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New York Lawmakers Propose Updates to Discrimination Laws

12829273 2New Anti Discrimination Laws Proposed in New York

New York lawmakers have proposed legislation that would expand the protections available to employees under the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”).

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, is the bedrock of a package of eleven bills intended to strengthen the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Among other things, the proposed legislation would:

• Cover all employers within the state. For now, the NYSHRL only covers employers with four or more employees, except for the sexual harassment provisions, which cover employers with one or more employees. The proposed legislation would expand the coverage to all employers with one or more employees for all claims of harassment and discrimination.

• Eliminate the draconian “severe or pervasive” standard for sexual harassment claims. The NYSHRL currently requires plaintiffs to prove that the harassing conduct was “severe” or “pervasive” to prevail. The amendment would shift the burden to the employer to show that the conduct is a “petty slight” or “trivial inconvenience.”

• Eliminate a key defense for employers. Employers can often defeat claims of harassment and discrimination by arguing that the plaintiff failed to complain internally or exhaust other corrective measures before taking the claims to court. The amended NYSHRL would remove this affirmative defense from their arsenal.

• Impose liability on employers for discrimination and harassment by supervisors. Currently, an employer can only be held liable for the discriminatory conduct of a supervisor if the plaintiff can show that the employer encouraged, condoned or approved of the supervisor’s behavior. This amendment removes this barrier by expanding liability to employers for discrimination and harassment committed by supervisors.

• Award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. This is a major gap in the NYSHRL as it currently stands, as many employees who face discrimination in the workplace do not have the financial resources to pay an attorney to pursue their claims. The proposed amendment would provide equal access to the protections available under the NYSHRL.

• Award punitive damages. The threat of punitive damages will motivate employers to improve their internal policies, procedures and training, and to take employees’ complaints seriously rather than sweeping them under the rug.

With only nine scheduled days left in the legislative session, supporters will need to push hard to get the bill passed in its current form.

If you believe you may have been a victim of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, please contact Borrelli & Associates today for a consultation.

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