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Your Rights Filing a Discrimination Claim - New York

Outten & Golden LLP

Outten & Golden LLP

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in New York?

New York state law N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 292, 296 makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age (over 18), marital status, disability, sexual orientation or prior arrest or conviction record. The law also makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a genetic predisposition or carrier status.

New York state law also provides broader protection for disabled employees than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it defines disability more broadly, potentially including such conditions as obesity and stress-related illness within the definition of disability.

The New York City Human Rights Law, which applies only to those who live in New York City, makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of actual or perceived race, creed, color, age, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability (including HIV/AIDS), status as victim of domestic violence, arrest or conviction record, marital status and retaliation.

New York city law also defines disability more broadly than federal law. The Human Rights Law defines disability as “any physical, medical, mental or psychological impairment, or a history or record of an impairment.”

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in New York?

In New York, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the New York Division of Human Rights (DHR) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you live in New York City, you can also file a discrimination claim with the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with each agency is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agencies. If you live in New York City and have an age discrimination claim, you should not file with CHR, as it does not have a work-sharing agreement for age discrimination claims.

The New York state and city anti-discrimination statutes cover some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 4 and 14 employees, you should file with the CHR (if you live in New York City) or DHR, as the EEOC enforces federal law, which covers only employers with 15 or more employees; otherwise, as explained below, you should file with the EEOC.

Filing with the CHR or DHR is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court, but if you do not have an attorney, you may wish to see whether the CHR or DHR can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court. CHR or DHR complaints must be filed within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against.

Some attorneys recommend, however, that you do not file with the CHR or DHR (unless your workplace has fewer than 15 employees or you are not otherwise covered by federal law) because you cannot further pursue your state claim in court if you file with CHR or DHR, unless your case is dismissed for reasons of “administrative convenience.” (This is called an “election of remedies.” Filing with the EEOC first and cross-filing with the DHR or CHR is not considered an election of remedies, and does not prevent you from further pursuing your state claim.) If you wish to consult an attorney about taking your case, you should do so as early as possible, so that you do not miss your one-year filing deadline in the event you need the CHR or DHR's assistance.

To file a claim with the CHR, if you live in New York City, contact their local office. More information about filing a claim with the CHR can be found at http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/home.html.

New York City Commission on Human Rights
40 Rector Street
New York, NY 10006
Phone: (212) 306-7500
Discrimination Complaint Hotline: (212) 306-7450.
(An automated voicemail system responds to callers in English and Spanish.)

To file a claim with the DHR, contact the nearest office below. More information about filing a claim with the DHR can be found at http://www.nysdhr.com.

Bronx--Headquarters
One Fordham Plaza, 4th Floor
Bronx, New York 10458
Phone: (718) 741-8400

Albany Regional Office
Empire State Plaza, Agency Building #2, 18th Floor
Albany, New York 12220
Phone: (518) 474-2705

Binghamton
44 Hawley Street, Room 603
Binghamton, New York 13901
Phone: (607) 721-8467

Brooklyn
55 Hanson Place, Room 304
Brooklyn, New York 11217
Phone: (718) 722-2856

Buffalo
The Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building
65 Court Street, Suite 506
Buffalo, New York 14202
Phone: (716) 847-7632

Long Island
175 Fulton Avenue
Hempstead, New York 11550
Phone: (516) 538-1360

State Office Building, Veterans Memorial Building
Hauppauge, New York 11787
Phone: (516) 952-6434
Manhattan
20 Exchange Place, 2nd Floor
New York, New York 10005
Phone: (212) 480-2522

Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building
163 West 125th Street, 4th Floor
New York, New York 10027
Phone: (212) 961-8650

Rochester
One Monroe Square, 259 Monroe Avenue, 3rd Floor
Rochester, New York 14607
Phone: (585) 238-8250

Syracuse
333 E. Washington Street, Room 401
Syracuse, New York 13202
Phone: (315) 428-4633

White Plains
30 Glenn Street, 3rd Floor
White Plains, New York 10603
Phone: (914) 949-4394

To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Buffalo Local Office

6 Fountain Plaza
Suite 350
Buffalo, NY 14202
Phone: (716) 551-4441
TTY: (716) 551-5923

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
New York District Office

33 Whitehall St.
New York, NY 10004
Phone: (212) 336-3620
TTY: (212) 336-3622

3. What are my time deadlines?

If you choose to file a discrimination claim with one of these administrative agencies, do not delay in contacting the CHR (if you live in New York City), DHR or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for CHR or DHR to act on your behalf, you must file with the CHR or DHR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within one year or with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. But if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, however, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

If you live outside New York City, you may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or “ordinance.” Some cities and counties in New York (in addition to New York City) have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.

4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in New York?

If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the CHR, DHR or EEOC and you want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. (Please note that once you file with CHR or DHR, you are not allowed to go to court under state law, unless your case is dismissed for “administrative convenience” reasons. The remedies that can be awarded by CHR and DHR are more limited than those under federal law.)

A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required to proceed with your discrimination claim under state or city law.

New York state law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages that are capped under federal law, but does not permit the punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) and attorneys' fees recoverable for a discrimination claim that are allowed under federal law. Therefore, many New York attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal and state law. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. A case filed in state court using federal law may be “removed” to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.

New York city law does not not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages that are capped under federal law, and also does not limit or cap the punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) and attorneys' fees recoverable for a discrimination claim. Therefore, for workers living in New York City, many New York attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal, state and city law. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. A case filed in state court using federal law may be “removed” to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.

The EEOC must first issue the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.)

A lawsuit based on your state or New York City discrimination claim must be filed within 3 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against.

These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.” If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.

This page was updated on October 24, 2006

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