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New York State Adopts New Laws to Combat Discrimination and Harassment

In an effort to reduce discrimination and harassment in workplaces across New York State, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently passed several bills. Some of these bills are amendments to laws that were passed last year.

These bills are in place to give added protections to employees. Therefore, New York employers will need to be aware of the new requirements so they can ensure that workers are in an environment free of discrimination and harassment. Here are some things employees and employers should know.

New York State’s Human Rights Law

A8421/S6577 amends the previous law, which applied to employers with four or more employees. This law now applies to all private employers, regardless of size. This law will become effective 180 days after enactment.

Legal Standard Eliminated

Under both federal and New York State anti-harassment laws, claims had to meet the legal standard of  “severe or pervasive.” This is no longer the case.

Under the new law, harassment based on retaliation or any protected characteristic is considered illegal if the conduct “subjects an individual to inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual’s membership in one or more” protected classes. Therefore, anything above petty slights or trivial inconveniences may be considered harassment, and it no longer has to meet the standard of being severe or pervasive.

These protections are extended to domestic workers. The effective date is 60 days after enactment.

Faragher/Ellerth Defense No Longer Applicable

Employers can no longer use the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense, which helped employers avoid liability for alleged harassment by supervisors in the past. Therefore, employers can now be held liable for harassment in the workplace, regardless of whether or not the employee filed a complaint with the employer.

The Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense is still valid under federal law, but can no longer be used under New York law. This law becomes effective 60 days after enactment.

Additional Damages Now Available

In cases where private employers are sued for employment discrimination, plaintiffs can now seek punitive damages as one of their remedies. This law is effective 60 days after enactment.

Another damage that will soon be available is attorney’s fees. When a claim is before a court or the State Division of Human Rights, the prevailing party can receive attorney’s fees. If the employer is seeking attorney’s fees, the only way they can receive them is if they can show that the action filed by the plaintiff was done in bad faith. This law becomes effective immediately once enacted.

Contact a New York Discrimination Lawyer

Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment is still rampant across the state. Hopefully, these new laws will give workers more rights and force employers to stand up and be more accountable for their actions, or lack thereof.

If you have faced discrimination or harassment in the workplace, hold your employer accountable. The attorneys at Ricotta & Marks, P.C. have experience helping those who work in hostile environments. Get the help you need by calling our office at (347) 464-8694 today.

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