Sexual Harassment, Home Equity Scams & Domestic Violence: New Laws

In August, Governor Cuomo signed a number of bills into law that were the subject of City Bar committee reports. Congratulations to all of our members involved in these efforts. For a full list of bills supported by the City Bar that have been signed into law this year, please check out our 2019 New York State Legislative Session Recap Chart.

Harassment and Discrimination Protections for Employees

Under a new law, discriminatory harassment will no longer need to be “severe or pervasive” to be illegal, a requirement that can deprive employees of redress for abusive, discriminatory behavior. Employers will avoid liability only if they can prove that the conduct complained of is not more than petty slights or trivial inconveniences. In addition, those pursuing claims of discriminatory workplace harassment will no longer be barred from asserting a claim simply because they did not complain about the harassment. The law also expands protections against all forms of unlawful discrimination to include independent contractors and workers employed by small employers and allows employees to recover punitive damages and attorney fees if they win their cases. The bill was supported by the Sex and Law Committee.

Labor Protections for Domestic Violence Victims

The state’s Human Rights Law has been amended to add new employment protections for victims of domestic violence. Currently, N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a) makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer or licensing agency to refuse to hire, employ or license, or to discharge from employment, a victim of domestic violence, or to discriminate against such an individual in the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment. The new law adds a new section to the Human Rights Law that (1) prohibits prospective employers from inquiring about an applicant’s status as a victim of domestic violence and (2) requires that certain reasonable accommodations be provided to victims. The bill was supported by the Civil Rights Committee and Domestic Violence Committee.

Combating Home Equity Scams

This new law will provide further protections for homeowners who have been victimized by loan modification, short sale and deed theft scams. The law addresses certain procedural obstacles encountered by low-income homeowners seeking to vindicate their rights under the Home Equity Theft Protection Act of 2006 (RPL 265-a) and amends the criminal procedure law to allow for post-trial motions to restore title to the defrauded homeowner. The bill was supported by the Council on Judicial Administration and Task Force on Mortgage Foreclosures.