Posted: April 17, 2015

Judge Mauskopf Denies Cross Motions For Summary Judgment Noting Dearth Of Authority Interpreting “Religious Organization” Exemption Of New York City Human Rights Law

In Zhang v. Jenzabar, Inc., et al., 12-CV-2988 (E.D.N.Y. March 30, 2015), Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf denied cross-motions for summary judgment, concluding that issues of fact surrounded the question whether defendants could avoid liability for employment discrimination under the “religious organization” exemption of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Plaintiff alleged she was fired for refusing to abide by the Christian religious practices mandated by her boss, defendant Ling Chai. Plaintiff’s job was to manage programs in China run by defendant All Girls Allowed, Inc. (“AGA”), which was started by Chai and described its mission as seeking “to end infanticide ‘through education, persuasion, prayer and legal defense and by partnership with grassroots organizations in China and around the world.’” Slip op. 4. After Zhang accepted the employment, Chai encouraged Zhang to go to church more and asked her to attend AGA’s daily prayer meetings. Later, Zhang said she no longer wanted to participate in prayer meetings and declined to adopt certain religious statements or participate in other religious practices, including corporate prayer. She was eventually fired.

Defendants contended that AGA was a “religious organization” within the meaning of the NYCHL and thus could not be liable for firing Zhang even if she was fired for religion-related reasons. Judge Mauskopf noted the “dearth of case law” interpreting the religious organizations exemption of the NYCHL, but declined to look for guidance to analogous state and federal employment discrimination standards because “those statutes are all structured differently and their scope and focus have been construed differently.” Slip op. 17. She concluded that whatever legal test could be applied to determine “whether AGA qualifies as a religious organization under the NYCHRL,” slip op. 18, neither side was entitled to summary judgment due to disputes of fact, a paucity of relevant factual details in critical areas, and credibility issues.

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