Articles Posted in Gender Discrimination

Train wreckIn early October 2017, a prominent Hollywood production company fired one of its founders after numerous accounts of alleged sexual harassment and other misconduct became public. By mid-November, at least 50 women had come forward with allegations that depict a pattern of behavior going back decades. The allegations name a specific individual as the perpetrator, but legal liability for unlawful conduct like sexual harassment is not necessarily limited to the individual. The state of New York has reportedly opened an investigation into the producer’s company. At least two lawsuits allege that the company was aware of the producer’s behavior and was therefore negligent in failing to intervene.

New York sexual harassment is considered unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, state law, and New York City law. Employers are vicariously liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by supervisors or managers against an employee in a subordinate position. An employee alleging sexual harassment by their boss can therefore seek to hold the employer liable under anti-discrimination law. To assert a claim under an employment statute like Title VII, a complainant must establish an employment relationship, either as an employee or as a job applicant. Certain common law claims, such as negligent hiring or negligent supervision, may be available when employment statutes might not apply.

The New York Attorney General (NYAG) announced in late October that it had opened an investigation into the company co-founded by the former film producer. The NYAG’s office has authority to investigate possible violations of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), which prohibits multiple forms of workplace discrimination, including sex discrimination and sexual harassment. The statute also prohibits “aiding and abetting” unlawful employment practices. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(6).

restaurant waitressNew York City is famed throughout the world for its restaurants, which offer a truly global selection of cuisine. Even the most glamorous restaurants in the city, however, are often anything but glamorous for many of the people who work there. Sexual harassment in New York City restaurants might soon gain as much notoriety as the city’s restaurants have gained fame. Renewed attention to Hollywood’s culture of sexual harassment and abuse has brought the issues of other industries in other cities to light, including the New York City food scene. A lawsuit filed this summer against a famous Manhattan hotel offers multiple examples of New York City sexual harassment in the service industry, and the ensuing months have brought further claims against restaurants and their chefs.

Federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws identify two categories of sexual harassment, both of which are frequently present in the restaurant business. The first category, known as quid pro quo sexual harassment, involves requests or demands for sexual contact in some form in exchange for a job, or for preferable shift assignments and other features of employment. It often also involves overt or implied threats to one’s job if the requests are denied. The second category, hostile work environment, consists of unwelcome remarks, jokes, overtures, and other actions of a sexual nature that are pervasive or severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform one’s job duties. The conduct can range from offensive jokes to outright sexual assault.

Numerous features of the restaurant business seem to lend themselves to sexual harassment by supervisors, managers, coworkers, and customers. While sexual harassment is not limited to harassment of female servers and hostesses by men, that is perhaps the archetypal example, and it probably constitutes a substantial amount of the sexual harassment that occurs in New York City restaurants:

It has been hard to miss the recent headlines involving a major director and producer being accused of sexual abuse and harassment by several women. Indeed, what initially seemed like a single incident quickly turned into a series of allegations, each corroborated by a number of other victims who gathered the courage to come forward and discuss what they were put through.

Dark FaceWhen it comes to discussing sexual harassment or abuse, it is not uncommon for additional victims to come forward once the first claim is made against an alleged harasser. To be sure, sexual harassment and sexual abuse are both extreme violations of a person’s dignity, and openly discussing one’s victimhood is something that someone must be ready to handle.

In the past, society has inexcusably allowed a stigma to attach to victims of sexual abuse or harassment. This perceived stigma attaches to all types of New York sexual harassment and abuse, including allegations involving male victims and male perpetrators.

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The gender wage gap in New York City is very real, with women making on average between $12,000 and $15,000 less than their male counterparts who perform the same jobs. And while New York City employs a facially gender-neutral pay scale, women end up with lower salaries because they are placed in the lower paying positions, or the positions that offer less influence. The result is a 17-18% gender wage gap.

MoneyThe reasons for the wage gap are archaic and relate to the misconception that women are “supplemental” wage earners whose primary role is to raise children. However, recent studies considering gender productivity among employees do not support using gender as a proxy for productivity or reliability in the workplace, which is a form of New York gender discrimination.

Despite the lack of evidence supporting the gender wage gap, employers have been able to get away with the practice of offering women lower salaries for years. However, according to a recent news report, legislation signed by Mayor de Blasio will reduce an employer’s ability to perpetuate the gender wage gap.

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Pride Flag mapEmployment discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression remains an uncertain legal matter in many parts of the country, with many seemingly contradictory interpretations of existing law. Federal law does not expressly recognize gender identity and gender expression as protected categories, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has interpreted the prohibitions on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include gender identity and expression. The Department of Justice (DOJ), on the other hand, has recently changed its position to the view that Title VII does not apply to these categories. New York gender identity discrimination law protects transgender workers from discrimination at the state level, as well as in many municipalities. A lawsuit filed earlier this year by a transgender woman in a Michigan state court appears to be seeking to apply the EEOC’s position to state law, arguing that sex discrimination inherently includes gender identity and expression. Reed v. McDonald’s Corp., et al., No. 17-007889-CD, complaint (Mich. Cir. Ct., Wayne Cty., May 25, 2017).

The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of “sex,” while the New York City Human Rights Law covers discrimination based on “gender.” N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). Both statutes define these terms to include gender identity, including when that identity does not match the gender assigned to an individual at birth, and gender expression. 9 CRR-NY 466.13(c), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102(23).

Federal employment discrimination law does not expressly include gender identity or gender expression in its definition of “sex.” The EEOC, however, has interpreted Title VII as applying to discrimination based on transgender status, citing court opinions regarding stereotypes about sex and gender. See, e.g., Macy v. Dep’t of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821 (Apr. 20, 2012). This interpretation of Title VII now conflicts with the DOJ’s view of the statute. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memorandum in December 2014 directing U.S. Attorneys and DOJ agency heads to apply a similar reading of Title VII to the EEOC. This interpretation was revoked in a memo issued on October 4, 2017.

Gender identity and gender expression are not specifically identified as protected categories in federal anti-discrimination law. New York City’s employment anti-discrimination statute includes both gender identity and gender expression, making it one of the most extensive such laws in the country. Despite a variety of recent setbacks at the federal level, caselaw has been gradually developing in a direction that offers some hope for the view that gender identity and gender expression are already protected by federal prohibitions on sex discrimination. A U.S. Supreme Court decision finding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “sex stereotyping” could provide a basis for claims based on gender identity and expression. A New York gender discrimination case filed in a Manhattan federal court seeks confirmation of an arbitration award finding sex discrimination, based in part on sex stereotyping. Berger v. Kargo Global, Inc., No. 1:17-cv-04288, petition (S.D.N.Y., Jun. 8, 2017).

Housewife cartoonTitle VII states that it is “an unlawful employment practice” to discriminate against an employee or job applicant “because of…sex” or other factors. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). The definition of “because of sex” has expanded over the years, through both legislation and court decisions, to include more specific acts like sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. See, e.g. id. at § 2000e(k). The Supreme Court has also held that sex discrimination under Title VII includes discrimination on the basis of stereotypes about how members of a particular gender should, or should not, behave. Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989).

Justice Brennan, writing for the majority in Price Waterhouse, offered the example of “[a]n employer who objects to aggressiveness in women” but who “require[s] this trait” in employees. Id. at 251. This would put female employees “in an intolerable and impermissible Catch-22,” since they would risk losing their job no matter what they do. Id. Subsequent court decisions have indicated that unlawful sex stereotyping can involve both female employees deemed insufficiently feminine and male employees deemed insufficiently masculine. This analysis could also apply to transgender and gender-nonconforming employees, although no clear legal precedent currently exists.

trainingThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency charged with enforcing various employment statutes, including the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to the statutory language of Title VII and the court decisions interpreting it, the EEOC has developed its own regulations and guidelines regarding investigation and enforcement. The agency’s guidelines regarding harassment currently date from the 1990s, but it released proposed revisions to those guidelines earlier this year. It does not appear that the agency has adopted the new guidelines, but they offer a useful look at its priorities regarding harassment and discrimination, including New York City sexual harassment situations.

Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of several factors, including sex. Amendments to the statute and Supreme Court decisions have expanded Title VII’s definition of “sex discrimination” to include a wide range of acts, including pregnancy discrimination, sex stereotyping, and sexual harassment. An employer violates Title VII when an executive, manager, or supervisor harasses an employee because of their sex, such as by making inappropriate remarks or demands of a sexual nature, or when an employer knows that such conduct is occurring between coworkers but fails to take reasonable action to remedy the situation.

The EEOC’s “Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment” was issued on March 19, 1990. The agency first identified sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII in 1980, six years before the Supreme Court recognized it as such in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). The purpose of the 1990 guidance documents was to build on the agency’s definition of sexual harassment in light of Vinson. The document addressed several specific questions, including how to determine when sexual conduct is “unwelcome” and whether a work environment is “hostile.”

New YorkSexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful in New York City under multiple anti-discrimination statutes. Multiple court decisions have held that prohibitions on sex discrimination include sexual harassment. Aggrieved employees can assert their rights before regulatory agencies at the city, state, or federal levels, or they can take their claims to state or federal court. A lawsuit filed in a state-level court in Manhattan earlier this year illustrates many of the types of claims seen in New York City sexual harassment cases. Green v. Exusia, Inc., et al., No. 151989/2017, complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty., Mar. 1, 2017). The complaint asserts causes of action for discrimination and retaliation under city and state laws, and it seeks monetary damages, declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) is one of the most comprehensive anti-discrimination statutes in the country, offering protection against discrimination and harassment on the basis of a wide range of categories, including gender. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). It defines “gender” to include not only a person’s “actual or perceived sex” but also factors like gender identity and gender expression. Id. at § 8-102(23). The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), while not as far-reaching as the NYCHRL, offers protection against employment discrimination on the basis of sex. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a).

The plaintiff in Green began working for the defendant, described in the complaint as “a rapidly growing data and information management consulting firm,” in November 2015. Green, complaint at 1. The job involved “working directly with [the company’s] Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer,” who is also individually named as a defendant. Id. The plaintiff’s experience as an employee, she alleges, was “marred by [the individual defendant’s] sexual desires and offensive conduct.” Id.

A state appeals court revived a New York gender discrimination claim against the owners of a local wellness clinic. In addition to being co-owners, the defendants were husband and wife. One of the defendants, the husband, hired the plaintiff as a yoga instructor and massage therapist and acted as her direct supervisor. The plaintiff and her supervisor maintained a professional relationship over the course of her employment; however, her supervisor disclosed that his wife (and the co-owner of the clinic) might get jealous of the plaintiff because she was “too cute.”

Yoga pose

Months later, the plaintiff received threatening text messages from her supervisor’s wife. The messages stated that the plaintiff was not welcome at the clinic any longer and that she should stay away from her husband and her family. On the next morning, the plaintiff received an email from her supervisor, notifying her that her employment was terminated and that he would call the police if she returned to the office.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit in New York state court, alleging gender discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law. Under these laws, employers are prohibited from taking an adverse employment action against an employee when motivated by reasons related to the employee’s sex or gender, including, as the plaintiff argued, sexual attraction.

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gender equalityThe rights of transgender people have been the subject of multiple victories and setbacks in the past few years. With regard to protections against employment discrimination, New York City law expressly includes gender identity and gender expression as protected categories, as do laws in many other cities and states. At the federal level, however, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not specifically mention gender identity or gender expression. Many advocates for transgender rights argue that certain judicial interpretations of Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination apply its protections to both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. This argument has had some success at the federal appellate level with regard to sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has adopted this view for both types of discrimination. At least one case currently pending in a Circuit Court of Appeals is making a similar argument about the applicability of Title VII to gender identity and gender expression.

Justice William Brennan interpreted Title VII as a clear statement by Congress “that sex, race, religion, and national origin are not relevant to the selection, evaluation, or compensation of employees.” Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 239 (1989). The plaintiff in that case claimed that she was denied partnership because she failed to conform to common stereotypes about how women should behave. The evidence included a statement by a partner advising her to “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.” Id. at 235. The court held that this sort of “sex stereotyping” was an unlawful form of sex discrimination under Title VII.

Many advocates and judicial opinions have noted the resemblance of sexual orientation discrimination to the type of “sex stereotyping” addressed in Price Waterhouse. Gay and lesbian employees, the argument goes, do not fit the stereotype of whom individuals should love. Some courts have expressed sympathy for this argument, while also stating that their hands are tied without further action by Congress. See, e.g. Bibby v. Phila. Coca Cola Bottling Co., 260 F.3d 257, 265 (3d Cir. 2001). Although it has yet to receive much judicial scrutiny, the applicability of the “sex stereotyping” argument to gender identity and expression is not hard to see.

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