NY Employment Discrimination Lawyers Protect Workers’ Rights
Attorneys in New York Help Victims of Workplace Discrimination Understand Their Legal Rights
Leeds Brown Law, P.C. has dedicated attorneys who take pride in helping victims of employment discrimination. Our firm has spent decades representing workers when their employers violate one or more of the many laws that prohibit harassment and discrimination. We help investigate, file claims, negotiate settlements and advocate in court for individuals who experience unequal treatment and pervasive harassment at work.
Our employment discrimination lawyers, handling cases in New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area, approach matters as a collaborative team, which allows us to provide personal and professional representation when you need it most. Whether your goal is to negotiate a settlement, change a workplace policy or take your case to trial, our attorneys are the ones to trust with your employment discrimination matter.
You can reach someone at Leeds Brown 24/7 by calling 1-800-585-4658. Learn about your rights to work in an environment free from discrimination and harassment and what you can do if your employer or co-workers violate those rights.
Federal Laws Protect Employees and Applicants from Discrimination
Laws prohibiting workplace discrimination exist at many levels. There are federal laws that apply to the entire nation. New York City and New York State also have legislation that protects employees from unlawful discrimination.
Over 50 years ago, Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” These factors are “protected characteristics.” Over the years, courts have interpreted discrimination to include harassment.
Congress also passed amendments over the years that expanded the application of Title VII’s protected characteristics. Congress also enacted new laws that protect employees from discrimination based on additional factors. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII and the federal legislation and amendments listed below. Some of the most important federal laws that secure equal treatment for workers are:
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA): The EEOC states “This law amended Title VII to make it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.” The PDA itself states “The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/pregnancy.cfm
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA): The EPA is an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which contains national rules related to wages and hours. The EPA prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same workplace who do jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. The EPA codified the doctrine “equal pay for equal work” and is one of many laws designed to eliminate the persistent wage gap between male and female employees. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA): The ADEA protects workers over 40 from employment discrimination based on age.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA): According to the EEOC, “This law makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and state and local governments. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.” https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/ada.cfm
Employees Receive Protection from Employment Discrimination: New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL)
New York also has legislation making employment discrimination and retaliation illegal. These provisions are codified in New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL). NYSHRL states “It shall be unlawful discriminatory practice: For an employer or licensing agency, because of an individual’s age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, or domestic violence victim status, to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment such individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.”
NYSHRL created the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR), the agency that oversees its enforcement.
New York City Provides Wide Protection Against Discrimination in the Workplace
New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) contains safeguards for workers employed in NYC. It is unlawful “For an employer or an employee or agent thereof, because of the actual or perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, caregiver status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status of any person, to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment such person or to discriminate against such person in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/law/chapter-1.page#8-107
NYCHRL created the City Commission on Human Rights, the agency in charge of enforcing its provisions.
Employment Discrimination is Often Intentional
Discrimination occurs when an employer makes an adverse work decision based on a protected characteristic. An employment decision is anything related to a condition of employment including things like hiring, compensating, training, promoting, assigning work, providing benefits, firing, and evaluating.
This type of discrimination is intentional. For example:
- Your employer fires you for being Asian
- A prospective employer refuses to give you a job because you are Catholic
- Your boss excludes you from training because you are a pregnant woman
- You receive a “demotion” because you are 45 and deemed “too old” for your job
- When you ask for extra time to fill out a job application because you have arthritis and write slowly, the business says no and sends you on your way
- Your employer keeps you, a male employee, in the back of the store because customers prefer to interact with women
- A home health agency seeking employees advertises for “Haitian nurses only.”
- You work for a business with a policy that says male employees may not wear jewelry to the office but has no similar prohibition for female employees.
Such intentional and overt discrimination is not always as easy to detect as you might think. It is rare for an employer to come out and say “I will not promote you because you are from another country.” Cases are usually a bit more complicated than that and demand some analyses. It may take some digging to prove that an employment decision was discriminatory or rooted in unlawful bias. In defense of its actions, a business might assert that it based its employment decision on factors other than race, religion, origin or sex or whatever protected category is at issue. For example; the company excluded you from training because the subject matter is unrelated to your present duties, not because you are pregnant or; quick writing is an occupational qualification of the job for which you are applying, and your arthritis makes it impossible for you to perform its essential functions. Whether these defenses hold up will depend on the specifics of each case.
Employers May Unintentionally Discriminate
Unintentional discrimination stems from a policy or practice that has the effect of creating a disparate impact on a protected class of employees. In a disparate impact situation, the employer may not realize that the policy or practice hurts a select group of protected individuals. Disparate impact discrimination is not necessarily apparent and requires statistical analysis to prove its existence. An employer can defend a disparate impact claim by attacking the statistics the alleged victim presents and can also provide evidence that the policy in question is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Even if the employer can prove there is a business necessity that justifies the policy, the victim may try to demonstrate that there is a less discriminatory practice to replace it.
The easiest way to understand how something can have a disparate impact is to look at some examples:
- You and a few co-workers are devout Catholics who do not go to work on Sundays because you attend a church which is good because your employer says that coming in on Sundays is entirely optional. The business, however, has a policy of giving promotions only to those who come to work on optional days. This policy can have a disparate impact on the Catholic employees.
- Your company has a policy that states that everyone’s face must be cleanly shaven. This policy may disparately impact African American males who suffer more frequently from a skin condition that makes shaving painful and arduous.
- A construction company in ABC Town has a policy of advertising for local labor within the ABC Town limits. ABC Town is 95% Caucasian. This policy may cause a disparate impact on prospective Latino workers who make up 95% of the neighboring towns.
- Your company policy states that no employees can wear head coverings. This policy can disparately impact people who practice particular religions such as Islam and Judaism.
- Your business has a strength test that all applicants must pass to move on to the interview stage. This practice may result in a disparate impact on women who apply for a job.
Harassment is a Form of Discrimination
After Congress had passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, courts and the EEOC interpreted the law and concluded that its provisions also prohibit harassment based on a protected characteristic. In other words, harassment is considered to be a form of discrimination.
Harassment is unwanted conduct based on sex, color, religion, race, national origin, pregnancy, age or disability. The EEOC states that harassment becomes unlawful discrimination where:
- “enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or
- the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
#1 above is called “quid pro quo” harassment, and it means an exchange or
“something for something.” Think: If you give me x, I will give you Y.
In this situation, the employee faces threats of termination or another tangible employment action if he or she does not comply or consent to the offensive conduct. The parties in this relationship are always a superior and subordinate because someone must have power over the employment decisions and status of the other. Most people correctly link quid pro quo harassment with sexual harassment, but it does occasionally occur based on other things. The following are hypothetical quid pro quo harassment scenarios that may result in a successful employment discrimination claim:
- Your boss threatens to fire you or transfer you out of state if you don’t consent to a sexual favor
- Your supervisor tells you she will not give you a raise until you sleep with her.
- Your manager offers to assign you to a lucrative sales territory if you date him
- The company CEO to whom you report tells you that if you fire all of the non-Christians in your department, he will promote you
- Your boss suggests that if you can cut costs by “weeding out the old-timers,” you will have extra money added to your bonus
- The company honchos tell you, the head of the Human Resource department, that if you hire anyone with a disability, they will fire you
#2 is called “hostile work environment” harassment which does not necessarily involve any adverse employment decision. This conduct, however, consists of more than just petty nuisances. According to the EEOC, “To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people. Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.”
One or more co-workers, supervisors, and agents of the employer, vendors, customers and other non-employees can contribute to a hostile work environment. Anyone in the office who is affected by the conduct can be a victim; it does not have to be the target of the harassment.
Examples of a hostile work environment may include:
- On your first day of work, a co-worker asked if you were single, to which you replied “yes.” During the next week, the colleague asked you every day if you would go out with him, to which you replied “no.” The following week he left you a gift on your desk every day with a note begging you to reconsider. You repeatedly asked him to cease his attempts and made it clear you were not interested. He began walking by your desk several times a day and following you out to lunch. You report it to HR, but they tell you to handle it yourself.
- You are a man of Middle Eastern descent and a practicing Muslim. At work, your colleagues refer to you as “Osama” even though it is not your name. One person asked you why you dressed like a terrorist and then offered to cut your beard. Another frequently asks if you’d like to try some bacon even though she knows it is against your religion. Your boss is aware of this conduct and does nothing to stop it.
- You are an employee confined to a wheelchair and your co-worker routinely “plays a joke” on you (and only you) by moving the office supplies you need to a shelf you can’t reach, no matter how hard you try. You ask her to stop, but she and others in the office find it funny. You, however, find it humiliating and embarrassing to have to ask someone to get your things for you every day; it calls attention to the fact that you have a disability. When you complain to your boss, he suggested you be more of a team player.
- You are one of few women working in a large warehouse. At lunch, you and the other women sit together. The men sit across the small break room but have begun harassing one of your female co-workers who sits at your table. They shout inappropriate sexual comments at her and have loud, lewd conversations about “what they would do to her” if she would let them. They even took a photo of a naked woman and superimposed your friend’s face onto it, placing it on the wall of the break room where you all eat. Although you are not the target of the harassment, it makes you so uncomfortable that you hide in the bathroom for most of your lunch break.
Laws Also Prohibit Retaliation Against Employees
Many employees report that they are afraid to speak up or complain about employment discrimination and harassment because they worry about losing their jobs, being labeled a troublemaker or otherwise punished by their employers. For these reasons, the federal, New York State and New York City laws mentioned above also prohibit employers from retaliating against individuals who assert their rights under the laws. What does this mean?
Retaliation consists of an adverse action or threat that an employer takes against an applicant or employee for asserting his or her right to be free from discrimination or harassment. The EEOC calls the assertion of these rights “protected activity,” and it includes:
- “Filing or being a witness in an EEO charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit
- communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment
- answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment
- refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination
- resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others
- requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice
- asking managers or co-workers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages
Participating in a complaint process is protected from retaliation under all circumstances. Other acts to oppose discrimination receive protection as long as the employee was acting on a reasonable belief that something in the workplace may violate EEO laws, even if he or she did not use legal terminology to describe it.”
In other words, to have a successful claim of retaliation, proving that your employer DID discriminate against you is unnecessary. You have to show that you reasonably believed you experienced discrimination and that your employer retaliated against you for trying to assert your rights. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/retaliation.cfm.
Any action by an employer that discourages an employee or applicant from complaining about or resisting discrimination in the present or future may be considered unlawful retaliation. Courts tend to define retaliatory actions broadly. Some examples of illegal retaliation may include:
- Verbal or physical threats or abuse
- Transferring employee to a less desirable position or workplace
- Increasing work scrutiny
- Cutting pay
- Eliminating or reducing bonus, benefits or incentives
- Reporting individual to authorities such as immigration officers
- Giving unfair performance reviews
- Refusing to train or provide equipment
- Terminating employee
- Making work more difficult by cutting hours, changing shifts or workload
- Threatening of any of the above actions
Again, an employee can win a retaliation case without proving actual discrimination, and it is not uncommon for a retaliation claim to be stronger than the underlying discrimination one.
Some Anti-Discrimination Laws Require Employers to Make Reasonable Accommodations
The ADA prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and also imposes a duty on employers to provide reasonable accommodations. EEOC guidance states that Title 1 of the ADA “requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment unless to do so would cause undue hardship.” The EEOC describes reasonable accommodations as:
“(i) modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
(ii) modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; or
(iii) modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.”
Reasonable accommodations often include adjusting work schedules, changing duties, providing readers or interpreters, adapting facilities or equipment, reassigning, and modifying training materials and exams. Accommodation is reasonable if it is feasible or plausible and allows the person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job. If the accommodation would cause undue hardship to the business, such as significant expense, disruption or difficulty, the employer may not have to provide it. Whether a particular accommodation is reasonable depends on factors unique to each business and requires a case by case analysis.
Consider the following employment situations where an employee with a disability requests and might receive an accommodation:
- You are a cashier at a retail store. Because of your Multiple Sclerosis, you tire quickly and struggle to stand through an entire shift. You request a stool from your employer which will allow you to work the register while easing your fatigue.
- Someone is conducting training at your work site in the form of several lectures. You have difficulty hearing and request the training materials in writing to help you follow along and keep up.
- You are an employee confined to a wheelchair. The configuration of the office equipment in your workspace makes it difficult to reach your computer and other supplies. You ask your employer to purchase new equipment or make modifications to your existing workspace to accommodate your wheelchair.
- Your employer has two workers in the accounts receivables department who perform the same tasks. Data entry is the essential function of the job. Contacting customers via telephone about their past due accounts is a small part of the job. You have a speech impairment that makes talking on the phone a challenge. You may request that your employer reassigns the task of making calls to the other worker in exchange for you doing one of his or her marginal functions such as filing.
New York State and New York City Provide Additional Safeguards to Employees
Although many employment discrimination cases fall under federal laws like Title VII, the ADEA, the ADA, employees in NY should know that state and New York City laws endow workers with even more safeguards against discrimination. In addition to prohibiting workplace discrimination based on age, race, religion sex, national origin, disability pregnancy, and color, New York laws include provisions and guidelines for covered individuals that the federal laws do not explicitly address. For instance, NYSHRL makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person because of:
- Military status
- Sexual orientation
- Familial status
- Marital status
- Domestic violence victim status
- Age – 18 and older
- Gender identity
- Gender expression
New York City also has local laws that provide safeguards for individuals based on actual or perceived characteristics including:
- Caregiver status
- Partnership status
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
Some of these rights might fall under the purview of federal laws if the EEOC or court interprets them broadly. However, New York’s laws protect additional specific categories to directly target widespread discrimination against these particular individuals in the workforce. For instance,
- You are an employee who is discriminated against because you are transgender. NYHRL makes it unlawful to discriminate or harass an employee because of gender identity or gender expression. Therefore, you would likely file a claim with a state agency or court. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex, but the courts are not in agreement as to whether this includes the status of being transgender. The same analysis applies to an employee facing discrimination or harassment because of sexual orientation.
- You apply for a job, and the person who interviews you asks about your family. You tell her that you are a single mother with three young children. She says she can’t hire you because you will need too much time off to deal with your family obligations. The prospective employer might be discriminating based on familial status under NYSHRL.
- You work for a business that allows all workers to take three personal days per year as long as the employer receives at least one week’s notice. Two weeks in advance of the date, you request a day off to appear in court to testify against your ex-husband in a domestic violence case. Your employer does not approve your personal day despite receiving proper notice. You may have a claim under NYSHRL that prohibits employment discrimination against victims of domestic violence.
- You are an employee in New York City and must take a couple of days off to move your aging parent into your home. You have years of positive performance reviews and are due for your annual raise. Your employer tells you that you are doing a terrible job, does not give you your pay increase and warns you to be at work every day saying “no more excuses.” Your employer may be violating NYCHRL by discriminating against you for being a caregiver.
State, federal and local laws overlap at times, but even then, the standards and burdens of proof, applicability, and definitions that apply may differ. For example, the EEOC states that under the ADA “An individual is considered to have a “disability” if s/he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.” New York State law covers essentially a physical or mental impairment that “prevents the exercise of a normal bodily function.” New York City law includes “Any physical, medical or psychological impairment or history of such impairment” in the definition of disability. These are all slightly different and where your case falls can depend on subtle details. http://www.bcnys.org/inside/labor/2011/employersobligations-humanrightslaw0411.pdf. The same is true about what type of accommodation may be reasonable and what may make a hardship “undue.”
Another difference between the laws is their application to various employers. Title VII and the ADA apply to businesses with 15 or more employees. The ADEA covers companies with 20 or more employees. NYSHRL which includes all state employment discrimination provisions applies to employers with 4 or more employees. NYSHRL, as it applies only to sexual harassment, was amended in 2015 to cover ALL employers regardless of how many employees they have. It is unlawful for any employer in New York to sexually discriminate against an employee.
Attorneys Help Victims of Discrimination and Retaliation File Claims to Recover Damages and other Remedies
Now that you have some information about discrimination and retaliation in the workplace, how should you react if it happens to you? Contacting lawyers in New York who have experience with employment discrimination, like those at Leeds Brown, should be the first step. Why?; because you want to know from the start that someone is looking out for your best interests. For instance, do you know if your employee handbook or company policy requires you to report sexual harassment or other discrimination to human resources or another designated employee? If it does, following the reporting instructions may be crucial to the success of a claim in the future. You may unknowingly forfeit your rights if you fail to comply with your employer’s policy. We can help you determine the necessary steps to take to preserve your right to pursue monetary damages.
Attorneys at Leeds Brown can also assist in deciding where to file your claim and what laws best apply to the facts of your case. We are intricately familiar with the procedural rules, deadlines, and substantive requirements of successful claims. Whether you file with the EEOC, the NYS DHR or the NYC Human Rights Commission, you want to do it correctly. If you don’t comply with all relevant deadlines, you can lose your right to file a lawsuit. You are wise to consult an employment discrimination attorney before filing your initial complaint.
For more information on the complaint process for the EEOC go to https://www.eeoc.gov/employees/howtofile.cfm.
To learn about the New York Department of Human Rights complaint process go to https://dhr.ny.gov/how-file-complaint
For details on filing a discrimination complaint with the NYC Human Rights Commission go to https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/enforcement/complaint-process.page
Once your claim gets filed, you can rely on Leeds Brown to work in close cooperation with the agency as it performs an investigation and makes a determination about your allegations. If you proceed with a civil lawsuit, we will aggressively advocate for you through settlement negotiations and a trial, if needed. Our representation has helped secure millions of dollars for clients over the years, and we welcome the opportunity to speak with you about your case. If you experienced retaliation; you may be able to receive reinstatement to your job or a promotion that your employer denied you.
Discrimination Claims Result in Monetary Awards and Reinstatement
According to the EEOC
“Whenever discrimination is found, the goal of the law is to put the victim of discrimination in the same position (or nearly the same) that he or she would have been if the discrimination had never occurred. The types of relief will depend upon the discriminatory action and the effect it had on the victim. For example, if someone loses a job opportunity or promotion because of discrimination, the remedy may include placement in the job and/or back pay and benefits the person would have received. The employer also will be required to stop any discriminatory practices and take steps to prevent discrimination in the future. A victim of discrimination also may be able to recover attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, and court costs. Compensatory and punitive damages may be awarded in cases involving intentional discrimination based on a person’s race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), religion, disability, or genetic information. Compensatory damages pay victims for out-of-pocket expenses caused by the discrimination (such as costs associated with a job search or medical expenses) and compensate them for any emotional harm suffered (such as mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of enjoyment of life). Punitive damages may be awarded to punish an employer who has committed an especially malicious or reckless act of discrimination.” https://www.eeoc.gov/employees/remedies.cfm
NYSHRL does not allow victims of employment discrimination to recover punitive damages. Of course, in any discrimination claim, the amount or type of award to an employee can differ with the facts of each case as well as the agency or court in which the matter gets filed. By consulting with New York employment law attorneys at Leeds Brow, who can help navigate the discrimination claim process, you are taking a valuable step toward securing your workplace rights.
Protect Your Rights-Call Leeds Brown Today
If you have been harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, you do not have to fight back alone. Leeds Brown has all the experience you need and can provide support and guidance while we work together toward whatever your goal may be. Our employment lawyers have passion, dedication and a set of skills that we have been using for decades to secure the workplace rights of New Yorkers. Whether you need advice on how to begin a claim or you want aggressive representation in court, Leeds Brown has what it takes to reach a successful outcome.
We take a team-based approach to employment discrimination cases which means there is always someone with personal knowledge to update you and answer questions. Our lawyers know how stressful it can be to deal with harassment, discrimination and the retaliation that often follows. Let Leeds Brown ease some of your concerns and walk with you through the process.
Call our office 24/7 to speak with an experienced employment lawyer about your matter. Don’t wait. There are deadlines to file claims under federal, state and city discrimination laws and we don’t know how much time you have left. Your consultation is free of charge and does not obligate you to utilize the services of our firm.
Find out more by calling 1-800-585-4658 today. Leeds Brown handles employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation claims in New York, New York City, Long Island and the surrounding counties.