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significant substantive changes to New York employment law, and have substantially updated what many deemed to be outdated and incomplete protections for women in the workplace (though all of these changes, sans pregnancy, apply equally to men).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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THE EEOC WARNS EMPLOYERS: STEREOTYPING FEMALE EMPLOYEES CONSTITUTES GENDER DISCRIMINATION

Posted by on May 8, 2009 in Gender Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination

By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
In the past year the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) experienced a record number of pregnancy discrimination filings. Women with child bearing responsibilities have typically reported experiencing discrimination when they informed their employers that they were pregnant. The EEOC has also received a surge in claims from women who have experienced discrimination simply because they are mothers. Women report they are not being considered by prospective employers and not being awarded promotions because they have children. This type of discrimination has nothing to do with any perceived notion of a pregnant woman’s ability to work. Rather, women are being discriminated against based on stereotyped sex roles. Women are responsible for family care giving and therefore, are often seen as incapable of performing at the same level as their male peers in the workplace.

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Navigating the Tricky Waters of Caregiver Discrimination

Posted by on Feb 24, 2009 in Caregiver Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination

By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
In 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a record number of lawsuits over caregiver bias in the work place. See http://www.eeoc.gov/stats/pregnanc.html The EEOC also obtained 30 million dollars in monetary benefits, which is a significant increase from the prior year’s monetary recovery of 10.4 million dollars. (This monetary recovery also includes pregnancy discrimination claims.) (Note the 2008 EEOC statistics are not yet available.)
Caregiver discrimination claims have been successfully litigated in the recent years under the “sex-plus” theory. This theory prohibits employers from treating employees differently than other workers on the basis of their sex “plus” a facially neutral characteristic such as having young children.
One way employees have successfully challenged “sex-plus” discrimination is through the disparate impact theory. For example: A female asserted that her employer’s sick leave policy, which provided that sick leave could only be used when the employee was sick had a disparate impact on female employees because female employees were more likely to stay home with a sick child. Consequently, the policy forced women to resign more frequently than their male counterparts because of their caregiver role.

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Don’t Tell Me You Didn’t Check with a Lawyer!

Posted by on Feb 9, 2009 in FMLA, Pregnancy Discrimination, Wrongful Termination

By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
Sometimes it can be penny wise and pound foolish to take action against an employee without a clear understanding of the law.
In Brown v. Nutrition Management Services Co., a decision of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania released on January 30, the court found that the company’s failure to have an attorney research the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) meant that the company had not acted in “good faith.” This finding cost Nutrition Management Services over $80,000 in additional liquidated damages.

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Pregnancy Discrimination Act Forbids Firing an Employee Because She Had an Abortion

Posted by on Feb 5, 2009 in Gender Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination

By Tiffanie Benfer
In 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case of first impression, considered whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) recognizes a claim for discrimination based on having an abortion. The Court concluded in Doe v. CARS Protection Plus Inc. that the PDA prohibits employers from discriminating against women who have had an abortion. http://law.lexisnexis.com/practiceareas/Featured-Content/Labor–Employment/Free-Download-Mealeys-Litigation-Report-Employment-Law

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EEOC Backlog Swells. What Does This Mean for Your Case In the EEOC?

Posted by on Feb 4, 2009 in Age Discrimination, Caregiver Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Gender Discrimination, National Origin Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination, Racial Discrimination, Religion Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Wrongful Termination

By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
It isn’t a newsflash to those of us who regularly deal with the EEOC: the federal agency charged with protecting Americans from discrimination is overworked, with a tremendous backlog of cases. The Washington Post reported Monday that because of increased claims and decrease in staff, the case backlog is now at 73,951 – up 35 % from a backlog of 54,970 a year ago.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/02/AR2009020202452.html
This means that more and more cases are languishing in the EEOC. That’s a problem when it comes to getting to the truth behind a claim, because witnesses move away or forget what happened. In this climate, it is essential for both employees and employers to obtain independent legal counsel to move a case along, to secure witness statements, to conduct investigations, and — most importantly — to frame the issues for an overworked investigator.

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