New York City has one of the country’s most expansive and comprehensive antidiscrimination statutes. The city government frequently looks for ways to improve employee protections against discrimination and harassment. A new campaign by the city’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) seeks to raise awareness of issues faced by Black residents in housing, employment, and other areas. The campaign’s title, “While Black,” evokes a common saying that involves Black people receiving negative attention, or worse, for otherwise ordinary activities. “Driving while Black,” reflecting the disproportionate number of traffic stops of Black drivers, is perhaps the most famous example. As New York City discrimination attorneys, we have seen far too many examples of race-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace and elsewhere.
The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, including race, in employment, housing, banking, and other areas. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107. Race is one of the core protected categories under most employment discrimination statutes. The New York State Human Rights Law and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibit employment discrimination based on race. N.Y Exec. L. § 296(1)(a), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).
While these statutes all prohibit race discrimination, they do not provide much detail on the sorts of acts that may constitute such discrimination. The regulations implementing the antidiscrimination provisions of Title VII, for example, contain an entire subchapter on national origin discrimination, 29 C.F.R. Part 1606, but nothing specifically addressing or defining race discrimination. The CHR’s campaign is intended, in part, to raise public awareness of the ways that discrimination and harassment based on race occur in New York City workplaces, public spaces, and elsewhere.
The CHR announced the “While Black” campaign on March 15, 2019. It consists of five advertisements, available in English and Spanish, identifying “some common forms of discrimination that Black people face while doing everyday activities.” The activities include driving, renting, shopping, walking, and working “while Black.” According to the CHR’s press release, it received 584 complaints alleging race-based discrimination in 2018. The total number of race-based complaints have increased by twenty percent since 2016.
The press release describes several recent cases settled by the CHR, including one involving a Black employee of a bank who “was required to monitor Black tellers more closely than tellers of other races.” The “While Black” campaign builds on another recent announcement by the CHR addressing race-based employment discrimination. In February, the CHR issued guidelines on how employer policies regarding employees’ hairstyles can constitute unlawful race discrimination. Policies prohibiting “natural hair or hairstyles,” the CHR stated, can “perpetuate racist stereotypes that Black hairstyles are unprofessional.”
It is difficult to look at the “While Black” campaign without considering another New York City controversy. New York City police reportedly conducted hundreds of thousands of “stop-and-frisk” searches beginning in the early 2000’s, with the total number peaking around 2011. The subjects of these searches were overwhelmingly Black and Latinx. Data indicate that these searches had no measurable impact on crime rates. A court ruled that “stop-and-frisk” violated the Fourth Amendment in Floyd v. City of New York, 959 F.Supp.2d 540 (S.D.N.Y. 2013).
Phillips & Associates’ employment discrimination lawyers advocate for New York City job applicants, employees, and former employees in claims for unlawful workplace practices like race discrimination under federal, state, and city law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, please contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online.