Q: I believe I was fired unfairly. What options do I have?
A: In New York, there is a big difference between an unfair termination
and an unlawful termination. In other words, it might be unfair that your
employer fired you, but that does not necessarily mean that it was unlawful
or that you have a case of discrimination. This is because employment
in New York is presumed to be "at-will," which means that your
employer can terminate you at any time, for any reason or for no reason
at all. Just by way of example, your employer can decide to fire you,
even if you are a superstar, have done nothing wrong and do not receive
any warnings of poor performance. In New York, there are essentially 2
exceptions to the general "at will rule." The first exception
would be that your employer cannot fire if doing so would violate an employment
contract that you have with your employer. The second exception would
be that if firing you would constitute unlawful employment discrimination.
Q: What is unlawful discrimination in New York?
A: New York State and Federal Law makes it illegal for an employer to fire
you or refuse to hire you because of your race, color, national origin,
religion, gender, pregnancy, age (if over 40) or disability. The New York
City Human Right Rights Law also covers sexual orientation. An employer
also cannot fire you for asking for a reasonable accommodation, for complaining
about unlawful discrimination, or for participating in an employment discrimination
Q: I made a complaint to Human Resources that I felt I was being discriminated
against by my supervisor and now I have been demoted. Is there anything I can do?
A: Yes, if you have complained of discrimination and your employer has
taken any negative adverse action against you as a result, you may be
the target of retaliation and the human rights law protects you from being
Q: What is "wrongful termination?"
A: "Wrongful termination" is actually an extremely misleading
term, as an employee who has a bad or unfair boss is not protected under
the law. When "wrongful termination" is actionable it is because
the employee has been discriminated because of his or her race, color,
age (over 40), national origin, gender, disability (perceived or actual),
pregnancy, sexual orientation and religion.
Q: How old is too old according to the laws that prohibit age discrimination
A: Anyone 40 or over is protected by the human rights laws.
Q: What laws protect gay people from discrimination?
A: In New York, the New York City Human Rights law prohibits discrimination based
on an individual’s sexual orientation. If a gay person is discriminated
against in the City
of New York, he or she would be protected under that law.
Q: My boss does not allow me to express my religious beliefs. Is this illegal
A: It is possible. In New York discrimination and harassment on the basis
of religion are prohibited by federal, state and local law.
Q: How does anyone prove employment discrimination?
A: Few employers admit that they discriminate against applicants or employees.
Experience shows, however, that employers still leave plenty of fingerprints.
This includes: direct ("smoking gun") evidence, such as: actual
admissions of bias (written or verbal) such as "women don't belong
around heavy construction equipment" or "we want the workplace
to become young and hip" or indirect evidence, such as: statistics
(an all white, male executive team or a higher than expected proportion
of older workers laid off), other cases of discrimination, pretext (bogus
reasons given for employment decisions to cover up the unlawful reason),
better treatment of people outside of the protected class who have equal
or lesser qualifications.
Q: What are "damages?"
A: Damages are what you lose because of the discrimination. Discrimination
victims typically lose wages, benefits and emotional well-being as a result
Q: My supervisor is harassing me at work. Is there anything I can do?
A: Your supervisor cannot harass you for impermissible reasons. For example,
if your boss is making unwanted sexual advances toward you or if you are
working in a sexually charged work environment, you may be the victim
of unlawful sexual harassment. Similarly, if you are being harassed due
to your race, national origin, ethnicity, gender, pregnancy, religion,
disability or sexual orientation or sexual preference, you may be protected
by the law.
Q: I am having problems at work. When is the right time to consult a lawyer?
A: We believe the sooner the better. If you want until you have been fired
or forced to resign out of frustration it may be too late to assert a
viable claim. As soon as you believe you have been the subject of unlawful
discrimination, you should reach out to an employment law specialist,
such as the attorneys at Schwartz Perry & Heller.
Q: How much does a consultation with your firm cost?
A: We do not charge for the initial in-person consultation.
Q: When I first contact your office, will I speak with an attorney?
A: Yes, you will be connected with one of our attorneys immediately. We
will discuss your employment issues with you on the phone and, if after
doing so, we believe an in-person meeting is appropriate, that meeting
will be scheduled without delay. As stated above, there is no charge for
the in person consultation at our office.
Q: Is the consultation confidential?