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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Significant NYS Court of Appeals case

In a 4-3 split decision (June 12, 2012), the New York State Court of Appeals has determined that the New York State Division of Human Rights does not have jurisdiction to investigate complaints against public school districts pursuant to New York State Executive Law §296(4). Certain students had filed complaints with the State Division of Human Rights alleging unlawful discriminatory practices based upon race and/or disability. Executive Law § 296 (4) provides that "[i]t shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for an education corporation or association which holds itself out to the public to be non-sectarian and exempt from taxation pursuant . . . to permit the harassment of any student or applicant, by reason of his race . . . [or] disability . . ." The Court held that a public school district is not an “education corporation or association” for purposes of this statute. Rather, the Court found that “education corporation or association” refers to private, non-sectarian, non-profit entities. The Court held as such despite that, as noted by the dissent, “public school districts are corporations organized for educational purposes (see NY Const, art X, § 5) and public schools hold themselves out to the public as non-sectarian and are exempt from taxation pursuant to article 4 of the RPTL.”

The Court acknowledged that “The vicious attacks to which these students were subjected are deplorable, and our holding is not to be interpreted as indifference to their plight.” The Court advised that public school students “may file a complaint with the Commissioner of Education (see Education Law § 310)” and also advised of “potential remedies under federal law” and of the "Dignity for All Students