On the Next Represent NYC: City Council Cracks Down on Sexual Harassment

After the rise of the #MeToo movement and the downfall of public figures like NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the New York City Council took swift action to protect New Yorkers from the kind of abuse that has affected 81% of women and 43% of men in the U.S.

This Sunday on “Represent NYC,” Council Member Helen Rosenthal (District 6) talks with Gender Equality Law Center’s Allegra Fishel and ALIGN’s Maritza Silva-Farrell about sexual harassment in the workplace, how the city’s new laws will help protect workers and what more needs to be done to bring an end to this problem.

Tune in this Sunday, July 15, at 7pm on MNN1 (Spectrum 34 & 1995, RCN 82, FiOS 33), MNNHD (Spectrum 1993) or stream it live on mnn.org!

Helen: Hello and welcome to this edition of Represent NYC

on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network. I'm council member,

Helen Rosenthal, representing the Upper West Side in the New

York City Council, and I chair the council's Committee on



Helen: Today, we'll be talking about sexual harassment in the

workplace, what the city is doing to combat it, and what more

needs to be done. Earlier this done, mayor de Blasio signed the

city council's Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act Into Law. The

protections in this Act are by far the broadest, the most far-

reaching, in the country. For the first time, all workers, both in

the private and public sectors, in workplaces big and small, are

protected against sexual harassment by the city's Human Rights

law. Contract and freelance workers are protected too. Every

workplace will have to provide training on what sexual

harassment is and what to do if you have experienced or

witnessed it. We are also requiring real accountability for city

workers. This includes annual reporting from every city agency

and anonymous surveys of every one of the city's 330 000 plus

workers. But let's be real. No piece of legislation, alone, can fully

address systemic issues like patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism,

so we're already thinking about next steps. I'm very pleased to

be joined by Allegra Fishal, executive director of the Gender

Equality Law Center, and Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director

of ALIGN, which is an alliance of labor and community-based

organizations. Allegra, Maritza, thanks so much for joining me



Allegra: Thank you.


Maritza: Think you're glorious.


Helen:  I guess I'd like to start with, really for both

of you ... But Maritza, if you could start. In your years of working

with community-based organizations, what do you hear about

sexual harassment in the workplace?


Maritza: The work that we do in the city with community and labor,

we're also seeing that many workers had been afraid or are

stepping out. It doesn't matter if you're a woman, a man, a

transgender person. Across the spectrum of gender, we see

that, when you are in a workplace and you are depending on

pay, you don't want to actually speak up, because you might

lose your jobs. So, retaliation is something that we've seen. You

see that a lot in the restaurant industry, in the retail industry,

and it's something that has become even common in many

places. When union folks are organizing and they have the laws

and paper, they always ask, “a worker gonna come



Helen: You know, what I like about what you're saying is, you're giving

examples of specific industries and how we might need to have

industry-focused legislation. You know, when you talk about

restaurants, my understanding is, the concern is the cooks in

the kitchen who are sexually harassing the waitresses. That's

how it occurs. You know, for construction, women in the

construction field, they get it a little bit of a different way.


Maritza:  But you get it also from the customers. I know a person, actually

recently, shared a story. She was really afraid of speaking up

because, not only her boss was sexual harassing her, but also

her employer.


Helen:  Wow.


Maritza:  She would come up and talk to the boss and say, “This client

here, these customers are saying things to me”, and the

employer was like, “Well, do your job. That's what's gonna get

you tips.” That's just the systematic changes that we need to be



Helen: That's right.

Maritza:  I think the legislation sets the path. Now, is how do we

implement it, the question.


Helen: That's right. That's a great segue. Allegra, same question. What

sorts of cases are coming across your desk?


Allegra:  Well, as a legal organization that represents clients in sexual

harassment clients, we are receiving a lot of calls, but they are

the same types of calls that we were receiving before the new

laws, the MeToo, and the Time's Up movements. They tend to

be workers who are not coming forward and complaining about

sexual harassment against somebody who's high-profile, like a

power politician or a Hollywood mogul. They tend to work in

similar industries, restaurant, business, janitorial,

manufacturing. They're essentially employees that are very

disempowered and don't really garner media attention.


Allegra: That's kind of consistent. We're not really seeing that much of a

change. What I am seeing is that women are calling us who now

realize they were sexual harassed, maybe as much as 10 years

ago and we unfortunately have to tell them that there is no

legal redress because of the Statute of Limitations.


Helen: That's a great point. One of our laws changed the Statute of

Limitations for the New York City Human Rights Law, so that,

perhaps, you could use the New York City Human Rights Law as

opposed to a state or federal one, but only to three years, from

one to three years.


Allegra: Right. But, in terms of filing with the agency, where many

people who are pro-bono, meaning they don't have a lawyer, go

to file; that's a huge amount of time. One to three years, so

that's a tremendous change.


Helen:  Have you seen an uptick, over time? In the last five years, have

the last one and a half years been particularly busy?


Allegra:  I would say there is definitely an uptick of claims because I think

more women and other people who are victimized in the

workplace are hearing media stories are saying, “Hey, maybe I

was sexual harassed.” They're identifying with it. But it's not as

huge as you might think. I've been representing victims of

sexual harassment pretty consistently for two decades and,

many of the same people who were being harassed, are still

being harassed. But then, of course, I don't have the benefit yet

of some of the changes under the city law.


Helen: That's exactly right. Over the next year, the new laws will go

into effect.


Allegra: Yes.


Helen:  For example, by, I think, mid-2018, even private sector

employers will be required to publicly post the city's anti-

harassment provisions and they will be required to provide the

sexual harassment training and that will go forward once every

year. Do you think that'll have an impact?


Maritza:  That, it's something that we have to do. I think it would be

important for not only the employers to set up the trainings

with the workers, with the management, and ensure that

employers understand that they are protected under the law

and that they should come forward and actually reward that,

rather than retaliate that. I think it's, again, I feel like the idea of

shifting. The systematic changes that we need to be doing in the

city, I think those are the important pieces because, again, a

piece of paper, a legislation, as you say earlier, is not gonna

change. It's not gonna change the way people behave, so what

we're trying to do, I think is, through the training, not only to

say, “This is the law that we're creating”, but also is like,

“Because this actually is gonna be important for your business.”

It's gonna be important for the culture of our communities.


Maritza: It has to be also very inclusive. We gotta ensure that community

folks who might not know English are able to understand the

law. How are we expanding the trainings in different languages,

depending on the locations and the places where people work,

below which industries are traditionally more of different other

language speaking. Spanish-speaking, Chinese, and other

languages. How do we also making that ensuring that these

trainings are gonna be inclusive to all gender, to all languages,

will be really critical and ensure that the employer is required to

do it. I know that there should be some penalties connected to

it, because that's the only way they will respond. That will help

with the shifting of the culture.


Helen: The issue of penalties, I think, is one where I'm not sure we

were able to sink our teeth in that well. That could be

something we need to do next. And, enforcement, in general,

it's not like we wrote into the law that there's gonna be a city

employee now who goes around to every workplace and makes

sure they're complying. Instead, this will all be complaint-

driven, so we're gonna have to educate everyone to let us know

if it's not happening. How do you think these laws are gonna

work, Allegra? How will they help?


Allegra: I think they're really a tremendous advancement. I think we still

have to see how they're enforced and I agree with everything

that Maritza said about they have to be accessible to people, in

terms of language. I'll tell you the truth: I'm not entirely thrilled

that the requirement is that they just get onto a computer

program, essentially; the interactive training can be done

online. I'm a strong believer that more effective training would

be if they had to do in-person, where workers sit together and

talk about sexual harassment. Online makes me think you can

go into your office and close the door. How do we even know?

Can you just set the button and then go out and do something

else? So, enforcement, because you're talking about behavior.

You're talking about personal interactions. People understand

you shouldn't do something, but they don't always understand

why or how to think differently.


Allegra:  That's something that I think is really important and I also agree

with you, Maritza. There has to be a penalty for not doing it.

One way would be to read into the long-terms and enforcing

the law that employers don't do it. That could be one type of

evidence to prove that it is a discriminatory work environment.

It would talk a little bit of drafting to deal with that but I think,

overall, to have sexual harassment training is a tremendous

advancement. Having a poster, just like you know that you get

to be paid minimum wage; it's right out there on the board. Just

like you know you can apply for Worker's Comp. It becomes

normalized then that this is the way the culture should be, and I

think that's huge, so I think that's great.


Helen: You know, I think that was majority leader

Cumbo's bill. That was just terrific. I don't think it was written

into the law, but I'm pretty sure that the Commission on Human

Rights has the intention for the online training to be interactive

in the sense that, at certain places through it, you will have to

interact; it requires a response from the person.


Allegra:  Right, right.


Helen: But there's no question that the in-person trainings are better.

The Commission on Human Rights actually said that, if any

private employer calls them, that they would be happy to go out

and do an in-person training; they do that now. Hopefully,

they'll get called upon more to do it. What we're always juggling

is, for these smaller workplaces that we want to keep in

business, we're doing all the right things. Minimum wage must

be paid, we have paid sick days now, family Leave. All of these

things are terrific and I think owners want to do it. At some

point for some owners, they need a little help. Maybe the

online version will be satisfactory for those employment firms

or businesses. But if a worker came forward to the Human

Rights Commission and said, “We're getting the sexual

harassment trainings; no difference”, that'll be valuable. The

Commission will pursue that case.


Maritza:  I'm gonna add something. I feel like it's also very critical to think

about the stakeholders, like who the city can partner with and,

as somebody who works very closely with the Building

Construction Trades unions, the Public Sector union workers, I

think, partnering with unions, in terms of how do we do the

trainings, because there is many trainings that are happening

already with union members, particularly right now with the

Public Sector Worker's union; Janice, right, and the thread of

that Supreme Court Law. How do that also connects to the

trainings so the employees understand sort of the law,

understand what they can do.


Maritza: In terms of construction, we just talked about it a little bit

earlier, construction is a very difficult industry. It's a dangerous

industry where women recently are coming up more and more.

I'm particularly very proud to see so many women taking on

those jobs-


Helen: Absolutely.


Maritza: So how do we ensure that women in the construction

industry continue doing those jobs without being sexually

harassed. I'm not saying that that is happening all the time, but I

think this also provides an opportunity for them to have

something else to hold onto in the workplaces. I feel like that's

also gonna be helping a little bit for the unions in the industry to

be able to support because I know that President of the Building

Construction Trades community New York City and different

affiliates are very much in support of figuring out ways to

support and enhance the women in the industry. How do we

ensure that it happens will be very critical.


Helen:That's a great point. You and I have already reached out to a

couple of unions. I've found the building trades to be very

receptive and also retail workers that that union is very excited

to help get the word out to their employees. So, you're right.

The partnerships there are gonna be critical and it's gonna be

critical that the Commission on Human Rights has trainings that

are specific to specific industries. Yeah; that's a great point.


Helen: I mentioned majority leader Cumbo, one of her bills. But there

were 11 different bills. But they were championed by the

speaker, Corey Johnson. He's new in his term. This is just, what,

his fifth month, fourth month, as speaker. This was his first

package of bills that he put through the council, which tells me

a lot about where his priorities are and, I've told him this

endlessly but, it's a real statement about how serious the city is

in addressing these issues, so I think that's exciting.


Helen: Allegra, given that we're fighting the larger issue of gender

equality, do you think these bills fit into that picture that they ...

How do they fit in? Here I'm thinking more about sort of the

spectrum of harassment that happens to women. You could sort

of say workplace harassment escalating up to more physical



Allegra: Sexual harassment or gender-based harassment, I just wanna

pause to say that the law covers a broader spectrum of ... It's

not just women victims. Certainly women victims are probably

the majority and those are mostly the people we hear about,

but it also covers men and it covers people who are in one or

more of the LGBTQ communities who have historically been

harassed on the basis of gender. There's some statistics that say

as many as 40% of people in one or more of those communities

harassed in the workplace at any given time.


Helen: Wow.


Allegra: So, I just wanna give a shout-out to the laws that they cover a

broader spectrum. It doesn't have to be sexual conduct. It can

be gender-based conduct. But I think the biggest thing is that

sexual harassment or gender-based harassment is probably one

of the most pernicious forms of gender discrimination because,

besides for the horrible experience that someone experience, it

often leads to them being pushed out of their job. They either

leave because the situation's intolerable, or they begin to take a

lot of time off. They have absences. They don't know how to

deal with the situation. They're fired for absenteeism. Or, not

surprisingly, their work deteriorates because they feel so

stressed out on the job. Of course, losing your job and not being

able to support yourself or your family is probably the biggest

issue of inequity, in terms of gender.


Helen:  Right, why people are afraid to come forward.


Allegra: Exactly.


Helen: I spoke this morning at an event, there were couple of hundred

people in the room, and afterwards, this woman, probably in

her mid-70s, came up to me and told me the most horrific story

of what had happened to her in the private sector. Of course,

she got no help, whatsoever, left her job, and had tears in her

eyes when she was thanking me for these bills because there's

hope that, for the next generation of women, they won't be

pushed out of their jobs for these reasons.


Helen: If we brainstorm just a little bit and think about next steps,

where do you think we need to go to strengthen these laws to

make it even easier for women to come forward?


Maritza: I think it also might be important to think about companies or

places where there is some public funding that's been given;

how do we connect the public funding to be able to hold them

accountable in some way or another within this law. I do think

that it might also be really critical to think about other kinds of

laws that can help across gender. I think it's really important,

right now, when there's other issues that workers in the low-

wage industry are facing.


Maritza: I just wanna lift one more thing in terms of like, I just shared the

story of the restaurant worker. But it is interesting because the

restaurant workers face this kind of thing and workers who are

in the tip industry, they actually have to take on the

harassment, whichever kind of harassment that looked like-


Helen: To get their tips?


Maritza:  ... to be able to get the tips. That's the narrative. Thinking a little

bit how this kind of legislations and bills can also help educate

people about why it's important not to connect the tips to their

work and how they need to be paid. So, connecting more to

intersectional analysis, I think, of the issue; it's not just only

women, it's not only one thing or one kind of harassment, it's,

overall, how people in the workplace are treated. You talk

about the paid sick days, all the benefits that we're trying to

work to enhance, really, for a worker to have a quality of life.

That's one of them-


Helen:  I like what you're saying. You're basically saying, if I'm

understanding you right, that there are other efforts that your

organization and others are making that don't necessarily sound

like a gender-harassment-gender-based-equality issue, but

really, they have that impact as well. So, changing tipped

workers over to salary workers, that would make all the



Maritza: The other thing I think would be important ... Because who we

are here in New York, I think we need to amplify this, because

this is really essentially a model for the country. We've seen

that, after the election of Donald Trump ... I don't like to say his

name, but after he got elected, many of the people who are

used to harass others because they don't like LGBTQ folks,

because they ... Trump really feels very emboldened, in terms of

coming against women in many ways. Think it's important for

the city to amplify this so that the country actually sees that we

need to take this at the local level. It really shows that the local

legislations, local campaigns can be a model for the entire

country while we have an administration that is just so hard on

many of our people.


Helen: Yeah. Again, you're sort of another lane of issues, but it comes

back to this as well. I was speaking with the commanding officer

of the Hate Crimes Unit to this point about number 45, and if

you look at hate crimes, the bump up is three months before his

election to three months after, there was a serious bump up in

hate crimes, so I think that's exactly right. We need the

municipalities to step up and do protections.


Helen: Allegra, what are the other bills that we're looking to develop

will help protect individuals reporting harassment from

retaliation? We wanna require a rebuttable presumption of

harassment. In other words: the alleged abuser will have to

prove that that person did not harass the survivor. Does that

make sense? Would that be helpful? In other words, it's not

that the survivor has to say, “No, no no. He really did it!”…

Sorry, I went back to gender pronouns but-


Allegra:That's okay.


Helen:  “That person really did harass me instead of that.” The

alleged harasser will have to prove that they did not do it, that

there's a rebuttal presumption that they did.


Allegra: I think that might be hard to pass. I'm not sure that the law

would entertain that, but I think that, often, sexual harassment

cases are not that hard to set up. The language is often much

more explicit, the conduct is much more offensive than in other

areas of discrimination. I think it really has to do with courts and

administrative bodies believing that that kind of conduct is

really sexual harassment. I think that's gonna be more of a a

culture shift.


Helen:  For the courts as well?


Allegra:  For the courts as well. One of the things I love about the new

law is that it has things that will help the culture shift for the

employer. Because there have been terrific laws on the books

for decades. The New York City Human Rights law has been on

the books for decades. It's one of the most, in terms of

lawyering, progressive laws in the country, bar none. But,

nonetheless, women and men and LGBTQ individuals don't

come forward because of what you were saying. There's a lot of

fear. There's shame, there's fear of reprisal, and there's all kinds

of other factors. That's why, I think to really make a dent in

terms of prohibiting sexual harassment, there has to be a

culture shift. The onus cannot be on someone coming forward.


Helen: That's right.


Allegra: That has just created a culture of silence and shame. That's why

having training ... I noticed part of the training requires

bystander intervention. Having a zero-tolerance, training

supervisors, and managers that, if they see it, they gotta stop it.

It's not the person experiencing it who may feel so

disenfranchised they can't come forward. That's what I really

see as the next kind of stage of evolving, both in terms of our

society and our laws.


Helen:  That's exciting. We agree with you 100%. By We, I mean my

legislative team as we've been thinking about it. But that's really

helpful to hear. You can imagine having a poster right next to

the poster that says, “Here's what to do if somebody chokes.”

Having a poster right there saying what to do if you're sexually

harassed. If you Google around, there actually is one that's

modeled off of the choking poster-


Allegra: Really?


Helen: They both look very similar and-


Allegra:They won't even know the difference!


Helen: Yeah!


Allegra: That's great.


Helen:  So that people will look at it sort of thinking they're gonna see

one thing and then seeing another and that opening up their

eyes, which is really exciting.


Allegra: It's hugely important because I can tell you

that it's really amazing. So many times, women will come to me

and say, “I’m short on my pay” or, “They didn't pay a benefit”

or, “They marked me absent and I wasn’t” sexually harassed,

they feel too shameful to come forward because they feel like

they're not gonna be believed. Normalizing a culture that says,

“You march right in their the same way as if you think you're

short on your pay”, would be really revolutionary.


Helen: Which, by the way, that's on the spectrum as well. Intentionally

paying one gender something different than the other-


Allegra: Right, right.


Helen: I certainly have a story about that; I know many women do.


Helen: Maritza and Allegra, thank you so much for your time. Thank

you for sharing your experience and your knowledge about this

incredibly important issue. Maybe we'll do this again a year

from now and check in to see how we're doing.

I wanna thank all the viewers out there, too, for watching

Represent NYC on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Good-bye.