New York State Division of Human Rights

The New York State Division of Rights is an State administrative agency which investigates and adjudicates complaints of discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. If you want to sue your employer under the New York State Human Rights Law, you can bring your claim at the New York State Division of Human Rights, instead of in State Court.

The New York State Division of Human Rights will investigate your claim of discrimination including age, race, disability, national origin, religion, sex and sexual orientation. To begin your case, you can call them and make an appointment with an investigator, who will help you fill out a discrimination complaint. Your employer, or former employer, will then have to file an answer.

The State Division investigator has the authority to request documentation from your employer and to speak with other employees about your claims. There is input from both you and your employer.

After the investigation is finished, the investigator may encourage a mediation, with the intention that the parties may be able to work out a settlement. You and your employer will attend the mediation. If a settlement is reached, then the case ends right there, and the parties go their  separate ways.

The State Division will also make a determination whether there is “probable cause” for your complaint. If they do find “probable cause,” that does not mean that you are entitled to an award, but just that there is sufficient basis to go to the next step, which will be a hearing before an administrative law judge.

If the State Division does not find “probable cause,” it will dismiss your case. You would then have four months to bring a proceeding in Court to challenge the determination. This is an uphill battle, as the Courts are very deferential to a finding of “no probable cause.”

If the State Division finds that there is, in fact, “probable cause” for your claim, it will schedule a hearing before an administrative law judge. The administrative law judge will take the testimony of both sides and make a decision. If the judge decides in your favor, the judge can award reinstatement, damages for lost pay and benefits, and damages for pain and suffering. If the judge decides against you, you would have four months to file in court to challenge the determination. As with the finding of “no probable cause,” it is hard to overturn the decision of the judge, as the courts are very deferential to the administrative determination.

If the State Division has found that there is “probable cause” for your claim, you can take the claim out of the State Division if there have not been any hearings before an administrative law judge. If an administrative trial has begun, you must complete the process at the State Division.

An advantage to filing with the State Division is that you don’t necessarily need an outside attorney. If you get to the hearing stage, the State Division will assign an attorney employed by the agency to represent you. Also, compared to filing initially in court, there is much less in the way of pre-trial proceedings and motion practice.

The disadvantage of filing directly with the State Division is that, in the pre-trial phase, you do not get to control your requests for documents or to take depositions. At a deposition, your attorney could ask your employer questions under oath in order to explore your case and to get important admissions from the other side on the record. You won’t get a jury trial and there is no provision for obtaining punitive damages. Also, you would be limited to the provisions of the New York State Human Rights Law, and if the discrimination incurred in New York City, you would not have the benefit of the more liberal provision of the New York City Human Rights Law. If you have engaged an outside attorney to prosecute your case, attorney’s fees would not be available.

Contact us online or call us at (212) 949-1001 if you are considering filing, or have filed, a compliant of discrimination against your employer with the New York State Division of Human Rights, so that we can review options for filing a complaint in court.