In recent years New York has taken steps to extend employee protections against sex discrimination and sexual harassment to include transgender workers. In 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new statewide regulations that added “gender identity” to the list of protected classes under New York Human Rights Law. Under these rules, “[d]iscrimination on the basis of gender identity is sex discrimination.”
Agency Claims Restaurant Employee Fired for Complaining About Harassment
At the federal level, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has also taken steps to include discrimination on the basis of a person's gender identity within the umbrella of sex discrimination. For example, the EEOC recently filed a lawsuit against a national casual-dining restaurant chain over the alleged harassment and wrongful termination of a transgender employee. The lawsuit will be heard by a federal judge in Manhattan.
According to the EEOC's complaint, the former employee is a transgender female, that is, a person who was designated as male at birth but presently identifies as female. The EEOC said that from her first day on the job, the employee was “repeatedly harassed” about her gender identity. For instance, the EEOC said that co-workers “repeatedly stood in groups gawking, laughing, and pointing” at the employee and referred to her using “derogatory language.” They also refused to identify the employee as female and, despite her objections, referred to her as “he.”
The complaint further alleged that the company's management witnessed this activity and did nothing to stop it. The EEOC quoted one manager as saying he would not fire anyone for harassing the employee. When the employee continued to complain about her treatment, the complaint said the harassment “intensified.” Eventually, a regional director for the employer fired the employee. The EEOC said this occurred “days” after the director learned that the employee was transgender, and there was no evidence of “any performance warnings” given to the employee related to her actual work.
The EEOC is seeking reinstatement of the employee with back pay. The EEOC also wants an unspecified amount of damages to compensate the employee for her “emotional pain, humiliation, and inconvenience, as well as punitive damages to sanction the employer for its "malicious and reckless conduct.”
Have You Been Targeted for Discrimination Based on Sex or Gender Identity?
Once again, the EEOC's complaint is merely a statement of allegations. The agency will still have to prove its charges in court. But this lawsuit illustrates the type of employer conduct that can lead to an employment discrimination claim.
All employers have a legal duty under state and federal law to keep their workplaces free of discrimination. This includes not just discrimination at the hands of ownership and management but also fellow employees. An employer cannot ignore evidence of sexual harassment, and it certainly cannot fire or retaliate against an employee who complains of such harassment.
If you have been the victim of illegal discrimination due to your sex or gender identity, you should speak with an experienced New York employment law attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar in New York City or Long Island to schedule a consultation today.