Articles Posted in Retaliation

Restaurants are regularly the site of unlawful sexual harassment all over the country and the world. New York City sexual harassment attorneys have seen countless scenarios in which managers and supervisors abuse their authority, or fail to rein in the offensive behavior of employees or customers. A lawsuit filed in September 2020 in a Manhattan state court alleges that a restaurant manager routinely harassed the plaintiff, who worked as a barista. This behavior persisted for two years, she claims, until the restaurant fired her, allegedly in retaliation for complaining. The complaint names the restaurant, its owner, and the manager as defendants.

Laws at the federal, state, and city level in New York City prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sex. This includes sexual harassment in situations where:
– Agreeing to sexual demands is a condition of employment, known as quid pro quo sexual harassment; and
– Unwelcome sexual remarks or behavior in the workplace are severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would find it offensive, known as a hostile work environment.

When someone in an executive or managerial position is the alleged harasser, the employer may be vicariously liable for their actions. Otherwise, the employer must have known, or been in a position where they should have known, about the offensive conduct, and they must have failed to make reasonable efforts to resolve the situation.

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Sexual harassment in New York City’s film and television industry has received a great deal of attention in the past few years. That conversation has allowed people from nearly every walk of life to come forward about their own unfortunate experiences. Several recent news reports suggest that the sports world is having its own reckoning. New York City sexual harassment attorneys had a landmark victory about thirteen years ago, in a case involving the city’s professional basketball team. In 2020, allegations have come to light involving a player for the city’s Major League Soccer (MLS) team. Around the country, lawsuits and other claims have arisen in connection with both college and professional football.

Laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex cover sexual harassment in certain situations, such as when unwelcome sexual conduct creates a situation that a reasonable person would find to be a hostile work environment. At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against such behavior, but not everyone working in sports, or many other sectors of the entertainment industry, is an “employee” in a legal sense. Both the New York City Human Rights Law and the New York State Human Rights Law expressly extend their protections to interns. See N.Y. Exec. L. § 296-c, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(23).

During the summer of 2020, New York City’s professional soccer team announced that it was opening an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by a former player. The allegations came from a former intern for the team, who posted them to the social media platform Twitter. She reportedly described how she thought the internship was “the opportunity of a life time” at first, but then alleged that it turned into the player “touching me every f—ing day and my bosses thinking it was great comedic material.” The player issued a statement denying the allegations. It does not appear that the former intern has pursued formal legal action yet.

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Sexual harassment occurs whenever someone abuses their authority in the workplace to try to coerce someone into some kind of sexual activity, or whenever one or more people subject someone to an unwelcome and hostile work environment based on sex. New York City sexual harassment attorneys routinely bring lawsuits on behalf of workers who have experienced these types of misconduct. The New York Attorney General (AG) is also taking a role in fighting against workplace sexual harassment under state, federal, and city law. The AG’s office announced this summer that it had concluded an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation at a Long Island construction company. It also stated that it had reached a settlement agreement with the company, in which the company will pay $1.5 million in damages.

A legal claim for sexual harassment can arise from specific acts or patterns of conduct by individual employees, as well as from systemic failures by an employer that allow sexual harassment to persist in a workplace. Claims alleging a hostile work environment often require proof not only that an employee faced unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that was either pervasive or severe, but also that the employer knew or should have known about the problematic behavior and failed to take reasonable actions to address it.

Since October 2018, state law has required employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training for all of their employees. Employers may use a model training program developed by the state, or they can use their own as long as it meets certain minimum standards.

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Sexual harassment takes many forms. While the classic example of workplace sexual harassment might involve a male supervisor making sexual demands of a female employee, New York City sexual harassment attorneys know that it can occur between individuals of any gender. The key elements of unlawful sexual harassment are that the conduct is unwelcome, and that it is based on gender in some way. A lawsuit recently filed in a Manhattan federal court presents a scenario that might only seem out of the ordinary to people who mainly know about sexual harassment from its depictions in popular culture. In this case, a former hotel employee, “a black man who identifies his sexual orientation as gay,” is alleging sexual harassment by his female former supervisor and other unlawful acts.

Employment laws in New York City, New York State, and at the federal level prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination when the harassing conduct creates a “hostile work environment.” This occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct that is either pervasive or severe creates an atmosphere that a reasonable observer would consider “hostile,” and that renders a person incapable of performing their job duties to the best of their ability. The conduct can range from lewd comments or jokes in the workplace to direct sexual overtures or worse.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned above states in his complaint that he began working for the defendant hotel in April 2018. His job involved booking and managing reservations for the hotel and its onsite restaurant. He alleges that the sexual harassment by his supervisor began “nearly as soon as [he] began his employment.” He states that he never hid his sexual orientation from his employer or coworkers, but the supervisor allegedly made frequent remarks regarding his sexuality. He claims that this included “mak[ing] lewd comments about the physical attributes of male guests and celebrities and ask[ing] [his] opinion of their physical attributes.

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Under laws enacted in 2018 in both New York State and New York City, sexual harassment training must be provided on an annual basis. New York City’s law only applies to employers with fifteen or more employees, but the state law covers all employers, including those in the city. This requirement remains in effect, including for employers whose workforces have shifted to remote working. New York City sexual harassment lawyers see claims arising from every conceivable type of workplace, from offices to warehouses to purely virtual spaces. Just because an employee does not have to report to a workplace in person does not mean that they cannot experience unwanted sexual advances or remarks, or other hostile conduct.

The New York State law, found at § 201-g of the New York Labor Law, requires employers to implement sexual harassment prevention policies and to conduct annual sexual harassment training for employees. The state prepared a model policy and training program in 2018. The law requires employers to adopt those, or one that meets or exceeds the minimum standards set by the model policy and training program.

The law requires the state’s model sexual harassment training to be “interactive” and to include four specific points:
1. An “explanation of sexual harassment” that follows guidelines set by the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR);
2. Examples of behavior constituting sexual harassment;
3. Information on state and federal laws that address sexual harassment, along with the remedies available to people who have experienced sexual harassment; and
4. Information on internal procedures for reporting, investigating, and adjudicating complaints.

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While the #MeToo movement has made progress over the past several years in exposing sexual harassment in workplaces throughout the country, much work remains to be done. New York City sexual harassment attorneys know well that certain industries remain, in many ways, a “boys’ club” where female employees are expected to endure, at best, bawdy jokes and other inappropriate conduct. A lawsuit filed in a Manhattan federal courthouse in May 2020 alleges this kind of environment in a financial firm. The plaintiff alleges “relentless, egregious discrimination” on the basis of sex, followed by termination in retaliation for speaking out about it.

Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination in certain situations under New York City law, New York State law, and federal law. This includes a “hostile work environment” in which unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would find it to be intolerable. Hostile work environments often involve a culture of sexual and/or sexist jokes or comments. A single incident, if severe enough, can support a hostile work environment claim, but most claims allege ongoing patterns of behavior.

The plaintiff states in her complaint that she began working for the defendant, a hedge fund located in New York City, in the summer of 2016 as an investment associate. Almost immediately, she claims, she noticed “a sexually charged and misogynistic work environment.” She describes her desk as being “part of a large table shared by seven people…located in the middle of the trading floor…within clear earshot of every person who sat on the floor.” The company allegedly employed few women during her time there. They all, she claims, had the title of “associate” and reported to male supervisors.

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New York City employment discrimination laws protect workers from adverse actions based on factors like sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. Under federal, state, and city law, sexual harassment is viewed as a type of discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. Laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allow individuals to file suit against employers who have discriminated against them, or who have failed to take reasonable action to prevent a co-worker from discriminating against or harassing them. In April, a former officer with the New York City Police Department filed a federal lawsuit alleging sexual harassment under Title VII and several other statutes. The lawsuit names the city and five NYPD officers as defendants.

Hostile work environment” is one type of sexual harassment recognized as unlawful sex discrimination. In order to prevail on a claim, a plaintiff must show that one or more people in the workplace engaged in unwelcome conduct that was either severe or pervasive enough to interfere with their ability to perform their job duties. Typically, they must show that a reasonable person would consider the conduct to be abusive, intimidating, or hostile beyond mere annoyance. Most hostile work environment claims involve ongoing behavior, but a single incident can support a hostile work environment claim, if it is especially severe.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned above alleges that a lieutenant, who is named as a defendant, “handpicked her” in February 2017 to work as his “Operator.” This job primarily involved driving him on patrol. She states that she felt he gave her “too much attention,” but did not complain out of fear of retaliation. While in the police vehicle, she claims that the lieutenant routinely made sexually suggestive remarks to her and asked her intrusive personal questions. This also allegedly occurred in the presence of other officers, but no one intervened.

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As of mid-April 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has caused the loss of approximately 22 million jobs in the United States, based on the number of unemployment claims around the country since early March. With layoffs becoming increasingly common, New York City employment attorneys are seeing that more and more workers are being asked to sign severance agreements as they are shown the door. State and federal law regulate certain aspects of typical severance agreements, so New York City workers should consider seeking a legal opinion before signing anything.

What Is a Severance Agreement?

The term “severance agreement” can refer to any document that purports to show an agreement between an employer and an employee at the end of the employment relationship. A severance agreement is usually part of a “severance package,” which might include additional compensation besides wages or salary already owed to an employee. This could be a cash payment, stock options, or contributions to a retirement account.

Waivers of Rights in Severance Agreements

The employer, of course, expects something in return. In exchange for the additional compensation in a severance package, a severance agreement might contain a clause waiving the employee’s right to bring claims for wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. The only way for a waiver of these rights to be enforceable is if the employer gives something in return. This is where severance agreements can be dangerous for workers.

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The global coronavirus pandemic has caused an abrupt shock to the economy, forcing employers to adopt “social distancing” measures intended to slow the spread of the virus, which causes a respiratory illness known as COVID-19. The governor has issued a series of executive orders (EOs) ordering businesses to allow remote working wherever possible, to reduce the number of people at offices and worksites, or to close down entirely. Certain businesses deemed “essential” may continue operations, but they are directed to follow public health officials’ recommendations for protecting their workers. As New York City employment attorneys, we must consider what rights employees have should an employer fail to follow the EOs or the public health guidance. This question has no clear answer, since this is truly an unprecedented event in modern history. State and federal law offer some ideas, though.

Non-Essential Business Closures

The governor issued EO 202 on March 7, 2020, which declared a disaster throughout the state of New York. This gave him the authority to suspend certain state and local laws and issue directives to businesses and individuals. On March 18, he issued an EO that ordered all “non-essential” businesses to “reduce the in-person workforce at any work locations by 50% no later than March 20.” The EO excludes “essential” businesses like health care facilities, telecommunications and utility providers, grocery stores, pharmacies, garbage collection, and banks. Businesses may request to be deemed “essential” by applying to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Two subsequent EOs, issued on March 19 and 20, increased the in-person workforce reduction to 75%, and then 100%, respectively. An EO issued on April 7 extends business closures and restrictions until at least April 29.

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Laws at the city, state, and federal levels in New York City prohibit discrimination by employers on the basis of sex, and they all include sexual harassment in their definitions of sex discrimination. This can involve harassment by a member of any sex against a member of the same or any other sex. That said, most New York City sexual harassment attorneys would probably tell you that the type of case they still most commonly encounter involves a male supervisor or manager harassing a female employee. A lawsuit that is currently pending in a New York City federal court presents this sort of scenario. The plaintiff is alleging causes of action under laws at all of the three levels we mentioned above. The defendants include the City of New York, the police department, and multiple public officials. As a result, the lawsuit also asserts a cause of action for civil rights violations.

Sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination in two general circumstances:
1. Quid pro quo sexual harassment: Agreeing or submitting to sexual advances or demands is a condition of getting a job, keeping a job, or other terms or conditions of employment. For example, a movie producer refuses to cast someone unless they agree to sexual activity in some form, or a restaurant manager gives the best shift assignments to servers who meet the manager’s sexual demands.
2. Hostile work environment: Pervasive and unwelcome sexual behavior renders the workplace unreasonably hostile and impedes a person’s ability to do their job. For example, an employee is repeatedly subjected to unwanted sexual comments or touching, or management refuses to address a work environment laden with inappropriate and offensive jokes.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit described earlier states in her complaint that she began working for the NYPD as an officer in 2012. She alleges that in 2015, her direct supervisor began subjecting her to a hostile work environment in the form of “unwanted physical contact” and “highly inappropriate sexual comments.” She further alleges that, after she informed the supervisor that his conduct was not welcome, her superiors reassigned her to a position she did not request, and which she states was generally “considered undesirable.” This, she claims, was retaliation for her “unwillingness to engage in sexual and promiscuous activities with male officers.”

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