Kevin James’ Hispanic Nanny Advances Harassment, Reprisal Claims
(Bloomberg Law) -- Actor Kevin James, his wife, two companies they operate, and his wife’s sister must face claims by an employee who worked in their New York home that she was subjected to a hostile environment because she is Hispanic and of Paraguayan descent, a federal judge on Long Island ruled.
Lidia Orrego says she worked for Kevin Knipfing, who is also known as Kevin James, and Stephanieanna James-Knipfing, who is also known as Steffiana de la Cruz, as a nanny and then as a housekeeper. Teresa A. Zantua, Knipfing’s sister-in-law, supervised her and the five other employees who worked in the home, Orrego says.
According to Orrego, Zantua was repeatedly abusive. James-Knipfing and the couple’s children later joined in the harassment, which included mocking her accent, Orrego says.
Orrego’s allegations sufficiently stated harassment claims under 42 U.S.C. §1981 and the New York State Human Rights Law, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York said Thursday.
She describes a pattern of abuse “at the hands of Zantua” that apparently continued for the roughly 10 months she worked “in the Knipfing household,” Judge Gary R. Brown said. It allegedly also included Zantua encouraging other members of the household staff to harass Orrego and was “pervasive enough to drive her to seek assistance from her co-workers in presenting her complaint to the Knipfings,” the judge said.
Whether Zantua really was Orrego’s supervisor for liability purposes turns on fact questions and must wait until later in the case, the court said.
The court rejected the argument that the suit should be dismissed against the Knipfings because they didn’t know about the harassment until Orrego sent them an email shortly before she was fired for alleged performance issues.
The email makes clear that Orrego maintains that she had previously complained about her work environment, the court said.
The close timing between when Orrego sent the email and when she was suspended—less than a week—and then fired—less than three weeks—is sufficient to suggest a causal connection, Brown said.
The court dismissed Orrego’s disparate treatment allegations and claims under New York labor and penal law and New York city anti-bias law. It also dismissed the companies’ business manager from the suit.
Orrego of Rego Park, N.Y., represents herself. Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani LLP represents the defendants.
The case is Orrego v. Knipfing, 2021 BL 372762, E.D.N.Y., No. 2:20-cv-03361, 9/30/21.
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