U.S. News

Harassment suit against United Nations tossed out

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawsuit by a United Nations employee, whose allegations of sexual harassment led to the resignation of a top official, was dismissed on Tuesday by a New York court that said the world body was immune.

Cynthia Brzak, a U.S. citizen, had accused then U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, a former prime minister of the Netherlands, of improperly touching her during a meeting in Geneva in 2003.

Lubbers, who was appointed high commissioner for refugees in 2001 by then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, resigned from the post in 2005.

A report from a U.N. internal investigation validated Brzak’s allegations, but Annan decided at the time there was insufficient proof for action against Lubbers.

Brzak then sued the United Nations along with Annan, Lubbers and six others for sex discrimination and saying that she was the victim of retaliation because of her claims.

The decision by the New York appeals court on Tuesday upheld a 2007 U.S. District Court decision that the United Nations had immunity under the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.

U.N. officials named in the suit benefit from diplomatic immunity, the decision said, and could not be sued for the constitutional violations that Brzak alleged.

“The short and conclusive answer is that legislatively and judicially crafted immunities of one sort or another have existed since well before the framing of the Constitution, have been extended and modified over time, and are firmly embedded in American law,” the decision said.

Lubbers, Dutch prime minister from 1982 to 1994, is independently wealthy and was working for the United Nations for $1 a year. He donated his salary, estimated at about $300,000, and travel expenses to the United Nations each year.

Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Michelle Nichols and Stacey Joyce