As we all know we are all living in a world that is so different than it was ten years ago, that difference is reflected in gay marriage statutes that have been passed in many states and it’s certainly reflected in our New York states human rights law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We have people who come to us all the time who complain about the fact that a person of the same gender is making comments to him or her at the work place. If the comments are making the employee feel uncomfortable then that employee should be following whatever the procedure and policy is for that employer for gender discrimination even if it doesn't specifically talk about same gender harassment.
Many of us have been hearing about whistle blowers these days and it has a number of meanings. Sometimes people think that when they make a complaint at work that they are a whistle blower and have some sort of protection. There are a couple of whistle blower statutes, one is found in labor law, and that statute applies to people who are not public employees. Another statute is contained in the New York state civil service law which refers to people who are public employees, but the issue in whistle blowing is whether the complaint that the person has made is containing a potential threat to public health and safety or an actual violation of law which relates to public health and safety. Not every complaint that one makes to an employer or even a higher level government agency is going to have whistle blower protection status and that again becomes a fact intensive inquiry.
In the public employment in the New York sector there are many unions at work, whether they are state wide unions, local unions, teachers unions, and we have many clients who are very active in their unions. Some, employees are even presidents of their unions, in the public sector it is illegal and against the first amendment to take adverse employment action against an employee because of their union activities and we have seen situations when people are transferred, denied over-time, or basically suspended. Although, they still have their jobs, various benefits of the job are taken away from them because of their union activities and in those cases there may be a claim against the public employer. We take these claims very seriously, they can be pursued in federal court and we have had some success with those claims but it's a factual intensive inquiry that we have to make before recommending that an employee would pursue such a claim.
Many of the people that we meet with are municipal employees in White Plains, NY, and that means that they work for some governmental sub division and it can be the state of New York it can be the county, city, town, village or something like a water works company that is a public entity or public benefits corporation and the question arises frequently in that setting as to whether an employee who is being subjected to derogatory comments on the basis of race or national origin can do anything about those comments and of course we typically suggest that the employee go to his or her boss and make a complaint and see where that leads, but frequently in the municipal setting, not always do we frequently hear of situations where the individual’s boss really doesn't believe that whatever the employee is reporting is very serious. In that case, most municipalities have a procedure for making a complaint of discrimination, hostile environment based upon again race, national origin, etc and the first place the employee has to go is that internal complaint procedure. We try to assist the employee in doing that whether it’s in fashioning or written statement or complaint or in navigating the verbal complaint process to ensure that complaint goes on record and that it’s followed through with the municipality.