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New York Fed loses bid to toss 9/11 discrimination lawsuit

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former employee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York can press forward with a lawsuit accusing the Fed of discriminating against him after he suffered trauma in the September 11 attacks, a judge has ruled.

Bruce Goonan, a 25-year veteran of the New York Fed's information technology department, sued in the Manhattan federal court, saying the New York Fed did not accommodate his disability. He said he retired in 2011 rather than risk suicide.

U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken denied the New York Fed's request to dismiss the case.

"Ultimately, Plaintiff can plausibly allege that he was discriminated against — and thereby discharged — because of his disability," Oetken said on Monday in a written ruling.

A New York Fed representative declined to comment Tuesday, and Goonan's lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In his lawsuit, filed in 2012, Goonan accused the New York Fed of discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as violations of other state and city laws.

The New York Fed had argued that the Federal Reserve Act, enacted in 1913, gives it broad discretion to dismiss employees regardless of state and local law. It also contended that it offered reasonable workplace accommodations to Goonan. The judge disagreed with both arguments.

In the lawsuit, Goonan said he was trapped in his office during the 2001 attacks in lower Manhattan, and thought he was going to die.

His situation worsened in 2010 when his office moved to a building overlooking the former World Trade Center site and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

The lawsuit said the New York Fed denied his request to telecommute or work from another office a few blocks away, and instead offered accommodations for the new location closer to Ground Zero, such as listening to music on a headset, that he did not think would be effective.

Goonan said in his complaint that he consistently met expectations in his work and was progressively promoted to more senior roles. But his job performance deteriorated as the New York Fed refused to accommodate his disability, he said. Rather than risk committing suicide, Goonan retired in 2011, he said in his court papers.

The case is Goonan v. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, United States District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-3859.

(Reporting By Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Martha Graybow and David Gregorio)

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