The former general manager at the staid Sutton Place cooperative River House at 435 East 52nd Street is fighting for his job and his four-bedroom apartment after management fired him nearly a year after he told them he was clinically depressed.
Ebrahim Paybrah is suing the co-op’s ownership corporation River House Realty and three of its board members for at least $2 million for lost wages and punitive damages, a complaint filed May 5 in New York State Supreme Court says.
Paybrah, 62, had been general manager and chief operating officer at River House since 1998, until he was unexpectedly fired in September 2009. The filing said he was fired after revealing to management in December 2008 that he was suffering from depression and was being treated with the prescription pill Zoloft, court papers say.
“Following the disclosure by Mr. Paybrah of his psychological condition, the board’s treatment of Mr. Paybrah abruptly changed,” the complaint says.
Paybrah told The Real Deal that one of the board members — who is cited as a defendant in the suit– was disturbed when he heard about the diagnosis of depression.
“He was shocked. He said, ‘This is serious,'” Paybrah said, even as another board member said the condition was not serious and could be treated effectively.
But the first board member apparently won the day. “He was somehow able to persuade others that my mental issue is serious enough to not have me in the building in charge,” Paybrah said.
River House did not respond to a call for comment.
Paybrah is also battling the co-op in Housing Court, where the co-op began the process of evicting him in April from the apartment given to him as a portion of his compensation, which included a salary of $149,000 per year, Paybrah said.
River House is one of the city’s premier co-ops, built in 1931 overlooking the East River between 52nd and 53rd street, although in recent years its prices have not kept up with its more modern competition such as 15 Central Park West.
Paybrah has three adult sons and lives with his second wife in the duplex apartment on the lower floors of the property.
The suit claims the co-op violated both state and city anti-discrimination laws for allegedly firing him over a mental heath issue, and is seeking his reinstatement plus $250,000 in compensatory damages, or in the alternative if he is not reinstated, then not less than $1 million for compensatory damages. The suit is also seeking at least $1 million in punitive damages.
David Mair, a partner at law firm Kaiser Saurborn & Mair, said Paybrah chose to sue under the state and city regulations rather than under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act because of stronger protections for mental health at the local level.
“In the mental health arena there is a very big problem with the prejudice that is attached in our society to people with mental heath conditions,” Mair said.