Assembly Takes Lead on Equal Rights for Women

Passes full Women’s Equality Act – all 10 reforms

In an effort to ensure women have equal rights in all aspects of their lives, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (I, D, WF-Sag Harbor) announced the Women’s Equality Act, which he sponsored, has passed the Assembly (A.8070). The act contains 10 sweeping reforms to bring fairness to the women of New York, some of which include women’s health and reproductive rights, equal pay, stronger penalties for human trafficking, and increased protections for victims of domestic violence. This vital piece of legislation now awaits Senate action.

“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation passed this decade; it shouldn’t be broken up into pieces so there are parts of it left undone,” Assemblyman Thiele said. “For many years, the goals set forth within this legislation have been top priorities of the Assembly Majority; in fact, we have passed bills mirroring aspects of the Women’s Equality Act year in and out. Equal rights for women is a priority.”

Protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body

This bill codifies existing federal law to protect a woman’s right to obtain an abortion prior to 24 weeks, or when necessary to protect her life or health. Currently, New York State’s law that protects women’s freedom of choice is outdated because New York led the nation in 1970 and passed abortion rights prior to the transformational Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“Let’s be 100 percent clear, this measure does not legislate or legitimize the practice known as ‘partial birth abortion.’ This procedure is still banned throughout the United States,” Thiele said. “This legislation simply states that women have a right to make their own health care decisions prior to 24 weeks or in cases where a woman’s life is in danger.”

Achieving pay equity

Women in New York make 84 cents for every dollar men earn, creating a substantial yearly pay gap of roughly $8,275 between men and women working full time in New York State. Further, minority women fare even worse, with African-American women being paid 64 cents and Latinas being paid just 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men nationally.1

The legislation eliminates the ability of employers to justify pay disparities based on gender and instead requires that their pay decisions be based on legitimate reasons. In addition, the legislation protects an employee’s right to share wage information with other employees without being retaliated against, and increases damages to successful plaintiffs in pay equity discrimination cases.

“The time for pay equity is now,” Thiele said. “No worker should make less simply because of his or her sex, race or national origin.”

Stopping sexual harassment in the workplace

Currently, New York State law only prohibits sexual harassment in workplaces with four or more employees. This legislation protects all employees by banning sexual harassment in every workplace, regardless of the number of employees.

“It is imperative that all employees feel safe when entering their workplace and not afraid of being harassed or intimidated,” Assemblyman Thiele said.

Strengthening human trafficking laws

This legislation creates the “Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act,” which will strengthen New York’s existing human trafficking laws by:

  • increasing the penalties for sex and labor trafficking;
  • increasing penalties for promoting and patronizing prostitution;
  • eliminating the requirement that coercion be proven in a sex-trafficking prosecution when the victims of sex trafficking are minors;
  • creating an affirmative defense in prostitution prosecutions if the defendant was herself a sex-trafficking victim;
  • expanding opportunities for referral to services and allowing victims to recover damages from individuals who profited from trafficking activity; and
  • extending the Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking for four years.

“Human trafficking happens when people – mostly women and children – are transported across borders and subjected to ongoing sexual exploitation or forced labor through coercion or threat,” Thiele said. “In some cases, physical force is used. In other cases, false promises are made regarding job opportunities or marriages in foreign countries. Human trafficking is 21st century slavery and it must be stopped.”

Giving domestic violence victims greater access to secure an order of protection

The legislation creates a pilot program to allow domestic violence victims to seek temporary orders of protection through electronic means rather than having to appear in person. In addition, this bill makes clear that a victim of domestic violence, who has an order of protection against her abuser, cannot be accused of violating her own order of protection.

“We must eliminate the obstacles victims face when seeking protection from their abusers,” Thiele said. “This legislation gives women another resource to ensure they, as well as their family, are safe from harm.”

Ending housing discrimination for domestic violence victims

The legislation prohibits landlords from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. Currently, domestic violence victims are not protected from housing discrimination, allowing landlords to reject those most in need of housing. Landlords found guilty of this discrimination face up to a $2,000 fine.

“Domestic violence affects all types of households regardless of age, race or income, oftentimes leaving a long-term impact on victims and their families,” Thiele said. “It’s our responsibility to help victims of abuse in any way we can, and that includes ensuring they are not discriminated against – especially as they are working to put their life back together.”

Ending family status discrimination

The Women’s Equality Act prohibits employers from denying work or promotions to employees simply because they have children. Currently, New York State law only prohibits discrimination based on family status in areas of housing and credit.

“If you work hard and are qualified, you shouldn’t be denied a job or a promotion because you have kids – period,” Assemblyman Thiele said. “Sadly, women bear the brunt of this discrimination; and for single mothers trying to support their family on a single salary, it makes it even more difficult to get ahead. We cannot let employers assume a mother, or even a father, cannot take on the tasks of a job or a promotion because they have a family.”

Stopping pregnancy discrimination once and for all

The legislation creates a specific protection that requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees.

“Pregnancy is an extremely important, exciting and sometimes difficult time in a woman’s life. We must acknowledge that a pregnancy can have serious medical complications that affect a woman’s health and comfort,” Thiele said. “We cannot allow anyone to use a pregnancy to permit discrimination. As a society, it’s important to provide a pregnant woman with a comfortable work environment.”

Removing barriers to remedying discrimination

The legislation allows successful plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees in employment or credit discrimination cases based on gender. This will enable victims, most of whom are women, to have the opportunity to vindicate their rights and be compensated for their legal costs in cases where they prevail. Currently, plaintiffs cannot recover attorney fees at trial for employment discrimination cases, making it costly to bring a case.

“We cannot allow significant financial distress for victims who come forward to seek justice when they have been discriminated against while looking for a job or applying for credit,” Thiele said. “If a victim prevails in court, their legal fees should be reimbursed.”

Stopping source-of-income discrimination

This legislation creates a task force to study the impact of source of income on access to housing. They will be tasked with reviewing the Section 8 Housing Program in order to improve access to quality and affordable housing and must submit their report and recommendations by Jan. 15, 2015. Currently, many landlords refuse to rent to Section 8 or other public housing assistance recipients.

“Often it’s single moms, struggling to provide safe and decent housing for their families, who are on the receiving end of this type of discrimination,” Thiele said. “This task force will work to find solutions to ensure landlords are not denying housing to a family simply because they receive some type of financial assistance.”