A Brooklyn appeals court has upheld a lower court’s refusal to dismiss the age discrimination claims of two former tenured St. John’s University professors. Lawrence Wander and John Manna, one-time business school professors, argued that the university discriminated against older, higher-paid employees by seeking their removal to save money. Wander and Manna were terminated when they were 58 and 59, respectively, on academic fraud charges they dispute. The pair sued the university in 2007, claiming violations of the state’s Human Rights Law, New York City’s Human Rights Law and breach of contract with respect to the university’s alleged failure to follow internal disciplinary rules.
After Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel (See Profile) denied the university’s dismissal motion in 2011, the Appellate Division, Second Department, unanimously upheld the ruling on Oct. 17. An educational institution’s administrative decisions demand “highly specialized professional judgment,” meaning institutions are “for the most part, better suited to make relatively final decisions concerning wholly internal matters, the panel said in Wander v. St. John’s University, 2011-09260. But “the fact that an employer is an educational institution does not permit it to discriminate against its employees on the basis of age, or otherwise insulate it from liability for violations” of the human rights laws, the court said. It converted the breach of contract claim to an Article 78 challenge, holding the claim should not be dismissed because it was initiated in the incorrect form, as the school argued. Justices Thomas Dickerson (See Profile), Ariel Belen (See Profile), Cheryl Chambers (See Profile) and Robert Miller (See Profile) sat on the panel.