NYU Sued for Disability Discrimination, Retaliation

New York University is being sued by a former employee who claims he was discriminated and retaliated against for taking time off to seek treatment for his illness and tend to his dying mother.

Arthur Starr was hired by NYU’s Kervorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies as a program coordinator in 2011, according to the complaint. His duties included coordinating events, working with graduate students and performing administrative tasks. He claims he received positive annual reviews.

Shortly after being hired, Starr began to suffer from intense neck pain, according to the complaint. He was diagnosed with “cervical dystonia, a degenerative neurological condition that causes uncontrollable tremors, primarily in the head and neck and extending to the arms, hands, and feet.” He claims the tremors can be exacerbated by stress.

Three years later, during which time “he was able to manage the pain and continue working without any accommodations,” Starr applied for intermittent Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. NYU approved the request. The leave allowed Starr to take time off when his symptoms were severe as well as when he needed to seek treatment.

Around that same time Starr’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, the stress of which exacerbated his symptoms. In addition, he would need time off to care for her.

Starr claims that his supervisors, while knowing of his condition and that leave had been approved, “discouraged him from taking that leave and retaliated against him when he continued to take approved leave,” the complaint states. They also required him to maintain a strict schedule, arriving on time in the morning.

In the complaint Starr claims that his female supervisors singled him out and “discriminated against him for his own medically-necessary absences, though they missed work” for childcare responsibilities. Starr was terminated in February 2016.

Starr “was not terminated due to work performance issues but because of latenesses and absences taken pursuant to the FMLA and which were directly timed to both his disability and his mother’s cancer diagnosis and treatment,” according to the complaint. He claims that NYU “retaliated against [him] by terminating him for taking FMLA approved leave when suffering from cervical dystonia tremors, which were particularly extreme in the weeks leading to his termination because of his mother’s terminal cancer,” the complaint states.

Starr is represented by Louis Pechman who filed the complaint in the Southern District of New York.

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