Articles Posted in Race Discrimination

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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New York City has one of the country’s most expansive and comprehensive antidiscrimination statutes. The city government frequently looks for ways to improve employee protections against discrimination and harassment. A new campaign by the city’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) seeks to raise awareness of issues faced by Black residents in housing, employment, and other areas. The campaign’s title, “While Black,” evokes a common saying that involves Black people receiving negative attention, or worse, for otherwise ordinary activities. “Driving while Black,” reflecting the disproportionate number of traffic stops of Black drivers, is perhaps the most famous example. As New York City discrimination attorneys, we have seen far too many examples of race-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace and elsewhere.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, including race, in employment, housing, banking, and other areas. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107. Race is one of the core protected categories under most employment discrimination statutes. The New York State Human Rights Law and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibit employment discrimination based on race. N.Y Exec. L. § 296(1)(a), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).

While these statutes all prohibit race discrimination, they do not provide much detail on the sorts of acts that may constitute such discrimination. The regulations implementing the antidiscrimination provisions of Title VII, for example, contain an entire subchapter on national origin discrimination, 29 C.F.R. Part 1606, but nothing specifically addressing or defining race discrimination. The CHR’s campaign is intended, in part, to raise public awareness of the ways that discrimination and harassment based on race occur in New York City workplaces, public spaces, and elsewhere.
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Race discrimination in employment is not limited to overt expressions of bias. It can be more subtle, particularly when an individual’s expression of their racial, ethnic, or cultural identity is involved. This often occurs with regard to hairstyles. Antidiscrimination statutes like the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit discrimination on the basis of race and other factors. The city’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recently issued new guidelines that address how anti-Black racism in employment can manifest as complaints about employee hairstyles. A review of court decisions around the country show some recognition of hairstyle discrimination, but New York City race discrimination attorneys should look first to the NYCHRL and the CHR’s guidelines.

In the context of the new guidelines, the CHR defines “Black” to include individuals “who identify as African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, [or] Afro-Latin-x/a/o.” It identifies hairstyles commonly associated with Black people’s “racial, ethnic, or cultural identities” as including “locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, [and] Afros.” The guidelines state that “Black hairstyles are…an inherent part of Black identity,” and are therefore protected by the NYCHRL.

Some courts around the country have recognized race discrimination claims based on employers’ alleged treatment of employees’ hairstyles. A plaintiff alleged that her employer began discriminating against her after she began wearing her hair in an “Afro” style in Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp. Ins., Inc., 538 F. 2d 164 (7th Cir. 1976). The court, in recounting how the defendant allegedly expressed its objection to the plaintiff’s hairstyle, noted that “[a] lay person’s description of racial discrimination could hardly be more explicit.” Id. at 168. It went on to find that “[t]he reference to the Afro hairstyle” was an expression of “the employer’s racial discrimination.” Id.
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