June 21, 2019
On June 19, 2019, the New York State legislature voted to pass bill A08421, a new law which changes the legal landscape governing discrimination and harassment in the workplace. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law. At its core, this bill:
Summary of Changes
Inspired by the Me Too and Times Up movements, the New York State legislature explained that its aim with this bill was to translate the work and goals of those movements into policy to enact further protections for all workers—of all protected categories—against all types of harassment (not just sexual harassment). With that goal in mind, the New York legislature explained that “[i]t is time for New York State law to abandon the protection of those who would discriminate and sexually harass in the workplace and recognize and serve victims of discrimination.”
This section summarizes the changes to the law, the majority of which will take effect on August 19, 2019.
In addition to the provisions described above, the new bill increases the statute of limitations under which a victim of sexual harassment must file an administrative complaint with the New York State Department of Human Rights from one to three years.
Takeaways for Employers
This new law is a continuation of the changes to the law that took effect in October 2018, and together the changes have resulted in a significant alteration of discrimination and harassment law in New York State.
Previously, the NYSHRL was interpreted consistently with federal law. That will likely no longer be the case going forward. In those cases in which an employee brings claims under federal law, the NYSHRL, and the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), a court may now have to apply three different legal standards, further complicating the litigation of these types of cases.
In addition, the elimination of the “severe and pervasive” standard will arguably make it easier for employees to plead and prove sexual harassment and other harassment claims, and we expect that the true contours of the new standard will need to be worked out by the courts. We expect that the revised legal standard, coupled with the expansion of actionable harassment claims beyond just sexual harassment, will result in an increase in these types of claims (or, at a minimum, an increase in the number of threatened claims). With the availability of punitive damages and attorneys’ fees in all discrimination claims, the potential damages in these actions also will meaningfully increase.
Employers should review their form employment, confidentiality, arbitration, separation, settlement and other agreements in light of these new requirements regarding arbitration and non-disclosure provisions. There remains an open question as to whether the prohibition on mandatory arbitration agreements would survive a legal challenge in light of the Federal Arbitration Act—and the NYSHRL itself states that the arbitration ban does not apply “where inconsistent with federal law”—and employers should consult counsel with respect to their approach to arbitration agreements. Employers should also ensure that their harassment and discrimination prevention training complies with the new requirements and that their procedures for preventing harassment and discrimination are consistent with current best practices.
Gibson Dunn lawyers are available to assist in addressing any questions you may have about this development. Please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work in the firm’s Labor and Employment practice group, or the following authors in New York:
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