Employers in New York and nationwide are watching the workplace discrimination lawsuits emerging against giant technology companies. Following on the heels of the high-profile gender discrimination case against the venture capital company Kleiner Perkins, Facebook has now been named in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a former female employee of Chinese descent.
As New York workers may know, federal law protects employees from harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The term disability has multiple meanings and includes individuals whose activities are limited due to a mental or physical disability. Individuals who have had a disabling illness in the past, which is under control, may be considered disabled. Someone with a type of disability that lasts for six months or longer may claim disability status. Employers are unable to discriminate against the disabled.
A former steel worker from ArcelorMittal Steel was awarded approximately $4 million by an appeals court after he filed a lawsuit against the company for the harassment and racial insults he endured while working there. The lawsuit was filed in 2012, and he was initially awarded $25 million. It was later lowered to the current amount when the company appealed the initial ruling.
Individuals in New York may be aware that since 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has included transgender people as one of the groups protected against workplace discrimination, but now the federal government is changing its interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2006, the Justice Department said Title VII did not apply to discrimination against transgender people, but it has reversed that decision. It is now asserting that it will now bring claims on behalf of state and local government transgender employees who are asserting that they have been subject to discrimination, and will no longer maintain its position that Title VII does not apply.
New York employers are forbidden from discriminating against an otherwise-qualified worker due to current, former or perceived disability status. Even if an employee does not have a disability but the employer believes that he or she does, discriminatory actions against the employee are against the law.
Employees in New York may benefit from learning more about the state's laws against workplace discrimination. New York's Human Rights Law reflects similarly to the provisions established under federal discrimination laws. The Human Rights Law specifically prohibits discrimination against disabilities. The state's Division of Human Rights is an administrative agency tasked with enforcing the act and investigating complaints of violations. When appropriate, the agency may process a discrimination claim concurrently with federal entities.
Discrimination in the workplace can present itself in many different ways. If an employer denies a person a job or promotion or fires an employee based on one of the protected statuses, that person may be able to file a discrimination claim. Protected statuses in New York include race, gender, age, disability, religious or political affiliation, marital status, sexual orientation, national origin, genetics, genetic predisposition or carrier status, arrest and conviction record and veteran status. The law also prohibits retaliation by the employer after an employee files a claim.
Criminal background checks in the hiring process are a common procedure used by many companies in New York. As a society, we may be trained to accept this process. When a commercial vehicle is involved in an accident, the driver’s driving record (if any) may be detailed in news reports. If a teacher is accused of abusing students, the question of any potential criminal background may make headlines.
A lawyer who works for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that racial harassment and other forms of racial discrimination are rampant within the federal agency. She made her statements while testifying before the House Financial Services Subcommittee. The hearing was scheduled in response to an agency survey that showed that workers at the agency know that white employees are rated higher than minorities in the agency in the system the agency uses to determine employee benefits, including rate of pay and opportunity for bonuses.
The New York Police Department has 29 divers who are dispatched to search for submerged victims of accident, search for evidence in criminal investigations that may have been discarded underwater and similar duties. A man who joined the police force after working as a life guard in his younger years sought to join the scuba unit in 2003. The man’s penchant for physical fitness, his swimming abilities and work with the police force seemed to dovetail nicely for his desire to join the scuba team.