Sexual Harassment in New York
last updated July 2012
Sexual harassment is another form of gender discrimination. Such discrimination is not limited to hurtful comments and banter—it has detrimental effects on women’s roles in the workplace, educational and housing opportunities, and other public and government accommodations. As a result, sexual harassment is explicitly prohibited on the federal and state level. See: Sexual Harassment, StopVAW.
Federal Overview
Sex discrimination is prohibited by federal law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII makes it illegal to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because of her gender. The Act also defines discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions as discrimination on the basis of gender.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles cases involving alleged violations of Title VII. A claim must be filed with the EEOC before bringing suit in a court of law. The EEOC also sets forth regulations that interpret Title VII and describe how the Commission will apply it.
The EEOC defines sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. Under the EEOC’s regulations, unwanted physical touching, requests for sexual favors, and other unwanted sexual conduct constitutes “sexual harassment” when an employee’s submission to or rejection of such advances affects her employment status, or where those advances create an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment” for the affected employee.
State Law
In New York, sex discrimination is prohibited by the state’s Human Rights Law. N.Y. Executive Law, Article 15. The state maintains that every individual in the state should be afforded equal opportunities and that gender-based discrimination and harassment should be eliminated.  N.Y. Executive Law § 290(3) identifies seven areas in which discriminatory practices are prohibited: (1) in employment, (2) in places of public accommodation, resort or  amusement,  (3) in  educational  institutions,  (4) in public  services,  (5) in housing accommodations, (6) in commercial space, and (7) in credit transactions.
N.Y. Executive Law § 296 identifies many specific discriminatory practices that are prohibited:
  • Termination from employment or refusal to hire due to gender;
  • Discrimination in compensation or in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment due to gender;
  • Termination by an employer, labor organization or employment agency for opposing discriminatory practices, or for filing a complaint alleging discriminatory practices;
  • Requiring a pregnant employee to take a leave of absence (unless the pregnancy prohibits the employee from performing required job duties in a reasonable manner);
  • Denying reasonably public accommodations;
  • Refusal to sell, rent or lease housing accommodations due to gender (houses or other residential units that house less than two families are exempt);
  • Failure of a public educational facility to allow access to facilities due to gender (unless the facility exclusively admits students of one gender);
  • Failure of a public educational facility to stop harassment based on gender;
  • Refusal to sell, rent or lease commercial facilities due to gender;
These statutes also protect against discrimination based upon familial status.  This prevents, for example, a housing group from denying a rental unit to a single mother because she is not married.
Educational Policies on Sexual Harassment
Schools are one of the most common locations for sexual harassment to occur. New York explicitly prohibits harassment on school premises or at school functions. N.Y. Education Code § 12. This particular code provision is notable in that it provides a broad definition of “gender” within the context of gender-based harassment at school:
"Gender" shall mean actual or perceived sex and  shall  include  a   person's gender identity or expression.
In addition to prohibiting sexual harassment, the state also requires that each school district create policies and procedures, including disciplinary procedures, to ensure a harassment-free school environment. These policies must also provide for “safety transfers” that allow a student that has been harassed to transfer, at his or her request, to another school.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against, information on the complaint process can be obtained from the New York State Division of Human Rights. In most cases, complaints must be filed within one year of the alleged harassment or discriminatory incident.