Hostile Work Environment Lawyers

In New York, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, state, and city laws govern hostile work environment claims as a form of harassment. Federally, These laws serve to protect employees from hostile work environments. Essentially, a hostile environment is created when offensive conduct or comments are directed toward employees of a particular race, nationality, religion, gender, or other protected group. This conduct disrupts the workplace and violates the rights of the employees in the protected group

New York City and State Hostile Environment Law

In New York State, both federal and state hostile environment law applies to the workplace. In addition, the City of New York has its own hostile environment law, which must be complied with by employers in the City

Federal Hostile Environment Law

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees federal law regarding the creation of a hostile work environment. Federal law regarding hostile environments applies to harassment of applicants or employees due to that person’s sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), race, color, religion, national origin, age (beginning at age 40), and genetic information. The harassment becomes unlawful when the conduct is so severe or pervasive that it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile, or abusive. The law also prohibits retaliation for making a charge or participating in a proceeding under these laws.

New York State Hostile Environment Law

New York State’s Human Rights Laws prohibit hostile work environment harassment at the state level. New Your City’s Human Rights Law prohibits hostile work environment harassment as well. Under these statutes, Hostile environment harassment may include unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, national origin, being over 40, disability, or genetic information. A hostile work environment is created when the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. In determining whether the conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment, a court will look at:

  • Frequency of the conduct
  • Severity of the conduct
  • Whether the conduct was physically threatening, humiliating, or a mere offensive statement
  • Whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s performance
  • Psychological effect on the employee

In examining these factors, the courts will also look at the relative work status of the victim and the harasser. If the harasser is a coworker, the company will only be liable if it has been negligent in dealing with the issue. If the harasser is a supervisor, the company will be strictly liable regardless of its conduct.

If you believe that you are the victim of a hostile work environment, you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable attorney working in the area of hostile environment employment discrimination. The attorney will be able, at no cost, to discuss your claim with you and advise you as to how you should proceed.

Common Hostile Environment Claims

Claims of hostile environment discrimination are usually based on the following types of conduct:

  • Inappropriate or unwelcome touching
  • Sending racially offensive or pornographic material to another without consent
  • Making offensive, racist, or crude remarks
  • Unwelcome comments on physical attributes
  • Displaying racist or sexually inappropriate pictures
  • Telling offensive jokes about persons in protected categories

These may be part of a hostile work environment or a quid pro quo claim. A hostile environment claim arises when the harassing misconduct is so pervasive as to harm another’s performance and make that person feel uncomfortable. It can be committed by anyone in the office, such as coworkers, supervisors, subcontractors, vendors, and clients or customers. A quid pro quo claim is virtually always committed by an individual with power over the complaining employee who uses that power in an attempt to coerce sexual favors. The victim usually feels as though not complying will result in the loss of the victim’s job.

What You Should Do if You Believe You Are the Victim of a Hostile Environment

Hostile environment law in New York can be complicated. First, it is difficult because the law itself is complex, with many different requirements placed upon employers. Second, it is tricky because at least three separate statutes may apply to any given case, especially in New York City. Under these statutes, different conduct is prohibited, and different remedies are available. Some of these laws also require that you act very quickly on your claim. In other words, if you think you may have been a victim of a hostile work environment, you should quickly contact experienced New York employment discrimination counsel.

Document Your Case

If you are planning to claim hostile environment discrimination, you will need records relating to any complaints you have made and any records of employer actions or failures to act regarding your complaint. Emails or pictures or posters demonstrating the harassment should be kept as well. If you are claiming retaliation, you will need your employee file. Since some of these records will be difficult for you to obtain, you should consider working with a knowledgeable employment discrimination attorney to assist you.

Keep Communicating with Your Supervisors

No matter how badly things seem to be going, if you are still working at the firm, be sure to stay in communication with your employers.  You may certainly avoid contacting your harasser if it is your superior. Your employers may not be aware of the situation in its entirety or may be trying to resolve the problem quietly 

Talk to HR

It would be best if you also stayed in touch with Human Resources. HR staff understands the hostile environment discrimination laws. Accordingly, they are likely to at least hear your story with some compassion and an explanation of why the company is taking the steps it is (or is not) taking regarding your claim. However, sometimes HR won’t give you either concern or advice. Nonetheless, as your employment discrimination attorney will tell you, if you make a formal claim, you must be able to show that you exhausted your in-house remedies. So, you should be sure that you have taken any steps that your employee manual says you should before you make a formal claim.

What Remedies Are Available to Me

Hostile environment cases under federal law have remedies may include compensatory and punitive damages, and under some circumstances, may also include attorneys’ fees and costs. For punitive damages, you must show intentional discrimination based on the listed categories and that the conduct was particularly malicious or reckless. New York State law does not permit punitive damages, but New York City allows uncapped punitive damages. Awards in the six to seven-figure range are not uncommon.

You may have the right to be reinstated in your position. However, this may not be possible or practical. In this case, you will be entitled to front pay. Front pay is intended to compensate you for losses you may suffer from the date of the judgment.

Sometimes compensatory damages for emotional distress, damage to your professional reputation, and your out-of-pocket costs may be awarded. A court may also award punitive or exemplary damages if it feels your employer knew about the misconduct and did not take steps to stop it.

Retain an Attorney as Soon as You Can

If you believe that you have been a victim of hostile environment discrimination, consult an experienced hospital environment employment law attorney as soon as possible. Your statute of limitations may be as short as one year. A knowledgeable attorney can help you understand whether you have a claim and the remedies that may be available. He or she can also help you continue working and with preparing and maintaining necessary records.

Call a New York Hostile Environment Lawyer Today for a Free Consultation

If you believe you have been the victim of a hostile work environment, call A.Y.G., PLLC today to set up a free case evaluation.