119-121 East 97th Street Corp. v. New York City Commission on Human Rights – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In 119-121 East 97th Street Corp. v. New York City Commission on Human Rights, 220 AD2d 79, 642 N.Y.S.2d 638, the Appellate Division reduced a $75,000 civil penalty to $25,000 by "applying a principle of proportionality since the Commission is precluded from assessing more than $100,000 as a civil penalty in any case."

There, the appellate court set forth the numerous acts of harassment by landlords directed against an HIV-positive tenant, Mr. Baca, over an 18-month period which led the Commission to find discrimination based upon sexual orientation and disability:

Petitioners [i.e., the landlords] commissioned someone or acted themselves to burglarize respondent's [i.e., Baca's] apartment, disabled his door locks, and turned off his electricity. Petitioners refused to accept his timely rent checks, refused to renew his lease, and commenced eviction proceedings against respondent. Petitioners verbally and physically accosted respondent Baca and encouraged their employees to do so, including calling him, in public, a "faggot punk", "male whore", and "sicko" telling him he had AIDS and they hoped he died, leaving threatening messages on his answering machine, distributing a notice to tenants in respondent's building informing them of his Human Rights complaint and HIV status and warning the tenants not to cooperate with him. . . . Petitioners telephoned or had someone telephone respondent's employer . . . and divulged his HIV status (id. at 82-83).

The appellate decision upheld an award of $100,000 for mental anguish to the tenant for these acts, but noted that the civil penalty "is not intended to compensate the complainant but to punish the violator" (id. at 88). The decision observed that the 50 units owned by petitioners failed to place them "in the upper range of units owned by large landlords in the City" (id.). Consequently, "while their actions were egregious, committed over a period of time, and implicated individuals besides complainant, the public interest was not affected to the much greater extent it would have been had petitioners been large landlords whose actions affected hundreds, if not thousands of individuals" (id. at 88-89). Utilizing the proportionality principle and considering that no previous findings of existed against those petitioners, the appellate court reduced by two-thirds the Commission's civil penalty which the Supreme Court had allowed.