Manhattan Federal Judge Sets Trial in Catastrophic Injury Action Against Swedish Mission to the United Nations
NEW YORK, NY – On Friday, December 9, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl ordered the parties in Figueroa v. The Ministry For Foreign Affairs of Sweden, et al., to be ready for trial by October 2, 2017.
The case arose from the alleged systemic discrimination directed by Defendants and their staff against Mr. Figueroa. Among other outrageous conduct alleged in the complaint, Defendants excluded Mr. Figueroa from staff meetings, withheld from him a clothing allowance afforded to all Mission employees. When they did finally extend the allowance to him, they required him to go shopping with a chaperone from the Mission, who approved and paid for his clothing purchases. In addition, the Mission allegedly repeatedly subjected Mr. Figueroa to demeaning comments, such as, “Why are Spanish people so loud?” “Why do Spanish people drink and smoke pot?”.
In an ultimate indignity, it is alleged that the Mission required Mr. Figueroa to assemble an IKEA PAX wardrobe at the Ambassador’s Residence. The wardrobe’s instructions direct consumers to use two people for its assembly. Mr. Figueroa alleged he requested help, but that the Ambassador required him to build it alone because it was cheaper. While hanging one of the wardrobe’s doors, Mr. Figueroa says he lost his balance and fell off. The injuries he sustained eventually left him unable to work.
The Mission moved to dismiss Mr. Figueroa’s claims for employment discrimination, asserting that its employment of Mr. Figueroa did not constitute commercial activity that is excepted from a foreign government’s sovereign immunities. The Court agreed with Defendants, finding that Mr. Figueroa, although a driver, advanced the Mission’s diplomatic activities by transporting its diplomats and that his work was “inextricably intertwined” with Defendants’ diplomatic activity. The Court denied the Mission’s motion to dismiss a breach of contract claim, however.
Zein E. Obagi, Jr., lead counsel for plaintiff Carlos Figueroa, expressed disappointment at the state of the law in the Second Circuit, which binds federal judges in Manhattan, NY trial courts. “Were we in the Ninth Circuit, we expect a court might have applied the commercial activity exception differently. For that reason, we believe this aspect of the case is ripe for eventual U.S. Supreme Court review to render uniform the commercial activity exception in the employment context, and protect Americans who do business with foreign states by clarifying the rules across the land.”
New York employment and foreign sovereign immunities attorney Stanley Chinitz presented oral arguments for Mr. Figueroa before Judge Koeltl. “Attorney Chinitz rallied the facts and the made all the right arguments necessary to build a strong record for appeal. But, for the time being, we are honed in on attaining redress for Mr. Figueroa’s catastrophic injury, which precludes him from getting a job, and required him to move out of state to keep a roof over his head.”