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New York takes progressive steps to combat workplace harassment, bolster LGBT rights and extend statute of limitations for rape
June 20th, 2019
ALBANY — New York is expanding protections for members of the LGBT community, toughening laws to combat sexual harassment and extending the statute of limitations for rape charges.
Gov. Cuomo and state lawmakers made good on promises to enact progressive reforms on Wednesday as they brought an end to the so-called “gay and trans panic” defense, lowered the standard for proving sexual harassment and instituted a host of other measures.
The elimination of the “gay panic” defense means that someone accused of a crime can no longer justify their actions as a response of “extreme emotional distress” to finding out their victim was gay or trans.
“At a time when hate crimes against LGBTQ New Yorkers — trans women of color in particular — are on the rise, the urgency to act could not be clearer and we are sending a clear message to this community that we have their backs," Cuomo said.
Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), the only openly gay member of the state Senate and the bill’s sponsor, celebrated the victory.
“In banning the gay and trans panic defense, New York is sending a message to prosecutors, to defense attorneys, juries and judges that a victim’s LGBTQ identity can’t be weaponized," he said.
In a major win for advocates, the governor and legislators also reached an agreement on workplace discrimination as the legislative session drew to a close.
A bill lowering the state’s “severe or pervasive” standard for filing a claim, ensuring punitive damages and attorneys fees are awarded for all types of workplace discrimination, and streamlining other worker protections was also passed by the Democrat-led Senate and Assembly.
The measure is a testament to the work of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, made up of former legislative aides who spoke openly about abuses they endured or witnessed while working in the capital. The group was instrumental in pushing the Legislature to hold a pair of historic hearings on sexual harassment earlier this year.
The hearings, held in both the city and Albany, were the first of their kind in 27 years and provided survivors and experts a chance to give testimony and help lawmakers craft bills based on their experiences.
“This is a wonderful day because it acknowledges the hard work of a group of women who did incredible work to bring this issue to the forefront and force out legislature to hold hearings so that we could craft trauma-informed legislation, and that’s what we did,” said Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Queens).
Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx) also tipped her hat to the survivors who spoke out on the issue.
“It is because of their courage to share their survivor stories, their resilience to overcome the obstacles placed before them, their strength to fight back when they were told no, and their selfless commitment to making New York a safer place for everyone, that New Yorkers today will now be better protected against sexual assault and harassment,” she said. "Today’s victory is not won in isolation – this is only the beginning of our journey towards building a truly harassment-free New York for all.”
The bill also extends the statute of limitations to three years for sexual harassment complaints under the Human Rights Law and limits non-disclosure agreements barring someone from speaking out against discrimination. It also ensures all sexual harassment and training materials are in a worker’s primary language.
Attorney General Letitia James commended the advocates and lawmakers for passing the sweeping reforms.
“There is no place for sexual harassment in the workplace,” James said. “This commonsense legislation updates our state’s harassment laws by establishing stronger protections for employees and steps up our sexual harassment prevention policies. New Yorkers strive to build inclusive communities—free of fear, intimidation, and harassment.”
Also included in the package is a measure extending the civil and criminal statute of limitations for certain rape-related crimes. The bill repeals the five-year statute of limitations for rape for second- and third-degree rape, extending them to 20 and 10 years respectively.
Victims would also be able to bring civil litigation against their alleged assailants for up to 20 years after.
Cuomo, who made the reforms a major part of his end of session push, called the five year statutes of limitation a “dereliction of justice.”
“By providing victims more time to bring claims in court, we are honoring those who suffered pain, endured humiliation, and had the courage to come forward,” he said.
Advocates applauded the landmark legislation as a turning point.
“This victory belongs to all survivors — many of whom have spoken out for the first time, sparking unprecedented change — and to all New Yorkers, who deserve to have their safety and dignity protected in the workplace. Sisterhood is indeed powerful,” said Robbie Kaplan, cofounder of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.
Read this at the New York Daily News.