Council Member Rosenthal Introduces New Workplace Sexual Harassment Resolution

Council Member Helen Rosenthal introduced a resolution today in support of legislation which would dramatically increase protections against workplace sexual harassment and discrimination from Harlem to the Hudson.

Among the bills that Council Member Rosenthal’s resolution supports is A7083A / S3817A, which will finally remove the current “severe or pervasive” legal standard for demonstrating discrimination under state Human Rights Law. This burdensome standard has long impeded employees experiencing harassment from bringing claims forward.

Overall, the bills will strengthen protections for workers, extend the statute of limitations for filing a discrimination complaint, amend the State Constitution to expand protected classes, and increase language access for employees filing a complaint. Read Council Member Rosenthal’s resolution in support here.

The legislation was reviewed last Friday at an NYS legislature joint committee hearing in New York City which lasted over 12 hours. In February 2019, legislators led the first state-level public hearing on workplace sexual harassment since 1992. That hearing revealed the dire need for comprehensive, systemic improvements to workplace culture across New York State.

Council Member Rosenthal, Chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity, issued the following statement:

“The personal, professional, and societal effects of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are staggering. Due to the long-standing pervasiveness and culture of silence around discriminatory workplace behavior, we can never fully know the number of women who have been driven from jobs because of sexual harassment; or the pain and suffering that harassers have inflicted; or the talent that has been drained from workplaces and industries.

Last week, the public had an opportunity to hear directly from harassment survivors about the real-life impact of current State laws, so that the failures of the current system can be brought to light and addressed through legislation. The State should look to New York City as a model. We have led the way in establishing sexual harassment practices and policies, and we are moving forward with additional legislation.

Since 2009, New York City has applied a standard that sexual harassment exists under City Human Rights Law when an individual is ‘treated less well than other employees because of gender’ and the conduct complained of consists of more than ‘petty slights or trivial inconveniences.’

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We rightly codified this more protective standard into law, and as a result, workers in New York City enjoy far greater protections against sexual harassment than workers elsewhere in the state.

Similarly, the 2018 Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act requires enhanced training for all public and private sector employees; provides recourse for people who have been harassed and discriminated against through establishing a trauma-informed statute of limitations; and increases transparency and accountability within City government, the largest employer in the five boroughs. I was very proud to play a leading role in the Act’s passage.

While it is essential that the State pass the proposed bills, doing so does not mean that our work will be over. New York must continue to lead on this issue. We must ensure that survivors know their rights; that bystanders know how to intervene when they see sexual harassment; and that harassers know that the days in which they could operate with impunity are over.”

Said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi: “Every instance of sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace warrants attention and accountability – yet current state law only protects New Yorkers against a fraction of these behaviors. The purpose of eliminating the ‘severe and pervasive’ standard is to condemn all forms of discriminatory behavior or sexual misconduct, give survivors a fair chance at restitution, and hold employers accountable for creating safe and welcoming work environments for their employees. I am grateful to have New York City Council member Helen Rosenthal as a partner on this issue and look forward to working together to create a harassment-free New York,”

Said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas: “Last week, we heard the testimonies of survivors from all job sectors. We even heard from children and what we learned is that we need intersectional solutions to sexual harassment and discrimination. There are currently critical gaps and obstructions in our laws that impede the reporting of harassing behavior. We cannot look at our children in the face years from now and tell them this is how it is. Under the outdated severe or pervasive standard, much of what survivors experience is not legally considered sexual harassment. It’s up to us to change that and empower the next generation with the right laws and protections against harassment and encourage them to share their stories. Thank you Council Member Rosenthal for your advocacy and support of legislation that would dramatically increase protections in the workplace across this state. The city has been a staunch advocate for fighting harassment and discrimination and I commend leaders like you who fight the good fight.”

Said Leah Hebert & Rita Pasarell, Co-Founders of the Sexual Harassment Working Group: “We commend Council Member Rosenthal’s leadership on this progressive Resolution. Workers across New York State need the protections in these essential, survivor-led bills. This year, our state held the first two hearings on sexual harassment in over a quarter century, and we learned just how much our sexual harassment laws need to change. The bills in this Resolution fix many of the issues raised by workers in those hearings. Over a decade ago, New York City eradicated the burdensome “severe or pervasive” standard which permits worker abuse, and it is long past due for New York State to change this standard too. We look forward to broad support of this Resolution, and to improved rights for the New York workforce.”

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