Former Domestic Worker Files Lawsuit in New York City Alleging Sexual Harassment by Employer

Multiple legal strategies are available to New York City employment discrimination attorneys who are planning to assert a claim for sexual harassment on a client’s behalf. Federal, state, and municipal law provide protection against a wide range of discriminatory workplace practices. State law includes provisions that specifically apply to domestic workers, and which outline various situations that may constitute unlawful sexual harassment. A lawsuit filed in a Manhattan federal court in April 2019 alleges sexual harassment and other claims against an individual who employed the plaintiff as an au pair for his son. The complaint cites provisions of state and federal law that apply to domestic workers.

While sexual harassment is deemed a type of sex discrimination in any workplace, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) addresses it in more specific terms for domestic workers. The term “domestic worker” includes people employed in someone’s residence to perform housekeeping services; to care for a child or “a sick, convalescing or elderly person”; or for “other domestic service purpose[s].” N.Y. Exec. L. § 296-b(1), N.Y. Lab. L. § 2(16). The NYSHRL prohibits “unwelcome sexual advances,” “requests for sexual favors,” and other conduct in two scenarios:
1. When acquiescence “to such conduct is made…a term or condition of…employment,” or the employer bases employment-related decisions on how the individual responds to the conduct; or
2. When the conduct creates a hostile work environment that “unreasonably interfer[es] with…work performance.” N.Y. Exec. L. § 296-b(2)(a).
These are the same scenarios that constitute sexual harassment under federal and city law. The New York Legislature has taken the extra step of codifying these definitions, as they pertain to domestic workers, in the NYSHRL.

According to her complaint, the plaintiff was nineteen years old when the defendant hired her to work in his home as an au pair for his twelve-year-old son, and to perform other jobs around the house. She notes that the defendant was fifty-seven years old at that time. She also notes the difference in size between them, with the defendant allegedly outweighing her by about eighty pounds and standing more than seven inches taller.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendant began subjecting the plaintiff to “sexual comments and unwanted physical touching” shortly after she began work in 2017. This occurred, the plaintiff claims, not only at the defendant’s home, but also on a trip out of the state. When the plaintiff rejected the defendant’s advances, she alleges that he retaliated with “demanding household chores,” and by “scream[ing] at the teenager.” Eventually, some friends helped her move out of the defendant’s home.

The lawsuit asserts two causes of action for sex discrimination under the NYSHRL: hostile work environment and constructive discharge. The latter cause of action involves a claim that an employer’s unlawful conduct gave a plaintiff no choice but to quit their job. The lawsuit also alleges failure to pay minimum wage and retaliation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law, as well as other claims under the Labor Law.

The skilled and knowledgeable employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City workers in claims for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other unlawful workplace practices. Please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

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