As a nice follow-up on New Jersey’s proposed expanded equal pay and discrimination protections that my colleague Christina Stoneburner wrote about yesterday, New York City appears to be following suit and will be bolstering (yet again) the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). On March 9, 2016, the New York City Council passed (with only one dissenting vote) a bill that reaffirms the liberal and uniquely broad nature of the NYCHRL. If signed into law, this amendment will ensure that New York City’s local anti-discrimination law will become even more employee friendly in the years to come. The bill is currently awaiting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature.
Back in 2005, the New York City Council enacted the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, which found that the broad and unique remedial purposes of the NYCHRL necessitated a separate and employee friendly construction of the statute by the Courts. This contradicted many cases at the time that interpreted the NYCHRL similarly to federal and state law counterparts. After its enactment in 2005, the courts grappled with just how far this liberal interpretation was meant to go. Most courts interpreted the NYCHRL as instructed, weakening the customary defenses available to employers and curtailing their ability to defend even the most threadbare of discrimination and/or harassment claims.
Despite numerous incredibly employee friendly decisions since then, the New York City Council has now found it necessary to go even further. The Council’s proposed bill would amend the NYCHRL to explicitly state that any exceptions or exemptions found in the statute must “be construed narrowly in order to maximize deterrence of discriminatory conduct.” In addition, this proposed law would also codify directly into the NYCHRL three notable decisions that purportedly embody the NYCHRL’s broad protections: Albunio v. City of New York, 16 N.Y.3d 472 (2011); Bennett v. Health Management Systems, Inc., 92 A.D.3d 29 (1st Dep’t 2011); and Williams v. New York City Housing Authority, 61 A.D.3d 62 (1st Dep’t 2009).
This is certainly nothing new or unexpected for any employer that has had to deal with New York City’s uniquely protective laws. However, added caution when dealing with any harassment or discrimination issue, particularly in New York, is always welcomed and will make your friendly neighborhood employment attorneys happy. We will of course update you once the mayor formally signs this proposed legislation into law.