New York State Enacts Several Laws to Strengthen Sex Discrimination Prohibitions

Last month, Governor Cuomo signed five bills into law that strengthen New York law’s prohibitions against sexual discrimination. Each of these bills form a part of the Women’s Equality Act, and collectively address such areas as equal pay for equal work, sexual harassment, familial status discrimination, attorneys’ fees in sexual discrimination and sexual harassment cases, and reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. The laws, which are described below, will take effect on January 19, 2016.

Pay Equity
Although New York law already prohibits employers from paying women less than men for performing the same work, the bill strengthens such prohibitions by (1) making it unlawful for an employer to prohibit employees from sharing their wage information with each other, thereby enabling employees to determine whether there exists a salary disparity between them and their coworkers; (2) requiring an employer to show that pay differentials between men and women are due to “a bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training and experience,” and otherwise limiting the circumstances under which pay disparities between men and women might be permitted; (3) increasing the amount of damages in cases of sexual pay disparities based upon sex from 100% liquidated damages to 300%.

Sexual Harassment
Currently, the New York State Human Rights Law only applies to employers with four or more employees. The bill expands the definition to cover all employers in New York State, regardless of the number of individuals employed, for sexual harassment cases.

Familial Status
Prior to this bill, New York only prohibited familial status discrimination in the areas of housing and credit. Now, such discrimination is prohibited in the area of employment. “Familial status” is defined to mean: (a) any person who is pregnant or has a child or is in the process of securing legal custody of any individual who has not attained the age of eighteen years, or (b) one or more individuals (who have not attained the age of eighteen years) being domiciled with: (1) a parent or another person having legal custody of such individual or individuals, or (2) the designee of such parent.

Attorneys’ Fees
The New York State Human Rights Law did not permit for a prevailing employee’s attorneys’ fees. The new law allows successful plaintiffs alleging sex discrimination to recover attorneys’ fees in employment or credit discrimination cases.

Reasonable Accommodations
This law clarifies that employers must make reasonable accommodations to pregnant women in the same way that employers are obligated to reasonably accommodate the known disabilities of its employees. Thus, the new law expressly imposes an obligation on employers to provide reasonable accommodations stemming from medical conditions relating to pregnancy.

The complete text of these laws can be viewed by clicking Chapters 362 through 369 Laws of 2015.

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