The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (“SONDA”) prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation in the context of employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit, and the exercise of civil rights.
While New York has a long history of prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex and religion, SONDA added the term “sexual orientation” to the list of specifically protected characteristics in various State laws, including the Human Rights Law, the Civil Rights Law, and the Education Law. SONDA took effect on January 16, 2003 and protects individuals who are discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation from that date forward.
SONDA defines sexual orientation as “heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or asexuality, whether actual or perceived.” Thus, the law affords protection where individuals are targeted either based on their actual sexual orientation, or based on what the discriminator believes their orientation to be. SONDA prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation in various areas, including:
- In employment;
- In the admission to and use of places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement;
- In the admission to and use of educational institutions;
- In publicly assisted housing;
- In private housing accommodations and commercial space; and
- In relation to credit.
SONDA also prohibits discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation in the exercise of an individual’s civil rights. In addition, the City of New York’s Human Rights laws also protect individuals from employment discrimination and harassment based on their sexual orientation.
New York City and several other New York municipalities forbid discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression. Some courts in New York state and other jurisdictions, as well as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), have interpreted laws against sex discrimination and disability discrimination as prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In New York City an employer may not treat you differently based on your actual or perceived sex, gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression, whether or not your gender identity is different from your biological sex at birth. An employer may not ask you intrusive questions about your anatomy, refuse to use the name or pronouns you prefer, or take adverse employment action based your desire to transition to a different gender identity. The Village Voice reported in 2013 that a recent survey of transgender New Yorkers shows that extremely high numbers of transgender and gender nonconforming New Yorkers continue to experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
If you believe that you have been the victim of discrimination based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact the attorneys at Pelton & Associates, PC today for a confidential free consultation.