Earlier this week, New York’s law on sexual harassment was changed significantly. Governor Cuomo signed a bill extending the statute of limitations in which sexual harassment claims can be filed under New York State law to three years. This should not be confused with the other important New York law change pertaining to victims of child sexual abuse claims that was put into effect this week. A big week of victories for victims of sexual abuse.
The statute of limitations change pertains to victims of sexual harassment who previously only had 1 year to pursue those claims through the state agency. With this change, they’ll now have three years, which is the same amount of time victims have to pursue claims in court.
The other significant change is that sexual harassment claims no longer need meet the federal standard to be considered legally sufficient (i.e., not be dismissed before trial), meaning that the “pervasive and severe” standard handed down by the US Supreme Court in a series of cases does not apply to cases brought under New York law.
The third significant change is that under New York law, employers can no longer have sexual harassment claims dismissed because the employee failed to follow company reporting policies and procedures. This means that the employee’s failure to report the harassment to a designated sexual harassment prevention officer is not a defense.
What do these changes in employment sexual harassment mean to you?
What these changes mean is that it is now easier for plaintiffs to successfully bring sexual harassment cases against employers under New York law. It’s likely that such cases will still be brought in federal court because federal law provides for attorneys’ fees payable to plaintiff’s attorney if the plaintiff is the prevailing party in litigation. They can wait to bring their claims longer and have an easier time getting their case before a jury to decide.
One strategy typically used by employers in sexual harassment cases is to argue that the conduct alleged, even if true, doesn’t amount to sexual harassment, and even if it does, the employee didn’t follow company rules in regard to reporting sexual harassment according to a procedure the company has designed to do so. These are no longer defenses under New York law.
These changes are obviously good for employees who have been victimized and bad for employers. For more information, contact my office, whether you are a victim or an employer, I can help you. With over 30 years of experience, I am a firm believer in "Smart Lawyering" and have an excellent reputation for effectively and successfully representing these types of harassment cases. You may also want to check out the New York Law Journal article on it.