Federal law bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, genetic information, pregnancy, age & disability. Discrimination on the basis of a disability applies whether the individual actually has a disability, has a "record of" having a disability, or is merely perceived as having a disability. Age only goes one way: you must be over the age of 40. Federal law does not protect the young from age discrimination.
Federal discrimination law is enforced by private lawsuits and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).
The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis or race, color, creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, military status, domestic violence victim status, arrest or conviction record & genetic information. The New York state law is more encompassing than federal law in that it protects a broader category of individuals, but is generally not more employee-friendly than federal law. It does, however, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, unlike federal law.
The New York State Human Rights Law is enforced by private lawsuits and the New York State Division of Human Rights.
The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, age, sexual orientation, alienage status, citizenship status, arrest or conviction record, domestic violence victim status & stalking and sex offense victim status. The city law is one of the most liberal in the country, and one of the most favorable to employees. Indeed, the City Council amended the law in 2005 to literally instruct New York courts to interpret the law in a more employee-friendly manner than federal law. Unlike federal law, it protects both the old and the young from age discrimination. The city law applies to the five boroughs.
The New York City Human Rights Law is enforced by private lawsuits and the Law Enforcement Bureau of the City's Commission on Human Rights.
As the city law is more potent that its state and federal counterparts, individuals employed in the city who are considering suing their employer should make sure to include city law claims in any lawsuit. Additionally, individuals are not REQUIRED to file a complaint with an administrative agency (i.e. the EEOC) prior to filing suit under the city law.
I strongly recommend that any employee who believes they are the victim of discrimination to contact an attorney. If the case is meritorious, there is a strong chance that an attorney will take the case on a pure contingency fee basis. An attorney will know the ins-and-outs of the law and the technical and procedural aspects of filing suit. Additionally, and unfortunately, courts may take individuals represented by attorneys more seriously than those appearing on their own behalf (called proceeding "pro se").
Filing a Complaint With a Government Agency
Under all three laws, an employee can opt to file a private suit rather than having an agency proceed on their behalf. Generally speaking, government agencies' resources are stretched thin, and individuals end up with larger payouts when they file a private suit versus administrative enforcement. However, not every individual can afford an attorney or find an attorney willing to take their case on a contingency fee basis. Individuals can file a complaint with the relevant federal, state, or city agency, who will investigate the claim, and possibly take the case.
FEDERAL LAW: How to file a complaint with the EEOC: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-fed.html
STATE LAW: How to file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights : http://www.dhr.state.ny.us/how_to_file_a_complaint.html
CITY LAW: How to file a complaint with the Law Enforcement Bureau of the City's Commission on Human Rights: http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/html/howto.html
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