In 1945, the New York State Legislature passed what was the first civil rights law in the country. This law – which is now known as the Human Rights Law – prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, credit, places of public accommodation, internships, domestic services, volunteer firefighting, and private, non-sectarian educational institutions. Under the Human Rights Law, every citizen has an “equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life.”
The Human Rights Law protects individuals from unlawful discrimination based on their: age, creed, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, gender identity or expression, domestic violence victim status (in employment only), disability, pregnancy-related condition, military status, favorably resolved arrest record, conviction record, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, lawful source of income (in housing only).
People are also protected from retaliation for filing complaints or opposing discrimination.
A person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the NYSHRL may either file a complaint with the New York State Human Rights Division, which will investigate and decide the claim, or file a lawsuit directly in court, but not both. This is an “election of remedies” provision and, with few exceptions, strictly limits the employee’s choice of which remedial path to pursue. There is a one-year statute of limitations for filing a complaint with the Human Rights Division (three years for sexual harassment complaints). There is a three-year statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in court.
Because the rules and procedures under the NYSHRL are complicated, a person who believes he or she has been discriminated against should consult promptly with a qualified employment lawyer.