Workplace discrimination is a serious issue in New York, just as in many other parts of the country. Many employees get treated unfairly at work for a variety of reasons, and many others are deprived of opportunities or denied access to workplace privileges that they are entitled to. The discrimination workers are subjected to not only affects their careers but takes a toll on their physical and mental health as well.
👉Also read: Pregnant at Work? Know Your Rights!
What is Workplace Discrimination?
Under New York law, workplace discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee or a group of employees differently, less favorably, or unfairly due to their race, gender, religion, or any other protected characteristic. Some of the most common examples of workplace discrimination are:
Racial discrimination refers to the unfair, unequal, and biased treatment of an individual in the workplace due to their race, skin color, or ethnicity. It involves actions or behaviors by employers, supervisors, co-workers, and others in the workplace that negatively affect an employee due to their racial background.
Racial discrimination can manifest in many different ways including unfair hiring practices, unequal pay, denial of promotions, exclusion from training and other career advancement opportunities, harassment, and creating a hostile work environment.
Race-based discrimination is by far the most common type of discrimination that employees face at workplaces in New York – as well as in other parts of the country. Data shows that the most frequently filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are based on racial discrimination and harassment.
Age discrimination occurs when an individual is treated differently, unfairly, or less favorably in the workplace due to their age. This type of discrimination is often directed at older workers – particularly those over the age of 40.
Common forms of age-based discrimination include refusing to hire older workers by limiting recruitment to recent graduates, passing over older employees for promotions, refusing to assign physical tasks to older workers even if they are fit enough to do them, terminating older workers due to their age, rather than their job performance, harassing older workers, and more.
Gender discrimination occurs when an individual in the workplace is treated differently due to their gender. While this type of discrimination can affect men as well as women, data shows that female employees are disproportionately affected as a result of gender-based discrimination in the workplace.
Common examples of gender-based workplace discrimination include refusing to hire women based on stereotypes and biases, refusing to train and mentor women for leadership positions, sidelining women when they reveal that they plan to have kids or when they get pregnant, penalizing them for having qualities that are considered masculine (being aggressive, being persistent, or being ambitious), and more.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Sexual orientation refers to the discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of an individual in the workplace due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. While discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited under federal law as well, New York’s Human Rights Law is a lot more comprehensive and covers a wide range of sexual orientations including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender-binary, and intersex.
Common forms of sexual orientation-based workplace discrimination include refusing to hire or offering substandard terms of employment to someone due to their sexual orientation, failing to provide the benefits and career advancement opportunities that they are eligible for, making offensive remarks, comments, and jokes about someone’s gender identity, not allowing a transgender person to use bathroom facilities consistent with their gender identity, and not allowing a same-sex employee to bring their partner to company events and parties.
Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an individual in the workplace is treated differently or unfairly due to their pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Common forms of pregnancy and childbirth-based discrimination include refusing to hire a pregnant applicant even if they are qualified for the job, demoting an employee when they become pregnant, reducing an employee’s job responsibilities, or altering work conditions in a detrimental way because of their pregnancy, denying leave to pregnant employees, denying reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, and denying reasonable lactation accommodations to breastfeeding mothers.
Disability discrimination refers to the unfair, unfavorable, or unequal treatment of disabled job applicants and employees due to their disability. Under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), a person can be considered disabled if they have a physical, mental, or medical impairment that prevents or limits the exercise of normal bodily function.
It is important to note that unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), New York’s Human Rights Law does not have any qualifiers regarding the severity of the disability. If you are disabled, you are covered under the law – even if your disability does not substantially limit any major life activities.
Common examples of disability discrimination include refusing to hire a disabled individual, refusing to provide reasonable adjustments and accommodations to disabled employees, harassing or ill-treating disabled employees, denying promotions and other job-related benefits and incentives to disabled employees, and implementing policies in the workplace that unfairly disadvantage and disproportionately affect disabled employees.
National Origin Discrimination
National origin discrimination refers to the less favorable treatment, unfair treatment, or unequal treatment of an applicant or employee due to their ethnic background or national origin.
Common examples of national origin discrimination include rejecting applicants due to their national origin, not allowing an employee with an accent to interact with or work with customers, making derogatory, demeaning, or offensive comments about an employee’s ethnicity or national origin, imposing an English-only rule in the workplace even when there is no business-related reason for doing so, telling or implying that an employee does not fit into the company’s culture due to their ethnicity or national origin, and more.
Why Does Discrimination Occur in the Workplace?
Workplace discrimination can occur as a result of a number of factors including implicit biases of employers, lack of awareness about what actually constitutes discrimination, resistance to change, inadequate training and education, and rigid, longstanding norms in the workplace.
The Role of Employment Law Firms in Addressing and Combating Workplace Discrimination
Employment law firms play a key role in addressing and combating workplace discrimination by providing legal representation and guidance to both employees and employers. Their role is multifaceted and includes the following key functions:
Legal Advice and Consultation – Employment law firms can offer legal advice to victims of workplace discrimination, harassment, or retaliation on their rights and legal options. They can also consult with employers on how to establish and maintain anti-discrimination policies and procedures to prevent such issues in the workplace.
Legal Representation – Employment law firms can represent victims of workplace discrimination and help them file complaints with relevant government agencies. They can build and present a case on behalf of their clients, represent them in settlement negotiations, and help them get the compensation and other benefits they deserve.
Investigative Services – Employment law firms can conduct internal investigations on behalf of employers to assess claims of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. These investigations are often thorough and impartial, aiming to identify the facts and recommend appropriate actions to prevent future discrimination.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – Employment lawyers can facilitate mediation and other ADR processes to resolve discrimination claims without going to court, which can save time and money for all parties involved. They can work as intermediaries to help the parties reach mutually acceptable agreements.
Employment Policy Development – Employment law firms can assist employers in creating anti-discrimination policies that are compliant with federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws. They can also conduct training programs for employees as well as the management to promote a discrimination-free workplace culture.
Federal and State Laws Prohibiting Workplace Discrimination
Federal laws that prohibit employment and workplace discrimination are:
Civil Rights Act
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment and workplace discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, and religion.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, which was passed to expand the scope of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, prohibits employment and workplace discrimination against pregnant applicants and employees. The law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified individuals on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, and related medical conditions.
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires all covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations and make reasonable adjustments to pregnant employees, new mothers, and employees who are suffering from pregnancy or childbirth-related medical conditions.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with physical and mental disabilities in various aspects of public life – including employment. It makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against disabled applicants and employees in hiring, compensation, promotion, and other employment practices. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to help disabled employees perform their job functions except in cases where providing such accommodations might cause undue hardship to the employer.
Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was passed to eliminate wage disparities based on gender, requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work – regardless of an employee’s sex. Under the law, it is illegal for employers to pay employees of one gender less than employees of the opposite gender for performing similar jobs that require equal levels of skill, effort, and responsibilities.
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) makes it illegal for employers to make employment-related decisions based on an individual’s genetic information. This includes an individual’s genetic tests, the genetic tests of their family members, their family medical history, and other related information. The act also prohibits employers from requesting or requiring genetic information from applicants as a condition for employment.
New York laws that prohibit employment and workplace discrimination are:
New York State Human Rights Law
The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants, employees, as well as non-employees on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, national origin, and a number of other characteristics. The non-employees covered under the law include contractors, subcontractors, consultants, vendors, and other parties that work at or provide services in the workplace.
NYSHRL is far more comprehensive in its scope than federal anti-discrimination laws and covers a wide range of protected classes. These include:
- Domestic violence victim status
- Gender identity or expression
- Familial status
- Marital status
- Military status
- National origin
- Predisposing genetic characteristics
- Pregnancy-related conditions
- Prior arrest or conviction record
- Race or skin color
- Religious beliefs
- Sexual orientation
One of the most notable aspects of the NYSHRL is that it also prohibits harassment of all kinds – including and especially sexual harassment. The law also specifies that employers can be held liable even in cases where the harassment is not severe or pervasive.
New York City Human Rights Law
New York City also has its own Human Rights Law, which is more comprehensive and broader in scope compared to the NYSHRL. It covers all the protected classes that are covered under the NYSHRL. In addition to that, it also provides protection against employment and workplace discrimination and harassment to the following categories of people.
- People with an arrest or conviction record
- People with caregiving responsibilities
- Victims of stalking, domestic violence, and sex offenses
Apart from this, NYC’s Human Rights Law also prohibits the following practices by employers.
- Requesting the credit history of applicants or using their credit history to make employment-related decisions.
- Asking applicants about their salary history during the hiring process.
- Making employment-related decisions or treating employees differently based on their sexual or reproductive health decisions.
- Requiring applicants to get tested for marijuana as a condition for employment.
Protection against Retaliation
It’s critical to note that federal and state anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from retaliating against applicants and employees for opposing a discriminatory practice, filing a discrimination complaint, or testifying, assisting, or participating in an investigation by a federal or state government agency.
It should also be noted that the definition of the term ‘retaliation’ is not limited to termination alone. Any adverse action – including giving bad performance reviews, demoting, taking harsh disciplinary actions, or reducing salary and benefits – can be considered retaliation under the law and the employer can be held liable for it.
The Role of Federal and State Agencies in Enforcing Anti-Discrimination Laws
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is primarily responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws in the country. It plays a critically important role in addressing and combating employment and workplace discrimination in the country.
The key functions of the EEOC include:
- Developing guidelines and regulations to clarify the legal standards for compliance with anti-discrimination laws.
- Investigating complaints of employment and workplace discrimination, resolving disputes, and pursuing legal action against employers.
- Monitoring trends in employment and workplace discrimination across the country and reporting the findings to Congress and the general public.
- Promoting awareness about employment and workplace discrimination through educational and outreach programs.
At the state level, the New York State Division of Human Rights and the New York City Commission on Human Rights play an equally important role in enforcing anti-discrimination laws and addressing and combating issues related to discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Filing a Discrimination Complaint in New York
If you believe your employer has violated federal anti-discrimination laws, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If you believe they have violated New York State’s Human Rights Law, you can file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights. If you believe they have violated New York City’s Human Rights Law, you can file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
In order to file a complaint, you need to fill out a form and submit it to the appropriate agency. You need to provide a wide range of details including the name and contact information of your employer (or any other party that you are complaining against), your name and contact information, a brief description of the discriminatory actions or harassment that you were subjected to, and the dates on which the events occurred.
Once you file a complaint, the agency will investigate your case and determine whether there is probable cause to believe that you were discriminated against or harassed at work. If there is no probable cause, your complaint will be dismissed. If there is, the agency will inform your employer, so that they can respond to your complaint and provide an explanation.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the agency might attempt to mediate a resolution or pursue legal action against your employer.
How a New York Employment Discrimination Lawyer Can Help You
If you are planning to file a discrimination complaint against your employer, it is extremely important to have an experienced New York workplace discrimination lawyer on your side. Your lawyer will take several steps to make sure you get the justice and compensatory relief you deserve. These include:
- Evaluating the facts related to your case to determine whether you have a valid claim under federal, state, or local anti-discrimination laws.
- Advising you on the legal options available to you and the amount of compensation you might be entitled to.
- Helping you collect and preserve the evidence needed to support your discrimination claim.
- Helping you file a complaint with the appropriate agency.
- Representing you during the mediation and settlement negotiation process to ensure you get a fair and favorable settlement.
- Pursuing legal action against your employer in order to recover the compensatory damages you are owed.
- Providing the guidance, emotional support, and reassurance you need throughout the process.
Types of Evidence Your Lawyer Will Collect to Prove Workplace Discrimination in New York
Written statements or recordings of verbal statements made by your employer, supervisor, coworker, or any other party that directly express discriminatory intent based on your protected characteristic can help prove discrimination at the workplace.
- Evidence showing that the adverse employment action was taken shortly after you engaged in a protected activity.
- Evidence of how other employees who do not share your protected characteristics were treated more favorably in similar situations.
- Evidence showing that company policies and rules were applied inconsistently or selectively based on your protected characteristics.
- Evidence showing a pattern of discriminatory behavior over a period of time.
Statements from coworkers and other parties who witnessed or were aware of your employer’s discriminatory behavior.
- Emails, memos, and other written communication related to your employer’s discriminatory behavior or actions.
- Medical records documenting the physical and/or emotional harm caused as a result of the discrimination.
- Records of your salary history, promotions, raises, incentives, and other employment-related benefits that might indicate disparities based on protected characteristics.
Compensation You Can Recover in a New York Workplace Discrimination Claim
Depending on the extent to which you were discriminated against, the nature of discrimination, the applicable provisions of the Employment Act, and other factors, your lawyer can help you recover the following types of compensation.
- Back pay
- Front pay
- Compensatory damages for the non-economic losses caused by the discrimination
- Attorney’s fees and litigation costs
- Punitive damages (in cases of intentional or egregious discrimination)
Apart from this, the court might also issue an injunction to stop the discriminatory practices at your workplace and to ensure your employer implements policies that promote a discrimination-free workplace.
Do Not Let Workplace Discrimination Go Unchallenged. Get Our Experienced New York Workplace Discrimination Lawyers on Your Side.
If you are being discriminated against or harassed at work based on a protected class, you have the right to take legal action against your employer and hold them accountable for their unacceptable behavior. At Levine & Blit, we have a long and successful track record of fighting for the rights of workers who are discriminated against and harassed in the workplace.
We have a deep understanding of the federal, state, and local laws and regulations related to employment and workplace discrimination and we know how employers often try to sidestep or bend these laws to discriminate against or exclude certain categories of people.
If you are a victim of workplace discrimination, we can represent you, collect the evidence needed to support your claim, help you file a complaint, and take all possible steps to hold your employer accountable for their actions and make sure you get justice. Call us today at 646-461-6838 or contact us online to schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a top-rated New York employment discrimination lawyer.