Governor Cuomo recently signed a bill amending the New York Human Rights Law, New York State Executive Law § 290 et seq., to include discrimination, retaliation, and harassment claims filed by students against public school districts and BOCES. This constitutes a significant development in education law and the amendment is effective immediately.
Prior to this bill, the New York Court of Appeals held that discrimination and harassment claims filed by students could only be brought against private not-for-profit educational institutions. Thus, the Division of Human Rights had no jurisdiction over discrimination and harassment claims filed by students against public school districts for claims of discrimination.
This legislation amends Human Rights Law to prohibit educational institutions from discriminating against, or permitting the harassment of any student or applicant, “by reason of race, color, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, age, or marital status.” Educational institution is defined to include “any public school, including any school district, board of cooperative educational services, public college, or public university.”
School districts and BOCES are already obliged under the Dignity for All Students Act (“DASA”) to investigate and intervene in student complaints of harassment (aka bullying). Now however, students have another legal avenue to challenge school district’s or BOCES’ response to allegations of harassment. Moreover, insofar as DASA does not provide for damages, the fact that New York Human Rights Law allows for damages for valid claims of discrimination, establishes this amendment as a significant development in Education Law.
It is critical to note that there are a number of variables which come into play as it relates discrimination, retaliation, New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York State Division of Human Rights. Individuals should seek qualified and experienced counsel with questions. Call Gilbert Law Group today at (631) 630-0100.