Filed Date: Jan. 31, 2020
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This is a case challenging New York's "Boss Bill," which created a protected class based on reproductive health decision-making and forbade employers from making any employment-related decisions based on the reproductive health choices of employees, including their involvement in or advocacy for abortion or sexual relationships outside of marriage.
On January 31, 2020, a crisis pregnancy center operator and its founder filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. The plaintiffs sued the governor and attorney general of New York, as well as the commissioner of the State's department of labor under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Represented by the Thomas More Society and private counsel, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief. They claimed that the law violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion, and association, and their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by prohibiting their workplace policy of hiring only those who adhered to their mission and policy against abortion and sexual relationships outside of marriage. The case was assigned to Chief Judge Glenn T. Suddaby and Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks.
The plaintiffs' first claim alleged that the law violated their First Amendment right to association because it denied them "the right to organize their staff, to communicate to their staff, to correct, discipline, or terminate staff who reject plaintiffs' moral and religious position, and to circulate written materials in accordance with their beliefs that abortion is a grave moral wrong and that sexual abstinence outside of marriage is a grave moral duty." Second, they argued that it suppressed their First Amendment right to freedom of speech by prohibiting them from expressing their preference for hiring employees who shared their beliefs and from outwardly supporting pro-life and pro-chastity values in the workplace.
Next, they argued that the law impinged on their free exercise of religion by disfavoring the plaintiffs' religious beliefs and targeting them for punishment and that the law interfered with their ability to convey their religious beliefs and carry out their mission. Lastly, they alleged that the law violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Author’s note: Count IV of the complaint alleges a violation of the equal protection clause, but clearly describes a due process claim.) Plaintiffs argued that the law was void for vagueness, as it did not provide fair notice of prohibited conduct. They argued that the term "reproductive health decision making" was both too broad and vague. The term could include not just medical decision making, but also activism, the use of contraception, or even advocating for those who perform abortions.
On March 4, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a notice that this case was related to Compasscare v. Cuomo, 1:19-CV-1409. The court agreed and, two days later, reassigned the case to Senior Judge Thomas J. McAvoy and Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart for all further proceedings.
On April 17, 2020, the defendants moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim. The court granted the motion on March 31, 2021, addressing each claim separately.
As to the free exercise claim, the court found that the statute was facially neutral because an employer who fired an employee for using or not using contraception would be in violation of the law either way. The court also found that the plaintiffs had not made a valid showing that the statute targeted their religious beliefs in any way. The court stated that the fact that the law would affect the plaintiffs did not mean that it targeted them for their religious beliefs. The court found that the statements provided by the defendants did not support the argument that legislators had sought to target them. The court also agreed with the defendants that the state had a legitimate interest in protecting the right to privacy and autonomy as it related to health-care decisions and in preventing workplace discrimination. As to the free speech claim, the court agreed with the defendants that the law regulated conduct, was content-neutral, and did not target pro-life speech directly. The regulation did not block the plaintiffs from speaking out against abortion and did not block them from telling employees about their beliefs regarding abortion, birth control, or contraception.
The court concluded that the plaintiffs had overstated the interference with their expressive rights imposed by the law. The statute did not apply to all people associated with the organization, only the employees. Also the statute did not apply to ministers or volunteers. The plaintiffs also had the right to fire anyone who espoused views contrary to their own; the law, therefore, did not put "any direct limits on the expressive activity that plaintiffs insisted was at the core of their agenda." The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the statute was too vague and determined that the alleged vague terms were given context by other parts of the statute, as well as by using a reasonable person standard for certain terms that the plaintiffs had alleged were too vague, like "employee" and "employer." 531 F.Supp.3d 547.
On April 8, 2021, the plaintiffs appealed the district court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On February 27, 2023, the appellate court reversed the district court's decision with respect to the plaintiffs' association claim and affirmed the judgment in all other respects. The appellate court held that the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that the law significantly burdened their right to freedom of expressive association and did not survive strict scrutiny. The Second Circuit remanded to the district court for further proceedings on only that claim.
The Second Circuit determined that the district court had incorrectly applied rational basis scrutiny and instead should have applied strict scrutiny. Applying strict scrutiny, the appellate court held that the district court erred in dismissing the expressive association claim. The circuit court found that the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that the law severely burdened their right to freedom of expressive association because it would force them to employ individuals who had acted or would act against the mission of their organization. Because the defendants had not shown that the law was the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling government interest, it could not survive strict scrutiny and justify the severe burden on the plaintiffs' right. 531 F.Supp.3d 547.
As of March 19, 2023, this case was ongoing.
Rhea Sharma (3/20/2023)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/16853787/parties/slattery-v-cuomo/
-, J. Matthew
-, Mary Catherine
-, Adrianne Spoto,
-, Gabriella Larios,
-, Molly Biklen,
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/16853787/slattery-v-cuomo/
Last updated July 23, 2023, 3:18 a.m.
State / Territory: New York
Filing Date: Jan. 31, 2020
Case Ongoing: Yes
Crisis pregnancy center operator and its founder.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: None Yet / None
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief: