Areas Of Practice
The law protects against unjust termination – or any adverse employment action – on the grounds of actual or perceived gender, race, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, ethnicity, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, religion or religious observance, military service, and certain other areas. The law also protects any person from complaining about being discriminated against by belonging to one of these categories. In other words, if you believe you are being discriminated against and you complain about it at work, or file a complaint with any court or agency, your employer cannot fire you because of that.
Sexual harassment is considered sex discrimination and is an adverse employment action that you can sue for. Not every nasty boss is guilty of harassment, however, if he just doesn’t like you or is simply unpleasant; it is only when the reason for the harassment is based on the complaining person’s sex that it can form the basis for a lawsuit. The same is true for harassment based on race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, age, or whatever.
Disability Discrimination is illegal and the requires an employer to make accommodations to a disabled person who can perform her job with such accommodations. An accommodation is a change in the nature of a job function. A simple example would be giving a person in a wheelchair a ramp to get to work, or giving a deaf person an amplification device for a telephone. Again, no one can be retaliated against for asking for such accommodations. A failure to provide reasonable accommodations is a basis for a disability discrimination lawsuit.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also requires most employers to give most employees up to twelve unpaid weeks of leave per year to care for the employee’s own, or a family member’s serious health condition. The FMLA applies only to employers who have at least fifty employees, and only to employees who have been employed by the employer for at least one year, and who have worked a minimum number of hours for the previous year’s employment. It is illegal to take adverse action against an employee for asking to utilize the FMLA.
There continue to Reductions in Force (RIFs) as the economy does not improve, but RIFs were common even when the economy was good. Businesses have always been looking to increase profits by letting people go, and shipping jobs overseas, but how are the decisions made as to who gets sacked? If you were fired because of a RIF, and someone less qualified was not selected for termination, you may have a claim for discrimination. At a minimum, if, as part of a RIF, your company offers a severance package and asks you to sign away your right to sue, speak to a lawyer first. You may be successful in getting your former employer to enhance the severance - either on your own, or with the added assistance of an attorney.
USERRA (the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) provides employment and reemployment rights for members of the uniformed services, including veterans and members of the Reserve and National Guard. Under USERRA, service members who leave their civilian jobs for military service can take a leave of absence for military service with the knowledge that they will be able to return to their jobs with the same pay, benefits, and status they would have attained had they not been away on duty. USERRA also prohibits any form of discrimination on the basis of military service.
I have successfully represented hundreds of clients in these different areas.
Protecting Victims of Police Misconduct
The law gives you the right to sue the City or State based on the misconduct of rogue police officers. If, for example, you were arrested and there was no probable cause – a legitimate reason based on some evidence – to take you into custody, you can bring suit against the police officer and usually the governmental entity that employed the police officer. Cases under this area of the law include false arrest, false imprisonment, police brutality and malicious prosecution.
In New York City, police brutality is a major problem, eclipsed only by excessive stops, searches and bogus arrests. The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) rarely sides with complainants and in the rare cases in which it does, the Police Commissioner usually does little or nothing in response. The best way to protect your rights if the police have illegally detained you or abused you physically is to get a lawyer.
Lawsuits against Lawyers
Yes, I sue lawyers sometimes, because lawyers sometimes mess up and harm their clients. While the vast majority of lawyers are competent and ethical, an undeniable minority is not. Also many otherwise good and ethical lawyers make mistakes as does everyone; sometimes these mistakes harm the client and the lawyer must be responsible. I don't take these cases lightly, and only when I believe the misfeasance is undeniable. You've heard of medical malpractice, but there is also something called legal malpractice; it involves, usually, a situation where a client entrusts an attorney to take her case, and because the lawyer does something wrong, the client loses. A simple example is a person who has a lawsuit against a third party, goes to a lawyer, and then the lawyer doesn’t file the lawsuit on time. When that happens, the lawyer is responsible for the client’s damages that would have been obtained in the original lawsuit. A lawyer might also give bad advice and cause the client to incur a tax burden that would not otherwise be incurred. Another example of a case I litigated involved an home buyer’s attorney’s failure to disclose a financial relationship with the seller that resulted in the attorney’s soft-pedaling her client’s legitmate objectives and causing her damages. Before a lawsuit against an attorney can be considered, the client must suffer actual, ascertainable monetary damages.
The very first legal malpractice case I litigated, Baker v. Dorfman, was so novel, that it made new law in the State of New York in 2000 and was later taught to first-year Columbia Law students. The case involved a client, Ricky Baker, who was incorrectly diagnosed as HIV positive because of a lab error. Attorney Dorfman took the case, and misrepresented his credentials in numerous ways. The claim against the lab was dismissed, and Baker sued Dorfman. After a trial and an appeal, the Second Circuit held that a negligent diagnosis that one is HIV positive when, in fact, one is not states a claim upon which one can sue the laboratory in the State of New York. The case also held the attorney liable for fraud because he grossly misrepresented his credentials in order to induce the client to give over the case.
I have also represented clients who have sued their attorneys for gross overcharges. One of the cases I argued, Siagha v. Katz, made new law: the judge held that a retainer agreement that states a lawyer will obtain a percentage of the clients’ winnings cannot be read to contain any hidden fees for an appeal or collection on the judgment. In that case, the lawyer was ordered to refund a total of over $330,000.