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Understanding Workplace Discrimination Laws in New York


Dictionary Entry for DiscriminationDiscrimination and harassment in the workplace is not acceptable and should never be tolerated. However, while most employers have policies that strictly forbid discrimination, the reality is that the policies are many times not followed. And although the law provides a powerful incentive for employers to take steps to prevent unlawful discrimination, the reality is that unlawful discrimination persists.  The legal team at E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy understands workplace discrimination laws in New York State and has attorneys with vast experience in the matter. Please read the valuable information below and then Contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your situation.

Who is protected from employment discrimination?

Federal, State and Local Laws define the protected classifications.

Federal Laws

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, pregnancy, religion, and sex, including sexual harassment;
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities;
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against employees who are 40 years of age or older;
  • The Equal Pay Act prohibits sex-based wage discrimination;
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave;
  • Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits discrimination based on genetic information about an applicant or employee.

New York State Laws

New York’s comprehensive anti-discrimination law is known as the New York State Human Rights Law. The Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination based upon age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, or domestic violence victim status.

New York City’s Human Rights Law protects age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status.

What Discriminatory Practices Are Prohibited?

Unlawful discrimination occurs when your Employer takes an adverse employment action based upon a protected characteristic. Adverse employment actions include:

  • Failure to hire
  • Failure to promote
  • Firing (wrongful termination)
  • Constructive discharge (where the environment is so abusive the employee is forced to quit)
  • Changes to compensation, benefits, assignment, or classification
  • Transfers
  • Suspensions
  • Or, any other significant change to the terms and conditions of employment.

Discriminatory practices also include:

  • Harassment, intimidation, and bullying on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information, or age;
  • retaliation against an individual who makes a complaint; participates in an investigation; or opposes discriminatory practices;

What are the penalties for unlawful discrimination?

While each case is different, the goal of the law is to put the victim of discrimination in the same position that he or she would have been if the discrimination had never occurred.

Under Federal Law the following damages are generally available to a victim of unlawful discrimination:

  • In cases of demotion; wrongful termination; constructive discharge; or failure to promote: past and future lost wages, job search costs; and, in some cases, reinstatement.
  • Damages for emotional harm suffered (such as mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of enjoyment of life).
  • Medical expenses
  • The employer also will be required to stop any discriminatory practices and take steps to prevent discrimination in the future.

A successful plaintiff will also be awarded attorney’s fees; expert witness fees; and court costs.

Punitive damages may be awarded to punish an employer who has committed an especially malicious or reckless act of discrimination.

Federal law limits the amount of compensatory damages, future lost wages and/or punitive damages as follows:

  • For employers with 15-100 employees, the limit is $50,000.
  • For employers with 101-200 employees, the limit is $100,000.
  • For employers with 201-500 employees, the limit is $200,000.
  • For employers with more than 500 employees, the limit is $300,000.

Under the New York State Human Rights Law, a victim of unlawful discrimination can be awarded the same types of compensatory damages allowed under federal law, BUT, there is no statutory limit or cap on the amount of compensatory damages.

Punitive damages and attorneys’ fees or costs, however, are not recoverable under the New York State Human Rights Law.

Under the New York City Human Rights Law, there is no limit on compensatory damages. Also, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees are available under the NYCHRL, as are reinstatement, back pay and front pay.

What To Do Next?

If you believe that you have been the victim of unlawful discrimination, please call or email us to set up a free, confidential consultation so that we may discuss the particulars of your situation.

If you are an employer that wants to learn more about how to prevent unlawful discrimination, how to properly respond to a claim of unlawful discrimination; or have been sued and need an experienced employment attorney to defend against the charges, please contact us to set up a free consultation.

Our experienced employment attorneys regularly appear before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), New York State Division of Human Rights, Federal District Court and New York State Courts when representing our clients in employment discrimination matters.

E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy represents clients throughout New York State (including but not limited to Albany County, Schenectady County, Rensselaer County, and Saratoga County.  We offer client meetings at any one of our four convenient office locations in Albany, Latham, Troy or Saratoga Springs, NY.  Contact us today to schedule your meeting.