Employment discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, violates nearly every employment statute in the country. It persists in workplaces for a vast array of reasons. New York City sexual harassment attorneys often see examples that result from people’s inability — or refusal — to separate someone’s public persona from their inherent dignity as a person. People who work in the entertainment industry regularly experience this. Late last year, an emergency medical technician (EMT) with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) settled a lawsuit against the city that involved allegations of sexual harassment based, in part, on her prior career in reality television. The city agreed to pay $350,000 to settle the suit.
Sexual harassment is considered unlawful sex discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) and other statutes. An employer violates city law when it allows unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace to become so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. This usually involves ongoing patterns of behavior, but a single incident can support a hostile work environment claim if it is severe enough. In either case, the behavior must create enough of a disruption to the workplace that an objective observer would consider it unreasonably hostile. A situation where the claimant is a specific target is probably more likely to succeed as a hostile work environment claim, but targeting is not necessarily required.
The case against the FDNY involved allegedly targeted behavior. The plaintiff was a cast member on a reality television program, which was known for depicting people in a “party” lifestyle, in 2009 and 2010. She has made additional appearances in various shows since then. According to her complaint, she “decided to pursue her dream” of becoming an EMT in 2014, and began working for the FDNY as an EMT on Staten Island in 2016. She suffered an on-the-job injury in 2016 that kept her from working for almost a year. Another injury on the job in 2017 resulted in a restriction to “light duty” when she returned to work. This is when the alleged harassment began.
“Light duty,” according to the plaintiff, meant that she spent all of her time at the station instead of out on calls. She alleges that her supervisor repeatedly sexually harassed her beginning in 2018. She appeared on several episodes of a revival of the reality TV show at that time, and she claims that the supervisor took this to mean “that he could speak to [her] at work in sexually graphic and vulgar terms.” Her complaint describes multiple incidents that include “repeated and unwelcome sexual advances, degrading comments about her body,… and, in one instance, the groping of an intimate part of her body without her consent.” She states that she reported the matter to the FDNY’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, and claims that she faced retaliation for doing so.
She filed suit in the Southern District of New York in September 2019. Since she is a resident of New Jersey, she could file in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. The complaint asserted causes of action for gender discrimination and retaliation under the NYCHRL. The parties announced a settlement in September 2020.
The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of employees, former employees, and job applicants in New York City, representing them in sexual harassment claims under local, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our knowledgeable and skilled team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.