When Sex Discrimination Might Also Constitute Caregiver Discrimination in New York

New York City sex discrimination attorneys probably have more tools available to help their clients than lawyers in other American cities. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits workplace discrimination based on an extensive list of factors. State law in New York comes close to providing the extent of protection offered by city law. Both city and state law are far ahead of federal law. A 2016 amendment to the NYCHRL added “caregiver status” to the list of protected categories. See N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). This applies to workers who, in addition to their job duties, must provide ongoing care for certain individuals. Federal law does not expressly protect caregiver status, but a 2004 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York shows how the prohibition on sex discrimination could cover certain forms of caregiver status.

Caregiver Discrimination in New York City

The NYCHRL defines “caregiver” as someone “who provides direct and ongoing care for a minor child or a care recipient.” Id. at § 8-102. The statute goes on to define “care recipient” using additional terms that require definitions. We will focus here on the law’s applicability to people with caregiving responsibilities for minor children. The fact that New York City’s caregiver discrimination broadly applies to parents sometimes gets overlooked.

Sex Stereotyping under Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, but aside from “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” it does not define the term “sex.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a). The U.S. Supreme Court has offered further definitions of sex discrimination under Title VII, including various forms of sexual harassment.

In 1989, the court established “sex stereotyping” as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. The specific context of that decision involved “an employer who acts on the basis of a belief that a woman cannot be aggressive, or that she must not be.” Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 250 (1989). The plaintiff alleged that her employer discriminated against her because she did not conform to traditional stereotypes regarding women in the workplace. The court agreed with her in a 6-3 decision.

Stereotyping Single Mothers Can Be Sex Discrimination

A 2004 decision by the Second Circuit, whose jurisdiction includes New York, considered the question of “whether stereotyping about the qualities of mothers is a form of gender discrimination.” The court found that it could be, and further found that it could reach this conclusion “in the absence of evidence about how the employer in question treated fathers.”

The plaintiff alleged that her employer, a public school district, fired her because of a belief that “as a young mother, [she] would not continue to demonstrate the necessary devotion to her job.” Since the employer was a public entity, the plaintiff filed suit for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, not Title VII. The court notes that its ruling only applies to Equal Protection claims against the government. The ruling therefore does not provide protection to private sector employees, but its resemblance to New York City’s caregiver discrimination law is still noteworthy.

The experienced and knowledgeable family responsibility discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City job seekers, employees, and former employees in discrimination claims under federal, state, and municipal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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