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NYC Law Aims to Protect the Unemployed from Discrimination

On January 23, 2013, the New York City Council passed an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL") making it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an individual who is unemployed. On February 22, 2013, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed that amendment after strong protests from employers. However, the City Council overrode the Mayor's veto on March 13, 2013 and thus, effective June 11, 2013, an unemployed person becomes a member of a protected class under the NYCHRL.

The bill amends the city's anti-discrimination laws to make it unlawful to exclude an applicant who is unemployed and is "available for work, and seeking work" from consideration for employment and prohibits discriminatory job postings that contain exclusionary language. Workers have the right in appropriate situations to file a complaint alleging a violation of the law with the New York City Commission on Human Rights ("Commission") and to pursue remedies in court. In addition, the bill instructs the Commission to educate employers, employment agencies and job seekers about their rights under the new law.

The measure permits employers to consider an individual's unemployment in the hiring process where there is a "substantially job-related reason" for doing so, thus maintaining employer flexibility to consider unemployment status in appropriate situations. It also protects employers' ability to inquire into the circumstances surrounding an applicant's separation from employment and to impose other necessary job requirements, such as professional, educational, or occupational licensing standards.

As with individuals asserting other claims of discrimination under the NYCHRL, individuals asserting unemployment discrimination claims may file a discrimination charge with the Commission or file suit in court. Remedies available to a prevailing plaintiff include injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' costs and fees, and civil penalties ranging from $125,000 to $250,000 per violation.

Unemployed job-hunters and their advocates say it's illogical and unfair to be required to have a job to get a job, particularly after years of high unemployment and layoffs. New York City is one of the few jurisdictions in the nation that has enacted a law protecting job seekers against unemployment discrimination. New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, DC currently ban carve-outs in help-wanted ads, but New York City's measure goes further by letting rejected applicants sue employers for damages.

While it's still is an uphill battle for long term unemployed New Yorker's to find jobs, the city has put itself in a position to be a friendly ally.

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