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.

Our colleagues  at Epstein Becker Green have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to our readers in the hospitality industry: “Vermont Enacts Sweeping Sexual Harassment Prevention Law.”

Following is an excerpt:

On May 30, 2018, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed bill H.707, titled “An Act Relating to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment” (the “Act”). Effect on July 1, 2018, the Act provides expansive protections for employees and prospective employees, as well as some groundbreaking employer obligations and potential penalties for violations of the law.

Among its key provisions, the Act:

  • Applies to all persons “hired to perform work or services,” thereby covering independent contractors and unpaid interns;
  • Prohibits employers from requiring any employee or prospective employee, as a condition of employment, to sign an agreement that waives “a substantive or procedural right or remedy available to the employee with respect to a claim of sexual harassment.” In effect, this provision bans employment agreements requiring that sexual harassment claims be resolved through arbitration; …

Read the full post here.

Featured on Employment Law This Week: Second Circuit: Title VII Covers Sexual Orientation Discrimination.

“Legal doctrine evolves.” Those words from the Second Circuit spoke volumes as the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, overturning their own long-standing precedent. The court ruled in favor of a skydiving instructor who claimed he was fired for telling a client he was gay.

The majority opinion began by looking at whether sex is a motivating factor in the alleged unlawful practice. And, in this case, looking at sexual orientation discrimination, the court concluded that sex is a factor and inextricably linked to sexual orientation, and therefore sexual orientation acts as a proxy for sex. The Second Circuit now joins the Seventh Circuit in finding that Title VII does protect against sexual orientation discrimination, and deepens a circuit split with the Eleventh Circuit, which went the other way last year.

Watch the segment below and read our recent post.

Our colleagues Patrick G. Brady and Julie Saker Schlegel, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Beyond Joint Employment: Do Companies Aid and Abet Discrimination by Conducting Background Checks on Independent Contractors?

Following is an excerpt:

Ever since the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued its August 2015 decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., holding two entities may be joint employers if one exercises either direct or indirect control over the terms and conditions of the other’s employees or reserves the right to do so, the concept of joint employment has generated increased interest from plaintiffs’ attorneys, and increased concern from employers. Questions raised by the New York Court of Appeals in a recent oral argument, however, indicate that employers who engage another company’s workers on an independent contractor basis would be wise to guard against another potential form of liability, for aiding and abetting acts that violate various anti-discrimination statutes, including both the New York State (“NYSHRL”) and New York City Human Rights Laws (“NYCHRL”) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).

Read the full post here.

Our colleagues Brian W. Steinbach and Judah L. Rosenblatt, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Heath Employment and Labor blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Mayor Signs District of Columbia Ban on Most Employment Credit Inquiries.”

Following is an excerpt:

On February 15, 2017, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the “Fair Credit in Employment Amendment Act of 2016” (“Act”) (D.C. Act A21-0673) previously passed by the D.C. Council. The Act amends the Human Rights Act of 1977 to add “credit information” as a trait protected from discrimination and makes it a discriminatory practice for most employers to directly or indirectly require, request, suggest, or cause an employee (prospective or current) to submit credit information, or use, accept, refer to, or inquire into an employee’s credit information. …

Read the full post here.

Complying with employment law has become increasingly difficult given that various states and municipalities have passed legislation that seemingly contradicts federal guidance.[1] One state law that has been in the spotlight is North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act” (“HB2”), which was passed in an emergency legislative session on March 23, 2016, to overturn a local ordinance that was set to extend anti-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) individuals and would have allowed transgender individuals to use the restroom facilities that corresponded with their gender identity.

There are a number of legal challenges to these laws. Notably, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has filed a complaint, in United States v. State of North Carolina et al., against the state of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina (the largest employer in the state), and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), alleging that they are discriminating against transgender individuals in violation of federal law as a result of the state’s compliance with, and implementation of, HB2.

Separately, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, and Equality North Carolina have jointly filed a lawsuit against North Carolina’s governor (Carcano v. McCrory), challenging HB2 in a North Carolina federal court. The complaint, brought by a student, employee, and professor at three separate North Carolina state colleges, alleges that HB2 is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating on the basis of sex and sexual orientation and invading the privacy of transgender people. The complaint also alleges that the law violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex. The Carcano complaint alleges that “[e]mployers subject to Title VII also will violate the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s [EEOC’s] decree that discriminating against transgender people with respect to restroom use is impermissible sex discrimination.”

Following the news of these two lawsuits, Governor McCrory issued an executive order affirming the right of private-sector employers to establish their own restroom and locker-room policies. While this executive order alleviates the tension between state and federal law for private employers, public employers and employers that have restroom facilities for customers still face differing standards under state and federal law.

Indeed, the EEOC has offered specific guidance (“EEOC Guidance”) on restroom facility access rights for transgender employees that is contrary to the laws of North Carolina and other jurisdictions. The EEOC Guidance specifically refers to two cases addressing discrimination on the basis of gender identity, both of which offer direction for employers:

  • In Macy v. Dep’t of Justice (Apr. 12, 2012), the EEOC ruled that discrimination based on transgender status is sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.
  • In Lusardi v. Dep’t of the Army (Mar. 27, 2015), the EEOC held that denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity is discrimination on the basis of sex.

The EEOC Guidance states that an employer cannot condition the right to use the restroom corresponding with the employee’s gender identity on the employee undergoing or providing proof of surgery or any other medical procedure, and an employer cannot avoid the requirement to provide equal access to a common restroom by restricting a transgender employee to a single-user restroom instead. See EEOC Fact Sheet: Bathroom Access Rights for Transgender Employees Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Notably, the fact sheet states that contrary state law is not a defense under Title VII (citing to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-7).

In addition to those protections promulgated by the EEOC, OSHA also recently issued guidance indicating that restroom access is a health and safety matter. Under OSHA’s sanitation standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.141, employers are required to allow employees prompt access to sanitary facilities. This standard is “intended to protect employees from the health effects created when toilets are not available.”

The OSHA standards, which laws such as HB2 appear to directly conflict, hold that employees should not be required to use a segregated facility apart from other employees because of their gender identity or transgender status. OSHA guidance also has several “model practices” that “all employees should be permitted to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity.” OSHA advises that the best policies also provide additional options, which employees may choose, but are not required, to use. These include the following:

  • Single-occupancy gender-neutral (unisex) facilities
  • Use of multiple-occupant, gender-neutral restroom facilities with lockable single occupant stalls

The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights issued guidance in early June addressing restroom usage for transgender and cisgender employees. Washington, DC, enacted a law requiring that all single-stall restrooms be gender neutral. Even though this option is available to all employees, the DC guidance reiterates the position of the EEOC and OSHA that employers may not direct transgender employees to use only single-stall restrooms.

What Hospitality Employers Should Do Now

  • Comply with federal law even though it may contradict some state and municipal laws and until there is resolution in either United States v. State of North Carolina et al. or Carcano v. McCrory.
  • Consider creating policies or practices regarding transgender employees’ use of restroom facilities (including following OSHA’s guidance providing numerous restroom options, such as single-occupancy gender-neutral (unisex) facilities), and the use of multiple-occupant, gender-neutral restroom facilities with lockable single occupant stalls.
  • Conduct training for human resources and line managers so that they are aware that they may not require transgender workers to use a particular restroom.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Take 5 newsletter “Five Key Issues Facing Employers in the Hospitality Industry.”

[1] While this article focuses on restroom facilities access for transgendered workers, please note that in the hospitality industry, these issues are also relevant with regard to the appropriate use of restroom facilities for customers.