Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Against UN Dismissed

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 03, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You can't sue the United Nations for sexual discrimination. And, you can't sue diplomatic officials in sex discrimination lawsuits, or in any other civil lawsuits.  

At least not according to the New York Court of Appeals, which upheld a 2007 District Court decision. The 2007 decision stated that the United Nations had immunity under the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. 

Essentially, what the New York court said on appeal was that certain officials of the United Nations and, of course, the United Nations as a whole, had diplomatic immunity from lawsuits. 

U.S. citizen Cynthia Brzak worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. She accused the former head of the refugee organization, Ruud Lubbers, of touching her inappropriately. As a result, Ms. Brzak claimed that her career had suffered, as had the career of a Mr. Nasr Ishak, who had urged her to come forward. Her allegations of sexual harassment are part of a larger suit for sex discrimination. Generally, sexual harassment claims are made as part of a sex discrimination lawsuit.   

Under the doctrine of diplomatic immunity, a foreign diplomat would be protected from legal action in the country where he or she works. As a result of this doctrine, the appeals court in New York found that Mr. Lubbers was immune from such a lawsuit. 

In the past, many diplomatic officials have escaped civil and even criminal prosecution because of diplomatic immunity. In 1983, there was the infamous case of the New York City Police Department allowing the son of a diplomat to leave, despite the fact that the son was suspected of 15 different rapes. Indeed, diplomatic immunity can be a privilege for foreign diplomats and their families. But it can also be cause for abuse. 

The sex discrimination lawsuit also named the United Nations, Lubbers' former deputy and Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations.   

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