Legislative Wins Advance Gender Equality in New York State
We have some exciting gender equality victories to share! With your support, Legal Momentum, in coalition with other organizations, advocated for and helped pass bills to advance gender equality in New York State. New York State, the initial focus of Legal Momentum’s Women Valued Initiative, has one of nation’s highest percentages of women in marginalized industries. As such legislative victories such as these are important in leading the way to similar improvements nationally. The bills, which are expected to be signed by the governor shortly, establish and expand critical anti-discrimination and equal pay protections in the state.
This session the New York State Legislature passed comprehensive changes to strengthen the New York State Human Rights Law, enhancing anti-discrimination provisions, including protections against workplace harassment (S. 6577/A. 8424). The bill, among other things, does the following:
- Expands the law to apply to all employers, extending anti-discrimination protections to even those employees who work for employers with one or more employees.
- Extends anti-harassment protections to all 15 protected classes under the law.
- Eliminates the antiquated “severe or pervasive” standard, which has long been applicable to hostile work environment claims of sexual harassment. Going forward, harassment will be unlawful insofar as conduct “subjects an individual to inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment” based on a protected characteristic. An employer can still assert that conduct constituted merely “petty slights or trivial inconveniences.”
- Weakens a defense previously used by employers in sexual harassment cases, now providing that an employee’s failure to complain of harassment will not be determinate of liability.
- Extends protections to domestic workers and certain non-employees, including contractors, vendors, and consultants, for all forms of discrimination covered under the law.
- Requires employers to provide written notice to employees regarding the sexual harassment prevention policy in the language identified as the employee’s primary language.
- Extends the timeframe for complainants to report sexual harassment to the New York State Division of Human rights from 1 to 3 years.
The Legislature also passed four important equal pay bills. The first bill bans employers from requesting or relying on the salary history of an applicant or employee when setting an employee’s pay rate (S. 6549/ A. 5308-B). The statewide salary history ban is a momentous win for women and people of color who have traditionally and systemically earned lower salaries than white, non-Hispanic men from the beginning of their careers and whose lower salaries have followed them from job to job. The second bill extends equal pay protections to all protected classes and revises the existing equal pay standard, guaranteeing equal pay not just for “equal work” but for “substantially similar work.” The last two bills extend and expand equal pay protections for civil service employees.
These legislative wins help fortify progress towards gender equality. They not only provide stronger tools to tackle wage inequity and gender discrimination in the workplace in New York, they serve as important models for states across the country. There is no doubt that there is more work to be done, but these new laws are an important step forward. We commend Governor Cuomo, our state legislators, our partners, and our supporters for advancing efforts to achieve equality for all working women in New York State.