August 19, 2021
Coming into office on the heels of yet another sexual harassment crisis, it is imperative that Governor Kathy Hochul address gender equity, sexual violence, and sexual harassment in a systematic and decisive way. This is critical to re-establishing confidence in the Office of the Governor and to earn the trust of all New Yorkers.
This document summarizes a proposal for an agenda that will root out some of the causes of gender inequity and bring much-needed accountability to those who inflict harm through sexual and gender-based violence and harassment. Governor Hochul must actively and publicly work to advance this package, including long-needed executive action and immediate passage – through both the Senate and the Assembly – of critical legislation that addresses problem areas where women, BIPOC, and non-binary people are disproportionately affected.
This is a moment for bold action!
Priorities for a sexual/gender-based violence & harassment free New York include:
The Adult Survivors Act (S.66 Hoylman / A.648 L. Rosenthal): Modeled after the Child Victims Act, this bill gives a one-year window to currently time-barred adult survivors of sexual assault to bring a civil case against a perpetrator or negligent institution. There are many reasons why survivors do not come forward right away – including trauma, fear, retaliation, economic dependency on an abuser, and immigration status. All survivors deserve an adequate pathway to justice.
Include New York State and all public employers as employers subject to the provisions of the human rights law (S.3395-A Gounardes / A.2483-B Niou): This bill eliminates the “license to harass” by codifying that under the New York State Human Rights Law, staff of elected and appointed officials are employees of the governmental entity(ies) for which they work, whether it is New York State, or a city, county, or municipality. Current federal Title VII contains a carve-out for the “personal staff” of elected officials, exempting those workers from protections against discrimination and harassment. This has been used to deny employees recourse. Some government entities have argued that they are not the employer of a victim who works for an elected or appointed official. This distinction has been used to try to deny employees legal recourse for the harassment, discrimination, abuse, or retaliation they suffered.
A real statewide “$15 for All,” including immediate executive action requiring all restaurant employers to pay the state’s full minimum wage with tips on top: This executive order would raise the state’s subminimum wage for tipped workers from 66 percent of the minimum wage to 100 percent of it, potentially over five years (2026). The seven states that already require restaurants to pay One Fair Wage have one half the rate of sexual harassment as states that require employers to pay the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers. Thus, this executive action would immediately and substantively decrease the incidence of sexual harassment in one of New York’s largest industries.
Providing grant support to independent restaurant employers who have committed to an immidate transition to the $15 minimum wage with tips on top: Mayors and governors in six states have implemented the High Road Kitchens program, which provides grant support to restaurateurs who commit to paying a $15 minimum wage with tips on top and are undergoing a three-part Equity Training program that teaches them how to profitably raise wages and equity in their businesses, including addressing rampant sexual harassment in the industry. In New York, this program could have special focus on women-owned and BIPOC-owned restaurants.
Expanding the statute of limitation on employment discrimination (S.849-A Gounardes / A.2233-A L. Rosenthal): Extends the statute of limitations for harassment suits to six years. Currently, survivors only have three years to file their claim in court before the statute of limitations expires. Processing trauma and choosing to move forward in a formal and public way can take much longer than three years.
Solutions Not Suspensions Act (A.5197 Nolan / S.7198 Jackson): Encourage the use of positive and age-appropriate disciplinary strategies and eliminate the use of out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions, among other provisions. Across New York State, students of color, students with disabilities, and students that identify as LGBTQ and gender non-conforming are subject to discriminatory, disparate, punitive, and unfair school discipline policies and practices. Students collectively lose hundreds of thousands of days in the classroom each year because of suspensions, often for normal youthful behavior. Black and Latinx girls are disproportionately impacted by the state’s biased and ineffective school discipline policies. Outside of NYC, Black girls in elementary/middle school are 4 times more likely to be suspended compared to white girls in elementary school. Outside of NYC, Black girls in high school are 9 times more likely to be suspended compared to white girls in high school. In NYC, Latinx girls are 3 times more likely to be suspended and Black girls are 8 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers.
Executive action to authorize the Office of Victim Services to accept alternative documentation, other than a police report, when considering the eligibility of crime victim reimbursement: This action will make grants more accessible to men of color, undocumented New Yorkers, criminalized survivors, and victims of police violence.
Reform the State’s Ethics Oversight System: Since its creation, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics –– the ethics body tasked with holding legislators and their staff accountable for all ethics violations including gender-based harassment and discrimination –– has been harnessed for political cover. Combined with the similar lack of independence of the other various state entities that play a role in maintaining accountability (such as the Inspector General’s Office, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, and the Legislative Ethics Commission), it’s not surprising to see how people in positions of power continue to get away with corruption, harassment, and other abusive behaviors. The entire system must be rebuilt, and this cannot be done in a silo (which is how we got to where we are today). Public hearings carry powerful and unique value – creating space for experts, advocates, and people with lived experiences to share their stories and recommendations. Governor Hochul can and should convene a series of public hearings on how to best address ethical issues, including and especially harassment and discrimination, in state government.
Increase Transparency: The key to public faith in their elected leaders’ decisions is good communication and transparency. Clear, enforceable statements of ethical standards and guidelines that are put in place to deal with conflicts of interest are imperative to maintaining credibility with the public and the press. New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and Open Meetings Law have not been effectively updated in decades, and the previous administration was infamous for its disregard of those laws. Governor Hochul can and should strike a new note of transparency and openness, starting with assuring that her administration supports prompt and open compliance with FOIL requests rather than obfuscation and delay, and providing verifiable details on how the administration will deal with conflicts of interest. In doing so, she will set herself apart from the Cuomo Administration.
Empowering People in Rights Enforcement (EmPIRE) Worker Protection Act (S.12 Hoylman / A.5876 Joyner): A majority of New York employers (55 percent) use forced arbitration clauses to deny workers the right to go before a judge and jury when companies break the law. It is justice denied in the fine print! Female workers (57.6 percent) and Black workers (59.1 percent) are subjected to forced arbitration at the highest rates. Once a worker has signed a forced arbitration clause, one of the only options to address violations is private arbitration, where the deck is stacked against workers and in favor of employers. Faced with this choice and the staggering cost of arbitration, 98 percent of workers abandon their claims and law-breaking employers get off the hook. The EmPIRE Act empowers New Yorkers to combat retaliation, pay discrimination, and other labor violations by allowing whistleblowers to file claims on behalf of the state against an employer for violations of State labor laws and brings much-needed revenue into the state’s coffers through fines on abusive employers.
Expand Insurance Coverage for Women and Immigrants: The Hochul Administration must look for ways to expand health insurance coverage for women and immigrants in her first Executive Budget Proposal. Women are more likely to manage the healthcare needs of their families, and women immigrants, in particular, lack access to health insurance. Quality and accessible health and mental health services are also vital to survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
ACT UP NY
Alliance for Quality Education
America Loves Kids
Bend the Arc
Bowen Public Affairs Consulting, Inc.
C.A. Goldberg, PLLC
Callen-Lorde Community Health Center
Carroll Gardens Association
Campaign for NY Health
Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC)
Citizen Action of New York
Commission of the Public’s Health System
Crime Victims Treatment Center
Cuti Hecker Wang LLP
Day One New York, Inc.
Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims
Downtown Women for Change
Dr. Celia Mcintosh-McIntosh Advocacy and Consulting
Empire State Indivisible
Foundation for Survivors of Abuse
Greater NYC for Change
HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance
Hunger Free America
Indivisible Mohawk Valley
Indivisible Nassau County
Indivisible Nation BK
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
Jews for Racial & economic Justice
Just Equity for Health
Literacy Assistance Center
Long Island Activists
Make the Road New York
Morningside Heights Resistance
Nassau NOW/Patty Pastor, President
National Employment Law Project
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Women’s Law Center
New York Civic Engagement Table
New York Communities for Change
New York State Council of Churches
New York State Public Affairs Committee of the Junior Leagues
New York Working Families Party
Nobody Leaves Mid Hudson
Nonprofit New York
One Fair Wage
One Fair Wage Action
Outten & Golden LLP
Peer/NYPAN (Progressive East End Reformers)
Progressive Women of Pelham
Release Aging People in Prison Campaign/RAPP
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking
Sanctuary for Families
Sexual Harassment Working Group
Staten Island Women Who March
Strong Economy for All Coalition
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
The Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center
Together We Will Long Island
Tompkins County Progressives
V-Day/One Billion Rising
Violence Intervention Program
Vote Run Lead
Women Together Global, Inc.
Worker Justice Center of NY
Zevin Asset Management
200 victims & survivors of Columbia OB/GYN Robert Hadden, represented by Anthony T. DiPietro, Esq.
Alison Turkos, Survivor/Advocate
Alessandra Biaggi, Survivor/State Senator
Alysia Reiner, Actress/Activist
Amelia Tramontano, Survivor/Advocate
Asher Lovy, Survivor/Advocate
Brian Toale, Survivor/Advocate
Camille Rivera, Survivor
Chris Gavagan, Survivor/Documentarian
Christy Turlington Burns
Elish Melchiade, Survivor
Emilia Decaudin, Democratic District Leader
Emily Adams, executive committee member of the NYS Democratic Committee
Holly G. Atkinson
Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy, Joyful Heart Foundation
Jessica B., Survivor
Jessica González-Rojas, Survivor
Kristin Wunder, MPH
Marissa Hoechstetter, Survivor/Advocate
Mariah Grant, Survivor/Advocate
Mary Ellen O’Loughlin, Survivor & Executive Director of the Foundation for Survivors of Abuse
Melanie D’Arrigo, Survivor
Natasha Anushri Anandaraja, MD, MPH
Susan Celia Swan
V (formerly Eve Ensler)
Yuh-Line Niou, Survivor
Supportive Small Businesses:
Barbara Sibley, Owner, La Palapa Restaurant
Chamo’s Arepas Bar
Coast and Valley
Elisa’s Love Bites Dessert Atelier
La Adelita de Woodside
McIntosh Advocacy and Consulting
Nick’s Luncheonette LLC, DBA Gaskins
PLG Hospitality LLC
Punda Tibetan Restaurant
RAISE High Road Restaurants
Sarah Suarez, Owner, Gaskins Restaurant
Tin Chi House