Articles Posted in Gender Discrimination

Back in 2007, radio host Don Imus got fired after he referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, the majority of whom were Black, as “nappy-headed hos”. That incident may have been particularly infamous, but the thousands of women of color working in New York City know that such attitudes are not uncommon. Many women of color face insidious race and/or gender discrimination on the job. Oftentimes, though, it will be something less obvious than being publicly demeaned with vulgar language like Imus’s. While it may have been less obvious, that doesn’t necessarily make it any less damaging to you in your career. If it happens to you, you should take action. Get in touch with a knowledgeable New York City discrimination lawyer to discover what legal options may exist for you.

Take, for example, K.R., an Afro Latina woman of Dominican ancestry working at a Manhattan media strategy and “crisis management” firm.

According to K.R.’s discrimination lawsuit, which she filed last year, the firm’s owner criticized her demeanor on the phone as “angry.” The complaint stated that, by contrast, the woman accused exactly none of her white female workers of having an “angry” phone demeanor.

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Sometimes at work, circumstances may arise that call for you to stand up against improper harassment or discrimination in your workplace. Regardless of whether you were the target of that illegal conduct or a coworker was, the law says you have the right to take action (whether that is filing a complaint, giving testimony, or participating in an investigation) without suffering punishment in your job. If you do get punished, that’s retaliation, it’s impermissible and it’s something that should motivate you to consult a knowledgeable New York employment discrimination lawyer.

According to the New York Daily News, one NYPD lieutenant was the victim of this kind of retaliation and received a sizable jury award as a result.

A.O. was an NYPD lieutenant who was a platoon commander at a precinct in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 2015 and 2016, A.O. wrote and submitted three internal complaints on behalf of one of her subordinate officers, whom she believed was being subjected to a hostile work environment because of his ethnicity. (The subordinate officer was a Latino man.) The lieutenant also testified on the Latino subordinate’s behalf at the departmental hearing on the matter.

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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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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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Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under most employment discrimination statutes in the U.S. New York City sexual harassment attorneys can bring claims under laws at three levels — federal, state, and city — depending on the circumstances of a particular case. A defendant can try to dispose of a case before it goes to trial by various means, including summary judgment. This is a type of judgment where a judge finds that no “material issues of fact” are in dispute. In February, a New York City court denied a motion for summary judgment in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender, including sexual harassment. One type of sexual harassment claim alleges that unwanted sexual conduct was pervasive or severe enough that it created a hostile work environment and prevented the plaintiff from performing their job duties. The NYCHRL also bars employers from retaliating against an employee who reports unlawful discrimination.

When a defendant moves for summary judgment on a claim under the NYCHRL, courts apply a “burden-shifting analysis” established by the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). If the plaintiff can show that they belong to a protected class, that they were qualified for their job, and that they suffered some adverse consequence because of their membership in the protected class, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to show a nondiscriminatory reason for its action. The plaintiff may then have a chance to show that the employer’s reasons were a pretext for discrimination.

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In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Jun 15, 2020 that federal antidiscrimination law bars employers from firing an employee because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. New York City’s employment discrimination law specifically includes these as protected categories, but Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only covers discrimination on the basis of sex and a few other factors. The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia holds that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The majority opinion, written by Justice Gorsuch, applies textual analysis to reach this conclusion.

Sex Discrimination Under Title VII

Title VII’s provision regarding sex discrimination in employment has an unusual history. The statutes other titles did not originally include any mention of sex discrimination. The member of the House of Representatives who introduced the amendment adding sex to Title VII’s list of protected categories reportedly did so “in a spirit of satire and ironic cajolery.” The amendment became part of the final statute, and remains a critically important tool in protecting people’s rights.

Since 1964, the Supreme Court has expanded the meaning of sex discrimination to include a rather wide range of acts. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), for example, the court held that sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. Justice Gorsuch’s opinion in Bostock cites three cases that built on Title VII’s concept of sex discrimination:
Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., 400 U.S. 542 (1971): A policy excluding mothers of young children from consideration for employment violated Title VII.
Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702 (1978): A company violated Title VII when it required female employees to make larger pension contributions than male employees.
Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998): Sexual harassment between members of the same sex can be actionable under Title VII.
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Multiple employment statutes protect workers’ rights in New York City. Sexual harassment attorneys can bring claims in state court under city or state law, or they can file in federal court in some situations. Each of these statutes view sexual harassment as a form of discrimination on the basis of sex. This is true regardless of the sex or gender of the individuals involved. The archetypal sexual harassment scenario involves harassment of a female employee by one or more male managers, supervisors, or coworkers. This kind of case appears to comprise the majority of New York sexual harassment complaints filed with state and federal enforcement agencies. A lawsuit recently filed in a Manhattan court, however, demonstrates how female supervisors can allegedly commit unlawful sexual harassment against male employees.

The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, including sex and gender. The New York State Human Rights Law includes protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of most of the same factors as city law. At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of five factors, including sex. Sexual harassment has been recognized as unlawful sex discrimination nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), which involved harassment of a female employee by a male supervisor. Twelve years after issuing that ruling, the court recognized same-sex sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates alleged violations of Title VII and other federal statutes. A complaint to the EEOC is a prerequisite to filing a federal lawsuit. Statistics published by the EEOC only show complaints based on Title VII claims, not New York City or New York State law. The EEOC’s numbers still offer insight into what workers around the country are reporting. From fiscal year 2010 to 2019, the EEOC received an average of about 7,284 complaints of sexual harassment per year. Men made an average of 16.8 percent of those complaints.

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The past few years have brought many accounts of sex discrimination, frequently including sexual harassment, in the media, entertainment, and tech industries. New York City sexual harassment attorneys often hear about sexual harassment in these workplaces. We are familiar with the way some media and tech companies can foster work environments that either allow or ignore sexual harassment. Companies in both tech and entertainment have been described as “boys’ clubs,” with work environments that significantly disadvantage and exclude women. A prominent video game company recently announced that it has settled a putative class action brought by current and former female employees alleging widespread sexual harassment, among other claims. The settlement includes $10 million in damages to be paid to class members.

Sexual harassment constitutes an unlawful form of sex discrimination under laws like the New York City Human Rights Law in two types of scenarios. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or manager demands sexual activity or contact in exchange for getting a job, keeping a job, or obtaining some other sort of employment-related benefit. The “casting couch” is a well-known example, in which an individual auditioning for a role is expected to have sex, or something similar, with a director or producer in order to get the part. Another example involves a restaurant manager who only gives the best shift assignments to servers who submit to sexual demands.

The other scenario in the legal definition of sexual harassment occurs when pervasive, unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates a hostile work environment. A single incident can support a hostile work environment if it is severe enough. Most hostile work environment claims involve multiple acts, such as ongoing remarks or jokes of a sexual nature, which a reasonable person would expect to cause offense and interfere with a professional workplace.

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New York City sex discrimination attorneys probably have more tools available to help their clients than lawyers in other American cities. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits workplace discrimination based on an extensive list of factors. State law in New York comes close to providing the extent of protection offered by city law. Both city and state law are far ahead of federal law. A 2016 amendment to the NYCHRL added “caregiver status” to the list of protected categories. See N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). This applies to workers who, in addition to their job duties, must provide ongoing care for certain individuals. Federal law does not expressly protect caregiver status, but a 2004 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York shows how the prohibition on sex discrimination could cover certain forms of caregiver status.

Caregiver Discrimination in New York City

The NYCHRL defines “caregiver” as someone “who provides direct and ongoing care for a minor child or a care recipient.” Id. at § 8-102. The statute goes on to define “care recipient” using additional terms that require definitions. We will focus here on the law’s applicability to people with caregiving responsibilities for minor children. The fact that New York City’s caregiver discrimination broadly applies to parents sometimes gets overlooked.

Sex Stereotyping under Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, but aside from “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” it does not define the term “sex.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a). The U.S. Supreme Court has offered further definitions of sex discrimination under Title VII, including various forms of sexual harassment.

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The #MeToo movement has given a voices to countless people who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Beginning with the entertainment industry, it has demonstrated time and again that unwelcome sexual conduct is a pervasive problem, and that it is often a very poorly kept secret. Much of what we have learned is not news for New York City sexual harassment lawyers or their clients. Now that #MeToo has been around for almost two years, researchers have acquired enough data to assess its impact. What they are finding, unfortunately, is not uniformly good news. While it seems as though most people understand what constitutes sexual harassment, few people agree on how to address it. A disquieting number of people, both men and women, seem willing to avoid sexual harassment by excluding women from the workplace altogether, and therefore replacing one form of unlawful sex discrimination with another.

Sexual harassment is considered sex discrimination under laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) identifies three general categories of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment. Two of those are examples of “quid pro quo sexual harassment”: submission to sexual behavior is a condition of employment, whether that is stated or implied; or employment decisions depend on how an employee responds to sexual overtures or remarks. The third type of sexual harassment identified by the EEOC, hostile work environment, occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct “unreasonably interfer[es] with an individual’s work performance” or otherwise renders the work environment intolerable. 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(a)(3).

Civil rights activist Tarana Burke coined the term “Me Too” in 2006. In 2017, its use as a hashtag on the social media platform Twitter gave the #MeToo movement its name. The movement is generally agreed to have begun in October 2017, when the New York Times published an actress’ allegations of sexual harassment by a prominent Hollywood producer. Many more women and men spoke out about their experiences with sexual harassment. People did not just talk about the perpetrators. They also talked about the environments that allow such conduct to continue unchecked. Many people tolerate, or even abet, such workplace behavior, perhaps because that often seems easier than standing up against it.

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