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The University's previous win was upheld in the Feb. 15 court decision.

February 20, 2022

Second Circuit Dismisses Disability Bias Lawsuit Against Cornell

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In a Feb. 15 verdict, the Second Circuit affirmed a Jan. 19, 2021 district court decision to dismiss former University employee Denise Payne’s disability bias lawsuit against the University. 

Payne was originally hired by Cornell in Nov. 2013 as an administrative assistant in the Office of Research, Integrity and Assurance. In June 2016, Payne was diagnosed with breast cancer and  was terminated by the University in Jan. 2018.

In Jan. 2019, Payne decided to sue the University under four main complaints: subjecting her to disparate treatment, subjecting her to a hostile work environment, failing to accommodate her disability by refusing to provide her with reasonable accommodations and retaliating against her after she complained of disability discrimination.

In her lawsuit, Payne detailed how she faced resistance from her supervisors when she requested accommodations for her disability. Payne claimed she felt forced to use her vacation days for the days she would miss work for her chemotherapy treatments. 

Payne’s lawsuit also alleged that the University underpaid her because of her disabilities despite Payne’s years of experience. 

Both Payne and the University agreed with the court that between her start date on Sept. 19, 2016, and Jan. 12, 2017, Payne worked only seven days; she missed 69 out of a possible 76 workdays.

The court ultimately ruled that Payne’s lawsuit lacked sufficient merit, ruling that “Cornell had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions [to terminate Payne].” 

The Judges wrote in their decision that Payne’s allegation lacked substantive merit and that Cornell did not use discriminatory practicies to terminate Payne. 

“Payne’s layoff was reviewed and approved at multiple administrative levels and the search committees who decided not to rehire Payne felt other candidates were better qualified,” the court wrote. “Payne failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Cornell retaliated against her for her protected activity.”

According to Law 360, Stephen Bergstein, an attorney who represented Payne in this lawsuit, said that the Second Circuit’s decision was “very disappointing.” Bergstein also said that Payne will not be appealing this decision to the United States Supreme Court.