Hostile Environment Discrimination

You are trying to do your job, but your supervisor or another employee is making negative, hurtful comments or even touching you in unwelcome ways because of your race, disability, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin or age. You want to do your work and get on with your life, but you just can't get the harasser to stop, even after your contacted your supervisor or human resources. Federal, New York State and New York City anti-discrimination laws prohibit hostile environment harassment.

Under Federal Law, the harassment needs to be severe and pervasive,  although a single serious incident can sometimes rise to the standards required. There is also a difference if the harassment is perpetrated a by a co-worker who has no supervisory authority over you or by your manager. If the harasser is not a supervisor, you should use the proper company channels to report the harassment. If the harasser is a supervisor who takes adverse actions against you that materially impact the terms and conditions of your employment - for instance, by demoting you, denying you a promotion or overtime - then your harassment claim probably will not be affected as a matter law if you do not report the harassment to other supervisors or the human resources department, but you should do so in any case because it may stop the adverse actions and it is more prudent to make report of the harassment. By contrast, the New York City Human Rights Law is much more protective of employee rights and recognizes harassment even when it is not severe and pervasive, and there is no defense if the harassment was perpetrated by your supervisor.

You should always let the harasser know that his or her conduct is unwelcome, that you don’t think they are joking and that you find the conduct offensive. If that does not stop the conduct, you should report it. If you are being harassed by another employee, you should report the offensive conduct to your supervisor. If you are being harassed by your supervisor, you should report to the next level supervisor. You can also report the harassment to the employer’s human resources department. If your employer has an employment handbook or written discrimination policies, you should follow the instructions proper reporting channels. When you make the report, it is best to do so in writing. You should also be specific in your communications with your employer about which protected category is the subject of the harassment. That is, are you being subjected to harassment because of your particular gender, disability, race etc. The employer is then supposed to investigate the harassment and to take appropriate action. This could include disciplinary actions against the harasser, up to and including dismissal. The harasser may be moved to a different area or department. You should not have to move to another department or area, if that would put you in unfavorable position.

If the employer does not take appropriate action to stop the harassment, the conditions of your employment may be so difficult that you have to resign to protect yourself. Your resignation would be considered the equivalent of a firing if the harassment is severe enough that you are, in effect, being forced to resign. Your resignation could then be considered a constructive discharge. That is, since your resignation was involuntary, it would be thought of or construed as a discharge, and you would have a claim for wrongful termination or discriminatory termination.

Contact us online or call us at (212) 949-1001 if you think that your employer's harmful actions stem from hostile environmment or discriminatory harassment, and we can use our more than 25 years of experience in employment law to help you resolve the matter by negotiation or by going to court in the State of New York or New York City.