The NYS Legislature has passed sweeping changes to New York State Human Rights Law, the State’s discrimination law, that will make it easier for employees and outside contractors who interact with those employees to successfully bring discrimination claims. These claims involve, but are not limited to, sexual harassment, as well as discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability, ethnicity, familial status, pregnancy, etc. Similarly, it will have a significant impact on how employers manage their workplace.
The changes include eliminating size requirements for employers to be covered by Human Rights Law. It also broadens the application of hostile work environment to various forms of discrimination, such as based on race, gender, ethnicity, disability, age, etc., rather than only sexual harassment. Moreover, the legislature has eliminated the pervasiveness requirement as it relates to hostile work environment. Another significant change is eliminating the requirement that the employer have knowledge that the employee had been subjected to discrimination in order for liability to exist. Additionally, the legislature’s changes now make punitive damages available. It is critical to note that the significance of these changes cannot overstated.
Although the changes have not yet been signed into law by Governor Cuomo, the Governor has promised the laws will be signed immediately. Significantly, there are many other changes which will drastically effect the how New York State Human Rights cases are litigated moving forward. Employees and employers alike will be greatly impacted by these changes. If you have questions or concerns regarding these changes, or require legal counsel, call Gilbert Law Group today at (631) 630-0100.
One major difference between the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is that the ADA explicitly protects employees who are discriminated against because of an employer’s perception that they are disabled, although in reality they may not be. Title VII employment discrimination, on the other hand, does not recognize the concept of an employer discriminating against an employee based on that employer’s perception that an employee is a member of a protected class. Accordingly, a Title VII plaintiff historically has a higher burden of proof in establishing their prima facie case. Traditionally, although the same act of “discrimination” would not be the basis for an employment discrimination cause of action where the worker is not a member of a protected class, recent case law has demonstrated a trend towards expanding protections under Title VII to include an employer’s perception that an employee is a member of a protected class.
Two recent cases in particular are illustrative of this trend in employment discrimination. In Kallabat v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co., a federal judge ordered that a Michigan man’s case on perceived religious discrimination go forward. Mr. Basil Kallabat, a dark-skinned man of Iraqi descent, and a self-proclaimed non-Muslim, suffered an adverse employment action while working as a customer service representative. Even though a Title VII claim based on his color, gender, or national origin would be unimpeachable, Mr. Kallabat’s claim centered on an element of perceived religion. The plaintiff claimed that when he wore a hat backwards and a co-worker said it looked like a “topi” (a skullcap worn by Muslim men for religious reasons) and other workers starting laughing at Plaintiff as a result. Further, on another occasion, there was graffiti etched into the door of a bathroom stall of one of Defendant’s offices depicting two buildings similar to the Twin Towers with a plane hitting one of them and a caption that stated that the plaintiff is learning how to fly. After learning of the graffiti, the Area Manager said that Plaintiff was oversensitive, emotional, and unable to take the joke during a crew meeting. The Court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that a reasonable jury could find that the incidents are evidence of discrimination based on the perception that Plaintiff was a Muslim. Similarly, in Arsham v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, an Iranian engineer’s perceived Title VII claim survived summary judgment on the basis that her supervisor’s mistaken belief that she was Indian, and not Iranian, should not save the employer from Title VII liability.
With this potentially looming expansion of workplace religious employment discrimination protection, it is imperative that both management and employees know their respective rights as they relate to federal, state, and municipal ordinances. The Gilbert Law Group can help you navigate this fast changing legal arena.
Schedule a consultation by calling (631) 630-0100.
Contributed by Michael B. Engle