Articles Posted in Retaliation

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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Employment statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and other factors require employers to take reasonable actions to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and to remedy the situation when they know (or should know) that discrimination or harassment has allegedly occurred. New York sexual harassment attorneys can allege an employer’s failure to remedy a known situation as a distinct unlawful employment practice in violation of city, state, or federal law. A lawsuit filed in early 2020 by a New York City resident claims that her employer failed to act after its own investigation substantiated her allegation of assault by a co-worker. She is asserting causes of action for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation.

Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as New York City and State law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigates alleged violations of Title VII, states that “petty slights” and “annoyances” typically do not “rise to the level of illegality.” It also maintains that “isolated incidents” do not constitute unlawful harassment “unless extremely serious.”

Employers are vicariously liable for many unlawful acts perpetrated by supervisors and managers against employees. If the alleged harassment is carried out by someone who is not in a supervisory position over a plaintiff, such as a co-worker or customer, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the employer knew or should have known about the harassment, and that they failed to make prompt and reasonable efforts to remedy the situation.

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A New York City-based cable news network that has been no stranger to sexual harassment allegations is facing another lawsuit by a host. The complaint, filed in early December 2019, notes that the network has paid more than $100 million to settle sexual harassment claims in recent years. The network’s troubles pre-date the #MeToo movement, which largely originated in Hollywood, by more than a year. A former news anchor filed suit against the network in July 2016, and within two weeks, at least seven more women came forward with accounts of sexual harassment. The network’s longtime CEO and chairman resigned several days later. The network settled the first lawsuit in September 2016, but more allegations and lawsuits followed. The allegations include both quid pro quo sexual harassment, in which a person risks losing their job or other negative consequences if they turn down sexual advances; and hostile work environment. The new lawsuit alleges numerous acts that, if proven, would result in liability under New York City sexual harassment law.

Both city and state law in New York City prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of sex or gender. See N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a), N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a). Two forms of sexual harassment constitute unlawful sex discrimination under these statutes. As mentioned earlier, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or manager makes acquiescence to sexual demands a condition of employment. This could involve a situation where a job applicant will only get the job if they have sex with a manager, or where a supervisor gives preferable work assignments to people who meet their sexual demands.

The other type of unlawful sexual harassment, hostile work environment, occurs when pervasive and unwelcome sexual conduct makes it essentially impossible for an individual to perform their job duties. Management must be aware of the offensive conduct, and they have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent further harassment. If they fail to do so, the employer may be liable under state or city law.

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A time-tested way to diminish a woman’s authority in the workplace is to allege that she only attained her position through sexual favors, also known as “sleeping her way to the top.” This trope has probably been around for as long as women have existed in spaces perceived to belong to men. Unfortunately, that still describes many workplaces in 2019. Earlier this year, a federal appellate court considered a case in which a woman alleged that co-workers started a false rumor about her in this vein. The court ruled that an employer could be liable in this scenario under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New York City sexual harassment attorneys should take note of the court’s discussion of workplace rumor.

Title VII identifies two categories of sexual harassment as unlawful sex discrimination. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when submitting to sexual activity of some sort is a condition of obtaining or keeping a job, or of obtaining various employment benefits. A hostile work environment occurs when unwelcome sexual remarks or conduct renders the workplace objectively intolerable.

The “slept her way to the top” trope combines both types of unlawful sexual harassment. First, it flips the quid pro quo scenario. Instead of a male supervisor or manager demanding sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or some other employment benefits, it alleges that a female employee offers sexual favors. Second, the effect of “slept her way to the top” rumors often take the form of a hostile work environment. For some reason—i.e. sexism or misogyny—the trope generally only views the woman as being in the wrong. The male supervisor or manager never seems to be faulted for allegedly agreeing to provide employment benefits for sex.

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The New York Legislature enacted multiple measures last year addressing workplace sexual harassment. The governor signed them all into law as part of the budget bill in April 2018. One section requires employers to adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy and provide training to their employees. The bill gave them until October 9, 2018 to adopt a policy, which could be the model policy developed by the state, or a policy that meets the new law’s standards. The required training must be provided annually, which means that October 9, 2019 was the statewide deadline by which all employers must have conducted their first training. According to various news reports, not everyone met the deadline. This comes as little surprise to New York City sexual harassment lawyers, of course, but it is worth noting once again how antidiscrimination laws require constant attention and vigilance.

The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a). Decades of caselaw have held that sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination under the NYSHRL and similar statutes. A recent amendment to the NYSHRL expanded the law’s coverage in sexual harassment cases. While the law usually only applies to employers with at least four employees, it applies to all employers in the state for sexual harassment claims. Id. at § 292(5).

Part KK of the 2019 budget bill contains multiple new measures related to sexual harassment. Subpart E added a new section to the Labor Law entitled “Prevention of Sexual Harassment.” N.Y. Lab. L. § 201-G. This section directed the state to create a model sexual harassment prevention policy, and required employers to adopt this policy or a similar one by October 9, 2018.

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employees and job applicants to follow a rather lengthy administrative process before filing a lawsuit. New York City employment discrimination attorneys have multiple options when deciding how to approach claims like sexual harassment. Each statute defines procedures that lawyers and their clients must follow. A decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2019, Fort Bend County v. Davis, addresses a defense known as “administrative exhaustion.” Employers can raise this defense when a plaintiff did not follow the administrative process required by federal law. It can result in dismissal of a case. The Davis decision, however, holds that an employer waives the defense if they do not raise it soon enough.

Before an employee or former employee may file a lawsuit under Title VII in federal court, they must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The deadline to file a charge is 180 days after the alleged unlawful act. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). The EEOC investigates the claim, and may attempt to reach a “conciliation agreement” with the employer. Id. at § 2000e-5(f)(1). It can decide to file suit against the employer on behalf of the complainant and others with similar claims.

A complainant only gains the right to file a lawsuit if, after 180 days, the EEOC has not initiated a lawsuit. The complainant can request a notice, known as a “right to sue” letter, that gives them ninety days to file suit. 29 C.F.R. § 1601.28. If an individual files a Title VII lawsuit before they have received a right-to-sue letter, the defendant can move to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that the plaintiff did not exhaust all of their administrative remedies. Hence, it is known as the administrative exhaustion defense.
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Phillips & Associates has established itself as one of New York City’s top employment discrimination law firms, with an exclusive focus on employee representation. Our attorneys have obtained more than $110 million in verdicts and settlements. Many of them have received recognition from their peers as leaders in the field of employment law. The legal publication TopVerdict recently recognized three of our attorneys for a jury verdict of $2.31 million in an employment discrimination lawsuit. Marjorie Mesidor, Brittany A. Stevens, and Nicole A. Welch represented a former employee of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) in a case that alleged hostile work environment based on race and national origin. TopVerdict included the case in its “Top 100 Verdicts in New York” list for 2018.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees and job applicants on the basis of race and national origin, among other factors. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Multiple court rulings have established that an employer commits an unlawful employment practice when they create a hostile work environment based on a protected category. While a hostile work environment is probably most familiar in the context of sexual harassment, it can also occur when an unwelcome and pervasive pattern of harassment is directed at a person’s race, color, religion, or national origin.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 offers further protection against discrimination on the basis of race. It guarantees the right of all persons in the U.S., regardless of race, “to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property.” Id. at § 1981. Unlike Title VII, this statute allows plaintiffs to recover punitive damages if they can establish that a defendant acted “with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual.” Id. at § 1981a(b)(1).
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The plaintiffs in a New York City sexual harassment lawsuit, which gained prominence in large part because of the #MeToo movement, recently filed affidavits containing additional allegations of harassment by the defendant against themselves and others. The affidavits are a response to a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, a television host who lost his show after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment in late 2017. The lawsuit, filed in May 2018 in state court in Manhattan, alleges violations of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). It names the host and the television network as defendants. The plaintiffs settled with the network in late 2018. The defendant host moved to dismiss the lawsuit in September 2018, claiming that the plaintiffs failed to state “valid causes of action” for their claims of sex discrimination, retaliation, and aiding and abetting.

The NYCHRL prohibits discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, including gender. Court decisions have recognized sexual harassment as gender discrimination in violation of this and similar statutes. Unlawful sexual harassment includes scenarios in which an employer creates or allows a “hostile work environment” consisting of unwelcome and pervasive sexual conduct, ranging from jokes or remarks to overtures or contact. It also includes “quid pro quo” situations in which acceding to demands for some form of sexual activity is a condition of employment. Retaliation for opposing or reporting suspected violations is itself an unlawful employment practice under the NYCHRL.

According to their complaint, the three plaintiffs were “all in their low 20s” when they worked for the defendant host, who was “in his mid-70s.” They began working for the network during a span of time from late 2015 to early 2017, and they allegedly experienced sexual harassment by the host during 2017. They allege that the host had a history of sexual harassment complaints going back at least as far as the 1980s, and that the network knew about this but “failed to take any remedial action for decades.”

A budget bill passed by the New York State Legislature in 2018, S. 7507/A. 9507, added several protections against sexual harassment for workers throughout the state. Part KK, Subpart E of the bill required the state to produce a “a model sexual harassment prevention guidance document and sexual harassment prevention policy” and “a model sexual harassment prevention training program.” The state issued these documents in November 2018. The bill requires employers to adopt the state’s model policy and use its model training program, or to develop their own policies and programs that “equal or exceed the minimum standards” established by the state. New York City passed a law in 2018, Local Law 96, that also requires employers to provide sexual harassment training.

The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and other factors. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a). The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) contains similar prohibitions, as well as express prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, but does not specifically mention sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Court decisions have held that sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination under all of these statutes.

The state released a document entitled “Sexual Harassment Policy for All Employers in New York State” in November 2018. This satisfies the state’s obligation under Part KK, Subpart E of the budget bill. The model policy states that sexual harassment may violate the NYSHRL when it is based on an individual’s actual or perceived sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. It provides procedures for reporting sexual harassment. It identifies supervisors’ responsibilities when a report is made, and outlines how investigations should proceed.
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An individual may be able to bring a claim for wrongful termination against their now-former employer. New York law generally allows employers to fire employees for any reason that is not discriminatory or retaliatory. Proving wrongful termination usually requires evidence that the employer breached a contractual obligation, or that the termination violated an employment statute. When New York employment attorneys bring a claim for wrongful termination, it is often in combination with claims for discrimination or other violations of city, state, or federal law.

At-Will Employment

Employer-employee relationships in New York are considered to be “at-will employment,” unless an employment contract states otherwise. “At-will employment” allows the employer to terminate the employment arrangement at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all, provided that the termination is not otherwise unlawful. It also allows the employee to quit at any time.

Lawful reasons for firing an at-will employee include:
– Downsizing;
– Performance issues;
– Misconduct; or
– Conflict of personalities.

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