Roughly half of the 5-page reversal Tuesday by the First Appellate Department of the New York Supreme Court is devoted to recounting the controversy.
It says Charles Nicolai hired Dilek Edwards in 2012 to work as a yoga and massage therapist at Wall Street Chiropractic and Wellness, a business he co-owns with his wife.
Edwards was on the job for about a year when she claims Nicolai informed her “that his wife might become jealous of Plaintiff, because Plaintiff was too cute.”
Another four months after that, according to the complaint, Edwards received a blunt text message from Nicolai’s wife, Stephanie Adams, who acts as the business’s chief operating officer.
“You are NOT welcome any longer at Wall Street Chiropractic,” the message said, dated Oct. 29, 2013, at 1:31 a.m. “DO NOT ever step foot in there again, and stay the [expletive] away from my husband and family!!!!!!! And remember I warned you.” (Redaction in ruling.)
Edwards says Nicolai followed up at 8:53 that morning in an email. “You are fired and no longer welcome in our office,” the message said, as quoted in the ruling. “If you call or try to come back, we will call the police.”
Though she maintains that her relationship with Nicolai was strictly professional, Edwards says Adams contacted the police anyway on Oct. 30, 2013.
Edwards says police received a false complaint that Adams had received “threatening” phone calls from Edwards, supposedly frightening Adams enough to change the locks at her home and business.
Though the trial court dismissed the case, a four-judge panel of the Appellate Division reversed Tuesday.
“Here, assuming the truth of the allegations of the amended complaint, as we are required to do upon a motion to dismiss, plaintiff had always behaved appropriately in interacting with Nicolai, and was fired for no reason other than Adams’s belief that Nicolai was sexually attracted to plaintiff,” the unsigned opinion states. “This states a cause of action for gender discrimination under the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL.”
The two abbreviations are short for New York City and state’s human rights laws.
“It is well established that adverse employment actions motivated by sexual attraction are gender-based and, therefore, constitute unlawful gender discrimination,” the opinion states. “Here, while plaintiff does not allege that she was ever subjected to sexual harassment at WSCW, she alleges facts from which it can be inferred that Nicolai was motivated to discharge her by his desire to appease his wife’s unjustified jealousy, and that Adams was motivated to discharge plaintiff by that same jealousy. Thus, each defendant’s motivation to terminate plaintiff’s employment was sexual in nature.”
A footnote in the decision clarifies that “what makes her discharge unlawful is not that Nicolai’s wife urged him to do it, but the reason she urged him to do it and the reason he complied.”
Adams was represented by D. Maimon Kirschenbaum of the firm Joseph & Kirschenbaum.
Nicolai and Adams were represented by Martin Siegel of Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe.
Neither attorney has responded to requests for comment.