New women’s equality laws take effect in NY today

Staff Reports Posted 19 January 2016 at 12:00 am

A series of new laws for women’s equality took effect today, including legislation for pay equity and more protections for victims of domestic violence.

“New York continues to lead the nation in promoting fairness, equality and justice for all,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “More than a century ago, our state was the birthplace of the national women’s rights movement, and now we are building on that legacy with the enactment of the women’s equality agenda.”

The new laws include:

Achieve Pay Equity: This bill (S. 1 / A. 6075) would strengthen New York State law to truly prohibit employers from paying women less than men for performing the same work. The bill eliminates a loophole in the current law that allows employers to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries under threat of termination or suspension. Specifically, the bill would allow employees to discuss their wages with each other. Further, the bill increases the amount of damages available to an employee if an employer willfully violates the law.

Protect victims of sexual harassment: This bill (S. 2 / A. 5360) protects all employees from sexual harassment in the workplace regardless of the size of the employer. Currently, the definition of “employer” excludes employers with fewer than four employees, thus prohibiting individuals from filing harassment complaints with the Division of Human Rights against those employers. This new law expands the definition of “employer” to cover all employers within New York in sexual harassment cases so that an employee of any business can file a workplace sexual harassment complaint.

Remove Barriers to Remedying Discrimination: This bill (S. 3 / A.7189) allows successful plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees in employment or credit discrimination cases based on sex. This law enables victims, most of whom are women, to have the opportunity to vindicate their rights and be made whole in cases where they prevail. Under existing New York State law, plaintiffs cannot recover attorney fees at trial for employment discrimination cases, making it costly to bring a case.

End Family Status Discrimination: This bill (S. 4 / A. 7317) prohibits employment discrimination based on familial status. Currently, New York State law only prohibits discrimination based on familial status in the areas of housing and credit, however, employees often suffer from stereotypes relative to their status as parents or guardians of children under the age of eighteen. Women have been most affected by stereotyped views of parents in the work place and are less likely to be recommended for hire or promoted. This new law prohibits employment agencies, licensing agencies, or labor organizations from discriminating against workers based on their familial status.

Protect Victims of Domestic Violence from Housing Discrimination: This bill (S. 5 / A. 6354-B) prohibits landlords from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. Currently, under New York State law an individual could be denied housing on the basis of his or her status as a victim of domestic violence. This new bill protects victims of domestic violence from discrimination when they attempt to rent or lease housing, and provide them with an affirmative defense in eviction proceedings and a private right of action. Additionally, this bill would create a Task Force to study the impact that source of income has on access to housing.

Protect Victims of Domestic Violence by Strengthening Order-of-Protection Laws: This bill (S. 6 / A. 6262) creates a pilot program to allow domestic violence victims to seek temporary orders of protection through electronic means rather than having to appear in person. Currently domestic violence victims face significant obstacles in securing protection from their abusers. For example, some victims require immediate temporary orders of protection, but have no means to travel to the appropriate family court. To remove these obstacles and ensure these victims are able to secure much-needed orders of protection, this bill would allow the Office of Court Administration to develop a pilot program to allow victims to petition for temporary orders of protection remotely. In addition, this bill ensures that orders of protection are translated, when needed, and makes clear that a victim of domestic violence who has an order of protection against her abuser cannot be accused of violating her own order of protection.

Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws: This bill (S. 7 / A. 506) strengthens existing law in New York State to combat human trafficking. It eliminates the requirement that coercion be proven in a sex trafficking prosecution when the victims are minors, increases penalties for the crime, and creates an affirmative defense in prostitution prosecutions if the defendant was a trafficking victim. In addition, the new law makes it easier for victims of human trafficking to receive support services, and requires training for law enforcement to adequately address human trafficking crimes.

Protect Women from Pregnancy Discrimination: This bill (S. 8 / A. 4272) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Some pregnancies can result in medical conditions requiring certain accommodations within the workplace and current protections for pregnant women are confusing and have been misinterpreted. This new law clarifies that employers must perform a reasonable accommodation analysis for pregnant employees.

“I am proud to see these laws take effect today, and will continue to fight to ensure New York remains a beacon for social justice, fairness and opportunity for all,” Cuomo said.

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, issued this statement today:

“I am honored to announce that historic measures to protect New York’s women from things like domestic violence and workplace discrimination have become law today,” Hawley said. “My colleagues and I in the Assembly Minority Conference worked tirelessly to ensure that these individual bills came to the floor for a vote. While members of the Assembly Majority used this issue as campaign rhetoric, we continued our unwavering support and never lost sight of the importance to our state’s women. I am proud to be part of this memorable day and will continue to lead the fight on women’s rights.”