Articles Posted in Retaliation

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.

The U.S. court system offers those subject to employment discrimination an avenue to bring claims before a judicial body. However, a recent news report describes a New York sexual harassment and retaliation case that originated with employees of the court system. A court clerk alleges that her supervisor in a Brooklyn criminal court made unwanted sexual advances and punished her when she did not comply with his requests. In response, the New York State Court Clerks Association filed a complaint on behalf of the clerk. The complaint alleged that she resisted her supervisor’s unwanted sexual propositions, and as a result, she was demoted from her position in retaliation.Brooklyn court

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that provides guidance as to what constitutes employer retaliation against an employee. It is illegal for an employer to punish an employee for engaging in a “protected activity.” This term is intentionally broadly defined, and it includes refusing to follow orders that would lead to harassment and resisting sexual advances from a supervisor. Title VII also prohibits a coworker, employer, or supervisor from sexually harassing another employee.

The court clerk worked under her supervisor for over a decade, and over time her supervisor’s sexual advances became progressively more overt and lewd. For instance, the supervisor asked the court clerk if she ever took naked pictures of herself, commented that she was “one of those hot Latinas,” asked that she sit on his lap at work, and requested that she send him bikini pictures from a recent vacation on a cruise ship. The clerk resisted these sexual advances, and as a result, she was demoted in retaliation because of her refusal to succumb to her supervisor’s requests, the complaint alleges. Her claim draws a link between her “protected activity,” the refusal to supply bikini pictures of herself, and her job demotion.

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Tesla auto botsSexual harassment in specific industries can become the subject of particular public attention when employees speak out about their experiences. This has certainly been true of the financial sector, with many accounts of firm cultures that condone or even encourage harassment of employees in New York City. Sexual harassment, however, is hardly limited to any one industry or region. The technology industry in California has been the most recent recipient of public scrutiny, after allegations of rampant sexual harassment in one major tech company gained wide attention. A lawsuit filed against another prominent Silicon Valley company has kept focus on the region. The lawsuit alleges “pervasive harassment” of female employees, as well as wage disparities and lack of opportunities for promotions. The defendant eventually fired the plaintiff, stating that an internal investigation found her claims to be baseless. Despite this, the lawsuit continues, and it has reportedly inspired others to speak up.

Laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and other factors. The protections against sex discrimination go beyond prohibitions against blatantly discriminatory practices like refusing to hire someone because of their gender. Courts have found that sexual harassment constitutes unlawful sex discrimination when it involves a demand for some sort of sexual activity or favor in exchange for some employment benefit, or when the harassment is pervasive or severe enough to create a hostile work environment. An employer may be liable for harassment perpetrated by a supervisor or manager. If the alleged harasser is not in a supervisory or managerial position over the recipient, the employer may still be liable if it learns of the harassment and fails to take remedial action.

In 2013, the plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned above began working for the defendant, which designs, manufactures, and sells electric cars. She eventually received a promotion to a position in the general assembly department as an engineer at the company’s factory in Fremont, California. She was reportedly one of the only women in the department, and she alleges that she received less pay than the male engineers she replaced. She further alleges that less qualified male engineers were promoted over her, that management ignored her reports about problems with quality testing of new vehicles, and that she faced retaliation for those reports.

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