Articles Posted in Gender Discrimination

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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Federal law prohibits various discriminatory acts by employers, such as discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth, but its protections have limitations. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only applies to employers with fifteen or more employees. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). It also does not apply to religious organizations with regard to “the employment of individuals of a particular religion.” Id. at § 2000e-1(a). The statute does not provide guidance on how to determine whether an employer is a religious organization or not. A number of for-profit businesses, rather than churches or other expressly religious organizations, have claimed religious exemptions in recent years. A proposed rule published by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) could expand the definition of “religious organization.” This can be an issue for New York City pregnancy discrimination attorneys when an employer claims a religious exemption from antidiscrimination laws.

Title VII prohibits pregnancy discrimination, which includes “pregnancy, childbirth, [and] related medical conditions,” as a type of sex discrimination. Id. at § 2000e(k). In 1965, the president issued Executive Order (EO) 11246, which expanded the requirements of Title VII to all federal contractors, regardless of their number of employees. “Religious entities,” however, are exempt on the same basis as the exemption from Title VII. 41 C.F.R. § 60-1.5(a)(5). This means that, for example, an expressly Christian organization may refuse to hire individuals who are not Christian for certain positions. A similar exemption applies to religious schools. See id. at § 60-1.5(a)(6).

The “ministerial exception” provides another exemption from antidiscrimination laws for religious organizations. It states that religious organizations are not bound by antidiscrimination laws with regard to “ministers.” For example, a church can refuse to hire a person as a priest or pastor who is not a part of that church’s religion. Recent court decisions, however, seem to have expanded the definition of “minister.” In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171 (2012), the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of a teacher’s disability discrimination lawsuit, finding that her position with the school was “ministerial.” The Second Circuit recently affirmed that the ministerial exception barred a former Catholic school principal’s sex discrimination lawsuit. Another court, however, found that the exception does not apply in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by a college professor.
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An important limitation on employees’ rights under various antidiscrimination statutes is how each statute defines “employer.” Most laws set a minimum threshold of number of employees. Employers with fewer employees than that number are not considered “employers” within the meaning of that statute. In practice, this means that employees of small employers are not eligible for those laws’ protection against workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, and other unlawful practices. A new law passed by the New York Legislature, which the Governor is expected to sign, will expand the coverage of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to almost all employers in the state. The Legislature previously amended the NYSHRL to eliminate the minimum employee count for claims involving alleged sexual harassment. The new bill, A8421/S6577, as amended by S6594, makes the full range of the NYSHRL’s provisions applicable to employers of all sizes.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines an “employer” as a person who employs at least fifteen people for at least twenty weeks in the current, or the most recent, calendar year. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). The federal government, its agencies, and any corporation wholly-owned by the federal government are not considered “employers” under Title VII. Indian tribes and the government of the District of Columbia are also exempt from Title VII’s definition.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) defines an “employer” as any person with four or more employees. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102. Much like the NYSHRL prior to the new amendments, the statute makes an exception in cases involving alleged sexual harassment. The NYCHRL also provides that individuals who are employed as independent contractors count towards the employer’s employee count, as long as they do not employ anyone themselves.
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In many parts of the U.S., the availability of paid family leave to care for a newborn is entirely dependent on one’s employer. Ensuring that employers with family leave policies apply them fairly is often a matter of enforcing laws against discrimination on the basis of factors like pregnancy or gender. New York City discrimination attorneys do not have to go that far much of the time thanks to the state’s paid family leave law, which took effect in 2018. Even if an employee is not eligible for leave under the new state law, New York City’s prohibition on caregiver discrimination may offer protection against adverse employment actions. Both state and city law make no distinction based on gender—mothers and fathers alike can claim family leave and caregiver status. A recent settlement in a lawsuit against a New York City-based financial firm suggest that the country may soon be ready to follow in the city’s footsteps.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) defines a “caregiver” as someone who is responsible for supporting a minor child or certain other individuals. This obviously includes parents of children under the age of eighteen. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of caregiver status. It does not necessarily require that employers provide accommodations for employees with caregiver responsibilities, but it still provides workers with important protections.

The paid family leave law applies to both full-time and part-time workers once they have worked for a minimum period of time. They must start over with regard to minimum days or weeks worked when they start working for a new employer. Starting in 2019, the law allows eligible employees to take up to ten weeks of leave to bond with a new baby. An individual must take advantage of this program within twelve months of the child’s birth. It expressly applies to any new parent, regardless of gender. Both of a child’s parents may take paid family leave if they meet the eligibility criteria. Benefits are payable through employers’ disability insurance.
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New York City has taken many actions to combat discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These actions are not limited to legislation, such as the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), or investigations by the city’s Commissioner on Human Rights (CHR). In 2018, the CHR named Brooklyn-based street artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh as its first Public Artist in Residence (PAIR). The program partners city agencies with artists “to address pressing civic issues through creative practice.” Fazlalizadeh unveiled a mural, entitled Respecting Black Women and Girls in St. Albans, in Daniel M. O’Connell Playground in Queens on April 12, 2019. The mural addresses experiences of “the daily indignities of anti-Black racism and sexism.”

New York City has officially declared, through the NYCHRL, that “bias-related violence or harassment…threaten the rights and proper privileges of [the city’s] inhabitants.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101. The NYCHRL further states “that gender-based harassment threatens the terms, conditions and privileges of employment.” Id. In most situations, the NYCHRL only applies to employers with four or more employers, but any employer, regardless of size, could be liable for gender-based harassment. See id. at § 8-102.

The NYCHRL prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and multiple other factors. Id. at § 8-107(1)(a). “Discrimination” in this context can include workplace harassment. The statute also prohibits any “person,” which may include both individuals and businesses, from engaging in “discriminatory harassment” based on any protected category. This is broadly defined as knowingly using or threatening force to intimidate a person or interfere with their exercise of any legal right or privilege. Id. at § 8-603.
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The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) is one of country’s the most comprehensive laws dealing with discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other areas. On May 20, 2019, a new law will go into effect that adds “sexual and reproductive health decisions” to the law’s list of protected categories. Some employers have fought against legal requirements involving matters like contraception in recent years. Similar arguments have appeared in support of employers who terminate, demote, or otherwise penalize employees for some of the most private acts in which people engage, or some of the most personal decisions that people can make.

The NYCHRL already prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of factors like gender, marital or partnership status, and sexual orientation. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). The statute defines “gender” to include “actual or perceived” characteristics, including gender identity and gender expression. Id. at § 8-102. This provides express protection against discrimination based on transgender status, which is missing in federal law.

Existing law may apply to some adverse employment actions arguably based on “sexual and reproductive health decisions.” The Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination under federal, state, and New York City law. The plaintiff became pregnant before getting married and returned from her honeymoon “visibly pregnant.” She alleged that her employer fired her because it “disapprove[d] of [her] pre-marital pregnancy.”
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Employees in New York City are protected from unlawful discrimination in the workplace by laws at the local, state, and federal level. The city’s anti discrimination statute is one of the most comprehensive and expansive in the nation, but New York City discrimination attorneys must carefully evaluate each case of alleged discrimination to determine which law best applies. In order to understand what laws protect employees against discrimination in New York City, it is important to understand how these laws apply their protections.

Protected Categories in Anti Discrimination Law

In one sense, employers discriminate all the time, meaning that they make decisions that affect some employees differently than others. Discrimination on the basis of factors like job performance, seniority, or experience is not considered unlawful. When an employer discriminates on the basis of a factor like race, sex, or religion, that is a different story.

Anti discrimination laws identify categories that are protected against employment discrimination. Court decisions may interpret these laws to provide further detail about prohibited workplace practices. The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, ruled more than thirty years ago that the prohibition on sex discrimination found in federal law applies to sexual harassment in the workplace. Some federal courts have held that sex discrimination also includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Other courts have reached opposite conclusions.
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A law enacted by the New York City Council, Local Law 95 of 2018, requires the city’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to make information available to the public about how city law addresses sexual harassment. Under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of unlawful sex discrimination. Local Law 95 requires the CHR to post information online about what constitutes sexual harassment and what remedies are available. It was enacted as part of a larger package of bills collectively known as the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act. A new page went live on the CHR’s website in August 2018, shortly before the deadline set by the City Council. The page includes a wealth of information, including a notice and fact sheet summarizing city law on sexual harassment. These documents provide a helpful overview for individuals who might be considering whether to contact a New York City sexual harassment attorney.

The NYCHRL prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of numerous factors, including gender. See N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). The statute uses an expansive definition of “gender” that includes “actual or perceived sex, gender identity and gender expression,” and other characteristics. Id. at § 8-102. These definitions of “gender” and “gender discrimination” have a much broader scope than many antidiscrimination laws. The prohibition on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, is not expressly extended to factors like gender identity. Both statutes consider sexual harassment to be a type of sex discrimination.

The New York City Council passed Local Law 95 as Int. No. 614-A on April 11, 2018, and the mayor signed it into law on May 9. The law amended the NYCHRL by adding a new section entitled “Sexual harassment information,” codified at § 8-132. It requires the CHR to “post conspicuously on [its] website online resources about sexual harassment.” These resources must include information identifying sexual harassment as “a form of unlawful discrimination under local law,” providing examples of conduct that constitutes sexual harassment, identifying government agencies that receive complaints, describing the CHR’s complaint process, and stating that retaliation is also unlawful. The law also recommends including information on “bystander intervention education,” as well as “an interactive tool” that guides users through a CHR complaint. The effective date of the law was August 7, 2018.
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Workers are protected from a wide range of employment practices under the laws of New York City. Employment discrimination attorneys can assert claims on their clients’ behalf under city law for unlawful actions by employers based on gender, caregiver status, and other factors. Federal and state law prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and recent childbirth. New York City’s prohibition on caregiver discrimination offers further employment protections for young parents. These provisions do not specifically mention gender, but caregiver discrimination is often intertwined with gender discrimination simply because of gendered assumptions about caregiving. A lawsuit filed last year, Avery v. Le Bernardin, Inc. et al, No. 1:18-cv-000626, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Jan. 24, 2018), illustrates this close relationship, as well as the proximity between sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination. The plaintiff dismissed her suit without prejudice several months after filing it, but the complaint still offers a useful example of the kinds of allegations often found in the restaurant industry.

Sexual harassment is considered a form of unlawful sex discrimination under most employment antidiscrimination statutes. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) is one of the few statutes in the U.S. to address caregiver discrimination. It defines a “caregiver” as an individual “who provides direct and ongoing care for a minor child or a care recipient.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102. The term “care recipient” applies to a person who is a family member or resides with the caregiver, who suffers from a disability, and who depends on the caregiver for daily support. This person could be an adult or a child. The definition of “caregiver” also includes responsibility for a “minor child,” simply defined as someone under the age of eighteen. This effectively includes all parents.

The plaintiff in Avery worked for about three years as a server at “one of the finest restaurants in the United States.” Avery, complaint at 1. She alleged that women who worked at the restaurant regularly faced sexual harassment, and that management either ignored complaints or “shamed” the people who complained. Id. at 2. She further alleged that one of the restaurant’s owners, whom she named individually as a defendant, engaged in “body shaming of Plaintiff shortly after giving birth for her weight gain,” among other claims. Id. The restaurant, she claims, refused to assign her to lunch shifts to accommodate her childcare schedule, resulting in her constructive discharge.
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