LJP testifies before the NYC Council's Committee on Civil Rights on Employment Discrimination

Good afternoon honorable members of the City Council and the Committee on Civil Rights. My name is Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan and I am Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a national civil rights organization engaged in advocacy and impact litigation on behalf of underserved Latino communities along the east coast. Thank you for the invitation to address you today on the important issue of employment discrimination in this city, and the need to implement measures, including testing, that can better help determine how particular communities of workers are being discriminated against and how employers are engaging in such discrimination.

Several years ago LatinoJustice PRLDEF initiated the Latinas At Work, or LAW, Project, which now works with low-wage Latina immigrant workers in New York City. Through the LAW project we partner with community-based organizations throughout the region to educate and empower Latina workers about their rights under state and federal laws, and where needed and appropriate, provide legal representation and advocacy for workers to assert their rights through civil litigation.

Last year we began to develop a better, more evidence-based understanding of how sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination uniquely affect Latina immigrant workers in NYC. We submitted Freedom of Information requests to various enforcement agencies and distributed surveys to our community partners to have Latina workers document the type of discrimination and harassment they’ve experienced working in all types of sectors in New York City.

Through these efforts, we have subsequently come across many stories of low-wage Latina workers who are often victims of unscrupulous employers who too often take advantage of their labor or immigration status by paying them less than minimum wage and withholding overtime pay. At times when workers have decided to assert their rights to fair compensation, their employers have responded by firing them or threatening exposure to immigration authorities.

Immigrants predominately work in low-wage jobs and industries throughout the city and country. For example, Latinos make up 27% of New York City's working population, but comprise 44% of restaurant and food workers and 35% of retail workers. Latina women are overrepresented in the lowest paying job sectors—such as laundromats, cleaning services or as domestic workers—with jobs that fail to offer structured paths to improve their social mobility. These types of low-wage jobs typically provide little to no employment protections, flexibility for time off or predictable schedules.

Because of both the precariousness nature of some types of low-wage work and the isolation and desperation many low-wage workers feel a climate ripe for harassment and discrimination is often created.

In addition to abusive wage and compensation practices, discrimination and harassment is often rampant in the low-wage workplace, where there are both too few opportunities to check or report illegal behavior and where many Latina immigrant workers end up, often because they feel that working in abusive or discriminatory conditions is their only option. As a result, they see and experience discrimination based on gender, gender identity or pregnancy, as well as experience sexual harassment, as a byproduct of their work and immigration status. In New York, one in every three domestic workers has reported feeling harassed and abused at work by their employer, and they attribute such abuse to either race or immigration status.

For example, while discrimination claims filed at the New York State Division of Human Rights and the New York City Commission on Human Rights may suggest that reports of discrimination have gone down in most categories, pregnancy discrimination rates have actually gone up from 2011 rates to 2012. It’s important to note that a lack of reporting does not necessarily signify a reduction in discrimination, but may indicate a lack of confidence in follow-up on such claims via investigation and enforcement by the responsible agency.

Lastly, a 2011 report found that Latinas were more likely to report that they were fired from a job while they were pregnant or within three months after giving birth.

This Committee’s proposal to implement testing for employers discriminating against workers, particularly low-wage workers, based on any protected status, including race, national origin, ethnicity, language, gender or class, will help identify where such unlawful practices are occurring and serve as a deterrent for employers in the future. When the New York City Hiring Discrimination Study conducted similar testing for discriminatory employment hiring practices several years ago, the results confirmed what this Committee suspects continues to be true: Latinos and Blacks are often discriminated against at the earliest stages of the hiring process, seemingly on the basis of race, nationality or ethnicity alone.

The results of this Committee’s current investigation will thus help contribute to a body of evolving knowledge on the types of discrimination employers are engaging in, and help to disaggregate data based on identity and protected class. This Committee and the City Council should empower and adequately fund the New York City Commission on Human Rights to engage in proactive enforcement of its laws in prohibiting discriminatory hiring and employment practices.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Latinas At Work Project wholly support this Committee’s efforts at instituting testing as an investigative tool and helping to root out employment discrimination in New York City. Thank you.

Read the entire testimony here

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