If you have employees or operations in New York City, your sexual harassment and discrimination policies must reflect the strict rules employers are required to follow under the New York City Human Rights Law. The city law offers employees far broader protections than state or federal laws.
For example, employees who sue under state or federal laws claiming they had to work in a sexually hostile environment must prove the harassment was so severe and pervasive that it altered the conditions of their employment. But those suing under New York City’s law don’t have to meet that standard. Instead, they just have to prove that the harassment created unequal treatment.
The severity of the treatment determines how high the damages can go.
It all adds up to a challenging HR environment. Your best bet in New York City—adopt a zero-tolerance policy for any sort of sexual, racial or other harassment.
Recent case: Wenping Tu, a woman of Chinese national origin, worked for Loan Pricing Corp. in New York City. She held degrees in and economics and originally received good reviews.
Then she accepted a promotion to a team leader position. Almost immediately, her new supervisor was unhappy with her performance.
Meanwhile, Tu complained to HR that she was being sexually harassed and discriminated against because of her sex, national origin and because she was pregnant.
It would later be revealed in court that Loan Pricing Corp. management had sent e-mails concerning Tu that could be regarded as smoking-gun evidence. One included the assertion that Tu “filed a sexual discrimination charge against her manager that had no basis in fact. It reads paranoid and delusional. Our own investigations revealed nothing but paranoid interpretations of normal events on her part. … So who is going to risk their career working with this person?”
Eventually, the company fired Tu —after she returned from
Tu sued. She alleged an array of acts adding up to racial and sexual harassment. She said her supervisor mocked Chinese culture and made fun of how she pronounced certain words. She said he made numerous references to his sexual prowess, bragged about his sex organ and even commented favorably on those of male co-workers. He allegedly said women should stay home after giving birth.
That was all good enough for the judge. He ordered a jury trial, saying that Tu didn’t have to show how this behavior affected her ability to do her job or that it was pervasive and severe. He cited New York City’s intention to create “the most progressive” anti-discrimination law in the nation as one reason to send the case to trial. (Tu v. Loan Pricing Corporation, et al., No. 103938/05, Supreme Court of New York, New York County, 2008)
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