A recent ruling in a case involving female servers at a Brooklyn diner is important and instructive for several reasons. Not the least of which is that it reminds readers that the standards for proving sex discrimination or sexual harassment are different under the New York City Human Rights Law as opposed to state or federal law. Understanding the differences between the NYCHRL, the New York State Human Rights Law and federal law can be crucial to your sex discrimination or sexual harassment case, so make sure that, before you file, you retain the services of an experienced New York City sex discrimination lawyer.
During her time working at the diner in Brooklyn, B.S. allegedly endured a variety of gross sexual improprieties and impositions. According to the server’s sexual harassment complaint she filed in federal court, her male supervisor once followed her into the women’s restroom, where he “cornered” her and exposed himself to her. On another occasion, that man allegedly asked B.S. to touch his genitals.
Unfortunately, the harassment was not limited to that supervisor. Other male workers at the diner allegedly touched the woman “in sexually inappropriate ways” and also would “leer and jeer at her in a sexual manner.” The server complained to other supervisors but, according to the lawsuit, they simply laughed at her. Not long after that, the diner fired B.S.
Fellow server K.P. allegedly endured her own harassment. According to the lawsuit, the supervisor who allegedly exposed himself to B.S. “routinely showed pornographic photographs” to K.P. and other female servers. Going even further, the supervisor allegedly sent the server “lewd text message requests” in which he requested “sexually explicit photographs” from her.
After K.P. rejected the supervisor’s request for a sexual encounter at a hotel, the supervisor retaliated by cutting K.P.’s hours, according to the complaint.
K.P. also allegedly endured pregnancy discrimination. In the summer of 2016, the diner “abruptly” removed her from the work schedule. One of the owners allegedly told her “You’re having a baby soon. Come back after you give birth.” The woman was six months pregnant at the time. According to her complaint, K.P. had intended on continuing to work until she gave birth.
Last week, the Supreme Court for Kings County ruled for the servers, making some very important points about what it takes to meet this pleading requirement under the NYCHRL.
Sexual Harassment = ‘One Species’ of Sex Discrimination
First, the court noted that the NYCHRL does not contain a provision specifically dedicated to sexual harassment. That’s because, under the NYCHRL, sexual harassment is “one species” of sex discrimination. Any time an employer imposes “different terms, conditions, and privileges of employment-based” on gender, that’s sex discrimination in violation of city law. That’s true whether it’s an employer who denies an applicant a job because she was a woman, or an employer who denies an applicant a job because she was a woman who rejected his sexual advances.
Additionally, it is worth remembering that the NYCHRL does not have the same sort of restrictive “severe or pervasive” misconduct requirement that federal law has. The “severe or pervasive” requirement relates to the concept of a “hostile work environment,” which comes from federal Title VII law. Under the NYCHRL, if you have allegations that plausibly suggest different treatment that was triggered, to any extent, by a discriminatory motive, then you’ve stated a viable claim.
These women had that. Their allegations laid out numerous instances where they were treated less well (including sexual assaults, discrimination based on pregnancy, and sexual harassment) because they were women. Indeed, the allegations were so substantial that they also likely would have satisfied Title VII’s “severe or pervasive” requirement. (A federal judge presiding over the servers’ minimum wage and unpaid overtime case against the diner described the sexual harassment allegations thusly: “the discrimination claims make defendants look terrible.”) In some circumstances, courts have held that even just a single instance of unwanted sexual touching or a supervisor exposing his genitals to a female worker can be enough to alter the “terms and conditions” of employment and meet the “severe” threshold.
The main thing you need to know is that, if you have endured workplace sex discrimination or sexual harassment in New York City, you have multiple possible avenues for obtaining relief. It may involve the NYCHRL, the NYSHRL, federal law, or all of the above. Whatever you need, count on the knowledgeable New York sex discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to chart the best path forward. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.