Lawsuit Against New York City Restaurant Alleges Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Gender Expression

New York City employment discrimination laws protect transgender and gender-nonconforming workers by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of how they identify or express their own gender. State law in New York has similar provisions. A lawsuit filed in New York County Supreme Court in June 2019 alleges that a restaurant discriminated against a gender-nonconforming employee by requiring them to follow a dress code designed for people who identify as male. The New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR), in interpreting city law regarding gender identity and gender expression discrimination, specifically identifies gender-specific dress codes as a violation.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) bars discrimination by employers based on gender and other factors. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). The statute defines “gender” as an individual’s “actual or perceived sex, gender identity and gender expression,” without regard to “the sex assigned to that person at birth.” Id. at § 8-102. The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) identifies gender identity and gender expression as a distinct protected class, defining it as one’s “actual or perceived…appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic,” also without regard to one’s assigned gender at birth. N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 292(35), 296(1)(a).

The City Council intended the NYCHRL to provide comprehensive protection, specifically noting its “uniquely broad and remedial purposes” and setting it apart from federal and state antidiscrimination statutes. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-130(a). The CHR has stated that gender-specific dress codes or grooming standards violate the NYCHRL, and that individuals should not bear the burden of “demonstrat[ing] why a particular distinction…does not conform to their gender expression.” Employers may enforce dress codes or grooming standards as long as they are applied on a gender-neutral basis.

The plaintiff in the above-mentioned lawsuit “does not adhere to traditional gender roles.” They describe themselves as “gender nonconforming or gender nonspecific.” The defendant allegedly maintained a dress code that applied different standards for male and female employees. For example, male employees were required to wear ties and “other garments typical to males.”

The plaintiff began working for the defendant as a host in November 2018. They claim that they requested an accommodation that would allow them “the same uniform flexibility as the female host employees.” The defendant allegedly denied those requests and required the plaintiff to follow the dress code for male employees. As the plaintiff’s complaints moved up the defendant’s levels of management, they were allegedly asked to provide “a specific list of items to consider” as exceptions to the dress code. This, the plaintiff claimed, also violated the law, as it “placed the onus on [them] to create a special list specific to [them].”

A manager allegedly repeatedly criticized the plaintiff for not wearing a tie at work, and eventually sent them home as a result. The plaintiff claims that this led to “teas[ing] and…humiliating comments from…colleagues and coworkers.” The plaintiff resigned after only a few weeks of employment.

The lawsuit names the restaurant, its parent company, and several managers and other employees as defendants. It asserts causes of action for discrimination, retaliation, and other claims under both the NYCHRL and the NYSHRL. It seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.

The employment discrimination lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for job seekers and employees in New York City, helping them assert claims for gender identity and gender expression discrimination. Please contact us at (212) 248-7431 or online today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights and options.

Contact Information