Discrimination means to act based on a preference or prejudice. Under federal and New York state laws, Discrimination occurs when you are treated differently in a way that cause an adverse impact to you. Discrimination includes:
- Unequal/Unfair treatment because of your protected status (race, color, religion, sex, disability, etc.)
- Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in your workplace because of your protected characteristics
- Denial of a reasonable accommodation or workplace change that you need because of your religious beliefs, disability, or domestic violence victim status
- Retaliation because you complained about job discrimination or assisted with or participated in an investigation or lawsuit involving discrimination or retaliation
Federal, New York State, and New York City Discrimination Laws
Federal Employment Discrimination Laws
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and related conditions, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of Discrimination against employers who are covered by the law. Harassment is a form of Discrimination under federal law. If the EEOC finds Discrimination has occurred, they will try to settle the charge. Alternatively, they may file a lawsuit to protect the rights of the individuals and the interests of the public. The EEOC is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and maintains 53 field offices. Information regarding its New York field office can be found here.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Title VII covers both private and public sector employers with 15 or more employees and protects part-time employees, full-time employees and independent contractors. New York-based employees have 300 days to file a claim with the EEOC based on workplace discrimination under Title VII.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as amended, protects persons 40 years of age or older from age-based employment discrimination. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act amends several sections of the ADEA and establishes conditions for a waiver of ADEA protections. See EEOC guidance on age discrimination. New York-based employees have 300 days to file a claim with the EEOC for age-based discrimination in the workplace.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This law amended Title VII to make it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about Discrimination, filed a charge of Discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. See EEOC guidance on pregnancy-related discrimination. New York-based employees have 300 days to file a claim with the EEOC based on pregnancy discrimination under Title VII.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The ADA makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about Discrimination, filed a charge of Discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. See EEOC guidance on disability discrimination. New York-based employees have 300 days to file a claim with the EEOC based on disability discrimination under the ADA.
New York State & New York City Discrimination Laws
New York has several employment-related Anti-Discrimination laws. Among the most significant are:
- The New York State Human Rights Law
- The New York City Human Rights Law
- The New York State Labor Law
New York State Human Rights Law
New York State’s Anti-Discrimination statute is the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL). This law prohibits Discrimination based on specific protected classes in employment.
With regard to employment, the State Human Rights Law makes it an “unlawful discriminatory practice” for an employer “to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment” or “to discriminate against an individual in compensation or in terms of conditions or privileges of employment” because of an individual’s age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, or status as a victim of domestic violence.”
The State Human Rights Law also makes it illegal for an employer to discharge, expel, or otherwise discriminate against a person for opposing discriminatory practices, filing a complaint, testifying, or assisting in any proceeding related to enforcement of the State Human Rights Law. In addition, the State Human Rights Law prohibits an employer from compelling an employee who is pregnant from taking a leave of absence (unless the pregnancy prevents the employee from performing the job activities in a reasonable manner), or from subjecting an individual to harassment based on their status in one of the protected classes.
You can file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights using the forms provided on their website. Complaints of unlawful discriminatory practices under the New York State HRL may be filed within one year of the alleged practice.
New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL)
The NYC Human Rights Law prohibits Discrimination in employment, including in:
- Hiring, including in job postings and interviews
- Salary and benefits
- Performance evaluations
- Promotions and demotions
- Discipline and firing
- Any decisions that affect the terms and conditions of employment
A complaint must be filed with the Commission within one year of the last alleged act of discrimination.
In employment, a reasonable accommodation is a change made to the work schedule or duties of an employee to accommodate their specific needs and allow them to do their job. An employer must provide reasonable accommodations unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer, for the following protected classes:
- Pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition
- Religious observance
- Status as victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking
New York State Labor Law
The New York Labor Law prohibits certain conduct and generally applies to all New York employers. It prohibits New York-based employers from any of the following:
- Discriminating against an employee who engaging in certain activities during non-working hours, off-premises, and not using the employer’s equipment or property, including:
- Political activities
- Legal use of consumable products
- Legal recreational activities; and
- Union membership
- Retaliating or discriminating against an employee who has used any legally protected absence under federal, state, or local law
- Discriminating against nursing employees who express breast milk at work
- Discriminating against adoptive parents in provision of leave
- Discriminating or retaliating against an employee based on their reproductive health decisions
You can file a Discrimination complaint with the New York State Department of Labor using the resources available on the NYSDOL website.
The statute of limitations is 180 days for claims of Discrimination. You may file the complaint through a representative, such as a lawyer or union steward, as well.
Comparison of New York Human Rights Law and Federal Law
In many ways, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) provides greater protections for employees than federal laws. Below are some of the key differences between the New York state law and its federal counterpart, Title VII.
Unlike federal law, the NYSHRL includes among its protected classes: domestic violence victim status and familial status. It also covers employers of all sizes, whereas federal law only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
NYSHRL allows employees, applicants, interns, and independent contractors to bring claims. Federal law only applies to employees, applicants, and US citizens working abroad for US-controlled companies. Thus, employers cannot take the position that an individual complainant is an independent contractor and therefore outside the protections of the NYSHRL.
The New York State laws do not require individuals to exhaust administrative remedies before filing civil actions; rather, individuals may file actions so long as they additionally file a complaint with either the NYS Division of Human Rights, a local human rights commission, or state court within three years of the alleged violation.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of 2022 (PWFA)
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of 2022 (PWFA). This law requires that an employer provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified worker’s known limitation related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, absent undue hardship. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about Discrimination, filed a charge of Discrimination, participated in an employment discrimination proceeding (such as an investigation or lawsuit), or reasonably opposed discrimination. New York-based employees have 300 days to file a claim with the EEOC based on pregnancy-related discrimination.
Reasonable accommodations and the PWFA
- Reasonable accommodations may include the ability to sit or drink water; receive closer parking; have flexible hours; receive appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel; receive additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest; take leave or time off to recover from childbirth; and be excused from strenuous activities and/or activities that involve exposure to compounds not safe for pregnancy.
- Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless they would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer’s operations. An “undue hardship” is significant difficulty or expense for the employer.