Bill in New York State Legislature Addresses Fashion Industry Sexual Harassment

Over the past year, countless people have come forward with accounts of sexual harassment in the workplace. Known as the #MeToo movement, it began in the entertainment industry, and has expanded to include many other industries and professions. Fashion models have described their experiences with harassment at photo shoots, fashion shows, and other events in New York City. Sexual harassment is covered by laws prohibiting sex discrimination in employment, but the fashion industry presents challenges under laws like the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL). These laws generally apply to “employees.” Many who work in fashion are considered to be independent contractors. In October 2017, an Assemblywoman from Queens introduced A08572, the “Models’ Harassment Protection Act” (MHPA). This bill would amend the NYSHRL to include provisions specifically applying to the types of sexual harassment that models often experience, and to account for the employment relationship between model and designers, photographers, and others.

The U.S. Supreme Court established that the prohibition on sex discrimination in employment under federal law includes sexual harassment. Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). New York courts have made the same determination with regard to the NYSHRL. See, e.g. Belle Ctr. v. Human Rights Div., 221 A.D.2d 44, 49-50 (N.Y. App. Div., 4th Dept. 1996).

Plaintiffs can allege two types of sexual harassment under these laws. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a “supervisor…expressly or tacitly link[s] tangible job benefits to the acceptance or rejection of sexual advances,” regardless of how the plaintiff responds to said advances. Id. at 50. Hostile work environment occurs when pervasive and unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature “alter[s] the conditions of the [plaintiff’s] employment.” Id. Neither theory of sexual harassment requires proof of economic loss, but a quid pro quo claim requires “proof of linkage between the offensive conduct and decisions affecting employment.” Id. at 50-51.

The MHPA was first introduced in the Assembly on October 25, 2017. It is currently awaiting a committee hearing along with its Senate counterpart, S07607. The bill would amend the NYSHRL to add a new section entitled “Unlawful discriminatory practices relating to models.” Instead of employers and employees, this new section would address interactions between “clients” and “models.” “Client” is defined to include various individuals and businesses that hire models, such as clothing manufacturers and retailers, photographers, designers, advertising agencies, and publishers. “Modeling services” include appearances in photographic or video sessions, runway appearances, and related services. “Modeling entities” include agencies, management companies, and other businesses that represent models.

The bill defines “unlawful discriminatory practices” to include acts that would constitute quid pro quo sexual harassment or hostile work environment, as well as harassment based on protected categories like race, age, sexual orientation, or national origin. Clients and modeling entities must post a notice that provides information on filing a complaint. Contracts between models and modeling entities must include a notice of the model’s rights under the MHPA.

Phillips & Associates’ skilled and knowledgeable employment attorneys advocate for the rights of employees and job seekers in New York City, helping them assert claims for unlawful employment practices like sex discrimination and sexual harassment. Please contact us at (212) 248-7431 or online today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

New York Lawmaker Takes Steps to Protect Fashion Models in Wake of Recent Sexual Abuse Allegations, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 23, 2017

Fashion Models Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, Labor Law Violations, and Other Fashion Industry Problems, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 13, 2014

Fashion Model’s Support of Controversial Photographer Demonstrates the Difficulty of Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Fashion Industry, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 25, 2013

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