A Closer Look at Common Types of Workplace Discrimination in New York

Employees who believe they’ve been discriminated against based on their age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, or other legally protected characteristic have the option to pursue a legal claim to recover compensation or accommodation. An attorney can advise you on how to best proceed.

How to File an Employment Discrimination Claim in New York

When an employer discriminates against an employee, the employee has the legal right to file a complaint and seek to hold the employer legally and financially responsible for their actions. Working with an attorney is a great first step.

Survey finds many workers experience or see discrimination

While companies in New York and elsewhere are doing more to create a diverse and inclusive work environment, nearly two-thirds of employees still report experiencing or witnessing workplace discrimination, according to a new survey by Glassdoor. The poll involved 5,000 employed adults from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France.

The 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Study found that 64% of American workers believe their employers are investing more in workplace diversity programs than they have in previous years. However, 61% of U.S. survey participants also said they have witnessed or been the victim of some sort of discrimination based on race, gender, age or sexual orientation. In comparison, 55% of participants from the U.K., 43% of participants from France and 37% of participants from Germany said the same.

The survey also found that 31% of all male workers in the survey reported being victims of workplace race discrimination, compared to 19% of all female workers. Meanwhile, millennial workers were much more likely to report instances of race-based bias and other forms of discrimination than workers ages 55 and older. The authors of the study said their findings should serve as a “wake-up call” to employers that they must do more to create inclusive workplace environments and reduce all forms of discrimination.

Federal and state laws protect New York workers from employment discrimination based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, disability and other characteristics. People who have been the victims of workplace discrimination might benefit from talking to an employment attorney about their situation.

Over one-fifth of U.S. workers over 40 report age discrimination

More than one-fifth of workers over 40 in New York and across the U.S. have experienced age discrimination according to a recent survey by specialty insurer Hiscox USA. As a result of the findings, the company is warning companies to address the issue to avoid discrimination lawsuits.

For the survey, Hiscox researchers polled 400 full-time American workers age 40 and above. They found that 21% of participants said they have encountered age-related workplace discrimination. They also found that most participants began noticing discrimination around the age of 51. Despite experiencing age-related discrimination, only 40% of participants chose to file a charge or complaint. Of those who declined to report the discrimination, 54% said they didn’t want to create a hostile work environment as the reason for not taking action. Another 24% cited not knowing how to make a complaint as the reason.

According to the survey, men are more likely than women to report feeling that ageism harmed their career. Around 43% of male participants said they experienced more difficulty finding new jobs after turning 40. In comparison, 30% of women said they experienced the same problem. Meanwhile, 40% of male participants said that turning 40 slowed their career advancement. Around 24% of female participants reported the same. Hiscox says that companies can help prevent age-related discrimination by providing employee training and swiftly and effectively responding to discrimination claims.

Under state and federal law, companies are prohibited from discriminating against workers based on their age. Workers who believe they have been subjected to age-related workplace discrimination may turn to an attorney for advice. After reviewing the details of the case, the attorney may recommend filing a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which might lead to a settlement for lost wages and other damages.

Victims of discrimination may receive a financial award

Employees in New York and throughout the country have legal protection against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. In many cases, individuals who are harassed or discriminated against could be entitled to compensation from their employers.

Compensation may include reimbursement for attorney fees, the cost of hiring an expert witness or costs associated with finding a new job. It may also be possible to be compensated for emotional distress caused by improper treatment at work.

 

Punitive damages may be added on top of compensatory damages to hold an employer responsible for egregious treatment of an employee based on gender, national origin or other protected attributes. The amount that a person can recover is determined partially on the size of a victim’s employer. If discrimination or harassment victim works at a company with 15 to 100 employees, the compensatory and punitive damage cap is $50,000. That number rises to $300,000 for employers that have more than 500 employees.

In some cases, workers are entitled to liquidated damages instead of compensatory or punitive damages. This is typically true in age discrimination cases or in cases involving wage discrimination claims made under the Equal Pay Act. The size of an award is equivalent to the amount of back pay that an employee obtains in his or her case.

Individuals who are treated differently based on their gender or because they are pregnant may be victims of discrimination on the job. It may be possible to take legal action in an effort to obtain compensation. An attorney may help a victim of discrimination obtain back pay, compensatory damages or liquidated damages. This might be done by submitting text messages, payroll records or any other information to establish that discrimination took place. Cases may be resolved in court or through settlement talks.

Proposed New York law would ban hair-related discrimination

The New York City Commission on Human Rights released guidelines in February that made targeting individuals based on the way they wear their hair in the workplace, at school or in public areas a form of racial discrimination in situations where the hairstyle involved is associated with race. A bill introduced in Albany on May 20 by two New York City Democrats would extend this protection to all Empire State residents. The California Senate unanimously approved a similar law in April.

The bill expands the definition of race to include ethnic background and ethnic group identification traits such as hairstyles and hair textures. If the bill is passed, employers in New York could face racial discrimination complaints if they fire or demote workers or refuse to hire job candidates because of hairstyles that are traditionally associated with race. Company policies that require workers with such hairstyles to cut or restyle their hair would also be prohibited.

Hairstyles that would be protected by the proposed law include dreadlocks, cornrows, braids and twists. The state senator who sponsored the bill hopes to see the proposal debated before the current legislative session ends in June. Senate Bill S6209 was referred to the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations on May 23.

If this law is passed, New York employers with strict appearance codes may want to consider changing their rules. Someone who has been unfairly targeted for their hairstyle may be a victim of employment discrimination. An attorney with experience in this area could explain to a client the steps involved in pursuing civil remedies.

EEOC investigates genetic information discrimination complaints

Workers in New York may know that they can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they face discrimination due to their sex, race, religion or disability. However, far fewer are familiar with the EEOC’s role in protecting workers from discrimination that’s based on their genetic information. This provision in workplace civil rights law was adopted in 2008 along with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which also addresses discrimination from insurers and other companies. It prohibits employers from using genetic information like family medical history, DNA tests or fetal test results to discriminate against workers on the job.

The provision remains one of the little-used aspects of employment discrimination law. In 2018, there were only 220 complaints that were filed related to genetic information discrimination, amounting to only 0.3% of all EEOC complaints that were received that year. This may be due to a lack of concern, but it could also be linked to little knowledge or understanding of this type of protection. Employers are prohibited from using genetic information to discriminate against workers in terms of hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs or other employment actions. Specific concerns have been raised about employers terminating workers due to concerns that they will be more expensive to insure because of their family medical histories.

There are some exemptions to the law that allow employers to retain genetic information even after lawsuits challenged the collection of family medical history during employer-sponsored wellness programs. However, they are required to keep this data confidential and shield it from employment decisions.

People continue to experience a wide range of discriminatory behavior on the job ranging from sexual harassment to racial exclusion. An employment law attorney can provide guidance on how their clients can move forward to pursue a claim against a company responsible for workplace discrimination.

Updated lawsuit alleges discrimination against Oracle

For years, Oracle has been heralded as a leader in the technology sector. But a lawsuit filed by the Department of Labor claims the tech giant has major problems with gender and racial discrimination. The outcome of the suit could have lasting consequences for employers in New York and across the United States.

The lawsuit, filed in 2017, raises a series of troubling allegations against Oracle. The DOL claims a series of policies at the company promote discriminatory wages for black, female and Asian workers. In a recent update to the original complaint, the department alleges that the discrimination begins in the hiring process. Recruitment from colleges and universities results in unusually low numbers of black and females hires. While the number of Asian hires is high, the DOL alleges that many of those workers are foreign-born and require a work visa through Oracle to stay in the country. That puts tremendous leverage on the worker to settle for unfair wages or face removal from the United States.

The lawsuit further alleges that Oracle discriminates by using prior wages to determine an employee’s pay scale. Ultimately, the DOL wants to force the cancellation of all contracts between Oracle and the federal government. The DOL believes these contracts are worth more than $100 million per month to Oracle.

Any worker who has been a victim of gender or racial discrimination within the workplace may benefit from discussing their situation with an experienced attorney. Legal counsel could help by investigating the allegations and eventually filing a lawsuit for compensation on behalf of the worker.

Workplace conditions are improving for transgender workers

The Civil Rights Act protects workers in New York and around the country against gender-based discrimination. However, the landmark 1964 law did not specifically address the issue of transgender individuals, and the courts have been inconsistent when tasked with determining whether or not Title VII protections apply to them. While the courts and legislators continue to debate the issue, the business community seems to be more than willing to move forward in this area. Indications that things are improving in the workplace for transgender individuals include improvements in the Corporate Equality Index. The CEI is a ranking of Fortune 500 company policies for LGBT workers that is released each year by the Human Rights Campaign. Only 3 percent of the companies included in the index had nondiscrimination policies that addressed gender identity in 2002, but that figure has since risen to 83 percent. The 2018 CEI also reveals that most of America’s largest employers now offer their workers transgender-inclusive health insurance plans.

Large corporations are also more likely to make public statements in support of their transgender workers when their rights are questioned by lawmakers. Companies including Apple, Coca-Cola and JP Morgan Chase acted quickly in October when President Trump said that he planned to redefine gender as strictly male or female. However, studies suggest that much still needs to be done. The data shows that transgender workers earn less money, are more likely to be laid off and find obtaining work more difficult.

Attorneys with experience in employment discrimination litigation could encourage employers to settle claims made by transgender workers discretely. This may be especially true in states like New York that have regulations in place to protect transgender workers. Transgender rights have become a hot-button political issue in recent years, and companies that are publicly accused of discriminating against workers based purely on their gender identities could see their reputations tarnished and their bottom lines affected.

Source: The New York State Division of Human Rights, Governor Cuomo Announces New Regulations Protecting Transgender New Yorkers from Discrimination, Press release, Jan. 20, 2016