New York City’s employment discrimination laws cover a wider range of protected categories than most similar laws around the country. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) cover some gaps left in federal law, which protects against discrimination on the basis of a relatively small list of factors. A decision by a Manhattan federal judge in late 2020, for example, dismissed pregnancy discrimination claims under federal, state, and city law by a father who lost his job after taking paternity leave. It essentially held that he could not bring a claim for pregnancy discrimination because he was never pregnant. The court’s decision does not mention the NYCHRL’s provisions regarding caregiver discrimination, which could cover a father of a newborn.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include pregnancy discrimination in the definition of sex discrimination. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). In addition to pregnancy itself, Title VII prohibits discrimination due to childbirth and medical conditions related to either pregnancy or childbirth. The NYCHRL goes a step farther and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees.
Federal law acknowledges the role of fathers, or any parent who did not gestate and give birth to a child, in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law requires covered employers to provide unpaid leave to qualifying employees for certain reasons, including caring for a newborn child. The U.S. Supreme Court noted that the statute addresses “mutually reinforcing stereotypes [that] created a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination” on the basis of sex. Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721, 736 (2003). Employers must provide leave regardless of gender, ensuring “that employers could not evade leave obligations simply by hiring men.” Id. at 737. The FMLA does not, however, address discrimination outside of the context of unpaid family leave.