Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

Famighetti & Weinick PLLC are Long Island employment lawyers. We receive many calls each week from potential clients and we hear a wide variety of questions from them. One question we hear a lot is “I thought I can’t sue my employer?” Why do employees ask this question and what’s the answer? Today’s Long Island employment law blog explores this issue.

Personal injury law applies when employees are hurt or injured in the workplace. In New York and on Long Island, workers compensation law covers situations where employees are hurt at work.  Under workers compensation, employees generally cannot sue their employers for workplace injuries.  Because many people are familiar with the concept of workers compensation, they believe that the rule prohibiting lawsuits based on workplace injuries applies to all workplace matters.

But, workers compensation does not act as a prohibition against all lawsuits relating to the workplace.  Even in the world of personal injury, sometimes employees can still pursue lawsuits based on injuries incurred in the workplace.  For example, employees injured from construction site accidents may be able to sue the property owner or a general contractor. Further, employees injured in a car accident may be able to sue the other driver.  Similarly, if a worker is injured on property which does not belong to the employer, the worker may be able to sue the property owner.  Also, New York’s scaffolding law protects employees working with ladders, or otherwise working at heights.  Before concluding that you cannot recover for your workplace injuries in court, it’s best to consult with an experience employment lawyer or a personal injury lawyer.

On October 9, 2018, new laws concerning sexual harassment in the workplace will take effect in New York State. Included in these changes are coverage for independent contractors under the New York State Human Rights Law, training requirements for employees, and employee handbook and policy requirements. Today’s Long Island employment law blog looks at some of these changes.

Expansion of the New York State Human Rights Law’s Coverage

The New York State Human Rights Law is the primary source of state employment discrimination laws in New York. The HRL prevents many forms of discrimination in the workplace including discrimination based on an employees age, race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion, disability, or criminal conviction status.  The law, however, generally applied to only employees.  In other words, independent contractors, vendors, or others, may not have been protected from sexual harassment in a workplace if the individual was not an employee of that particular employer.

How much is an employment discrimination lawsuit worth? As Long Island employment lawyers, this is a frequent question we hear from victims of unlawful workplace discrimination in New York.  Victims of discrimination may be able to recover several categories of damages which comprise the total amount that an employment discrimination lawsuit may be worth. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the damages available to discrimination victims.

Before even getting to the question of damages, plaintiffs must always first prove liability. This means that an employment discrimination plaintiff must first prove that the employer in fact engaged in unlawful discrimination or retaliation. We often describe this step by analogizing it to baking. In a lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove certain elements. Elements are like ingredients. If, for example, we were baking a cake, we need, for simplicity purposes, four ingredients: (1) flour, (2) sugar, (3) butter, and (4) eggs.  If we did not have one of these ingredients, we may make something resembling a cake, but it would not be a cake.

Similarly, in the world of employment discrimination, a plaintiff must prove four “elements” or “ingredients” to win the liability part of his or her lawsuit.  In short, those elements are: (1) membership in a protected class (such as race, religion, disability, etc.), (2) being qualified for the job; (3) an adverse action (meaning something legally “bad” happened such as being fired); and (4) causation – a showing  that the bad thing happened because the employee belongs to a protected class. If the plaintiff does not prove one of these elements, then the “cake” won’t reason, i.e. the plaintiff cannot prove the case and will not be entitled to any damages whatsoever.

On December 20, 2017, the United States Congress passed a tax bill which changed many provisions of the United States tax code.  Many of those most prominent changes received extensive coverage by the press.  One smaller provision, however, did not receive much attention, but has the potential to affect sexual harassment cases in a significant way.  Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the so-called “Weinstein” provision in the new tax bill.

Sexual Harassment Cases

For many reasons, victims of sexual harassment are often reluctant to bring their stories to light and to seek justice for the abuse they faced.  One of the reasons victims are reluctant is that sexual harassment cases are often he said, she said, so victims are afraid that they won’t be believed.  Perhaps a more troubling reason is that victims are worried that by making their claims public, their careers and/or reputations will be hurt.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is a federal agency charged with investigating and enforcing the federal anti-discrimination workplace laws, such as Title VII, ADA, ADEA, and GINA.  These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, pregnancy, disability, age, and genetic information.  These laws also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who complain about discrimination.

Charge of Discrimination

The EEOC can start an investigation when an employee files a charge of discrimination with the agency.  The charge must contain the employee’s name and contact information, the employer’s name and contact information, the total number of employees employed, a description of the discrimination including when the events took place, the basis of discrimination (i.e. race, religion, age), and a signature.  The charge can be filed in person, by phone, or by mail.  In New York, the EEOC charge must be filed within 300 days of the event which gave rise to the discrimination.  This deadline can vary between states so if you are not in New York, you should check with your local EEOC office.  New York’s EEOC office is located on Whitehall Street in Manhattan.

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