New York State Lawmakers Pass Legislation Strengthening Sexual Harassment Laws

You work hard at your job and are entitled to a workplace free of unlawful harassment and discrimination.  Fortunately for New York workers, on June 19, 2019 the New York State Assembly and Senate voted to strengthen New York’s sexual harassment laws.  The bills remove the long held “severe or pervasive” standard from New York’s sexual harassment law, which advocates of the bills argued had allowed judges to dismiss claims of inappropriate comments or even groping as insufficiently hostile.  Provisions in the bills also include an end to non-disclosure agreements unless confidentiality is the complainant’s preference.  Non-disclosure agreements have long served to protect serial harassers and silence victims who fear legal retribution for speaking out.  The bills also make punitive damages available to employees who prevail on sexual harassment claims.  Governor Cuomo has pledged to sign the legislation into law.

Sexual harassment is a kind of gender discrimination, and it is prohibited by Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as state statutes such as the New York Human Rights Law, and city statutes like the New York City Human Rights law.

A common type of sexual harassment is known as “hostile work environment harassment.”  This occurs when an employee encounters sexual advances, unwelcome verbal or physical attention, or other inappropriate sex-based behavior that is so abusive, intimidating, or offensive that it unreasonably interferes with the victim’s ability to perform his or her work.  That behavior can also take the form of non-sexual comments, such as comments about one gender.

Another form of sexual harassment is known as “quid pro quo,” which refers to situations where an employee’s submission to or rejection of sexual demands negatively influences employment decisions.  As an example, it may be considered quid pro quo harassment if a boss, manager, or other superior with authority either demands or implies that an employee must go out on a date, engage in sexual banter, or even provide sexual favors, in return for being hired, keeping a job, or getting a raise or promotion.

If you have been a victim of sexual harassment at your workplace, or if your employer has retaliated against you for complaining about sexual harassment in your workplace, please contact us today to discuss your legal options.