On August 12, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed new legislation amending the New York State Human Rights Law (the “NYSHRL”), changing the State law’s previous adherence to certain fundamental principles of federal law concerning employment harassment generally, including the standard for determining employer liability for “hostile work environment” discrimination claims and the availability of punitive damages, among other issues. Whereas New York courts have historically interpreted the NYSHRL based on interpretations of claims filed under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the new amendments will alter the applicability of many significant precedents.
The amendment addresses workplace harassment, including but not limited to sexual harassment, against employees in any protected group. Claims of harassment based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, domestic violence victim status, or claims based on an employee’s opposition to such misconduct, are subject to the new provisions.
To begin with, the revised NYSHRL will now cover employers of all sizes, and even includes new protections for domestic workers, who will now be protected on the same grounds as other types of employees. Some of the law’s provisions take effect immediately, others within 60 days or 120 days of the law’s passage. Broadly stated, the law purports to provide “increased protections for protected classes and special protections for employees who have been sexually harassed.”