Employment Discrimination in New York & New Jersey
Discrimination and harassment remain common at many workplaces around the country, despite rising public attention to the issue and efforts to eradicate bias on the job. Even companies with the best intentions often do not have the policies and reporting systems to ensure their employees are protected.
Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are among the most frequent and harmful forms of bias on the job. But discrimination comes in all shapes and sizes, from passing someone over for a job based on race or ethnicity or refusing to provide a disabled worker with reasonable accommodation to firing an employee who becomes pregnant.
At Shnayder Law LLC, we help New York and New Jersey employees fight back against workplace discrimination. Founder Erica Shnayder is an experienced employment lawyer who has dedicated her career to helping working people and obtained more than $22 million in court verdicts and settlements for her clients.
Hostile Work Environment
Hostile work environment is a discrimination claim in which a workplace becomes permeated with harassment and that a reasonable person would find so abusive or intimidating that it impacts the ability to work.
Here is how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that polices discrimination on the job, describes a hostile work environment:
“Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”
Examples of a hostile work environment may include the use of racial or ethnic slurs, discriminatory comments based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender, or other harassing comments or conduct based on a person’s protected characteristics.
An employer is generally liable for a hostile work environment if they know or should have known about the harassment and do not take reasonable steps to stop it. In some jurisdictions, an employer may be vicariously liable for the discriminatory acts of its supervisors.
Discrimination on the basis of race or color in employment is illegal. Race discrimination generally happens when an employer makes a job-related decision based on a person’s race. That includes hiring and firing decisions, as well as decisions about assignments, promotions, and pay. Discrimination does not need to be the only reason for the decision for it to be illegal. These cases often include situations in which race played a role in the decision and other factors.
Race discrimination legal claims are generally divided into two types:
- Disparate Treatment: A worker or group of employees alleges they are being treated differently than others because of their race.
- Disparate Impact: An employment policy that is neutral in terms but has a negative impact on a particular racial group.
Federal and state laws forbid employers from discriminating on the basis of gender in employment decisions regarding hiring, pay, benefits, advancement, transfer, and other workplace concerns. For example, female employees may not be paid less than their male counterparts for substantially similar work. Similarly, women who are denied opportunities for advancement in leadership or executive roles because of the metaphorical “glass ceiling” may have a viable claim for gender discrimination.
Proving pay discrimination is not always easy. The good news is workers in New York and New Jersey have the right to share information about pay. Laws in both states also generally ban employers from asking job applicants about their current compensation, a question that has been blamed for perpetuating pay discrimination.
Gender discrimination can also take the form of demeaning or offensive comments based on an individual’s gender. It is important to note that the laws protect both men and women from gender-based discrimination.
National Origin Discrimination
Under federal and state law, it is unlawful to treat applicants or employees unfavorably because of their national origin. The EEOC provides the following guidance:
“National origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).”
Adverse treatment against an employee based on their national origin may include a failure to hire, failure to promote, demotion, disparate pay, or termination. For example, if a prospective employer refuses to hire you because of your accent and where you are from, you may have a viable claim for national origin discrimination.
Age discrimination happens when a person is treated less fairly than others because of his or her age. Although the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act specifically bans bias against workers who are 40 or older, state laws also protect younger workers.
All too often, employees with superior qualifications will be passed over for a job because of their age. Alternatively, after spending decades at a company, an employee may be denied a promotion or terminated outright in favor of someone younger and less experienced. Age discrimination can also take the form of workplace harassment where an employee is subjected to age-based comments or demeaned because of their age.
For those who feel they may have been discriminated against in one of the above situations, consulting with an experienced discrimination attorney who works in this arena can shed light on whether you have been a victim of age discrimination.
It is not uncommon for employers to treat employees differently once they become pregnant or after they have a child. Employers may have preconceived notions that an employee will become less productive or less capable because of pregnancy. These discriminatory beliefs may manifest themselves in the denial of employment opportunities, promotions, or pay raises. Employers may also engage in illegal conduct by terminating an employee because the employee plans to take qualified leave to care for their child.
Employers are generally required to offer the same accommodations to pregnant workers that they would provide to a temporarily disabled employee to allow the person to continue performing their job. That could be as simple as allowing the person to sit down during work hours or shifting the employee to lighter duties. It also includes allowing the person to take unpaid leave if medically necessary.
Freedom of religion is one of the principles on which the United States was founded. Federal and state laws provide significant protections to employees with a wide range of religious beliefs.
The laws ban employers from making job decisions based on employees’ religious beliefs. Businesses are also required to make specific accommodations to allow workers to follow the tenets of their sincerely held religious beliefs where the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
A Supreme Court religious discrimination case involving clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is a good example of how these accommodations work. The company was sued for refusing to hire a woman who wore a headscarf or hijab as part of her Muslim faith, claiming it did not comply with Abercrombie’s “look policy” for store employees. The court ruled against the company, which later settled the case.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination
New York and New Jersey laws explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. At the federal level, the Supreme Court has ruled LGBT bias is a form of sex discrimination banned by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The Supreme Court explained that ruling in a landmark 2020 decision:
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of different sex. Sex plays a crucial and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
An employer cannot refuse to hire an employee or make other decisions based on the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also cannot unfairly treat a person because he or she does not conform to certain sex sterotypes.
Disability Discrimination and ADA Claims
The Americans With Disabilities Act is a federal law that bans disability discrimination in the workplace and a variety of other settings. The ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination. Under the ADA, a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. A person who believes they have been discriminated against based on a disability can file a complaint with the EEOC and a lawsuit in federal court.
The ADA and disability discrimination laws in New York and New Jersey require employers to provide a reasonable accommodations for an employee’s known disability as long as it does not pose an undue burden on the employer. Reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. For example, reasonable accommodation may include acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, and making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.
FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act)
The Family and Medical Leave Act is a sweeping federal law that entitles workers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and healthcare purposes.
The FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave over the course of a year for:
- Childbirth, newborn care
- Adoption, foster care placement
- Care for a spouse or family member with a serious medical condition
- Specific emergencies related to a family member who is on active military duty
When it is medically necessary, employees may take FMLA leave intermittently – taking leave in separate blocks of time for a single qualifying reason – or on a reduced leave schedule – reducing the employee’s usual weekly or daily work schedule.
Unfortunately, many employers and their human resources staff do not fully understand their obligations under the FMLA. Employers will try to improperly restrict FMLA leave or terminate employees who take protected leave. It is essential for anyone locked in a dispute with an employer over FMLA leave to consult an experienced employment lawyer.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The EEOC enforces federal anti-discrimination laws primarily by investigating discrimination and retaliation claims. You may be required to go to the EEOC first before filing a lawsuit against your employer for some federal employment claims.
The EEOC refers to a complaint filed with the agency as a “charge of discrimination.” This is a signed statement in which the employee filing the claim lays out the legal and factual grounds and identifies those responsible for the discrimination or retaliation, as well as any witnesses.
Filing with the EEOC can be a very important step. There are strategic decisions and time-sensitive deadlines for which you will want to consult an experienced employment attorney.
Speak with a New York & New Jersey Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today
If you believe you have been discriminated against on the job, it is crucial to seek an experienced employment attorney’s advice. New Jersey and New York employment discrimination lawyer Erica Shnayder can help you understand your rights and take action.