Senate Approves Women Equality Agenda

June 21, 2013

The New York State Senate passed an historic package of bills today that would ensure equal pay for women, strengthen laws against human trafficking, provide greater support and protection for victims of domestic violence, stop sexual harassment, and end discrimination of women in the workplace related to gender, pregnancy, and family status. 

“This is a landmark package of bills that will benefit millions of women in New York by providing far stronger legal protections against sexual harassment, discrimination and domestic violence,” Senate Majority Coalition Co-Leader Dean Skelos said.  “The measures also remove obstacles that have prevented women from being treated fairly and equally in the workplace and, by doing so, will lead to greater job opportunities and economic success for women across New York.”

Senator Elizabeth Little (R-C-I, Queensbury) said:  “Just a couple of days ago, the Senate and Assembly passed a wonderful legislative resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ‘Spirit of 1776’ wagon to commemorate the women’s suffrage movement. A lot has changed for the better since those days before women had the right to vote, but it’s clear to me and every other legislator supporting these important measures that work remains.  We need to do more to ensure fairness for women and to prepare the way for the next generation, and we can accomplish that with the passage and enactment of these bills.”

Senator Patty Ritchie (R-C, Heuvelton) said: “As a woman, I have seen examples of discrimination, harassment and abuse, and known too many women who have been held back from their deserved places in the workplace and in our society at large. This package of bills will help tear down walls and create a level playing field for women in the workplace, protect women from becoming victims of exploitation, and create more and equal opportunities so that every woman, mother and daughter can have a chance to share in the rewards and success that come from being equal partners in our society.”

Senator Kathleen Marchione (R-C, Halfmoon) said: “Women in New York deserve fairness, equality and opportunity. For all the progress we have made, many challenges remain. Women still face an unequal workplace – while having to balance the challenges and pressures of building a career and being the primary caregivers, health care providers and household CEOs. I strongly support the provisions of the Women’s Equality Act that will eliminate wage discrimination, stop sexual harassment in the workplace, strengthen laws against human trafficking, end pregnancy discrimination and protect victims of domestic violence. All of these items are goals that I support as key elements of a women’s agenda because they will improve the quality of life for all women.”

Senator Catharine Young (R-I-C, Olean) said: “That loud sound you hear is women across New York State cheering. Ensuring equal pay at the workplace, strengthening anti-discrimination laws, and protecting domestic violence victims are real issues that I hear about from people in my district every day. Women will have many more opportunities for success, and our daughters and granddaughters will have brighter futures and achieve great things because of this landmark legislation.”

Legislation passed by the Senate includes bills that:

Ensure Pay Equity -- S5872, sponsored by Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) –This bill will ensure that women receive the wages they are entitled to by prohibiting employers from paying employees disparate amounts due to gender.

Prohibit Sexual Harassment in the Workplace -- S5873, Senator David Valesky (D-Oneida) – This bill would ensure that all employees are protected from sexual harassment by ensuring that existing protections apply to businesses of all sizes.

Remove Barriers to Remedying Discrimination -- S5874, Senator Elizabeth Little (R-C-I, Queensbury) –This legislation would allow successful parties in employment or credit discrimination cases based on sex to recover attorney’s fees. Approximately 77 percent of sex-based employment discrimination cases filed with New York State are filed by women.

Prohibit Family Status Discrimination -- S5875, Senator Elizabeth Little (R-C-I, Queensbury) --  This bill would prohibit employers from denying work or promotions to workers because they have children.  Existing law only prohibits discrimination based on familial status in credit and housing, but not employment -- which can have a negative impact on women with children.

Stop Housing Discrimination -- S5876, Senator Joseph Robach (R-C-I, Rochester) – This bill will protect victims of domestic violence from housing discrimination and establishes a task force to study the impact of a source of income, such as housing vouchers, on access to housing.

Senator Joseph Robach (R-C-I, Rochester) said: “Homelessness  among  women who are victims of domestic  violence is a significant problem, which can prevent them from stabilizing their lives and the lives of their children. Discrimination is a major barrier to battered women looking for alternative housing.  This bill will ensure that victims are protected, not punished, for being subjected to the suffering that results from domestic violence.”

Strengthen Orders of Protection -- S5877, Senator Cathy Young (R-I-C, Olean) --This bill makes clear that a victim of domestic violence who has an order of protection against her abuser cannot be accused of violating the order. Currently, domestic violence victims face too many obstacles in securing much needed protection from their abusers. This bill would remove many of those obstacles, and ensure that domestic violence victims get the protection they need.

Allow for Electronic Filing for Orders of Protection -- S5878, Senator Cathy Young (R-I-C, Olean) -- The legislation creates a pilot program to allow domestic violence victims to seek temporary orders of protection through electronic means rather than having to appear in person. The bill also requires the Office of Court Administration review and update their policies and services for all crime victims in the courts to make sure that their needs are being met, and so that victims are truly protected.

Toughen Human Trafficking Laws -- S5879, Senator Andrew Lanza (R-C-I, Staten Island) -- This bill strengthens the state’s human trafficking laws to ensure more effective enforcement and prosecution and to give additional protections to victims.  Among other things, the bill will change age provisions to mirror sex offense statutes and treat prostitution and sex trafficking involving minors as sex offenses; increase criminal penalties for trafficking, particularly when the crime victim is a minor; and create an affirmative defense in prostitution prosecutions if the defendant was a sex trafficking victim.”

Senator Lanza said: “This bill is a much-needed measure to protect those people in New York State who are particularly vulnerable. Sex traffickers must be held accountable for their heinous acts and this bill would ensure that our justice system has the tools to prosecute them, convict them, and send them to prison.”

End Pregnancy Discrimination – S5880, Senator Kemp Hannon (R-C-I, Garden City) – This legislation requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with pregnancy-related medical conditions

Senator Hannon, Chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said: “It is shocking to see many pregnant women still being denied equal treatment in the workplace. Pregnant women are all too often forced to choose between their health and their job, when both could be maintained with modest adjustments, such as extra bathroom breaks, water breaks, and sitting rather than standing. This legislation will ensure employers provide the same reasonable accommodations to women with verifiable pregnancy-related conditions as they do for other individuals in need of reasonable accommodations.”

The bills were sent to the Assembly.