Discrimination comes in many forms and variations. Sometimes it's race, sometimes it's gender, sometimes it's age, or sometimes it is some other protected characteristic. Other times, the victim is a member of multiple protected classes (such as race and gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, or age and disability.) When you encounter discrimination on any of these bases, you should fight back and take action as soon as possible. One of those essential steps involves speaking to an experienced New York employment discrimination lawyer to discuss your situation and options.
One Phillips & Associates client was a victim of that sort of multi-category discrimination and our firm is proud to announce that a federal jury recently agreed, awarding a judgment of $260,000.
The verdict, which the court handed down last week, was the resolution of several years of work, starting with the initial complaint, which was filed in November 2020.
The employee, Kathyann Smart, was a Black woman who worked for one of the largest hotel cleaning companies in New York City. During her term of employment, Smart experienced multiple forms of discrimination, including racial insults, sexual comments, and a wrongful denial of benefits.
A Persuasive Presentation and a Short Deliberation
The federal lawsuit our firm undertook on behalf of Ms. Smart alleged that she had experienced a hostile work environment as a result of her race and sex, which eventually ended with the employer wrongfully terminating her and defaming her.
The employer attempted to evade liability by arguing that it could not be liable because Ms. Smart was not an employee but merely an independent contractor. That argument, however, did not sway the jury.
The trial, which proceeded before U.S. Magistrate Judge Taryn Merkl, lasted three days. After both sides rested, the jury needed a much shorter time to decide the matter. The jury deliberated for less than two hours, a remarkably short amount of time. Ms. Smart's counsel, attorneys Steven Fingerhut and Alexandria Jean-Pierre, presented such a strong case that, even in that compressed time window, the jury was able to see that the employer had violated the law and that Ms. Smart was entitled to multiple forms of compensation, including lost wages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.
Regrettably, Ms. Smart's case is far from unique. A study published by PBS pointed out that "women of color... are far less likely than others to be promoted to manager, more likely to face everyday discrimination and less likely to receive support from their managers." A different survey published by NBC News reported that one-quarter of Black women had been denied job interviews because of their hairstyle.
Black women disproportionately work in low-paying jobs, rendering them among the most vulnerable workers. They know they urgently need the income and also know their employers will fire and replace them without a moment's hesitation. This leads some employers to engage in conduct prohibited by the law. For example, if a supervisor says "have sex with me or I'll fire you," or "have sex with me and I'll give you a better schedule," that's sexual harassment. (Specifically, it's something called "quid pro quo" sexual harassment.) In other situations, an employer may threaten a worker who has experienced race discrimination with the loss of her job if she complains. Firing (or otherwise punishing) a worker for taking protected actions like filing a lawsuit or submitting a complaint to a government agency (like the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) constitutes the illegal employment practice of "retaliation."
While no court judgment can take away the trauma of enduring illegal discrimination at work, verdicts like this one serve many important objectives, providing employees like Ms. Smart with essential compensation... and vindication. If you've been the target of discrimination or harassment at work -- whether that misconduct was subtle or truly blatant -- you owe it to yourself to get an experienced legal professional's opinion and advice about your situation. The knowledgeable New York race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to do exactly that and, when the circumstances warrant, provide zealous advocacy in court. You can reach our attorneys online or by calling (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation. No worker should have to put up with this kind of misconduct at work and, when it does happen, we're here to help get justice for you.