Sexual Harassment in New York City Sports

Sexual harassment in New York City’s film and television industry has received a great deal of attention in the past few years. That conversation has allowed people from nearly every walk of life to come forward about their own unfortunate experiences. Several recent news reports suggest that the sports world is having its own reckoning. New York City sexual harassment attorneys had a landmark victory about thirteen years ago, in a case involving the city’s professional basketball team. In 2020, allegations have come to light involving a player for the city’s Major League Soccer (MLS) team. Around the country, lawsuits and other claims have arisen in connection with both college and professional football.

Laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex cover sexual harassment in certain situations, such as when unwelcome sexual conduct creates a situation that a reasonable person would find to be a hostile work environment. At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against such behavior, but not everyone working in sports, or many other sectors of the entertainment industry, is an “employee” in a legal sense. Both the New York City Human Rights Law and the New York State Human Rights Law expressly extend their protections to interns. See N.Y. Exec. L. § 296-c, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(23).

During the summer of 2020, New York City’s professional soccer team announced that it was opening an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by a former player. The allegations came from a former intern for the team, who posted them to the social media platform Twitter. She reportedly described how she thought the internship was “the opportunity of a life time” at first, but then alleged that it turned into the player “touching me every f—ing day and my bosses thinking it was great comedic material.” The player issued a statement denying the allegations. It does not appear that the former intern has pursued formal legal action yet.

A jury in a Manhattan federal court issued a landmark verdict in October 2007 in a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by the head coach of the New York Knicks. The plaintiff described herself in her complaint as “the second highest-ranking official” for the Knicks. She filed suit in January 2006. After a trial, the jury found that she was sexually harassed, and that the team owner retaliated against her for reporting the harassment. It awarded her $11.6 million in damages.

Elsewhere around the country, allegations of sexual harassment have surfaced in other sports. Fifteen women who were employed by Washington D.C.’s professional football team have alleged that the team owner sexually harassed them. The women have not filed any lawsuits yet.

A college student in Colorado has filed suit alleging sexual harassment and retaliation at her school’s football games. In this case, the alleged harassment was not by players or coaches, but by a fan. The plaintiff worked as a server in a luxury box at the football stadium. She claims that she was demoted in retaliation for reporting the harassment, while the fan received an upgrade to his season tickets.

The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent victims of unwelcome workplace behavior and job seekers in New York City, helping them fight for their rights in claims for sexual harassment and other violations of federal, state, and city law. Please contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our skilled and experienced team.

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