1. The Laws of New York
  2. Consolidated Laws
  3. Executive
  4. Article 15: Human Rights Law


Section 297 Procedure

Executive (EXC)

1. Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful discriminatory practice may, by himself or herself or his or her attorney-at-law, make, sign and file with the division a verified complaint in writing which shall state the name and address of the person alleged to have committed the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of and which shall set forth the particulars thereof and contain such other information as may be required by the division. The commissioner of labor or the attorney general, or the chair of the commission on quality of care for the mentally disabled, or the division on its own motion may, in like manner, make, sign and file such complaint. In connection with the filing of such complaint, the attorney general is authorized to take proof, issue subpoenas and administer oaths in the manner provided in the civil practice law and rules. Any employer whose employees, or some of them, refuse or threaten to refuse to cooperate with the provisions of this article, may file with the division a verified complaint asking for assistance by conciliation or other remedial action.

  2. a. After the filing of any complaint, the division shall promptly serve a copy thereof upon the respondent and all persons it deems to be necessary parties, and make prompt investigation in connection therewith. Within one hundred eighty days after a complaint is filed, the division shall determine whether it has jurisdiction and, if so, whether there is probable cause to believe that the person named in the complaint, hereinafter referred to as the respondent, has engaged or is engaging in an unlawful discriminatory practice. If it finds with respect to any respondent that it lacks jurisdiction or that probable cause does not exist, the commissioner shall issue and cause to be served on the complainant an order dismissing such allegations of the said complaint as to such respondent.

  b. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph a of this subdivision, with respect to housing discrimination only, after the filing of any complaint, the division shall, within thirty days after receipt, serve a copy thereof upon the respondent and all persons it deems to be necessary parties, and make prompt investigation in connection therewith. Within one hundred days after a complaint is filed, the division shall determine whether it has jurisdiction and, if so, whether there is probable cause to believe that the person named in the complaint, hereinafter referred to as the respondent, has engaged or is engaging in an unlawful discriminatory practice. If it finds with respect to any respondent that it lacks jurisdiction or that probable cause does not exist, the commissioner shall issue and cause to be served on the complainant an order dismissing such allegations of the said complaint as to such respondent.

  3. a. If in the judgment of the division the circumstances so warrant, it may, at any time after the filing of the complaint, endeavor to eliminate such unlawful discriminatory practice by conference, conciliation and persuasion. Each conciliation agreement shall include provisions requiring the respondent to refrain from the commission of unlawful discriminatory practices in the future and may contain such further provisions as may be agreed upon by the division, the complainant, and the respondent, including a provision for the entry in the supreme court in any county in the judicial district where the alleged unlawful discriminatory practice was committed, or where any respondent resides or maintains an office for the transaction of business, or where the housing accommodation, land or commercial space specified in the complaint is located, of a consent decree embodying the terms of the conciliation agreement. The division shall not disclose what has transpired in the course of such endeavors.

  b. If a conciliation agreement is entered into, the division shall issue an order embodying such agreement and serve a copy of such order upon all parties to the proceeding, and if a party to any such proceeding is a regulated creditor, the division shall forward a copy of the order embodying such agreement to the superintendent.

  c. If the division finds that noticing the complaint for hearing would be undesirable, the division may, in its unreviewable discretion, at any time prior to a hearing before a hearing examiner, dismiss the complaint on the grounds of administrative convenience. However, in cases of housing discrimination only, an administrative convenience dismissal will not be rendered without the consent of the complainant. The division may, subject to judicial review, dismiss the complaint on the grounds of untimeliness if the complaint is untimely or on the grounds that the election of remedies is annulled.

  4. a. Within two hundred seventy days after a complaint is filed, or within one hundred twenty days after the court has reversed and remanded an order of the division dismissing a complaint for lack of jurisdiction or for want of probable cause, unless the division has dismissed the complaint or issued an order stating the terms of a conciliation agreement not objected to by the complainant, the division shall cause to be issued and served a written notice, together with a copy of such complaint, as the same may have been amended, requiring the respondent or respondents to answer the charges of such complaint and appear at a public hearing before a hearing examiner at a time not less than five nor more than fifteen days after such service and at a place to be fixed by the division and specified in such notice. The place of any such hearing shall be the office of the division or such other place as may be designated by the division. The case in support of the complaint shall be presented by one of the attorneys or agents of the division and, at the option of the complainant, by his or her attorney. With the consent of the division, the case in support of the complainant may be presented solely by his or her attorney. No person who shall have previously made the investigation, engaged in a conciliation proceeding or caused the notice to be issued shall act as a hearing examiner in such case. Attempts at conciliation shall not be received in evidence. At least two business days prior to the hearing the respondent shall, and any necessary party may, file a written answer to the complaint, sworn to subject to the penalties of perjury, with the division and serve a copy upon all other parties to the proceeding. A respondent who has filed an answer, or whose default in answering has been set aside for good cause shown may appear at such hearing in person or otherwise, with or without counsel, cross examine witnesses and the complainant and submit testimony. The complainant and all parties shall be allowed to present testimony in person or by counsel and cross examine witnesses. The hearing examiner may in his or her discretion permit any person who has a substantial personal interest to intervene as a party, and may require that necessary parties not already parties be joined. The division or the complainant shall have the power reasonably and fairly to amend any complaint, and the respondent and any other party shall have like power to amend his or her answer. The hearing examiner shall not be bound by the strict rules of evidence prevailing in courts of law or equity. The testimony taken at the hearing shall be under oath and a record made.

  b. If the respondent fails to answer the complaint, the hearing examiner designated to conduct the hearing may enter the default and the hearing shall proceed on the evidence in support of the complaint. Such default may be set aside only for good cause shown upon equitable terms and conditions.

  c. Within one hundred eighty days after the commencement of such hearing, a determination shall be made and an order served as hereinafter provided. If, upon all the evidence at the hearing, the commissioner shall find that a respondent has engaged in any unlawful discriminatory practice as defined in this article, the commissioner shall state findings of fact and shall issue and cause to be served on such respondent an order, based on such findings and setting them forth, and including such of the following provisions as in the judgment of the division will effectuate the purposes of this article: (i) requiring such respondent to cease and desist from such unlawful discriminatory practice; (ii) requiring such respondent to take such affirmative action, including (but not limited to) hiring, reinstatement or upgrading of employees, with or without back pay, restoration to membership in any respondent labor organization, admission to or participation in a guidance program, apprenticeship training program, on-the-job training program or other occupational training or retraining program, the extension of full, equal and unsegregated accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges to all persons, granting the credit which was the subject of any complaint, evaluating applicants for membership in a place of accommodation without discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability or marital status, and without retaliation or discrimination based on opposition to practices forbidden by this article or filing a complaint, testifying or assisting in any proceeding under this article; (iii) awarding of compensatory damages to the person aggrieved by such practice; (iv) awarding of punitive damages, in cases of employment discrimination related to private employers, and, in cases of housing discrimination, with damages in housing discrimination cases in an amount not to exceed ten thousand dollars, to the person aggrieved by such practice; (v) requiring payment to the state of profits obtained by a respondent through the commission of unlawful discriminatory acts described in subdivision three-b of section two hundred ninety-six of this article; and (vi) assessing civil fines and penalties, in an amount not to exceed fifty thousand dollars, to be paid to the state by a respondent found to have committed an unlawful discriminatory act, or not to exceed one hundred thousand dollars to be paid to the state by a respondent found to have committed an unlawful discriminatory act which is found to be willful, wanton or malicious; (vii) requiring a report of the manner of compliance. If, upon all the evidence, the commissioner shall find that a respondent has not engaged in any such unlawful discriminatory practice, he or she shall state findings of fact and shall issue and cause to be served on the complainant an order based on such findings and setting them forth dismissing the said complaint as to such respondent. A copy of each order issued by the commissioner shall be delivered in all cases to the attorney general, the secretary of state, if he or she has issued a license to the respondent, and such other public officers as the division deems proper, and if any such order issued by the commissioner concerns a regulated creditor, the commissioner shall forward a copy of any such order to the superintendent. A copy of any complaint filed against any respondent who has previously entered into a conciliation agreement pursuant to paragraph a of subdivision three of this section or as to whom an order of the division has previously been entered pursuant to this paragraph shall be delivered to the attorney general, to the secretary of state if he or she has issued a license to the respondent and to such other public officers as the division deems proper, and if any such respondent is a regulated creditor, the commissioner shall forward a copy of any such complaint to the superintendent.

  d. The division shall establish rules of practice to govern, expedite and effectuate the foregoing procedure and its own actions thereunder.

  e. Any civil penalty imposed pursuant to this subdivision shall be separately stated, and shall be in addition to and not reduce or offset any other damages or payment imposed upon a respondent pursuant to this article. In cases of employment discrimination where the employer has fewer than fifty employees, such civil fine or penalty may be paid in reasonable installments, in accordance with regulations promulgated by the division. Such regulations shall require the payment of reasonable interest resulting from the delay, and in no case permit installments to be made over a period longer than three years.

  5. Any complaint filed pursuant to this section must be so filed within one year after the alleged unlawful discriminatory practice. In cases of sexual harassment in employment, any complaint filed pursuant to this section must be so filed within three years after the alleged unlawful discriminatory practices.

  6. At any time after the filing of a complaint with the division alleging an unlawful discriminatory practice under this article, if the division determines that the respondent is doing or procuring to be done any act tending to render ineffectual any order the commissioner may enter in such proceeding, the commissioner may apply to the supreme court in any county where the alleged unlawful discriminatory practice was committed, or where any respondent resides or maintains an office for the transaction of business, or if the complaint alleges an unlawful discriminatory practice under subdivision two-a or paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of subdivision five of section two hundred ninety-six of this article, where the housing accommodation, land or commercial space specified in the complaint is located, or, if no supreme court justice is available in such county, in any other county within the judicial district, for an order requiring the respondents or any of them to show cause why they should not be enjoined from doing or procuring to be done such act. The order to show cause may contain a temporary restraining order and shall be served in the manner provided therein. On the return date of the order to show cause, and after affording all parties an opportunity to be heard, if the court deems it necessary to prevent the respondents from rendering ineffectual an order relating to the subject matter of the complaint, it may grant appropriate injunctive relief upon such terms and conditions as it deems proper.

  7. Not later than one year from the date of a conciliation agreement or an order issued under this section, and at any other times in its discretion, the division shall investigate whether the respondent is complying with the terms of such agreement or order. Upon a finding of non-compliance, the division shall take appropriate action to assure compliance.

  8. No officer, agent or employee of the division shall make public with respect to a particular person without his consent information from reports obtained by the division except as necessary to the conduct of a proceeding under this section.

  * 9. Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful discriminatory practice shall have a cause of action in any court of appropriate jurisdiction for damages, including, in cases of employment discrimination related to private employers and housing discrimination only, punitive damages, and such other remedies as may be appropriate, including any civil fines and penalties provided in subdivision four of this section, unless such person had filed a complaint hereunder or with any local commission on human rights, or with the superintendent pursuant to the provisions of section two hundred ninety-six-a of this chapter, provided that, where the division has dismissed such complaint on the grounds of administrative convenience, on the grounds of untimeliness, or on the grounds that the election of remedies is annulled, such person shall maintain all rights to bring suit as if no complaint had been filed with the division. At any time prior to a hearing before a hearing examiner, a person who has a complaint pending at the division may request that the division dismiss the complaint and annul his or her election of remedies so that the human rights law claim may be pursued in court, and the division may, upon such request, dismiss the complaint on the grounds that such person's election of an administrative remedy is annulled. Notwithstanding subdivision (a) of section two hundred four of the civil practice law and rules, if a complaint is so annulled by the division, upon the request of the party bringing such complaint before the division, such party's rights to bring such cause of action before a court of appropriate jurisdiction shall be limited by the statute of limitations in effect in such court at the time the complaint was initially filed with the division. Any party to a housing discrimination complaint shall have the right within twenty days following a determination of probable cause pursuant to subdivision two of this section to elect to have an action commenced in a civil court, and an attorney representing the division of human rights will be appointed to present the complaint in court, or, with the consent of the division, the case may be presented by complainant's attorney. A complaint filed by the equal employment opportunity commission to comply with the requirements of 42 USC 2000e-5(c) and 42 USC 12117(a) and 29 USC 633(b) shall not constitute the filing of a complaint within the meaning of this subdivision. No person who has initiated any action in a court of competent jurisdiction or who has an action pending before any administrative agency under any other law of the state based upon an act which would be an unlawful discriminatory practice under this article, may file a complaint with respect to the same grievance under this section or under section two hundred ninety-six-a of this article.

  * NB Effective until January 5, 2021

  * 9. Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful discriminatory practice shall have a cause of action in any court of appropriate jurisdiction for damages, including, in cases of employment discrimination related to private employers and housing discrimination only, punitive damages, and such other remedies as may be appropriate, including any civil fines and penalties provided in subdivision four of this section, unless such person had filed a complaint hereunder or with any local commission on human rights, or with the superintendent pursuant to the provisions of section two hundred ninety-six-a of this chapter, provided that, where the division has dismissed such complaint on the grounds of administrative convenience, on the grounds of untimeliness, or on the grounds that the election of remedies is annulled, such person shall maintain all rights to bring suit as if no complaint had been filed with the division. At any time prior to a hearing before a hearing examiner, a person who has a complaint pending at the division may request that the division dismiss the complaint and annul his or her election of remedies so that the human rights law claim may be pursued in court, and the division may, upon such request, dismiss the complaint on the grounds that such person's election of an administrative remedy is annulled. Notwithstanding subdivision (a) of section two hundred four of the civil practice law and rules, if a complaint is so annulled by the division, upon the request of the party bringing such complaint before the division, such party's rights to bring such cause of action before a court of appropriate jurisdiction shall be limited by the statute of limitations in effect in such court at the time the complaint was initially filed with the division. Any party to a housing discrimination complaint shall have the right within twenty days following a determination of probable cause pursuant to subdivision two of this section to elect to have an action commenced in a civil court, and an attorney representing the division of human rights will be appointed to present the complaint in court, or, with the consent of the division, the case may be presented by complainant's attorney. A complaint filed by the equal employment opportunity commission to comply with the requirements of 42 USC 2000e-5(c) and 42 USC 12117(a) and 29 USC 633(b) shall not constitute the filing of a complaint within the meaning of this subdivision. No person who has initiated any action in a court of competent jurisdiction or who has an action pending before any administrative agency under any other law of the state based upon an act which would be an unlawful discriminatory practice under this article, may file a complaint with respect to the same grievance under this section or under section two hundred ninety-six-a of this article. In cases of housing discrimination only, a person whose complaint has been dismissed by the division after investigation for lack of jurisdiction or lack of probable cause may file the same cause of action in a court of appropriate jurisdiction pursuant to this section, unless judicial review of such dismissal has been sought pursuant to section two hundred ninety-eight of this article.

  * NB Effective January 5, 2021

  10. With respect to all cases of housing discrimination and housing related credit discrimination in an action or proceeding at law under this section or section two hundred ninety-eight of this article, the commissioner or the court may in its discretion award reasonable attorney's fees to any prevailing or substantially prevailing party; and with respect to a claim of credit discrimination where sex is a basis of such discrimination, and with respect to all claims of employment discrimination in an action or proceeding at law under this section or section two hundred ninety-eight of this article, the commissioner or the court may in its discretion award reasonable attorney's fees attributable to such claim to any prevailing party; provided, however, that a prevailing respondent or defendant in order to recover such reasonable attorney's fees must make a motion requesting such fees and show that the action or proceeding brought was frivolous; and further provided that in a proceeding brought in the division of human rights, the commissioner may only award attorney's fees as part of a final order after a public hearing held pursuant to subdivision four of this section. In no case shall attorney's fees be awarded to the division, nor shall the division be liable to a prevailing or substantially prevailing party for attorney's fees, except in a case in which the division is a party to the action or the proceeding in the division's capacity as an employer. In cases of employment discrimination, a respondent shall only be liable for attorney's fees under this subdivision if the respondent has been found liable for having committed an unlawful discriminatory practice. In order to find the action or proceeding to be frivolous, the court or the commissioner must find in writing one or more of the following:

  (a) the action or proceeding was commenced, used or continued in bad faith, solely to delay or prolong the resolution of the litigation or to harass or maliciously injure another; or

  (b) the action or proceeding was commenced or continued in bad faith without any reasonable basis and could not be supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law. If the action or proceeding was promptly discontinued when the party or attorney learned or should have learned that the action or proceeding lacked such a reasonable basis, the court may find that the party or the attorney did not act in bad faith.