Employees are protected against discrimination based on membership in a protected class, including sex, race, pregnancy, age, and religion. However, a more complicated legal issue arises when an employee is discriminated against for being “associated” with a protected person. In these cases, the victim isn’t discriminated against based on his or her status in a protected class but because of an association with a friend or family member is in a protected class.
Reach Out to a New York Employment Attorney
At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we are dedicated to holding employers who engage in discrimination accountable for their actions. If you’ve been discriminated against because of your association with another person, you may have a valid legal claim against your employer. One of our experienced employment attorneys will carefully listen to the facts of your case and provide you with effective legal solutions. Contact us to schedule your initial consultation.
Discrimination Based on Association With People in a Protected Class
There are nine protected classes established by the Equality Act of 2010: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, religion, race, sex, and sexual orientation. Employers cannot discriminate against employees or potential employees if they are in one or more protected classes.
Association discrimination happens when an employer treats an employee unfairly because of someone else’s protected characteristics. In most cases, the person with a protected characteristic is a spouse, partner, friend, parent, or another person with whom the employee associates.
For example, an employer may choose not to hire an applicant because she has a disabled child. The disabled child is a member of a protected class. In this case, the mother could file a claim because she believes the only reason she wasn’t hired was because of her child’s disability.
Federal Laws Prohibiting Association Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, religion, and other protected classes. Title VII covers employers with at least 15 employees and caps the damages a complainant can receive based on the size of the business. Federal courts have extended protection to employees who experience discrimination based on their associations. In one case, a plaintiff was married to an African American woman and was terminated from her employment.
She believed the termination was a form of discrimination because she was in an interracial marriage. The appellate court ruled in favor of the employee, reasoning that the employer violated Title VII because they acted adversely against the employee because of that employee’s association with someone of another race.
The New York State Human Rights Law
The New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR) adopted regulations that prohibit association discrimination in 2016. The purpose of this regulation is to ensure that employees can obtain and retain employment regardless of the protected characteristics of their family members or associates. The change re-affirms protections found in federal anti-discrimination laws. Nonetheless, the adoption of the explicit prohibition of association discrimination demonstrates how serious New York State is about prohibiting this specific type of discrimination.
The regulations updated the term “unlawful discriminatory practice” to explicitly include discrimination and harassment based on a person’s known association or relationship with a member or members of a protected category. Under the updated regulation, an employee only needs to establish that he or she was subjected to an adverse employment action because of his or her known association relationship with a member of a protected class to obtain remedies.
The New York City Human Rights Law
The New York City Human Rights Law is one of the most protective civil rights laws in the country. The law prohibits discrimination based on membership in a protected class. Courts typically construed the law liberally for the benefit of the employee and with the goal of providing remedies. In addition to protected classes named in federal anti-discrimination laws, New York City’s laws prohibit discrimination based on gender, including gender identity, sexual orientation, unemployment status, arrest or conviction record, and status as a victim of stalking, domestic violence, and sex offenses.
Proving Your Discrimination By Association Claim
Establishing that you were discriminated against because of association can be difficult. Make sure that you keep a record of all of the evidence showing you were targeted because of your associations. For example, take screenshots of any messages indicating why you’ve suffered an adverse employment action. If your manager or employer has made verbal comments related to the adverse action, you can use these comments as evidence of discriminatory motives.
Your attorney will need to show a nexus between the adverse employment action and association discrimination. Depending on the circumstances, even a stray comment by someone who isn’t a manager could be enough to show a prima facie case of association discrimination. The following factors are essential when proving that the adverse action was due to discrimination:
- The identity of the person who made the comment
- Whether that person had the authority to make the adverse decision
- Whether the remark was made close in time to the adverse decision
- Whether a reasonable juror could interpret the comment as discriminatory
- The context of the remark
Contact a New York Association Discrimination Attorney Today
If you’ve experienced workplace discrimination based on your association with people of a certain race, sex, religion, you need an experienced attorney on your side. Nobody should have to experience discrimination for their associations. After carefully reviewing your case, we will help you understand your legal options. Contact the experienced employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP today to schedule a case evaluation and learn more about your rights.