How Does the NYC Human Rights Law Protect Me from Sexual Harassment at Work?

There are multiple layers of legal protections for victims of sexual harassment in New York City. At the top level there is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is a federal statute adopted by Congress. At the next level there is the New York State Human Rights Law. If you live or work within the five boroughs of New York City, there is a separate Human Rights Law.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) often affords much greater protections than its state or federal counterparts. As the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, said in a 2011 decision, the NYCHRL must be applied “broadly in favor of discrimination plaintiffs, to the extent that such a construction is reasonably possible.” In practical terms, this means that an employee alleging discrimination under the NYCHRL need only prove that “she has been treated less well than other employees because of her gender.”

Appeals Court Reinstates Gender Discrimination Case Against Advertising Company

On August 2, 2018, the Appellate Division, First Department, applied these principles to revive a gender discrimination claim raised by a former corporate executive against her former employer, an advertising agency in Manhattan. The plaintiff, a woman of Indian descent, worked for the defendant for three years.

Her lawsuit centers on the actions of her former supervisor, a senior vice president. On their first day working together, the plaintiff said the supervisor told her “she had beautiful hair.” The next day, he said “she had nice boots.”

While this might sound innocuous, the plaintiff said matters quickly escalated. During a meeting several weeks later, the plaintiff alleged the supervisor touched her thigh “near her knee” and then “lightly squeezed her thigh.” The plaintiff said she interpreted this as a “sexual gesture.”

After this incident, the plaintiff said the supervisor “made my life at [the company] miserable.” She said he was “distant and less communicative” and “subjected her to a barrage of demeaning and negative treatment.” After several months, the plaintiff filed a complaint with the defendant's human resources department, but a manager there dismissed the supervisor's actions as “that's how men are.” Three days later, the supervisor reassigned the plaintiff. The following year, the defendant terminated the plaintiff, ostensibly as part of an overall reduction in force.

The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant on a number of grounds. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit in its entirety. The First Department affirmed the Supreme Court's dismissal except with respect to the alleged gender discrimination under the NYCHRL. On this claim, the Appellate Division said that a jury should decide whether the supervisor “made a sexual overture” and whether he then “created a hostile work environment because [the plaintiff] rebuffed that overture.” The Court noted that “[s]exual advances are not always made explicitly,” and that even “indirect pressure” for “sexual favors” could run afoul of the NYCHRL.

Get Help from a NYC Sex Discrimination Lawyer Today

Proving a sexual harassment claim is never easy, but you can take the first steps towards seeking justice by working with a qualified New York employment attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Nisar Law Group, P.C., today at (646) 760-6493.