Which Employment Discrimination Laws Protect New York City Workers?

Employment discrimination law is (for the most part) statutory, and is distributed among a variety of federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Although these statutes’ protections may overlap, they differ in terms of (e.g.) which employers are covered, administrative filing prerequisites, and damages/remedies.

Below is a summary (not a complete listing or explanation) of the various statutes that, in principle, protect workers in New York City.

Federal Laws

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII is a significant source of federal anti-discrimination law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, and religion. Title VII applies to employers who have 15 or more employees.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967: The ADEA prohibits discrimination against individuals (age 40 and older) because of their age. The ADEA applies to employers who have 20 or more employees.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title I): Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals” with a “disability.” The ADA applies to employers who have 15 or more employees.

Note: In order to pursue a Title VII, ADEA, or ADA claim in federal court, a plaintiff must first exhaust their administrative remedies by filing a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Equal Pay Act of 1963: The EPA – which is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex “for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions”, subject to certain exceptions.

Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866: Codified at 42 U.S.C. 1981, this statute has been interpreted as prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race in the making and enforcement of private contracts.

New York State Law

New York State Human Rights Law: This statute, codified beginning at Section 290 of the New York Executive Law, prohibits discrimination on the basis of  age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, or domestic violence victim status. It applies to employers with four or more employees (but, with respect to sexual harassment, applies to all employers in New York State regardless of size). With certain exceptions, it does not provide for the recovery of attorney fees.

New York City Law

New York City Human Rights Law: This statute, which applies in New York City only, prohibits discrimination because of a person’s actual or perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, caregiver status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status. It is broader than its federal and state counterparts, and provides a wide range of remedies, including attorney fees and punitive damages.

In addition to prohibiting discrimination based on one or more protected characteristics, these statutes also prohibit retaliation for engaging in “protected activity.”

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