Know Your Workplace Rights

By Douglas Lipsky

All employees in New York and around the country have a right to a work environment free of discrimination. Employment discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee or job applicant less favorably because of their race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or another protected characteristic.

Employment discrimination can also occur when an employer takes an adverse employment action (firing, demoting) against an employee who complains about or reports discrimination. Finally, workplace harassment based on a protected status is considered a form of unlawful discrimination.

What Are My Rights? 

Under federal, state, and local law, you cannot be denied a job, demoted, paid less, terminated, or treated less favorably because of a protected characteristic. These laws include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • Equal Pay Act
  • New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL)
  • New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL)

Anti-discrimination laws provide powerful legal recourse, including filing an administrative complaint or a civil lawsuit against your employer to recover damages and other remedies.

How Do I Know If My Employer Discriminated Against Me? 

Discrimination can take many forms, but there are generally two types of discrimination – disparate treatment and disparate impact:

  • Disparate treatment occurs when an employer treats an employee or job applicant less favorably than others because of that person’s protected status.
  • Disparate impact occurs when an employer’s policies and practices appear fair but have a negative impact on members of a protected group. 

Discrimination may be overt or subtle, and employers often frame their discriminatory motives as legitimate employment decisions. However, examples of employment discrimination include:

  • Refusing to hire a job applicant because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation
  • Paying women less than men for the same work
  • Promoting only certain employees based on their race or gender
  • Not offering a reasonable accommodation to a disabled worker
  • Terminating an employee for complaining about discrimination

Because employers have the upper hand when making employment decisions, it takes a skilled employment discrimination attorney to protect your rights.

What can I do if I suspect my employer discriminated against me? 

You can file a charge of discrimination (complaint) with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 calendar days of the date of the discriminatory conduct. The EEOC will investigate and attempt to resolve the complaint through its conciliation process. The agency may issue a right to sue letter if it cannot resolve the matter. 

Also, under the state and city human rights laws, you can file a civil lawsuit against your employer without filing an administrative complaint beforehand. Depending on the circumstances, you may be awarded damages such as:

  • Back pay
  • Front pay
  • The value of lost fringe benefits (e.g., health insurance)
  • Compensatory damages for reputational harm
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Attorneys’ fees and court costs

Equitable remedies may also be available. For example, the court may order your employer to reinstate you if you were wrongfully terminated. Your employer may also be required to update its policies and procedures and train managers on employment discrimination.

The Takeaway

No one should put up with discrimination in the workplace, but many employees are reluctant to come forward out of fear of being fired or damaging their reputation. However, your employer cannot retaliate against you for complaining about discrimination. Contact an experienced New York employment discrimination attorney today.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.