Mount Talk Delves into Diversity and Inclusion

NEWBURGH – Michael L. Fox, assistant professor of Business Law and Pre-Law advisor at Mount Saint Mary College, explored New York state and federal laws that protect diversity and promote inclusion on Thursday, September 19.

The talk was part of the Mount’s Investigating Research on Campus (iROC) series.
Depending on how the law is interpreted, and what state one is in, similar cases may wind up with very dissimilar outcomes, Fox explained.

Fox mentioned the case of Edwards vs. Nicolai. In this New York case, the plaintiff was terminated as a yoga and massage therapist at a chiropractic practice because the business’s co-owner thought the plaintiff was “too cute,” and her husband might become tempted by her, even though no impropriate actions had taken place. The plaintiff brought a lawsuit and claimed gender discrimination: If she had been a man, she said, she would not have been fired. After some legal back and forth, the gender discrimination rationale was accepted as valid, and the case was allowed to continue.

However, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a very different ruling in a similar gender discrimination case just a few years ago. In Nelson v. Knight, a male business owner of a dentistry practice and a female employee had become friends, but it was not a romantic relationship. The employee was fired due to concerns that the friendship might damage the employer’s marriage. Here, the court held that a male employer may fire a female employee, though she did nothing wrong, because his wife was concerned about their relationship.

“We can’t reconcile both of these cases right now, other than that they’re in different parts of the country with different positions taken on their human rights law,” explained Fox. “This shows you that…we don’t have agreement across all the courts of the United States on how to interpret human rights.”

Fox has practiced as an attorney with several New York law firms and served as Deputy Corporation Counsel for the City of Port Jervis. Martindale-Hubbell has rated him “AV,” the highest rating for professional ability and ethics, achieved by no more than 10 percent of those in the profession. Among other positions, he is a former vice president and section chair of the New York State Bar Association, a member of the NYSBA House of Delegates, and a former member of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates.

The goal of the college’s iROC series is to “provide a forum for Mount faculty, staff, and students to showcase their research endeavors with both Mount Saint Mary College and the local community in a manner easily understood by attendees,” explained series coordinators Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of Biology, and Jennifer Park, assistant librarian for Access and Outreach Services. Presentations include research proposals, initial data collection, and completed research projects.

Mount Saint Mary College is ranked a Top-Tier University by U.S. News & World Report, and offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs for careers in healthcare, business, education, social services, communications, media, and the liberal arts.

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