Protecting and enhancing women’s rights

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, everyone is spending some time planning how to honor the special women in their lives. It seems an appropriate time to highlight some of the historic measures approved this year by the state senate as part of a comprehensive Women’s Equality Agenda to protect and enhance women’s rights in New York State.

ENSURING EQUAL PAY

The very first bill (S.1) passed by the senate this year will put an end to pay discrimination based on gender. Despite existing protections under the law, women in New York earn 84 percent of what men earn and jobs traditionally held by women pay significantly less than jobs predominantly employing men. In New York, on average, a woman working full time is paid $42,113 per year, while a man working full time is paid $50,388 per year. This creates a wage gap of $8,275 between full-time working men and women in the state.

Last week, the state assembly finally joined the senate and also passed the equal pay legislation, and the governor quickly announced that he would be signing this important bill. This is a major victory for women’s rights and will also help improve the quality of life for thousands of families which include working mothers.



STOPPING DISCRIMINATION BASED ON FAMILY STATUS

Not only should women receive equal pay, but we also need to make certain that women don’t lose out on jobs because they have children. To help working mothers, legislation (S.4) would prevent discrimination in the hiring and promotion of people with families. Employers would be prohibited from denying work or promotions based on family status, such as parents and women who are pregnant. Existing law only prohibits discrimination based on family status in credit and housing, but not employment.

ENDING PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE

To help protect pregnant women, legislation (S.8) would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with pregnancy-related medical conditions. A pregnancy-related condition would be treated as a temporary disability and employers would be required to perform a reasonable accommodation analysis for employees with conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.

PROHIBITING SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Sexual harassment disproportionately affects women in the workplace. In 2011, women filed 75 percent of all sexual harassment complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights and 83 percent of all sexual harassment complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Senate legislation (S.2) would protect workers from sexual harassment regardless of the size of the workplace. Under current law, people working at businesses with fewer than four employees cannot file harassment complaints with the state because small employers are exempt from the law that prohibits harassment. More than 60 percent of the state's private employers have fewer than four employees. This bill would ensure that all employees are protected from sexual harassment by applying existing protections to businesses of all sizes.

REMOVING BARRIERS TO REMEDYING DISCRIMINATION

Employment discrimination is also addressed through legislation (S.3) which would allow for reasonable attorney fees in employment and credit discrimination cases when sex is a basis of discrimination.

Under existing law, attorney fees for sex discrimination cases involving employment, credit, and lending are not available even after the plaintiff proves discrimination at trial. As a result, many who are discriminated against and cannot afford to hire attorneys never seek redress. Also, those who hire an attorney on a contingency fee arrangement are not "made whole" for their losses because they must pay for their attorneys out of their recovery. Some who cannot afford to hire an attorney, but who try to do so on a contingency basis, are unsuccessful because the case is either too small or too risky.

Additionally, both the senate and assembly have passed measures to stop human trafficking (S.7), and allow domestic violence victims to electronically file for orders of protection (S.6). I expect both will be signed into by the governor in short order.

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