Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

The #MeToo movement highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment in workplaces across the country and in New York. For years, if not decades, employers have had a variety of ways to keep instances of workplace sexual harassment in the dark. One way was confidential settlement agreements. In other words, employers could pay employees alleging sexual harassment to “keep quiet.”

Another way, was to require that employees who were alleging workplace sexual harassment fight their claims in mandatory secret arbitration, instead of publicly in court. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses a new law passed by Congress which addresses these forced arbitrations.

Since the beginning of the #MeToo movement’s growing publicity, lawmakers have worked to take away employer’s tools for silencing sexual harassment victims. Federally, Congress altered the tax code to prohibit payments to sexual harassment victims from being categorized as a deductible business expense when the employer requires confidentiality about the payment, as a term for payment. Arguably, the goal was to make employers re-consider whether payments should be confidential and to provide incentive for employers to remove confidentiality terms from settlement agreements. F&W would argue that this is not effective.

Long Island employment lawyers Famighetti & Weinick PLLC have obtained a $221,980 judgment against a Long Island metal fabrication company and its owner.  The judgment in this sexual harassment and retaliation case was issued after an inquest on damages, held in Suffolk County Supreme Court in September 2019.

The New York State Human Rights law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of, among many other factors, sex.  Discrimination can include creating a hostile work environment based on sex.  Further, the New York State Human Rights law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who oppose or complain about unlawful discrimination in the workplace.

In this case, F&W’s client alleged she faced ongoing, persistent sexual harassment while working for the defendant corporation. Some of the conduct included supervisors and co-workers suggesting that they wanted to perform sex acts on the plaintiff, talking about her body, and suggesting that she participate in a wet t-shirt contest at work.  After the plaintiff complained about these acts, the owner first reduced her work hours, then terminated her entirely.

October 2019 was a busy time in the world of employment law. Two major developments include (1) New York State sexual harassment training deadline hits; and (2) the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a Title VII case which will decide whether the federal workplace anti-discrimination laws prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses these developments.

1. Sexual Harassment Training in New York

As of October 9, 2019, all employers in New York, regardless of size, must have completed sexual harassment training for all employees. The training must include an explanation of what sexual harassment is, it must provide examples of sexual harassment, it must discuss available remedies for victims of sexual harassment, and it must discuss how victims can bring complaints of sexual harassment.

As Long Island employment lawyers, a question we frequently hear from callers is what rights do employees have who have been accused of sexual harassment. Although the exact answer depends on the particular circumstances, unfortunately, the most frequent answer is that the accused does not enjoy many rights, if any at all. This is so because the law favors (and in most cases requires) that employers take action against employees who are engaging in unlawful discrimination and harassment.

Moreover, most employees in New York are at-will, so employers can terminate their employment, for any reason, even for being falsely accused of sexual harassment.  But, New York’s federal appellate court has recently issued a decision which enforces that accused employees enjoy some rights, including protections under anti-discrimination laws. Today’s Long Island employment law blog explores the decision in Menaker v. Hofstra University.

In 2011, the United States Department of Education issued a memo to American colleges and universities which required them to “prioritize” investigation of sexual harassment claims. This memo was made in response to prior criticisms of the way schools had been handling harassment complaints. As of 2015, Hofstra was identified as a university which the DOE was investigating for possible mishandling of sexual misconduct claims.

The phrase “sexual harassment” has certainly been in the news lately. But, it may be hard to discern when an individual has been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, at least in the eyes of the law. The United States Supreme Court has established standards for courts to follow when analyzing sexual harassment claims, yet it is still difficult for judges around the country to determine whether an employer has participated in unlawful activity.

The Supreme court has created a high standard under federal law that plaintiff-employees must clear in order to prove that they were victims of sexual harassment. Fortunately for New York employees, on June 19, 2019, the New York State Legislature approved a bill (S.B.6577) that offers more workplace protections for workers. Below are some of the amendments the bill seeks to make to New York State sexual harassment laws.

Elimination of the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

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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