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Former Faculty Member Sues New York University

Rose Asaf

On September 7, 2016, Koya Abe, a former faculty member at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University (“NYU”), filed a lawsuit against his former employer. Mr. Abe, a photography instructor, is a middle-aged man of Japanese heritage. Mr. Abe alleges that NYU discriminated against him because of his race, national origin, and age, and retaliated against him for raising complaints of discrimination. NYU terminated Mr. Abe in 2009, shortly after Mr. Abe alleges that he complained about being discriminated against for being Japanese.

This is not the first lawsuit that Mr. Abe has filed against NYU. According to an opinion and order by District Judge Richard J. Sullivan of the United States District Court Southern District of New York, Mr. Abe “has been embroiled in at least eight lawsuits in a host of venues against Defendant, [NYU], and many of its administrators, deans, faculty, and staff.” The most recent lawsuit alleges that NYU has retaliated against him for bringing those earlier actions.

In 2005, five years into his employment at NYU, Mr. Abe filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), leading to federal litigation in 2006, which settled in 2007.

Following the 2007 settlement, Mr. Abe brought suit against NYU again, alleging that NYU had continued to discriminate and retaliate against him by cutting his hours and wages, demoting him, and terminating him from one of the two positions that he held at NYU. In 2009, NYU fired Mr. Abe from one of his two positions and cut his pay at the other. This prompted Mr. Abe to file a new complaint against NYU in New York Supreme Court and file a new charge with the EEOC; after doing so he was terminated from his other position at the university.

After years of litigation, the federal court granted NYU’s motion to dismiss Mr. Abe’s claims for failing to state a claim, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and on abstention grounds, which holds “that in certain ‘exceptional circumstances,’ a federal court ‘may abstain from exercising jurisdiction when parallel state-court litigation could result in ‘comprehensive disposition of litigation’ and abstention would conserve judicial resources.’”

Even though his previous round of lawsuits were dismissed, however, Mr. Abe and his attorney, Jennifer Unruh, are prepared to continue their legal battle with NYU. Mr. Abe’s 2016 action accuses NYU of discrimination and retaliation. As reported by Washington Square News, NYU’s Independent Student Newspaper, Mr. Abe “hopes [his] claims against NYU will better the institution and bring greater equality to it.” Ms. Unruh told Law360 that she hopes NYU will take “affirmative steps to correct and remedy past and present wrongs.”

If you believe that your employer has violated federal, state, or city employment law, including discriminating against you because of your race, national origin, or age, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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