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Not too long ago, Pew Research Center published research findings that, for many women, were probably supremely unsurprising. While women experienced sexual harassment across a full range of workplaces, the research found that the problem was worst in male-dominated fields. Climbing the ladder and achieving success as a woman in a male-dominated field is hard enough; you shouldn’t also have to overcome the toxicity of sexual harassment, too. If you have experienced a work environment made hostile by sexual harassment, you do not simply have to “deal with it” because the field of work you chose is populated mostly by men. Instead, reach out to a knowledgeable New York sexual harassment lawyer and find out how you can take action.

According to the research released by Pew, about 1 in 5 women in gender-balanced workplaces and female-dominated workplaces experienced sexual harassment at work. For women in male-dominated workplaces, the percentage of workplace sexual harassment was notably higher, at 28%.

A recent report from the New York Daily News is one data point that appears to further back up those numbers. The New York Mets’ baseball organization was, according to multiple female employees, a workplace “toxic” from sexual harassment.

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We’ve almost all seen them. They’re the shows featuring some combination of men and women sitting around discussing the news, politics, or sports issues of the day. While everything may be all smiles on set, behind the scenes may tell a different story. Workplaces like these where people are required to spend long hours working closely together can be a breeding ground for sexual harassment. If you’ve suffered sexual harassment in your TV job, know that there are legal options out there for you. Reach out to a knowledgeable New York employment lawyer to learn more about the best ways to protect your career and yourself.

According to one on-air personality, hers was one of those hostile workplaces. The alleged harasser and the alleged victim were the two co-hosts of a “political entertainment” TV talk show. Both were known celebrities. The alleged victim, B.M., was a former reporter and desk anchor for a major sports network and the alleged harasser, G.M., was a former professional wrestler.

According to B.M., G.M. sent her multiple text messages commenting on her appearance and making overtly sexual comments and also made in-person comments of a similar nature. B.M. eventually reported the harassment to the executive producer of the pair’s TV show but allegedly was rebuffed.

Sexual harassment often involves someone who takes advantage of their power over another person in the workplace, placing that person in a situation where they fear that speaking out would put their job at risk. New York City sexual harassment attorneys help people who feel like they cannot do anything about unwelcome sexual remarks, jokes, or overtures at work. Sexual harassment can happen in any workplace. That said, it often seems particularly common in certain types of businesses, particularly those with low wages and high rates of employee turnover. The restaurant industry has many accounts of managers who engage in all manner or objectionable activities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against a New York restaurant that involved such allegations.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex and several other factors. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Sexual harassment is included in Title VII’s definition of sex discrimination, according to numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions starting with Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). Unlawful sexual harassment under Title VII can take several forms, including unwelcome conduct in the workplace of a sexual nature that is pervasive or severe enough that a reasonable person would consider it to be a hostile work environment.

Congress created the EEOC to investigate alleged violations of Title VII and other federal employment statutes. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-4, 2000e-5. A worker with a complaint against an employer must file a charge with the EEOC before they may file a lawsuit in federal court. The EEOC will investigate the charge, and then decide whether it will pursue a civil action on the worker’s behalf. If not, it will issue a “right to sue” letter, which allows the worker to take their case to court.
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Workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression is a form of unlawful sex discrimination under federal law, thanks to a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. New York State and New York City employment discrimination laws include specific protections for LGBTQ workers. Laws protecting against sex discrimination in education play as important a role in our society as those addressing workplace discrimination. While the Supreme Court’s decision last year did not include the federal statute prohibiting sex discrimination in education, the new White House administration has filled in the gaps. An executive order (EO) issued in January 2021 cites the Supreme Court in extending Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo in late March applying the EO to its Title IX enforcement activities.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational institution or program that receives federal funding. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination by employers on the basis of sex and several other factors. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Neither statute provides a distinct definition of “sex,” except that Title VII includes pregnancy discrimination in its prohibition of “sex discrimination.”

Courts have gradually expanded the scope of “sex discrimination” over the years, to include acts like sexual harassment and discrimination based sex or gender stereotypes. Lawmakers in New York State, New York City, and many other state and local jurisdictions added gender identity and gender expression as distinct protected categories in their antidiscrimination laws. People asserting claims under federal law, for both employment and education discrimination, had to get creative.
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For decades, if not longer, Wall Street has had a reputation as a place dominated by men, where women must tolerate embarrassing or degrading treatment in order to succeed in their careers. When the #MeToo movement began several years ago, there were doubts about whether it would be able to affect Wall Street, particularly those firms whose cultures draw comparisons to unsupervised college fraternities. The tenacity of New York City sexual harassment attorneys has brought some relief to Wall Street employees of all genders who have experienced hostile work environments. One of the first prominent sexual harassment lawsuits on Wall Street in the past few years resulted, unfortunately, in the dismissal of several of the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff has filed an appeal challenging the dismissal in state appellate court.

Under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), sexual harassment constitutes discrimination on the basis of gender when a supervisor, manager, or other person in a position of authority makes sexual activity a condition of employment. This is known as quid pro quo sexual harassment. The “sexual activity” could involve anything from exchanging lurid emails or text messages to actual sexual contact. A key element of this type of claim is that the employee or job applicant believes that they are not in a position to decline the advances, out of concern for their job.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned above worked for a Wall Street hedge fund as a managing director and portfolio manager. She alleged in her complaint that her direct supervisor “repeatedly coerced her into sex,” with an implied threat to withhold resources that she needed for her job if she declined his advances. Most of these advances, the plaintiff claimed, occurred at “breakfast meetings” arranged by the supervisor “where his attire usually consisted of his white terry bathrobe.”
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The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere has received significant attention in recent years, but much progress remains to be made. As New York City sexual harassment attorneys, we continue to hear from workers in many different industries about their experiences. Sexual harassment is not limited to the workplace. Last summer, we wrote about how sexual harassment in the video game industry affects both employees of the companies that produce games and the gamers that play them. Online gaming, live-streaming, and other features of the video game industry have long had serious problems with harassment. The law offers some tools that employees can use to fight back. Gamers and others who participate in gaming communities do not have the same legal protection, but they are not helpless. At the end of 2020, one of the biggest companies that provides live-streaming services for gamers announced a new policy that cracks down on harassment on its platform.

Laws like the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, viewing it as a form of sex discrimination. Employers violate these laws when someone in a supervisory or managerial role requests sexual activity of some sort as a condition of employment. They also commit an unlawful employment practice when they allow employees, customers, or others in the workplace to perpetrate a hostile work environment.

Many employment laws only protect employees against unlawful activity by their own employer. The NYSHRL expands its protections against sexual harassment beyond employees. Independent contractors, vendors, unpaid interns, and others who are in a workplace for business reasons are also protected against all forms of unlawful discrimination. Domestic workers are protected against sexual harassment in their workplaces. It is not clear, however, if the NYSHRL or similar statutes protect individuals who participate in online gaming, but are not directly employed by any of the businesses involved.

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While sexual harassment can and does occur in every kind of workplace in the country, certain industries have developed a reputation for harassment based on employees’ gender. Most New York City sexual harassment attorneys have probably represented individuals who experienced sexual harassment in the financial sector. Wall Street is often described as a “boys’ club,” and a lawsuit filed in late 2020 uses that exact term to describe the defendant employer’s work environment. The plaintiff alleges inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature in the workplace, as well as harassment that, while not overtly sexual, targeted her on the basis of her gender. She further claims that the defendant fired her in retaliation for opposing the alleged harassment. The lawsuit asserts claims for gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of city and state law.

Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination under city, state, and federal law. This includes unwelcome conduct based on sex that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. This could be explicitly sexual behavior, such as an office culture that allows bawdy jokes and other inappropriate banter. It could involve more invasive harassment, such as sexual overtures, unwanted physical contact, or worse. It can also consist of hostility that is not inherently prurient, such as negative remarks about women’s ability to do certain jobs. All of these examples could occur anywhere, but they can be especially pronounced in workplaces that have traditionally been dominated by men.

The plaintiff began working for an investment bank in Manhattan in 2019, shortly after graduating from college. She states that she met the firm’s then-managing director during her senior year, and claims that he essentially recruited her to come work for him and offered to be her mentor. She alleges that he described the job as “a new business development role,” but that it “morphed into an administrative position” with relatively low pay. She further alleges that, shortly after she started working for the defendant, she “observed two high-level women…discriminated against and pushed out of the firm.”
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New York City employment discrimination lawyers can draw from a wide range of statutes to assist workers who have experienced adverse actions by their employers in violation of the law. The city’s antidiscrimination law is one of the only ones in the country to protect employees with caregiving responsibilities for family members or others. The COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, has shown some gaps in the law’s coverage. A new state law provides paid leave for workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This new law does not specifically cover caregivers who may need to take time off from work to accompany a person under their care while they get the vaccine. It is possible, however, that city law might protect an employee with this sort of responsibility.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits discrimination based on “caregiver status.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). A caregiver has responsibility for a minor child or a “care recipient.” The latter term refers to an individual who:
1. Resides in the caregiver’s household or is a “covered relative” of the caregiver; and
2. Depends on the caregiver “for medical care or to meet the needs of daily living.” Id. at § 8-102.

The term “covered relative” includes close relatives like minor or adult children, spouses and domestic partners, parents, grandparents, and siblings. The statute allows the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to add other “familial relationships” to the definition of “covered relative.” So far, the CHR has not done so. It currently has no rules specifically interpreting the NYCHRL’s provisions on caregiver discrimination.

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Discrimination in employment on the basis of race or religion violates every antidiscrimination statute in the country. These are among the practices that brought on the passage of the first such laws decades ago. Despite a great deal of progress, much work remains to be done. As New York City employment discrimination attorneys, we have seen many ways that employers have subjected workers to adverse treatment because of race or religion, while making it seem like it has nothing to do with either. Whether this is intentional on employers’ part is not nearly as important as the impact it has on workers throughout the city and country. Hairstyle discrimination is a major area of ongoing race or religious discrimination that might not look like race or religious discrimination to many people. New York City issued guidance on this issue in 2019. The New York State Legislature included it in the state’s antidiscrimination law the same year. In early 2021, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR) issued a final rule formalizing a ban on hairstyle discrimination.

The CHR issued guidance on hairstyle discrimination in February 2019. It interpreted the prohibitions on race and religious discrimination in the New York City Human Rights Law to protect workers’ right to “hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.” It noted that, for Black workers, employers’ policies on grooming and appearance can exclude their natural hair. Many Black workers have had to obtain expensive and damaging hair treatments simply to comply with their employers’ policies. It further noted that some communities “have a religious or cultural connection with uncut hair.”

While the CHR’s guidance document only expressed the agency’s interpretation of city law, state lawmakers made some of these protections explicit in the New York State Human Rights Law later in 2019. A bill signed by the governor that July added two new definitions to the statute. The term “race” now includes “traits historically associated with race,” with specific reference to “hair texture and protective hairstyles.” N.Y. Exec. L. § 292(37). “Protective hairstyles” includes “braids, locks, and twists.” Id. at § 292(38). The CHR’s guidance included additional examples, such as “cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots, [and] fades.”

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Asserting a claim for sexual harassment usually requires alleging and then describing objectionable behavior by one or more people. New York City sexual harassment attorneys must always take care that the allegations made in court filings are backed up by evidence. Individuals accused of sexual harassment may decide to strike back in court through counterclaims for defamation. State law protects plaintiffs and their attorneys, however, from liability for defamation for statements made as part of official court proceedings. A lawsuit filed in 2020 alleges sexual harassment against a co-worker and retaliation by their employer. The defendant co-worker filed a counterclaim for defamation, and included statements made in the plaintiff’s complaint as part of the allegedly defamatory speech. The plaintiff has moved to dismiss the counterclaim.

Under both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law, unlawful sex discrimination includes certain forms of sexual harassment. One unlawful form of sexual harassment, known as hostile work environment, occurs when one or more people make unwelcome sexual comments or engage in unwelcome behavior related to sex, and the conduct is so pervasive or severe that it interferes with a person’s ability to perform their job duties. In order to make a hostile work environment claim, it is necessary to describe the harassing conduct in court pleadings.

Defamation is a type of personal injury claim for harm caused by false statements. It requires a difficult burden of proof, since it asks a court to penalize someone for the content of their speech despite First Amendment protections. The elements of a defamation claim under New York law are complicated, and depend in part on the type of allegedly defamatory statement, and in part on the extent to which the person claiming defamation is known to the public. The first two elements in any defamation claim under New York law are (1) a false statement (2) made to another person “without privilege or authorization.” Court proceedings offer a form of privilege.
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