Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday introduced statewide regulations through the New York State Human Rights Law that prohibits harassment and discrimination against transgender people. All public and private employers, housing providers, businesses, creditors and others will be subject to these new regulations.
“The scourge of harassment and discrimination against transgender individuals is well-known – and has also has gone largely unanswered for too long,” said Cuomo. “New York has always been a beacon for the country on LGBT rights. We started the movement at Stonewall, we led the way with marriage equality, and now we are continuing to show the nation the path forward. We will not tolerate discrimination or harassment against transgender people anywhere in the State of New York – period.”
These regulations are the first in the country to consider discrimination, by both public and private entities, on the basis of a person’s gender identity, transgender status, or gender dysphoria to be unlawful discrimination.
“This is a big step to correct one of the state’s great injustices. Transgender New Yorkers will now have more confidence that discrimination in homes, jobs, and public accommodations will not be tolerated,” said Northern Brooklyn Senator Daniel Squadron.
Discrimination against transgender people has been prohibited in New York State by Executive Order since 2009, but the law only protected state workers. Municipal ordinances and laws also prohibited harassment and discriminations, but these protections were not guaranteed by municipalities.
Individuals who feel they have been discriminated against can file complaints in state court or the New York State Division of Human Rights. If the Division determines that there is probable cause to believe discrimination took place, the Commissioner of Human Rights will decide on the case after a public hearing. As a result, the Commissioner may award job or housing benefits, back and front pay and compensatory damages for mental anguish. Civil fines and penalties can be up to $50,000 or as high as $100,000 if the discrimination is deemed to be “willful, wanton or malicious”. Contrary to federal law, there is no cap on compensatory damages to individuals.
“When any segment of our society is treated as unequal, there is a part of each of us that is incomplete. I applaud Governor Cuomo for his decisive action to ensure transgender New Yorkers are treated equally and fairly. For too long, members of the transgender community have been forced to live in the shadows of society and have been subjected to great discrimination while this common-sense civil rights legislation has stalled in our legislature. During a year when we have seen huge victories for equality, this is another critical step forward toward ensuring that every person in our State has an equal opportunity for a happy and fulfilling life,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.