New York State’s Anti-Harassment Laws Greatly Expanded

06.25.2019

The NYS Legislature recently approved changes to the state’s discrimination and harassment laws. Governor Cuomo has indicated that he intends to sign the legislation. Among the major changes are the following:

  • NYS employers of any size are covered by anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. Previously, this was only true in sexual harassment cases.
  • Traditionally, a NYS employer had a strong defense to a claim if an employee did not use the internal complaint procedure. Now, whether an employee made a complaint or not will not be determinative of the employer’s liability in the employee’s claim.
  • Individuals bringing claims will not have to meet as stringent evidentiary requirements.
    • The traditional standard that harassment must be “severe and pervasive” will no longer apply. Now, a complainant must show that the conduct in question rises above the level of “petty slights and trivial inconveniences.” 
    • Individuals claiming discrimination will not be required to show that a comparator was treated better than them to allege or establish such a claim.  Punitive damages will be available in discrimination, harassment, and retaliation cases. 
  • A prevailing employee “shall” be awarded attorney’s fees, while a prevailing employer may seek attorneys’ fees if it can show the employee brought a frivolous claim.
  • Employers must distribute their harassment policy both at the time of hire and during annual sexual harassment prevention training. The policy must be given in English, as well as in the language identified by each employee as that employee’s primary language so long as NYS published a model policy in that primary language. 

Please note that this law applies to NYS claims but not to federal Title VII claims for discrimination and sexual harassment.

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