By Diane Williamson
If you have been discriminated against or harassed at work, the law offers you options for seeking redress.
Many employees in New York are covered by both federal and State anti-discrimination law. While there is overlap between the legal protections offered by federal and State law, the two processes differ significantly.
Filing a Complaint Under Federal Anti-Discrimination Law
Federal anti-discrimination laws include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Title VII and the ADA cover employers with 15 or more employees. The ADEA covers employers with 20 or more employees.
The Civil Rights Act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate discrimination complaints. The EEOC was later tasked with also investigating age and disability discrimination complaints (as well as Equal Pay Act claims, which are treated differently).
Filing a complaint with the EEOC is an administrative prerequisite to suing under federal law. After the investigation, the EEOC may conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred and pursue a conciliation. Or, the EEOC may find that it cannot conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, in which case it will issue a right to sue letter, which gives the complainant the right to sue the employer under federal law within 90 days. Age discrimination claims can be brought to court after 60 days from filing with the EEOC before the right to sue letter is issued.
For New Yorkers, there is a 300-day statute of limitations to file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC.
Filing a Complaint Under New York State Anti-Discrimination Law
New York State anti-discrimination law is found in the Executive Law, and it is referred to as the “Human Rights Law.” Originally passed in 1945, New York’s Human Rights Law was the first of its kind in the nation. In general, New York State anti-discrimination law is more protective than its federal counterpart, e.g., it covers independent contractors, prohibits discrimination for reasons other than those covered by federal law (including familial status and domestic violence victim status), and applies to all New York employers regardless of the number of employees on the books.
The New York State administrative process used to file an employment discrimination complaint is different from the EEOC. The New York State Division of Human Rights (“Division”), created in 1968 to help enforce the State law, offers an alternate route, not a prerequisite, to filing in State court. The Division determines if there is probable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, and, if so, it conducts a hearing wherein a hearing officer makes a final determination. For discrimination other than sexual harassment there is a one-year statute of limitations to file with the Division; for sexual harassment there is a three-year statute of limitations.
While our firm believes that you will have the best results if you are represented by a lawyer through either of these processes, both fora are able to accommodate a complainant who does not have a lawyer.
You can also file a discrimination claim based on State Human Rights Law in State court without first filing with the EEOC or the Division. There is a three-year statute of limitations to bring any discrimination claim to court.
Keep in mind that neither complaint process is anonymous. While it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing a complaint in either forum, it is wise to expect that filing a complaint may affect your current or future employment situation.
More questions? Consider consulting with a lawyer to discuss your situation.
*This blog post is not discussing New York City anti-discrimination law.