The Women’s Equality Act Becomes Law- What You Need to Know

On October 21, 2015, Governor Cuomo signed off on multiple pieces of legislation, collectively called The Women’s Equality Act. The legislation is intended to provide women with greater equality as well as protection from discrimination against women in New York.

Women across the world have been fighting for decades to achieve equal pay. While the gap may be shrinking, there is still a disparity between male and female earners. Women have also been bearing the brunt of workplace discrimination and harassment and existing laws simply don’t provide all of the protection they need. As stated by the National Organization for Women New York City President Sonia Ossorio, “these anti-discrimination bills address key challenges that span a woman’s working life. We are leveling the playing field for women at work and improving the lives of families at home.”

Why the Need for New Legislation?

According to the NY Women’s Equality Coalition:

  • Working women in New York earn only 84% of what men earn. Jobs traditionally held by women pay much less than those traditionally held by men.
  • Over 80 percent of all sexual harassment complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are filed by women.
  • Employers with fewer than 4 employees are exempt from State laws that prohibit harassment, which means their employees cannot file a complaint with the State.
  • More than 60% of private employers in NYS have fewer than 4 employees (and lack legal protection under many current laws).
  • 77% of employment cases based on gender discrimination are filed by women.
  • A successful litigant in an employment sexual discrimination lawsuit may not recover attorney’s fees.
  • Workplace discrimination against pregnant women is on the rise
  • There has been no state law that protects women from discrimination based on familial status. Women with children are less likely to be recommended for promotions and hiring than men with children.

Women’s Equality Act (WEA) Addresses Critical Discrimination Issues

The legislation in the Women’s Equality Act aims to address every one of the inequalities set forth above. The laws both strengthen and clarify existing state laws. Some provisions even create brand new protections for women in the workplace. Some of the protections include:

Equal Pay:

  • Employers may not prohibit employees from discussing their wages. By eliminating secrecy, women can now learn what their male co-workers earn without fear of termination, suspension or other punishment.
  • Close loopholes in existing NY law that help employers justify paying women less.
  • Increase damages that employers must pay for violating equal pay provisions.

Sexual Harassment:

  • The new law expands the definition of “employer” so that all businesses are bound by sexual harassment laws, not just those with 4 or more workers.
  • Today, an employee of any business can now file a sexual harassment complaint with the Division of Human Rights.

Attorney’s Fees:

  • Victims who win an employment case based on sex discrimination, most of whom are women, may recover attorney’s fees.

Family Status Discrimination:

  • The Women’s Equality Act prohibits employment discrimination based on familial status.
  • This law also prohibits employment agencies, licensing agencies, or labor organizations from discriminating against workers based on their familial status.

Pregnancy Discrimination:

  • Employers must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace. It clarifies that employers must perform a reasonable accommodation analysis.

The passage of this act indicates that there is still room for improvement in the fight for gender equality. Not only does the legislation provide needed protection for women in the workplace but it also includes provisions for greater protection for women who are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Parts of the act protect women from housing discrimination, provide funding for sexual assault prevention programs and strengthen human trafficking laws. State Senator Catherine Young perhaps said it best: “The Women’s Equality Agenda that was signed today will establish sweeping protections for New York’s women, and marks a historic step forward in the fight for equality.”

Contact Our Offices if You Have Been Discriminated Against

If you have any questions or think your workplace rights are being violated, our New York discrimination attorneys may be able to offer assistance. Leeds Brown has years of experience compassionately and zealously fighting for the rights of employees in New York City and across Long Island. Contact our office, share your story, and let us help determine whether or not someone owes you compensation.

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