoiding the substantial costs and inconvenience of defending against such claims at trial.

*Brian DeShannon is a law-school intern currently attending Brooklyn Law School.