Recent Amendments to New York Law Provides More Protections to Women in the Workplace

Posted by on Feb 4, 2016 in Gender Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

On October 21, 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed multiple pieces of legislation designed to protect and further women’s equality in the State of New York. While the new laws, which all went into effect on January 19, 2016, deal with a broad range of legal issues, including human trafficking and domestic violence, a substantial focus of the legislation was strengthening women’s rights in the workplace.

All of these changes are not merely cosmetic, or intended to codify prior court decisions. Rather, they represent significant substantive changes to New York employment law, and have substantially updated what many deemed to be outdated and incomplete protections for women in the workplace (though all of these changes, sans pregnancy, apply equally to men).

Should you have any questions or require further detail regarding this legislation, the employment and labor attorneys at Hill Wallack LLP are fully prepared to assist and help guide you through this sea of change.

Pay Equity- the first piece of legislation amended New York Labor Law s. 194, which addresses equal pay in the workplace. The bill eliminates a loophole in the prior law that allowed employers to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries (as well as the salaries of others) under the threat of termination or suspension. Specifically, the bill would allow employees to discuss their wages with each other. Further, the bill increases the amount of damages available to an employee if an employer willfully violates the law.

Sexual Harassment- another bill amends the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) to protect all employees from sexual harassment in the workplace regardless of the size of the employer. Previously, the definition of “employer” excluded employers with fewer than four employees, thus prohibiting individuals from filing harassment complaints with the Division of Human Rights against those employers. This new law expands the definition of “employer” to cover all employers within New York in sexual harassment cases so that an employee of any business, regardless of size, can file a workplace sexual harassment complaint.

Attorneys’ Fees- a further bill now allows successful plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees in employment discrimination cases based on sex. Under prior New York State law, plaintiffs could not recover attorney fees for employment discrimination cases, making it costly to bring a case.

Familial Status- an additional amendment to the NYSHRL prohibits employment discrimination based on familial status. Previously, New York State law only prohibited discrimination based on familial status in the areas of housing and credit, however, employees often suffer from stereotypes relative to their status as parents or guardians of children under the age of eighteen. It is believed that women have been disproportionately affected by stereotyped views of parents in the work place and are less likely to be recommended for hire or promoted.

Pregnancy Discrimination- a further amendment to the NYSHRL now requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees (or those suffering from “pregnancy-related conditions”). Some pregnancies can result in medical conditions requiring certain accommodations within the workplace and prior protections for pregnant women were deemed confusing and subject to misinterpretation. This new law clarifies that employers must perform a reasonable accommodation analysis for pregnant employees. Essentially this amendment puts pregnant women, as well as those suffering from pregnancy-related conditions, on equal footing with disabled employees when it comes to requests for reasonable workplace accommodations.

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“BORGATA BABES” LOSE BID TO OVERTURN DISMISSAL OF SEX DISCRIMINATION AND HARASSMENT CLAIMS

Posted by on Sep 24, 2015 in Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

The bid by a majority of a group of twenty-one (21) plaintiffs, all former employees of the Borgata Casino Hotel & Spa, to overturn the dismissal of their sex discrimination and sexual harassment claims was recently rejected by the Appellate Division. The plaintiffs were employed as “Borgata Babes,” a specialized group of costumed beverage servers on the Borgata casino floor. As “Borgata Babes,” the plaintiffs were subject to specific “personal appearance standards” (“PAS”) that governed the plaintiffs’ dress, appearance, weight and overall grooming. While the plaintiffs in this case were all female, the “Borgata Babes” also included men who were subject to a similar PAS.

The trial court dismissed the entirety of the plaintiffs’ claims on summary judgment, finding that the PAS did not constitute gender stereotyping nor did it have a disparate impact on the female employees. In an opinion published on September 17, 2015, the Appellate Division readily agreed with the trial court’s ruling. However, the Appellate Division did reverse the dismissal of those claims asserted by some of the plaintiffs that the weight policy set forth in the PAS was applied in a discriminatory harassing manner by unlawfully targeting female employees returning from maternity and medical leave. Those claims were remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Given the hotly-contested nature of this litigation, it is highly likely that the plaintiffs will next ask the New Jersey Supreme Court to certify the matter for appeal. Moreover, given the attention this case has garnered in the media as well as the somewhat novel factual circumstances giving rise to the claims themselves, there is a decent chance of the Supreme Court granting certification and hearing the appeal.

We will continue to monitor the case as it progresses, as its novel, broad-ranging issues could have an impact on various employers, such as restaurants, hotels, professional sports franchises and adult-oriented businesses.

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