Governor Cuomo Signs “Women’s Equality Act”

On October 21, 2015, Governor Cuomo signed into law several bills, collectively known as the “Women’s Equality Act” (Assembly Bill No. A08070), that will accord greater protections to women in the workplace. These new laws will take effect 90 days after signing, in January 2016.

According to the Governor’s website, this legislation “will help to ensure that women are supported, protected and given all of the opportunities they deserve in life.” The legislation contains provisions relating to employment rights, domestic violence, and human trafficking; below is a summary of the provisions relevant in the employment context.

Gender Pay Equality

This bill (S. 1 / A. 6075) amends sections 194 and 198 of the New York Labor Law. Labor Law § 194 generally prohibits discrimination in pay based on sex.

In particular, it amends § 194 by:

  • Limiting the circumstances under which an employer may justify a gender-based pay differential. For example, an employer may no longer rely on “any other factor other than sex”, but must show that the difference in pay is based on “a bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training, or experience.”
  • Providing that employees work in the “same establishment” for purposes of § 194 “if the employees work for the same employer at workplaces located in the same geographical region, no larger than a county”.
  • Making it unlawful for an employer to “prohibit an employee from inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing the wages of such employee or another employee.”

It amends Labor Law § 198(1-a) by providing that “liquidated damages may be up to [300%] of the total amount of the wages found to be due for a willful violation of [Labor Law § 194].”

Employees of Small Businesses Protected From Sexual Harassment

This bill (S. 2 / A. 5360) amends Executive Law § 292 to provide that “in the case of an action for discrimination based on sex pursuant to [Executive Law § 296(1)], with respect to sexual harassment only, the term ’employer’ shall include all employers within the state.” This a departure from the pre-amended law, under which the New York State Human Rights Law defined the term “employer” to mean employers with fewer than four employees.

Attorney Fees

This bill (S. 3 / A.7189) amends Executive Law 297(1) to provide for an award of attorney fees in sex-based employment and credit discrimination cases.

Family Status Discrimination

This bill (S. 4 / A. 7317) amends Executive Law § 296(1) and § 296(1-a) to prohibit discrimination based on “familial status” in the area of (among others) employment.

Pregnancy Discrimination

This bill (S. 8 / A. 4272) amends Executive Law § 292 and § 296 to clarify that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees.

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