New York City’s Anti-Discrimination Law and the Standard for an ‘Inference of Discrimination’

Back in 2007, radio host Don Imus got fired after he referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, the majority of whom were Black, as “nappy-headed hos”. That incident may have been particularly infamous, but the thousands of women of color working in New York City know that such attitudes are not uncommon. Many women of color face insidious race and/or gender discrimination on the job. Oftentimes, though, it will be something less obvious than being publicly demeaned with vulgar language like Imus’s. While it may have been less obvious, that doesn’t necessarily make it any less damaging to you in your career. If it happens to you, you should take action. Get in touch with a knowledgeable New York City discrimination lawyer to discover what legal options may exist for you.

Take, for example, K.R., an Afro Latina woman of Dominican ancestry working at a Manhattan media strategy and “crisis management” firm.

According to K.R.’s discrimination lawsuit, which she filed last year, the firm’s owner criticized her demeanor on the phone as “angry.” The complaint stated that, by contrast, the woman accused exactly none of her white female workers of having an “angry” phone demeanor.

Allegedly, the owner also indicated that K.R. and all the women at the firm who wore red fingernail polish were “unintelligent and unsophisticated.” According to the complaint, the owner had problems with more than just nail polish, informing K.R. that large hoop earrings, “bold” lipstick colors, and dreadlocks were all things that were “unprofessional.”

The owner also allegedly made “offensive comments about other people of color.” Those included both Latinas like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Black women like Valerie Smith, the president of the college from which both K.R. and the firm owner had graduated.

There are scenarios where proof like this might fall short of the evidentiary standard required. Both the federal anti-discrimination law and the New York State Human Rights Law have requirements that are higher than what the New York City Human Rights Law imposes. And the NYCHRL’s lower requirements were a huge help to this woman.

In New York City, the NYCHRL My Be the Legal Option You Need

In New York City, discrimination may be actionable – and yield a successful outcome for you as an employee – even if it is subtle. In the past, the same federal court where K.R. took her case – the Southern District of New York – has said that a Black employee had a possible case where his employer made “possibly stereotypical comments, including instructing a Black employee not to wear his pants hanging below his waist,” and those comments were enough to permit an inference that the employer had engaged in race discrimination.

That court also said that, where an employer “made a number of comments that can be plausibly construed to reflect racial stereotyping or constitute coded racial comments,” those comments could allow for an inference of race discrimination. In fact, when it comes to sex discrimination, “even a ‘single comment that objectifies women made in circumstances where that comment would, for example, signal views about the role of women in the workplace may be actionable’ under the NYCHRL,” according to a 2015 opinion from that same court.

An age discrimination case from late last year further highlighted how helpful the NYCHRL can be. A 53-year-old New York City teacher pursued age discrimination claims under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the NYSHRL, and the NYCHRL. The court, in tossing the teacher’s federal and state claims, but greenlighting her NYCHRL claim, took care to point out that “the NYCHRL does not require either materially adverse employment actions or severe and pervasive conduct.”

In the teacher’s case, she did not suffer a termination or any other form of adverse action that was “tangible.” She could continue her lawsuit, however, because the NYCHRL doesn’t require you to have suffered that kind of harm. In a similar way, K.R.’s employer’s numerous critical comments about K.R., about her female coworkers of color, and also about prominent women of color like the Congresswoman and the college president were, even if not tangibly adverse, enough under the standards set by the NYCHRL to permit an inference of sex, ethnicity and/or race discrimination.

A popular television commercial about insurance features a talking lizard opining, “the point is… you have options.” Here in New York, much the same is true in your discrimination case. You have options that may include federal law, state law, city law, or all of the above. Of course, determining what option is the best for you can be essential to optimum success. For the careful advice and skillful advocacy you and your case deserve, reach out to the diligent New York sex and race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Discrimination is wrong and our attorneys are dedicated to helping the workers harmed by it fight for justice. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to set up a free and confidential consultation to find out how we can help you.

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