Harassment in the workplace can interfere with more than just your job. You may be anxious or frightened to go to work, while also feeling worried about what will happen if you quit. Ongoing harassment can affect your personal life, or even cause problems with your physical or mental health. When discriminatory harassment is severe and pervasive to the point of changing the conditions of your job, or creating an intimidating or abusive climate, it may be considered a hostile work environment and unlawful under federal, state, or city law. To learn how to prove a hostile work environment, read on.
What is a Hostile Work Environment in New York City?
A hostile work environment most often results from ongoing discrimination or prejudice based on the perceived inclusion of a person in a protected class, which under federal law includes:
- National origin;
- Sex (including pregnancy and sexual orientation);
- Age (40 and older);
- Citizenship status; and
- Genetic information.
Isolated instances of prejudice are not usually sufficient to prove a hostile work environment claim; in general, the offensive conduct must be severe and pervasive. Prohibited behaviors may include one or more of the following: insults, bullying, offensive jokes, the display of inappropriate pictures or objects, unwelcome physical advances, unwanted touching, sexual comments, assault, and any other harassing behaviors that are intimidating or abusive and interfere with work performance. Less direct actions can also contribute to a hostile work environment—perhaps you’ve complained and been retaliated against in the form of fewer hours or a different schedule.
Notably, you do not have to be the victim of the harassment to file a claim; anyone who is impacted by the hostile work environment created by the ongoing harassment may have a possible claim.
What are the Elements of a Hostile Work Environment Harassment Claim?
In New York City, workers may be protected from a hostile work environment under federal law (including under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. In general, a violation of federal law is the hardest to prove, followed by state and city law.
For a hostile work environment harassment claim to be successful, a victim must establish that multiple instances of discriminatory harassment created an offensive, intimidating, or hostile work environment. To succeed in a federal hostile work environment claim under Title VII the victim must generally prove the following:
- The work environment was offensive;
- The harassment was based on the victim’s perceived membership in a protected class (e.g. the perceived race or gender of the victim);
- The offensive conduct was severe and/or pervasive; and
- There is a basis for employer liability.
An employer may have a defense to a Title VII (or other) hostile work environment claim if it can show that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassment and/or the employee failed to use the employer’s established reporting procedures.
Proving a Hostile Work Environment in NY
Seek Legal Advice Immediately
If you believe that you are the victim of a hostile work environment, it is critical to seek legal advice immediately, and, if possible, before leaving your job. Speak to an experienced NYC employment lawyer before quitting or accepting a severance package. The qualified hostile work environment lawyers at Joseph & Norinsberg, LLC can review your circumstances, advise you on documenting and reporting the harassment to your employer, determine applicable laws, and identify the appropriate venue for recovering potential damages.
The success of a hostile work environment claim depends largely on proving that the harassment occurred and that the employer was aware and failed to appropriately respond. It is therefore critical to document all aspects of your potential hostile work environment claim, including:
- Recording details of all instances of harassment;
- Keeping physical evidence (notes, emails, photographs, etc. – do not delete anything!);
- Identifying witnesses and requesting statements from them in writing;
- Documenting the impacts of the harassment on your health and personal life (e.g., medical bills for related physical or mental health treatment); and
- Keeping a record of complaints filed with your employer.
Determine Appropriate Law & Jurisdiction
Different laws may apply depending on the details of your situation. An experienced New York hostile workplace lawyer will determine the appropriate venue for your claim based on several factors, including:
- Employer Size. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employers with more than 15 employees. State and city laws also protect workers—the New York State Human Rights Law applies to employers with more than four employees, and the New York City Human Rights Law applies to all employers.
- Liability. Federal hostile work environment claims are brought against employers; under the New York state law, an employee can sue anyone responsible for creating a hostile work environment—employer, manager, co-worker, etc.
- Statute of Limitations. The time you have to file a claim varies between federal and state laws. Title VII claims must be filed within 300 days; state and city claims allow up to three years.
- Protected Class. Differences between federal, state, and city law exist as to who is protected against discrimination. New York state law prohibits discrimination against many more characteristics than federal law does, including but not limited to marital status, family status, and prior convictions.
File Your Claim
For most federal claims, depending on the nature of the discrimination, you may be required to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for possible resolution. If the EEOC cannot determine whether a hostile work environment exists, you will be given the right to sue in federal court. You may be able to file a complaint with the New York Division of Civil Rights, and/or in state court.
The ultimate success of your claim may depend on the circumstances and evidence of your case and whether the appropriate reporting and filing requirements were met, as well as the quality of your legal counsel.
Available Remedies For Hostile Work Environment Claims
Damages available for a hostile work environment claim in New York depend on where the suit is filed. A plaintiff may seek compensatory damages, intended to compensate for the damages incurred by the harassment, including lost wages, medical bills, etc. In Title VII claims under New York City Human Rights Law, a plaintiff may also seek punitive damages, which are intended to punish the employer or defendant and discourage recurrence.
Contact Joseph & Norinsberg LLC Today
If you are the victim of discrimination or harassment at your workplace, it is critical to seek the immediate advice of an experienced NYC employment attorney. The knowledgeable hostile work environment lawyers at Joseph & Norinsberg, LLC have helped countless clients navigate this complicated process and recover compensation for their damages. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.