A newly signed law authored by Democrat Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz will make it easier for New Yorkers to pursue claims of discrimination in court.
The new law, which was signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, on Nov. 3, expands the courts’ ability to award attorney’s fees and expert witness fees when a plaintiff sues over discrimination. The new law goes into effect 90 days after Nov. 3, which will be Feb. 1, 2022.
The legislation brings a welcome change to New Yorkers who often faced uphill battles when attempting to seek justice in cases of discrimination, particularly employment discrimination — which represent the majority of all discrimination cases filed in New York. Previous law only allowed the award of attorney’s fees in cases of housing discrimination and did not allow for the award of expert witness fees. Both attorney’s fees and expert witness fees are often a major obstacle for New Yorkers who have faced discrimination to pursue their claims, and prior statute was inconsistent with federal law as well as the law in many other states.
There are two basic avenues for New Yorkers to pursue discrimination cases: through the Division of Human Rights or directly through the court system. The Division of Human Rights offers legal assistance during the public hearing stage of the process, but under prior statute does not provide representation during the investigation or conciliation stages. The court system does not provide for any representation at any stage of their process.
Oftentimes, discrimination victims have been terminated from or forced to leave their jobs because of intolerable conditions, such as pervasive sexual harassment, and consequently are not in a position to pay for legal representation. Other common types of discrimination cases involve places of public accommodation, education and housing.
“The pursuit of justice is more than just having rules on the books against discrimination,” Dinowitz said. “It is also about ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to our legal system to assert their rights. I am proud that my legislation has been signed into law, and thank you to Governor Hochul as well as my colleagues in the Legislature for their support of this important policy improvement.”
New Yorkers who have experienced discrimination are encouraged to contact the NYS Division of Human Rights online at dhr.ny.gov/complaint or by calling 1-888-392-3644.