Over the past ten years, there were several legislative initiatives enacted in the State of New York prohibiting various forms of discrimination. These legislative initiatives were designed to fill in the gaps not covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 aka Title VII that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion and national origin.
The New York’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) was enacted in Late 2002, effective on January 16, 2003. SONDA was enacted “to prohibit discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit, and the exercise of civil rights.” The term ‘sexual orientation’ is defined under SONDA to include heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.
On December 16, 2009, the Governor of the State of New York signed Executive Order No. 33 which “prohibits discrimination in State employment on the basis of gender identity”. The said Order defines gender identity as “having or being perceived as having a gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth”.
On May 20, 2009, the New York State Assembly passed Assembly Bill No.: A.5710 aka the Gender Expression and Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). GENDA was introduced to fill in the gaps currently not covered under SONDA. When SONDA was enacted, the legislators failed to include protections against discrimination based upon gender identity and expression. GENDA extends the protections of SONDA prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. Thus far, Senate Bill No.: S.2406 remains in legislative committee; therefore, GENDA has not been enacted. However, such protections under GENDA are covered under Executive Order No.: 33.
On June 24, 2011, the Marriage Equality Act (MEA) was enacted, effective July 24, 2011, which provides legal status to same sex marriages and allows such marriages to be performed in the State of New York. Further, the MEA entitles same sex marriages to the same protections as heterosexual married couples: state tax benefits; insurance benefits; healthcare and family leave; inheritance, property ownership and transfer rights; parental rights; workers compensation and wrongful death claims; cemetery plots; spousal privilege and family law.
Despite these legislative initiatives discrimination problems persist. Remember, laws enforced under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) may be adjudicated administratively at the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR). The NYSHRL may also be enforced by filing a lawsuit in federal or state court. The time limit for filing an administrative charge with the NYSDHR is one year from the date of discriminatory act. If you choose to enforce the NYSHRL by filing a lawsuit in federal or state court, you must do so within three years from the date of the discriminatory act.