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New York Extends Civil Rights Protections to Gays and Lesbians

  • December 19, 2002

Three hours after the New York State Senate voted 34 to 26 on December 17, 2002 in its favor, Governor George Pataki signed into law a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which will take effect 30 days from enactment, or January 16, 2003, amends the New York State Human Rights Law to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and credit on the basis of sexual orientation. Prior to the Act's passage, the Human Rights Law granted protection against discrimination to individuals only on the basis of race, sex, creed, color, national origin, disability, age and marital status.

Under the Act, "sexual orientation" is defined to include heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality or asexuality. A claim for sexual orientation discrimination under the Human Rights Law may be based on an individual's actual or perceived sexuality. An amendment to the Act to include protection against discrimination for trans-gendered individuals (cross-dressers and individuals who undergo a sex change, etc.) was not approved. It also should be noted the Act does not change the provision in the Human Rights Law allowing religious institutions and organizations to limit employment or make employment selections designed to promote the religious principles for which they are established or maintained.

While the Act adds an additional category to the anti-discrimination in employment protection afforded individuals statewide, employers operating in New York City and numerous other localities within the State already are subject to similar prohibitions regarding sexual orientation. For example, the New York City Human Rights Law, which is part of the New York City Administrative Code, already outlaws discrimination because of actual or perceived individual characteristics of sexual orientation.

Employers affected by this legislation should assure that their policies are updated and that anti-harassment training make explicit reference to the inclusion of this new protected class.

©2002 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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