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Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law

By Owen Laird

Employees across the country are protected from discrimination by three main federal laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1963 (Title VII) protects against discrimination based on race and color, national origin, sex, and religion, while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protect against discrimination based on disability and age, respectively. Workers in New York City, however, enjoy the protections of one of the most expansive anti-discrimination statutes in the nation: the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), a city law that is extensive as well as adaptive to their needs.

In addition to those federally protected characteristics listed above, the NYCHRL provides additional protection against sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and partnership status discrimination (to name a few). Protection against sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination is essential as these characteristics are not protected by other statutory regimes, and New Yorkers cannot rely on federal laws to provide this security.

The New York City Council passed legislation that clarifies and expands the sexual orientation and gender identity protections under the NYCHRL by revising their definitions. The NYCHRL currently prohibits “sexual orientation” discrimination, defined as discrimination against “heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.” The revised definition of sexual orientation discrimination will prohibit discrimination against an individual for their “actual or perceived romantic, physical or sexual attraction to other persons, or lack thereof, on the basis of gender” and now includes specific protection for individuals who identify as asexual or pansexual.  These changes keep the NYCHRL up to date with our society’s growing understanding of the spectrum of sexual identity and orientation by providing protection for individuals who do not identify as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.

Moreover, this new legislation provides additional protection against gender identity discrimination as well.   The NYCHRL already provides protection against discrimination towards those who do not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth. The new, broader definition of gender further expands that protection.  The revised NYCHRL will protect against discrimination against a person for their “actual or perceived sex, gender identity, and gender expression including a person’s actual or perceived gender-related self-image, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic, regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth.

While these alterations may not seem significant, they do provide important protections for marginalized groups that still face significant harassment and discrimination in their everyday lives.  The purpose of the NYCHRL is to combat prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination.  By continually revising and adapting the law to the needs of New Yorkers, New York can ensure that no group remains a target for discrimination in the workplace.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work for your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact The Harman Firm.

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