Employment discrimination based on sex is unlawful in New York City under employment statutes at the city, state, and federal levels. It is considered to include sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination in most circumstances. A lawsuit filed late last year in a Manhattan state court alleges a pattern of discrimination that includes both of these. Castellanos v. Berkman Capital, et al., No. 159768/2016, complaint (Nov. 18, 2016). The plaintiff describes ongoing acts of sexual harassment, which allegedly culminated in termination when she asked for additional maternity leave.
Courts in the U.S. have recognized two broad categories of sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves direct requests or demands for sexual activity of some sort as a condition of getting a job, keeping a job, or receiving other benefits of employment. Since this is far from the only kind of sexual harassment people can experience, courts have also recognized claims of sexual harassment when it creates a hostile work environment. The U.S. Supreme Court first recognized sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the mid-1980s. It held that the harassment must be so “severe or pervasive” that it “alter[s] the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create[s] an abusive working environment.” Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986).
Pregnancy discrimination involves disparate treatment based on multiple factors surrounding pregnancy. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended the definition of “sex discrimination” to include discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). This can include refusing to hire someone or terminating them because they are pregnant, or unreasonably reducing someone’s job duties or hours because of pregnancy or recent childbirth. The extent to which these laws require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant or nursing employees, however, remains a matter of dispute in courts and legislatures.
The plaintiff in Castellanos worked from 2014 to 2016 as an office manager and executive assistant for a Manhattan financial firm, which she describes as “more closely resembling a ‘frat house’ than a finance company.” Castellanos, complaint at 1. She alleges that the firm’s two principals, who are named individually as defendants, expressed a preference for “‘attractive’ and ‘cute’ females for administrative positions,” and they stated that women were unsuited for sales positions because they were not “aggressive” enough. Id. at 1-2. She further describes an ongoing series of inappropriate comments about her appearance and an overall atmosphere of sexualized conversations in the office.
Toward the beginning of 2016, the plaintiff became pregnant, and she claims that the defendants began making “demeaning comments designed to get her to leave.” Id. at 2. She alleges that the defendants terminated her while she was on maternity leave, after she requested additional leave time, and that they “replaced her with an attractive younger woman with less experience.” Id. The plaintiff’s complaint asserts causes of action for discrimination and harassment under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law.
The knowledgeable and skilled pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate on behalf of New York City job applicants, employees, and former employees. We help our clients asserts claims of sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and other violations of federal, state, and local employment laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.
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