Everyone knows that discrimination is wrong, but no one wants to admit that they are perpetuating it. There might be a sign at your workplace, declaring it an Equal Opportunity Employer. You might have even had to sign forms acknowledging that you had read and accepted your employer’s anti-discrimination policies. Even if, on paper, your employer seems to be doing everything right, discrimination might still be going on at your workplace, even if everyone pretends not to notice it. Discrimination can take the form of a single adverse action, such as terminating an employee’s employment for reasons unrelated to the employee’s work performance, or it can be an ongoing pattern of coworkers treating the employee unfairly or disrespectfully in everyday interactions. Employment discrimination is illegal at the federal, state, and local level. If you have been a target of workplace discrimination or if you are wondering whether your employer’s actions fit the legal definition of discrimination, contact the New York City employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
What is a Protected Characteristic in a New York City Workplace?
Employment discrimination is any action or series of actions in which an employer unjustly takes an adverse action against an employee, or otherwise treats the employee unfairly, because of a protected characteristic of the employee. A protected characteristic is an aspect of the employee’s background, beliefs, physical appearance, or health based on which employers are not allowed to exclude employees from the workplace or otherwise marginalize them. According to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York City Human Rights Law, and other pieces of legislation, the following are legally protected characteristics:
- Race, ethnicity, or skin color
- Actual or perceived age
- Religious beliefs or affiliation, or lack thereof
- National origin
- Citizenship status (except for certain federal jobs open only to United States citizens)
- Military status
- Sex, gender identity, gender presentation, or sexual orientation
- Family status, including marital status, parenthood, or childlessness
- Caregiver status or relationship to the person to whom the employee acts as a caregiver
Additionally, New York state law prohibits discrimination against employees and job applicants because of previous criminal convictions. It also requires them to make reasonable accommodations for employees who have been targets of domestic violence or cyberbullying; failure to make these accommodations is considered employment discrimination. New York law applies most anti-discrimination laws to all employers with four or more employees. (The reasoning is that, for example, if a company only has three employees, and they are all men, this is not a large enough sample to prove that they systematically exclude women.) Laws against sexual harassment apply to all employers, however, even if there is only one employee.
What is an Adverse Action in NYC?
It is not employment discrimination if your work supervisor privately holds negative views about you or about a protected characteristic of yours, as long as they treat you fairly and respectfully at work. It is also not employment discrimination if, outside of work, your coworker says negative things to their family or friends about a protected characteristic of yours. Adverse actions are decisions and actions by employers that can be justified because of employee misconduct or consistently poor performance, but never because of a protected characteristic of the employee. These are some examples of adverse actions by employers:
- Refusal to hire
- Unfairly poor review of an employee’s work performance
- Subjecting the employee to more scrutiny or micromanaging than other employees in a similar job position receive
- Demotion, transfer, or reassignment to a position, work site, or schedule that the employee did not request
- Denial of a raise or promotion
- Harassment or hostile work environment
- Termination of employment
- Providing negative references to prospective employers of a former employee
Harassment, also known as a hostile work environment, is the most difficult of these adverse actions to prove because all of the others have a paper trail. In the case of harassment, it is your word against your employer’s about whether the harassment ever took place. Therefore, you should write down notes about every incident of harassment as soon as you start to notice that it is a pattern.
In the case of the other adverse actions, your employer cannot deny that they took these actions, but they can disagree with you about why. Sometimes employers offer vague excuses about why they denied you a raise or reassigned you to the graveyard shift, and sometimes they even tell outright lies about your work performance. This is why it is all the more important to work with the employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
How to File an Employment Discrimination Complaint in New York City
Complaining about discrimination in the workplace is a legally protected activity, and it is against the law for your employer to retaliate against you if you file a complaint. If you are thinking of filing an employment discrimination complaint, the first person you should talk to is a New York employment discrimination lawyer. Employees in New York City have recourse to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), the New York Division of Human Rights, and the New York Commission on Human Rights. These agencies work together to investigate claims about employment discrimination in New York City. It is best to work with an employment discrimination lawyer from the beginning, to help ensure that the agencies take your claim seriously and so you can avoid procedural mistakes that would make it more difficult to pursue your claim. An investigation by the EEOC or one of the other agencies is a prerequisite to filing an employment discrimination lawsuit in court. The deadlines for filing documents at various stages of the case are short, which is another reason to work closely with your lawyer.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, About Employment Discrimination in New York City
HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you resolve disputes with your employer about discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in New York, New York to set up a consultation.