How the NYC Commission on Human Rights protects women at work

By Faye Penn

For many women, bias in the workplace is all too common, from sexual harassment to unfair hiring practices. According to Pew Research Center, roughly four in ten women say they’ve experienced gender discrimination at their place of employment.

Here in New York, women need to know that the city has their back. Under New York City Human Rights Law, New Yorkers are protected against discrimination and harassment, whether it’s based on gender, age or race, and whether it occurs in the workplace, in housing, or in public spaces. Through the NYC Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), an agency comprised of lawyers and advocates tasked with enforcing NYC Human Rights Law, New Yorkers can file a complaint, seek legal counsel, and obtain other resources to protect themselves against discriminatory practices.

We spoke with Dana Sussman, Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs at CCHR, about how New York City women can best use the agency to advocate for their rights at work.

When would New Yorkers use CCHR to file a complaint against their employer?

If a worker or employee or applicant experiences discrimination in the hiring process or in the workplace, or is terminated because of membership in a protected group, they can file a complaint with the Commissioneither on their own, meeting with our attorneys, or through an attorneyagainst their current, prospective, or former employer. They are protected against discrimination or harassment based on gender, pregnancy, breastfeeding, or being a caregiver, in addition to prohibitions against the use of salary history in hiring.

Are there any restrictions?

Unfortunately, if someone is being mistreated in the workplace but it’s not tied to one of the protected categories, then that would not be a violation of the City Human Rights Law. There are some other restrictions: the discrimination has to have occurred in New York City. If you live in New Jersey but you apply for a job in New York City, you have protection. But if you live in New York City and experience discrimination in New Jersey, you may not have a claim under the NYC Human Rights Law.

In most cases, the employer must have four or more employees for there to be protections under the city’s Human Rights Law. The exception to that is sexual harassment. Finally, typically the discriminatory act must have occurred within one year to bring the case to the Commission. The exception to that is sexual harassment: that statute of limitations has been extended to three years.

Our Commission is fully committed to holding up these issues, shining a light on them, and fighting for the rights of New Yorkers.

What do women specifically need to know about protections under CCHR?

The NYC Human Rights Law protects people on the basis of their gender, which includes gender identity, gender expression, and issues around gender stereotyping; pregnancy; lactation; and against the use of salary history in the hiring process. The commission takes this mandate very seriously.

People can obtain monetary damages for the harm they’ve endured, such as back wages or back pay, if they’ve lost salary due to the discrimination. If they’ve lost their job, they can get reinstated, in some circumstances. If they’re seeking an accommodation to continue working while pregnant or to pump at work, for example, we can help to negotiate those kinds of resolutions and help inform employers of their obligations under the law.

How can women learn more about their resources and rights at CCHR?

There are a lot of resources on our website that talk about our work and the law in many protected categories. In mid-March, we’ll be publishing some new materials specifically about lactation accommodation. On April 1, we’ll be implementing a new online training that employers can use to train their staff on combating sexual harassment in the workplace. And in May, we’ll be implementing a new law that protects people in the workplace from discrimination based on their reproductive health decisions, in the case that an employer, for example, might not agree with their employee’s decision to get an abortion or an IUD. Our Commission is fully committed to holding up these issues, shining a light on them, and fighting for the rights of New Yorkers.