Articles Posted in Hostile Work Environment

It is, perhaps, the most incendiary word in the English language today. But is a single utterance of the N-word enough to make for a successful hostile work environment claim under federal law? With the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear a Texas man’s case, the answer to that will remain varied based upon where you bring your case. Fortunately for Black workers here in New York, there are a multitude of legal avenues available if you’ve been on the receiving end of that word on the job. To learn more about your options, make sure you’re getting the knowledgeable advice you need from an experienced New York workplace discrimination lawyer.

The case the Supreme Court declined to take involved a Black man who worked at a Dallas hospital and who ostensibly was fired for insubordination. According to the worker, his was a hostile work environment and his employer actually fired him in retaliation for his complaining about that environment.

Allegedly, R.C.’s workplace was one where the “N-word” was scratched into an elevator and where the storage room he often used had two swastikas drawn on the wall. The trial court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said that the N-word graffiti and the swastikas were not severe or pervasive enough to make for a hostile work environment.

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Not too long ago, Pew Research Center published research findings that, for many women, were probably supremely unsurprising. While women experienced sexual harassment across a full range of workplaces, the research found that the problem was worst in male-dominated fields. Climbing the ladder and achieving success as a woman in a male-dominated field is hard enough; you shouldn’t also have to overcome the toxicity of sexual harassment, too. If you have experienced a work environment made hostile by sexual harassment, you do not simply have to “deal with it” because the field of work you chose is populated mostly by men. Instead, reach out to a knowledgeable New York sexual harassment lawyer and find out how you can take action.

According to the research released by Pew, about 1 in 5 women in gender-balanced workplaces and female-dominated workplaces experienced sexual harassment at work. For women in male-dominated workplaces, the percentage of workplace sexual harassment was notably higher, at 28%.

A recent report from the New York Daily News is one data point that appears to further back up those numbers. The New York Mets’ baseball organization was, according to multiple female employees, a workplace “toxic” from sexual harassment.

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We’ve almost all seen them. They’re the shows featuring some combination of men and women sitting around discussing the news, politics, or sports issues of the day. While everything may be all smiles on set, behind the scenes may tell a different story. Workplaces like these where people are required to spend long hours working closely together can be a breeding ground for sexual harassment. If you’ve suffered sexual harassment in your TV job, know that there are legal options out there for you. Reach out to a knowledgeable New York employment lawyer to learn more about the best ways to protect your career and yourself.

According to one on-air personality, hers was one of those hostile workplaces. The alleged harasser and the alleged victim were the two co-hosts of a “political entertainment” TV talk show. Both were known celebrities. The alleged victim, B.M., was a former reporter and desk anchor for a major sports network and the alleged harasser, G.M., was a former professional wrestler.

According to B.M., G.M. sent her multiple text messages commenting on her appearance and making overtly sexual comments and also made in-person comments of a similar nature. B.M. eventually reported the harassment to the executive producer of the pair’s TV show but allegedly was rebuffed.

Sexual harassment often involves someone who takes advantage of their power over another person in the workplace, placing that person in a situation where they fear that speaking out would put their job at risk. New York City sexual harassment attorneys help people who feel like they cannot do anything about unwelcome sexual remarks, jokes, or overtures at work. Sexual harassment can happen in any workplace. That said, it often seems particularly common in certain types of businesses, particularly those with low wages and high rates of employee turnover. The restaurant industry has many accounts of managers who engage in all manner or objectionable activities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against a New York restaurant that involved such allegations.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex and several other factors. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Sexual harassment is included in Title VII’s definition of sex discrimination, according to numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions starting with Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). Unlawful sexual harassment under Title VII can take several forms, including unwelcome conduct in the workplace of a sexual nature that is pervasive or severe enough that a reasonable person would consider it to be a hostile work environment.

Congress created the EEOC to investigate alleged violations of Title VII and other federal employment statutes. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-4, 2000e-5. A worker with a complaint against an employer must file a charge with the EEOC before they may file a lawsuit in federal court. The EEOC will investigate the charge, and then decide whether it will pursue a civil action on the worker’s behalf. If not, it will issue a “right to sue” letter, which allows the worker to take their case to court.
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The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere has received significant attention in recent years, but much progress remains to be made. As New York City sexual harassment attorneys, we continue to hear from workers in many different industries about their experiences. Sexual harassment is not limited to the workplace. Last summer, we wrote about how sexual harassment in the video game industry affects both employees of the companies that produce games and the gamers that play them. Online gaming, live-streaming, and other features of the video game industry have long had serious problems with harassment. The law offers some tools that employees can use to fight back. Gamers and others who participate in gaming communities do not have the same legal protection, but they are not helpless. At the end of 2020, one of the biggest companies that provides live-streaming services for gamers announced a new policy that cracks down on harassment on its platform.

Laws like the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, viewing it as a form of sex discrimination. Employers violate these laws when someone in a supervisory or managerial role requests sexual activity of some sort as a condition of employment. They also commit an unlawful employment practice when they allow employees, customers, or others in the workplace to perpetrate a hostile work environment.

Many employment laws only protect employees against unlawful activity by their own employer. The NYSHRL expands its protections against sexual harassment beyond employees. Independent contractors, vendors, unpaid interns, and others who are in a workplace for business reasons are also protected against all forms of unlawful discrimination. Domestic workers are protected against sexual harassment in their workplaces. It is not clear, however, if the NYSHRL or similar statutes protect individuals who participate in online gaming, but are not directly employed by any of the businesses involved.

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Asserting a claim for sexual harassment usually requires alleging and then describing objectionable behavior by one or more people. New York City sexual harassment attorneys must always take care that the allegations made in court filings are backed up by evidence. Individuals accused of sexual harassment may decide to strike back in court through counterclaims for defamation. State law protects plaintiffs and their attorneys, however, from liability for defamation for statements made as part of official court proceedings. A lawsuit filed in 2020 alleges sexual harassment against a co-worker and retaliation by their employer. The defendant co-worker filed a counterclaim for defamation, and included statements made in the plaintiff’s complaint as part of the allegedly defamatory speech. The plaintiff has moved to dismiss the counterclaim.

Under both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law, unlawful sex discrimination includes certain forms of sexual harassment. One unlawful form of sexual harassment, known as hostile work environment, occurs when one or more people make unwelcome sexual comments or engage in unwelcome behavior related to sex, and the conduct is so pervasive or severe that it interferes with a person’s ability to perform their job duties. In order to make a hostile work environment claim, it is necessary to describe the harassing conduct in court pleadings.

Defamation is a type of personal injury claim for harm caused by false statements. It requires a difficult burden of proof, since it asks a court to penalize someone for the content of their speech despite First Amendment protections. The elements of a defamation claim under New York law are complicated, and depend in part on the type of allegedly defamatory statement, and in part on the extent to which the person claiming defamation is known to the public. The first two elements in any defamation claim under New York law are (1) a false statement (2) made to another person “without privilege or authorization.” Court proceedings offer a form of privilege.
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Employment discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, violates nearly every employment statute in the country. It persists in workplaces for a vast array of reasons. New York City sexual harassment attorneys often see examples that result from people’s inability — or refusal — to separate someone’s public persona from their inherent dignity as a person. People who work in the entertainment industry regularly experience this. Late last year, an emergency medical technician (EMT) with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) settled a lawsuit against the city that involved allegations of sexual harassment based, in part, on her prior career in reality television. The city agreed to pay $350,000 to settle the suit.

Sexual harassment is considered unlawful sex discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) and other statutes. An employer violates city law when it allows unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace to become so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. This usually involves ongoing patterns of behavior, but a single incident can support a hostile work environment claim if it is severe enough. In either case, the behavior must create enough of a disruption to the workplace that an objective observer would consider it unreasonably hostile. A situation where the claimant is a specific target is probably more likely to succeed as a hostile work environment claim, but targeting is not necessarily required.

The case against the FDNY involved allegedly targeted behavior. The plaintiff was a cast member on a reality television program, which was known for depicting people in a “party” lifestyle, in 2009 and 2010. She has made additional appearances in various shows since then. According to her complaint, she “decided to pursue her dream” of becoming an EMT in 2014, and began working for the FDNY as an EMT on Staten Island in 2016. She suffered an on-the-job injury in 2016 that kept her from working for almost a year. Another injury on the job in 2017 resulted in a restriction to “light duty” when she returned to work. This is when the alleged harassment began.
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New York City pregnancy discrimination laws offer some of the most extensive protections to workers in the whole country. Federal law classifies discrimination on the basis of pregnancy as a form of sex discrimination. State and city law goes further, requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and employees with newborn children. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) goes further still, requiring employers to provide private, sterile lactation rooms where workers can express breast milk, along with facilities for storing milk while at work. A class action filed in a Brooklyn federal court alleges that the police department failed to provide lactation facilities for employees as required by law. The lawsuit was filed more than a year ago and is in the process of seeking class certification.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions in its definition of sex discrimination. The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. It also states that an employer commits an unlawful discriminatory practice when they fail to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s pregnancy-related conditions.

A law passed by the New York City Council several years ago added provisions to the NYCHRL regarding accommodations for new parents who are nursing. Employers must provide a “lactation room,” defined as “a sanitary place, other than a restroom,” that is “shielded from view and free from intrusion.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102. The room must include a power outlet, a place to sit, and a surface to place a pump and other items. It must be located near a sink or water fountain, and “in reasonable proximity to [an] employee’s work area.” Id. at § 8-107(22)(b)(i).

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Workers in New York City are protected by multiple antidiscrimination statutes. New York City sexual harassment lawyers can choose from federal, state, and local laws when determining how best to advocate for their clients’ rights. This includes employment laws like the New York City Human Rights Law and education laws like Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Individuals who have endured sexual harassment may also be able to assert common-law claims based on negligence. Employers have significant incentive to maintain policies on harassment prevention, along with robust methods of enforcement. A news story reported in late 2020 demonstrates how employers can use employment policies to address complaints of harassment against employees in supervisory positions. The story involves a now-former museum curator accused by a former student of sexual harassment and bullying.

Sexual harassment is considered to be a form of discrimination on the basis of sex in two types of situations. First, a supervisor or manager cannot make sexual requests or demands of an employee when refusal could adversely affect the employee’s job. The threat to the employee’s job could be explicit, such as when a manager openly expects sexual contact with an employee in exchange for favorable shift assignments. It can also be more subtle than this, as long as there is a clear causal connection between the refusal of the demands and adverse consequences.

The second type of unlawful sexual harassment occurs when pervasive or severe sexual conduct in the workplace interferes with an employee’s ability to perform their job duties and creates what an objective observer would consider a hostile work environment. An employer must know about the objectionable conduct, or they must be in a position where they should know about it. If they fail to take reasonable measures to address the problem, they could be liable to the aggrieved employee.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic turmoil all over the country and the world. It has hurt restaurants more than many other kinds of businesses. The impact goes beyond the revenues of the restaurants themselves. Even without a pandemic, New York City sexual harassment lawyers see a substantial number of claims from workers in restaurants who rely on tips for much of their income. The problem seems only to have gotten worse when restaurants have been open this year. A report issued in early December by One Fair Wage (OFW), an organization that advocates for reform of wage laws affecting tipped employees, found substantial decreases in tips received by servers during the pandemic, along with an increase in incidents of sexual harassment. These two issues are closely related. Tipped workers’ reliance on tip income makes them particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment by supervisors, co-workers, and customers.

Laws like the New York City Human Rights Law, the New York State Human Rights Law, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 view sexual harassment as a type of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. Sexual harassment can occur in two general forms, both of which are unfortunately common in the restaurant industry. Quid pro quo sexual harassment takes place when a supervisor, manager, or another person with authority over an employee makes submission to sexual demands of some sort a condition of their employment. The other type involves pervasive or severe conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome and which a reasonable person would find to create a hostile work environment.

Under federal law and many state laws, including New York, employers are not obligated to pay tipped workers as much in cash wages as other employees. Instead, they must pay a lower minimum cash wage, with a “tip credit” for the difference between that amount and the regular minimum wage. Servers in New York City have a higher minimum wage than servers in the rest of the state, and state law sets a higher minimum wage than federal law.

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