New York City Commission on Human Rights Identifies Gaps in Pregnancy Discrimination Protection for Many Domestic Workers

Employees who are pregnant, or who have recently given birth, have gained significant legal protections in recent years in New York City. New York pregnancy discrimination attorneys nevertheless encounter ongoing violations of city, state, and federal law. This includes not only direct adverse actions like demoting or terminating an employee because they become pregnant, but also failure or refusal to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant or nursing employees. A recent report by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found gaps in the law’s coverage that allow pregnancy discrimination to occur in certain situations. Recent amendments to the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) extend the statute’s reach to all employers in claims for sexual harassment, but for all other claims, it only applies to employers with four or more employees. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102. The CHR noted in its report that this leaves many domestic workers, meaning people employed in private homes, without legal protection.

Federal, state, and local statutes affecting New York City take different approaches to pregnancy discrimination. The definition of sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a)(1). The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits discrimination on the basis of “familial status,” and defines that term to include pregnancy. N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 292(26)(a), 296(1)(a).

The NYCHRL does not specifically mention pregnancy or childbirth as a protected category for antidiscrimination purposes. It addresses those issues through its prohibitions on caregiver discrimination, which applies to parents of minor children, and on discrimination based on sexual and reproductive health decisions. N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-102, 8-107(1)(a). The statute also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for needs associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Id. at § 8-107(22). Amendments enacted in 2018 require covered employers to provide lactation rooms for employees.

Antidiscrimination statutes like the NYCHRL usually only apply to employers with a minimum number of employees. In most circumstances, the minimum number for the NYCHRL and the NYSHRL is four. Title VII only applies to employers with at least fifteen employees. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). Many statutes also distinguish domestic workers from other employees in certain ways. The NYSHRL contains a separate provision dealing with discrimination against domestic workers, defined as individuals employed in private residences to provide housekeeping services or care for a child or “a sick, convalescing or elderly person.” N.Y. Exec. L. § 296-B, N.Y. Lab. L. § 2(16).

The CHR issued the report mentioned earlier after conducting a public hearing on pregnancy and caregiver discrimination. Testimony provided at the hearing identified several areas of concern, including domestic workers. While the NYCHRL protects domestic workers against sexual harassment, the four-employee minimum requirement applies to pregnancy and caregiver discrimination claims. The report describes testimony by workers who felt they had “to hide their pregnancies from their employers out of fear of termination.” Recommendations for improvements include amending the NYCHRL to eliminate all employer size requirements, and adopting a “Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights” similar to the one found in New York state law.

The pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City employees and job applicants, helping them assert claims for pregnancy discrimination and other unlawful employment actions. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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