You may have heard of the New York State Women's Equality Act which has been in the news over the last few years primarily because it has failed to pass. The major sticking point has been the issue of reproductive rights – one of the bills of the ten that comprise the Act seeks to codify the US Supreme Court's holding in Roe v. Wade and protect women's reproductive rights. The State Assembly has passed the entire 10-point bill twice but, by the end of the June 2014 legislative session, the Senate had failed to pass the bill. In March 2015, State Democrats agreed to split the reproductive rights portion of the Act off from the rest and, on March 25, the Assembly passed the reproductive rights bill (it is not expected to pass the Senate).
How would the other portions of the Act further women's rights in New York?
- The provisions of the New York Equal Pay Act (Labor Law 194) would be strengthened to close loopholes, outlaw workplace secrecy and increase available damages to 300% of unpaid wages. The Equal Pay Act seeks to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work (there is a federal counterpart as well) but loopholes in the law allow employers too much leeway in their discretion to pay women less than men. In addition, because employers often discourage or prohibit employees from discussing their salaries, women often do not know that they are being paid less than their male counterparts. At D'Orazio Peterson we have had clients who did not know they were being paid less than men until a coworker felt a duty to disclose that information and who were disciplined or chastised for discussing salary information with coworkers.
- All employers would be prohibited from engaging in sexual harassment. Currently, the New York State Human Rights Law (which prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination) only applies to employers with 4 or more employees.
All Employers Would Be Prohibited From Engaging in Sexual Harassment
- Attorneys' fees would be recoverable in sex discrimination in employment, housing and credit and lending cases. Currently, there are no attorneys' fees recoverable for any employment discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law. This takes a lot of the bite out of an employment lawsuit particularly where an employee has not suffered a large amount of monetary damages and may prevent attorneys from taking on employment cases because they are too expensive to litigate absent the possible recovery of fees. Attorneys' fees are recoverable under Title VII (which prohibits sex and pregnancy discrimination) but Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
- Protect employees from “familial status” discrimination, e.g., for being parents, in employment. As we have discussed in prior articles, mothers typically earn less money than men (with and without children) and women without children.
Protecting Mothers from earning less then men
- Require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women. In previous articles we discussed the fact that there is currently no federal or state law which explicitly requires employers to provide accommodations to pregnant women whose pregnancy related limitations do not rise to the level of a “disability” under the law (ADA or Human Rights Law) or a “serious medical condition” under the FMLA. Although the US Supreme Court recently found in a pregnant woman's favor in a well-known case against UPS, it applied ordinarily principles of pregnancy discrimination law, did not find that accommodations were required for non-disabled pregnant workers, and called into question EEOC regulations which could have been read to require such accommodations. Accordingly, even though the UPS case was a “win” for pregnant workers, there still remains a large loophole in the law.
- Additionally, the Women's Equality Act includes several provisions designed to protect victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Learn more about gender discrimination and sexual harassment here. If you have questions about this act or a New York Gender Discrimination lawsuit give us a call at 518-308-8339.
Giovanna A. D'Orazio by Giovanna A. D'Orazio |
Giovanna practices employment, land use, commercial, civil and personal injury law at D'Orazio Peterson