Lawyer Monthly recently profiled William K. Phillips, our firm's founder and a renowned New York City employment lawyer. He provided the magazine with an overview of employment law in New York. As Mr. Phillips explained, employment in New York is at will, which means that an employee can quit at any time, but an employer can also fire an employee at any time for any reason. However, there are certain exceptions. It is illegal to fire someone because they have a protected characteristic, such as race, national origin, religion, pregnancy, gender, disability, or age. If you were terminated on that basis, you may have a wrongful termination claim.
Workplace discrimination occurs when an employee with a protected characteristic is harassed or unfairly treated in connection with employment decisions, such as hiring or firing, because of the protected characteristic. Harassment is a kind of discrimination, and it is illegal even if there is no adverse employment action. Mr. Phillips explained that it is illegal for an employer to permit discriminatory comments or actions in the workplace that render it a hostile work environment for an employee. Hostile work environment sexual harassment, for example, can include sexual advances, sexual jokes, pornography, or sexual comments.
He further explained that racist images, paraphernalia, or slurs displayed or sent at work, including nooses and the use of the n-word, can constitute racial discrimination. Any conduct or words based on an employee's protected characteristic that alter the terms and conditions of the workplace and make it more challenging to work can constitute a hostile work environment, irrespective of whether the worker has been terminated.
Mr. Phillips provided an overview of the three main laws that protect employees from discrimination and sexual harassment. These are federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. Any employee who works within the five boroughs of New York is protected by the New York City Human Rights Law, which is one of the most powerful and broadly interpreted anti-discrimination laws in the country. It protects many characteristics and harshly penalizes employers that are found to have discriminated or harassed an employee, or tolerated discrimination or harassment. Employers that are held liable under the city law may need to pay substantial compensatory damages, attorneys' fees, and sometimes punitive damages.
Mr. Phillips also explained the power imbalance between employers and employees. This imbalance may be intensified by sexual harassment or discrimination. Moreover, the employer may hire a large law firm for legal representation, while the employee may have few resources, no job, and no one to assist him in understanding his rights.
Mr. Phillips explained that some plaintiffs' employment firms charge an upfront fee for an initial consultation or retainer. Phillips & Associates does not believe in asking people who have lost their jobs or are at risk of losing their jobs for thousands in upfront fees. Instead, it offers free consultations to prospective clients. It works on a contingency fee basis, which means that the firm does not get paid attorneys' fees unless it successfully obtains a verdict or settlement. Phillips & Associates has the resources to fund the costs of the litigation that it undertakes to handle. Mr. Phillips noted that some firms do not have the resources to pay the costs of litigation, so they may ask a client to pay thousands for litigation costs, or they may cut corners and not litigate to the fullest extent. Costs can include depositions, discovery, expert reports, and filing fees. Phillips & Associates pays for all of these costs as they are incurred. In addition to taking a case through trial, Phillips & Associates can also handle appeals as necessary.
William K. Phillips is an experienced attorney who has been named the "Best of the Best" in many forums. He has been chosen as one of the 10 Best Labor and Employment Attorneys in New York by the American Institute of Legal Counsel in 2017 and 2018. If you are concerned about employment discrimination or other employment matters in a New York City workplace, you should consult us. You can contact Phillips & Associates at (866) 229-9441 or through our online form. We handle employment litigation in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, as well as in Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties and in New Jersey.