A NY Worker Gets $25K After Enduring Months of 'Repeated, Frequent' Gender Identity-Related Harassment

In New York City, every level of government – city, state, and federal – has laws that recognize that discrimination based on a person’s gender identity is impermissible. If you’re a New York worker and you’ve encountered harassment or other adverse treatment at work because you’re trans, intersex, or non-binary, you may have experienced something that entitles you to recover compensation. To find out more about the law’s protections and what to do if you’ve been harmed, get in touch with an experienced New York sex discrimination lawyer to discuss your situation right away.

Unfortunately, gender identity discrimination remains a real problem. A recent settlement involving a transgender worker in New York State is just the latest example.

The worker, who is a trans man, began working as a cook for a pizzeria near Buffalo in January 2021. During his job interview, the cook did not indicate that he was trans, but after starting the job, he disclosed his preferred pronouns (he, him, his) to one of the pizzeria’s owners.

That disclosure allegedly was the start of a torrent of gender identity-related abuse and harassment. This alleged harassment included owners, managers, and coworkers intentionally misgendering him “on a repeated, frequent basis” (including one owner stating "that’s what she is… Quinn’s a she”), commenting that the cook was not a “real guy,” inquiring about the state of the cook’s genitalia, trying to equate being trans with pedophilia, and disparagingly discussing transitioning (including comparing recreational steroid use with the use of male hormones as part of gender-affirming care.)

Just like the experience of many workers who experience gender identity discrimination, the cook’s efforts to push back allegedly were fruitless. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the cook told his supervisors and colleagues he objected to their use of female pronouns, but the routine misgendering continued for the duration of the man’s employment. He also spoke out against the anti-trans comments of his coworkers and managers, but these complaints accomplished nothing, according to the lawsuit.

As a result of the EEOC’s lawsuit against the pizzeria, the cook received $25,000 in back pay and compensatory damages.

Federal law has been clear since 2020 that gender identity discrimination constitutes gender/sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that discrimination based on either gender identity or sexual orientation amounts to discrimination “on the basis of sex,” which Title VII explicitly bars.

What New York State Law Says 

New York State enacted a law (the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act) banning gender identity discrimination in 2019. This type of discrimination can take many forms including, for example, job interview questions about the candidate’s medical history, sex at birth, and/or the status of the candidate’s transition or genitalia. It also can include denying a trans person the use of restrooms, locker rooms, or facilities consistent with their stated gender identity.

Additionally, requiring a trans worker to comport with the dress/uniform, grooming, or appearance rules of a different gender is forbidden, as is basing those rules on sex stereotypes. In other words, an employer whose rules demand “business/professional attire” that allows cisgender women to wear skirts may not bar a trans woman from wearing a skirt. Additionally, if an employer dictates that workers wear professional blouses or men’s-style button-down dress shirts, the employer generally must allow all employees to choose whichever of the two options the worker prefers, regardless of gender identity.

Gender Identity-Related Protections in New York City

Gender identity discrimination has been against the law in New York City for a lot longer. In 2002, the New York City Council passed the “Transgender Rights Bill” to “make explicit that city law prohibits discrimination against people based on gender identity.” In 2018, New York City passed an amendment to this law, modifying the definition of gender “to reflect a broader and inclusive understanding of gender.” This means protecting not just trans men and trans women, but also groups like non-binary and intersex people.

The NYCHRL’s rules regarding gender identity discrimination prohibit misgendering and deadnaming. Specifically, the city law “requires employers and covered entities to use the name, pronouns, and title (e.g., Ms./Mrs./Mx.)” that the worker prefers. Like the state law, the city law requires employers to allow trans workers to use restrooms, etc. that comport with their gender identity. That is required even if someone expresses displeasure or discomfort about the trans person’s use of those facilities. For example, an employer may not deny a trans woman the use of the women’s locker/changing rooms at the employer’s workplace, even if one or more cisgender women object. Under the law, the proper employment practice is, when necessary, to accommodate the objecting person with a different space, such as a single-use restroom.

If you have been punished at work (or in a hiring process) because you are an LGBTQ+ person, the knowledgeable New York sex discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates can help. You can contact us online or by calling (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation. Our determined and thoughtful attorneys will work to see you get justice and will also respect your privacy regarding this very personal issue.

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