Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers New York employment discrimination. The purpose of New York antidiscrimination laws is to protect workers in New York from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about New York employment law and how the law protects you.
1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in New York?
The New York City Human Rights Law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, age, perceived age, national origin, alienage, citizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, partnership status, pregnancy and caregiver status. There is also protection for discrimination based on arrest or conviction record, status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses. Under New York City law, all covered employers must provide reasonable accommodations to the needs of pregnant workers. In addition, employees who are victims of domestic violence and/or cyberbullying are entitled to be reasonably accommodated with regard to job modifications, specifically time off to handle matters related to the abuse. All employees are covered for retaliation for making complaints about the aforementioned types of discrimination, so long as the employee has a good faith reasonable belief that such discrimination has occurred. The New York City law covers all employers with four or more employees.
The New York State Human Rights Law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, political, affiliation or belief, genetics, military status, sex, disability, genetic predisposition and/or carrier status, age (over 18), marital status, familial status, prior arrest or conviction record.and domestic victim status. Similar to the City Human Rights Law, the State law protects employees who make reasonable good faith complaints about discrimination. The New York State Human Rights Law covers employers with four or more employees. However, for claims for sexual harassment, an employee can bring a claim even if she (or he) is the only employee.
New York state law also provides broader protection for disabled employees than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it defines disability more broadly, potentially including such conditions as obesity and stress-related illness within the definition of disability.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in New York?
In New York, there are three places that you can file a discrimination claim. A discrimination claim can be filed with the state administrative agency, the New York Division of Human Rights (DHR) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you live in New York City, you can also file a discrimination claim with the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with each agency is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agencies. If you live in New York City and have an age discrimination claim, you should not file with CHR, as it does not have a work-sharing agreement for age discrimination claims.
For federal claims, for instance under Title VII, an employee must first file with the EEOC within 300 days of the act of discrimination. Filing with the EEOC is a mandatory requirement before filing a lawsuit in federal court. You must receive a “notice of right to sue” from the EEOC before you can file in federal court.
For claims of discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law you can file a claim with the DHR within one year of the date on which the discriminatory act took place. Moreover, without first filing with the DHR, you may instead initiate a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court (“NYS Supreme Ct.”) An employee has three years from the act of discrimination complained of to file such a lawsuit.
Employees filing charges or lawsuits in New York City or New York State should be aware that you cannot file simultaneously in two venues, for example, the New York City CHR and New York State Supreme Ct. In other words, an employee whould have to choose where to file, assuming it is before the one year requirement for either the State DHR or New York City CHR has passed. Because there are legal implications as to where a complainant files it may be a good idea to consult with an attorney before you make that decision.
Helpful Resources: These websites will provide information about how to file with the EEOC, the DHR and the CHR and the office locations where you need to go to file a Complaint:
For the EEOC: www.eeoc.gov.
For the New York State DHR: www.dhr.ny.gov
For the New York City CHR: www.nyc.gov/html/cchr
New York State Division on Human Rights
To file a claim with the DHR, contact the nearest office below.
Albany Regional Office
Buffalo Tasha Moore
Long Island (Nassau)
Long Island (Suffolk)
New York City Commission on Human Rights
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.
US Equal Opportunity Commission
3. What are my time deadlines?
If you choose to file a discrimination claim with one of these administrative agencies, do not delay in filing a claim. Both the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the New York State Division on Human Rights give you a one year deadline to file your claim. If you choose to file your claim with the EEOC, you have 180 days to file your claim, unless a proceeding involving the same acts is instituted first with the New York State Division of Human Rights or New York City Commission of Human Rights. If you have already filed a claim with the New York State Division of Human Rights or New York City Commission of Human Rights, then you must file within 300 days. For more information on the specific agency’s requirements can be found at the following locations:
If you live outside New York City, you may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or “ordinance.” Some cities and counties in New York (in addition to New York City) have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.
4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in New York?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the CHR, DHR or EEOC and you want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. (Please note that once you file with CHR or DHR, you are not allowed to go to court under state law, unless your case is dismissed for “administrative convenience” reasons. The remedies that can be awarded by CHR and DHR are more limited than those under federal law.)
A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC investigate your case and issue a “Notice of Right to Sue.” There is no administrative filing prerequisite required in order to proceed with your discrimination claim under State or City law.
New York State law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages that are capped under federal law, but does not permit the punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) and attorneys’ fees recoverable for a discrimination claim that are allowed under federal law. Therefore, many New York attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal and state law. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. A case filed in state court using federal law may be “removed” to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.
New York city law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages that are capped under federal law, and also does not limit or cap the punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) and attorneys’ fees recoverable for a discrimination claim. Therefore, for workers living in New York City, many New York attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal, state and city law. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. A case filed in state court using federal law may be “removed” to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.
The EEOC must first issue the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.)
A lawsuit based on your state or New York City discrimination claim must be filed within 3 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against.
These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.” If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.