New York State Human Rights Law

The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) is a New York state statute that prohibits employment discrimination based on a wide variety of protected characteristics, including age (18+), race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, pregnancy, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, domestic violence victim status, and previous arrest or conviction record.  The statute also bars retaliation against employees for asserting their rights under the statute.  The statute also requires employers to prohibit and prevent discrimination against non-employees in the workplace.

The NYSHRL applies to all employers throughout the state of New York, regardless of size, including state and local governments, but not the federal government.  Unlike Title VII, individual business owners and supervisors may be held liable under the NYSHRL.  The NYSHRL imposes strict requirements on employers for prohibiting and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

With respect to disability discrimination, the statute defines “disability” more broadly than the ADA, as “(a) a physical, mental or medical impairment resulting from anatomical, physiological, genetic or neurological conditions which prevents the exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques or (b) a record of such an impairment or (c) a condition regarded by others as such an impairment, provided, however, that in all provisions of this article dealing with employment, the term shall be limited to disabilities which, upon the provision of reasonable accommodations, do not prevent the complainant from performing in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation sought or held.” N.Y. Exec. Law § 292(21).

If an employee proves discrimination in violation of the NYSHRL, the remedies available under the statute include hiring, reinstatement, promotion, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs.  The statute imposes strict requirements for parties to enter into a confidential settlement agreement.

An employee 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, an employee should discuss his or her complaints of discrimination promptly with a qualified employment lawyer.

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