Charles Nicolai is married to Stephanie Adams Nicolai and the two are co-owners of Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness. Charles is the head chiropractor and oversees the medical operations, while Stephanie is the chief operating officer. In April of 2012, Charles hired Dilek Edwards, as a yoga and massage therapist, and he was her direct supervisor.
The NY Lawsuit alleged that the relationship between Charles and Dilek was "purely professional" and that Charles regularly praised her work performance throughout her period of employment. In June 2013, Charles informed Dilek that his wife might become jealous of her, because she was “too cute.'"
Approximately four months later, on October 29, 2013, at 1:31 a.m., Stephanie sent Dilek a text message stating, "You are NOT welcome any longer at Wall Street Chiropractic, DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay the [expletive] away from my husband and family!!!!!!! And remember I warned you." A few hours later, at 8:53 a.m., Dilek received an email from Charles stating, " You are fired and no longer welcome in our office. If you call or try to come back, we will call the police.'" On October 30, 2013, Stephanie filed a complaint with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) alleging that Stephanie had received "threatening" phone calls from Dilek that so frightened her as to cause her to change the locks at her home and business.
Dilek alleged in her NY wrongful discharge lawsuit that her relationship with Charles was strictly professional and that she "has no idea what sparked . . . suspicions" to the contrary.” Dilek also claimed alleged that Stephanie's complaint to the NYPD was false and was made for the purpose of harming her.
Based on the assumption that everything the therapist claimed in her lawsuit was true, the Appellate Division of New York found that she had stated valid legal claims for gender discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law. According to the Court, under both laws, “adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender-based and, therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination.” Because the therapist alleged that the chiropractor “was motivated to discharge her by his desire to appease his wife’s unjustified jealousy, and that [the wife] was motivated to discharge [her] by that same jealousy,” the claims could go forward.
The outcome would have been different, the Court said, if the wife had fired the therapist for having an affair with the chiropractor. “In such cases,” the Court said, “it was the employee’s behavior — not merely the employer’s attraction to the employee or the perception of such an attraction by the employer’s spouse — that prompted the termination.” The Court also found that the therapist had stated a valid legal claim for defamation, based on the wife’s allegedly false report to the police.
Common Sense Counsel: Making wise hiring decisions, with all critical decision makers involved, is many times the most critical decision for a small business.
Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com