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New Civil Penalties in Employment Cases Under the New York State Human Rights Law

July 21, 2009

On April 7, 2009, Governor David Paterson signed into law the New York State 2009-2010 Budget Bill.  In one of several provisions expanding the state’s authority to collect fines, the bill amends the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) by authorizing the imposition of civil penalties for any discriminatory practice.  Civil penalties were previously available only in housing discrimination (not employment) cases.   

NYSHRL prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, or marital status.  Prior to the new amendment, the available remedies included back pay and front pay, plus compensatory damages (such as damages for emotional harm) but no punitive damages.  Under the new legislation, employers found to have engaged in discriminatory practices in violation of NYSHRL can now be fined up to $50,000; if the violation is malicious, the maximum fine increases to $100,000.  Such civil fines may only be applied to discriminatory practices occurring on or after July 6, 2009.