As Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his recent State of the State address, 2017 “brought a long overdue reckoning” on sexual harassment and misconduct, both in New York State and nationwide.
“There must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, and we can and will end the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled harassment for far too long,” he said.
To address that secrecy and coercion, Governor Cuomo has proposed several changes to New York state law and policy. For example, when a New York State official is accused of sexual harassment or misconduct, Governor Cuomo’s new proposal would prohibit the state from settling the matter with taxpayer money. Moreover, Governor Cuomo proposes that all such settlements be made public unless the victims choose to keep them confidential.
Ending secret sexual harassment settlements paid by taxpayers is considered a top priority, according to the Associated Press, and has broad support from both parties.
The public has been outraged by these complaints being resolved with little public scrutiny. In 2012, for example, state assembly leaders were criticized for allowing sexual harassment complaints against a former assemblyman to be settled — in secret — for $103,000.
Changes may be in store for the private sector, as well. Cuomo would void mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts as applied to sexual harassment complaints. That change would allow workers to bring their cases before a court of law, in a filing available to the general public.
Although retaliation is already illegal under both state and federal law, New York State lawmakers have proposed stronger protections against employer retaliation when workers report sexual harassment.
Also, a change to New York’s Human Rights Law could formalize the idea that sexual harassment is discrimination. The law as written prohibits sex-based discrimination but does not specifically address sexual harassment. The idea that sexual harassment is discrimination has already been recognized in court decisions, but the change could make it easier for employees to bring these lawsuits against their employers.
If you have been subjected to sexual harassment, whether by someone in New York State government or in the private sector, you have rights. Talk to an employment law attorney about those rights and discover your legal options.