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New York City Commission on Human Rights Publishes Legal Enforcement Guidance on Discrimination on the Basis of Pregnancy

On May 10, 2016 by Schnader in Labor and Employment

By Scott J. Wenner

The New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) is New York City’s local law that prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing. The New York City Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”) has authority to enforce the NYCHRL, which applies to employers with four (4) or more employees in New York City. Among the forms of discrimination that the NYCHRL prohibits is discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. All three of these forbidden bases for taking adverse employment action are considered discrimination on the basis of gender. Wilcox v. Cornell University, 986 F. Supp. 2d 281, 285 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). The New York City Council augmented the protection of pregnant workers in enacting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Local Law 78, in 2013. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(22)(a). Now covered employers must reasonably accommodate the needs of an employee for her pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition regardless of whether she is disabled under the NYCHRL, as was previously required.

On May 6th, in time for Mothers Day, New York City’s Mayor De Blasio announced the release of a new legal guidance discussing the Commission’s interpretation of the NYCHRL’s prohibition of discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, and the duty to reasonably accommodate. This new legal guidance can be found here. While it is careful to disclaim any intention of cataloguing all possible violations of the NYCHRL related to pregnancy and childbirth, the guidance provides a useful overview of how the Commission expects to enforce the law in this increasingly important and active area. What makes the guidance particularly useful to New York City employers is its highlighting of the broader, more exacting requirements imposed by the NYCHRL compared to federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination and mandate accommodations in this area. One example the guidance cites is that the NYCHRL flatly requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. Whether, to what degree and for what reason it accommodates other employees is not a consideration under the local law. In contrast, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act is less absolute, and requires equal treatment for all workers “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

As many New York City employers are more familiar with the federal requirements, and because the NYCHRL is construed more harshly against employers than are any of the federal or state employment discrimination laws, the guidance is an important resource for developing an understanding of what the Commission’s view is of the obligations the law imposes on employers in the important and highly visible area of pregnancy and childbirth.