The New York City Commission on Human Rights (the “Commission”) has adopted new rules (“Rules”) which establish broad protections for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals. The Rules, which define various terms related to gender identity and expression, re-enforce recent statutory changes to the definition of the term “gender,” and clarify the scope of protections afforded gender identity status under the New York City Human Rights Law. New York State also just added gender identity and expression as protected classifications under the state Human Rights Law, following the adoption of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.

The Rules incorporate key pieces of community feedback following a public hearing on the proposed rules. Most notably, the Rules have been updated to explicitly include non-binary identities. Under the Rules, “non-binary” is defined as “a term used to describe a person whose gender identity is not exclusively male or female. For example, some people have a gender identity that blends elements of being a man or a woman or a gender identity that is neither male nor female.” Furthermore, non-binary individuals are now also included in the Rules’ examples section, which illustrates possible violations of the prohibition on discrimination based on gender. For instance, deliberately using the pronoun “he” for a non-binary person who is perceived as male but has indicated that they identify as non-binary and use the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “theirs” is identified as an example of misusing individual’s chosen name, pronoun, or title, along with deliberately calling a transgender woman “Mr.” after she has made clear that she uses female titles.

The Commission has also added a list of terms typically associated with gender expression, such as “androgynous,” “butch,” “feminine,” “femme,” “gender non-conforming,” and “masculine,” to the existing definition of gender expression. Terms associated with gender identity, such as “agender,” “bigender,” “woman,” “gender diverse,” “gender fluid,” “gender queer,” “man,” “man of trans experience,” “pangender,” and “woman of trans experience” have similarly been added to the definition of gender identity.

While the Rules have added some important language, the key takeaways remain the same. As the proposed rules initially laid out, deliberate misuse of an individual’s chosen name, pronoun, or title, refusing to allow individuals to use single-sex facilities or participate in single-sex programs consistent with their gender identity, imposing different dress or grooming standards based on gender, and refusing a request for accommodation on the basis of gender will all be considered violations under the Rules. Additionally, covered entities must provide equal employee benefits, regardless of gender, such as ensuring that the health plans they offer provide gender-affirming care.

The Rules will go into effect March 9, 2019.

Our colleagues at Epstein Becker Green has a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to our readers in the hospitality industry: “NYC Commission on Human Rights Issues Guidance on Employers’ Obligations Under the City’s Disability Discrimination Laws.”

Following is an excerpt:

The New York City Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”) recently issued a 146-page guide titled “Legal Enforcement Guidance on Discrimination on the Basis of Disability” (“Guidance”) to educate employers and other covered entities on their responsibilities to job applicants and employees with respect to both preventing disability discrimination and accommodating disabilities. The New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) defines “disability discrimination” more broadly than does state or federal disability law, and the Guidance is useful in understanding how the Commission will be interpreting and enforcing the law. …

Read the full post here.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights (the “Commission”) recently proposed new rules (“Proposed Rules”), which, among other things, define various terms related to gender identity, re-enforce recent statutory changes to the definition of the term “gender,” and clarify the scope of protections afforded gender identity status under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”). If the proposed rules are adopted, the Commission’s interpretation of the NYCHRL will establish broad protections for individuals covered by the law’s prohibition against discrimination based on gender identity.

Initially, the term “gender” was defined by the New York City Council in 2002, when it enacted Local Law No. 3 of 2002 (“Local Law 3”). Recently, Local Law No. 38 of 2018 (“Local Law 38”) expanded the definition of the term so that it now reads: “’Gender’ includes actual or perceived sex, gender identity, and gender expression including a person’s actual or perceived gender-related self-image, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristics, regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth.” (Emphasis added to reflect the most significant revisions to the term’s original definition.) The Commission’s proposed rules adopt this new definition.

Beyond defining the term “gender,” Local Law 38 also defined the term “sexual orientation” as “an individual’s actual or perceived romantic, physical or sexual attraction to other persons, or lack thereof, on the basis of gender. A continuum of sexual orientation exists and includes, but is not limited to, heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, and pansexuality.” The Proposed Rules also establish definitions for “cisgender,” “gender identity,” “gender expression,” “gender,” “gender non-conforming,” “intersex,” “sex,” and “transgender,” as well as describing covered entities’ non-discrimination obligations.

Significantly, the intent of both Local Law 3 and Local Law 38 was to ensure that the NYCHRL’s prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity covered the full range of affected individuals, and that employers clearly understood the scope of the prohibition’s reach. Toward this end, the proposed rules broadly interpret the breadth of the ban on gender identity discrimination.

For example, under the proposed rules, discriminatory conduct includes:

  • deliberate misuse of an individual’s chosen name, pronoun, or title;
  • refusing to allow individuals to use single-sex facilities or participate in single-sex programs consistent with their gender identity;
  • imposing different dress or grooming standards based on gender; and
  • refusing a request for accommodation on the basis of gender.

Further, covered entities must provide equal employee benefits, regardless of gender, such as ensuring that the health plans they offer provide gender-affirming care.

The Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules on September 25, 2018.  Anyone can comment on the proposed rules by signing up to speak at the hearing, or submitting written comments to policy@cchr.nyc.gov or through the NYC rules website. Comments also can be mailed or faxed to Michael Silverman, New York City Commission on Human Rights, 22 Reade Street, New York, New York 10007. The fax number is 646.500.7022.

On June 4, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favor of a Christian Colorado baker and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who had refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple due to his religious objections to gay marriage.

Although the case previously had been litigated on free speech grounds, the Court’s opinion largely avoids this constitutional question, and does not address whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Instead, the decision focuses on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s decision finding against Masterpiece Cakeshop and, more specifically, what Justice Kennedy described as the Commission’s “impermissible hostility” as to the baker’s religious beliefs.

In the underlying administrative proceeding that preceded the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit, the Commission found that Masterpiece Cakeshop engaged in religious bias in violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. In its impassioned decision, one of the Commission members rejected the breadth of the free exercise clause as a justification for Masterpiece Cakeshop’s actions, noting that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.” In dissent, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, wrote that such comments in the Commission’s decision should not be “taken to overcome” Masterpiece Cakeshop’s conduct, given the “several layers of independent decision-making” throughout the various hearings leading up to the Supreme Court decision. Justice Ginsberg added that unlike other cases addressing freedom of religion (for example, where religious customers have requested anti-gay messages from secular bakers), here, the circumstances were fundamentally different because Masterpiece Cakeshop regularly made the kind of cake the couple requested and refused to sell it to them simply because of their sexual orientation.

The Court’s decision is narrowly tailored, however, and leaves open the broader constitutional issues of sexual orientation discrimination and free exercise of religion. In addition, the ruling’s effect on employers may be limited due to the extremely fact-specific nature of the decision. In fact, while the scope of Title VII, has recently been expanded by Circuit Courts to include LGBT workers, has not been considered by the Supreme Court and therefore all lower court precedents still apply. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to take any action in a pending case involving a Washington florist who refused to provide arrangements for a same-sex wedding, which presented similar constitutional issues as Masterpiece Cakeshop. Stay tuned for any further updates addressing these important issues.

So far, 2018 has brought an increasing number of labor and employment rules and regulations. To help you stay up to date, we are pleased to introduce the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management Webinar Series.

Epstein Becker Green’s Hospitality service team took a deeper dive into our recently released Take 5 during the first webinar. Topics discussed include:

  • Additional measures to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees in the hospitality workplace
  • Compliance training in the hospitality workplace
  • Transactional due diligence, including labor relations issues
  • The risk of self-reporting overtime and minimum wage violations under the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program

Watch a recording of the webinar video here and download the webinar presentation slides.

The first quarter of 2018 has already stirred up an array of legal matters that employers in the hospitality industry should be conscious of, both in their day-to-day operations and long-term planning. In February alone, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to curb lawsuits focused on the inaccessibility of brick-and-mortar business establishments and a federal appeals court ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a pilot program that will allow employers to avoid potential penalties for overtime and minimum wage violations. In addition, the #MeToo movement continues to be top of mind across all industries, and hospitality employers should be vigilant in their training and employee awareness efforts. Due diligence in change-of-ownership transactions should include labor relations issues, especially with unionized employees.

This edition of Epstein Becker Green’s Take 5 addresses important and evolving issues confronting employers in the hospitality industry:

  1. Will Congress Slam the Breaks on ADA “Drive By” Lawsuits?
  2. Expanding Sex Discrimination Protection to LGBT Employees in the Hospitality Industry
  3. Effective Compliance Training in the Hospitality Industry in the Wake of #MeToo
  4. Transactional Due Diligence Should Include Labor Relations Issues
  5. Voluntary PAID Program Permits Employers to Escape Potential High Penalties for Self-Reported FLSA Violations—but at What Risk?

Read the full Take 5 online or download the PDF.

Our colleagues , at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Health Employment and Labor blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Sixth Circuit Finds Title VII Covers Discrimination Based on Transgender Status.”

Following is an excerpt:

In a significant decision on Wednesday, March 6, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held in EEOC v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes that discrimination against a worker on the basis of gender identity or transitioning status constitutes sex discrimination that violates Title VII.

In R.G. & G.R., the funeral home’s owner fired funeral director Aime Stephens after she informed him she intended to begin a gender transition and present herself as a woman at work. In finding gender identity to be covered by Title VII, the Sixth Circuit also upheld the EEOC’s claim that the funeral home’s dress code, which has different dress and grooming instructions for men and women, discriminates on the basis of sex. …

Read the full post here.

Employers in New York City are required to provide their employees with reasonable accommodations related to childbirth and pregnancy. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has published a new factsheet and notice. The notice should be provided to all employees upon hire, and posted in the workplace to provide employees with notice of their rights under the NYC Human Rights Law.

The notice and factsheet outline employers’ responsibilities with respect to pregnant employees, and recommend that employers work with employees to implement accommodations that recognize employee contributions to the workplace and help keep them in the workplace for as long as possible. The notice and factsheet also provide employees with examples of reasonable accommodations, such as breaks to rest or use the bathroom while at work, and time and space to express breast milk at work.

On October 23, 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that amends the Clean Indoor Air Act to ban the use of electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”) everywhere that smoking traditional tobacco products is prohibited.  With this amendment, the Clean Indoor Air Act will prohibit both smoking and vaping in certain indoor areas, including places of employment, as well as certain outdoor areas accessible to the public. This legislation will become effective on November 22, 2017.  Prior to this date,  any required posters and signs will need to be updated to include reference to “No Vaping” or “Vaping” along with the “No Smoking” or “Smoking” signs, or international “No Smoking” symbol.