Council Prepares to Pass First Law in the Nation Providing a Private Cause of Action for Those Unlawfully Discriminated Against on the Basis of Being Unemployed

City Hall, NY – City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn today applauded the pending passage of Intro 814-A, legislation that will prohibit employers from using a person’s employment status in a hiring decision and from posting job advertisements that require applicants to be currently employed. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Members Vincent Gentile and Debi Rose and the National Employment Law Project participated at today’s press conference.

Specifically, the Council’s bill will make it illegal under the human rights law for an employer to base a hiring decision on an applicant’s unemployment without a substantially job-related reason for doing so. Under the legislation, it will also be illegal for employers to post in job advertisements that current employment is a job requirement, or that unemployed applicants will not be considered for the position.

Unlike race, which an employer can never consider, there are circumstances where an employer could reasonably consider an applicant’s unemployment. This bill acknowledges that fact by explicitly permitting employers to consider unemployment in certain cases. For example, an employer can consider whether an applicant has a current or valid professional license; a certificate, permit or other credential; or a minimum level of education or training.

Once enacted, an individual who believes he or she has been unlawfully discriminated against will be able to take action in court or make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. The Commission will have the authority to order the employer to stop discriminatory practices, require discriminated applicants be hired and subject the employer to penalties if they fail to comply with the Commission’s orders.

Speaker Quinn stated, “Imagine spending every day and night for months upon months upon months looking for a job – only to be told ‘don’t even bother… unemployed need not apply.’ We cannot – and will not – allow New Yorkers who are qualified and ready to work have the door of opportunity slammed in their faces. The long-term unemployed face some of the greatest challenges in their job searches. Tomorrow, we will vote to remove one obstacle they simply should not have to face.”
“Discrimination against the unemployed is unacceptable, especially at a time when the jobless rate in our City hovers around 9%,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “A review of job postings by my office last October uncovered dozens of examples of New York City job listings that required candidates to be currently employed–and it is clear that New York’s hopes for economic recovery are undermined when a person can’t find work for reasons outside their control. I am proud to stand with Speaker Christine Quinn today in support of legislation that protects unemployed people against such damaging discrimination.”

At 9.4% in 2012, New York City’s unemployment rate far exceeds both the national average (7.8% in December) and the New York State average (8.8% in 2012). More than half (51%) of unemployed New Yorkers were actively seeking work for more than six months and nearly a third (29%) were still actively looking for work after searching for more than a year.

Screening out job applicants based on their unemployment status prevents well-qualified New Yorkers from applying for jobs. Further, there is no evidence to prove that a person’s unemployment is a predictor of job performance.

“It is hard enough to find a job in today’s economy, and the last thing New Yorkers need is another obstacle to obtaining one. Discriminatory practices have no place in our city. This legislation will stop employers from turning down applicants and advertising current employment status as a requirement or qualification for the job they are looking to fill. Additionally, once this legislation is passed, New York City will be the only place in the country that will allow its residents to plead their case at the Human Rights Commission or in court. I am proud to have sponsored this legislation, and I want to thank Speaker Christine C. Quinn and my Council colleagues, in helping to make sure these discriminatory practices in our city do not continue,” said Council Member Leroy Comrie.

“Employers who weed out candidates simply because they are unemployed has become the new face of employment discrimination,” said Council Member Gentile, one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “If you are otherwise qualified, being unemployed should not prevent you from securing a job. This important piece of legislation will effectively end this perverse Catch-22 that has served only to deepen our unemployment crisis in New York City.”

Civil Rights Committee Chair Debi Rose stated, “As chair of the Council’s Civil Rights Committee, I am proud to be one of the supporters of this important legislation, and I am inspired by the leadership of the City Council, led by Speaker Quinn and the primary sponsors, Council Members Comrie and Gentile, in tackling this thorny issue. This is a chicken and egg, which comes first issue – how can we get New Yorkers back to work if they can’t even get an interview because they are out of work? And the answer is that they must at least have a fair shot, if qualified, of being able to put forth their case for a job. Otherwise, we will have a permanently unemployed class in New York City – a class made up predominantly of people of color, as African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have higher rates of unemployment. This is something no one wants, so we need to get this law on the books now so that we can get New Yorkers back to work.”

National Employment Law Project Executive Director Christine L. Owens stated, “Job market practices that exclude qualified job-seekers from being considered for employment opportunities because they are unemployed are simply unfair and wrong-headed. They cause needless hardship for those struggling to return to the workforce, and exacerbate the crisis levels of long-term unemployment that New Yorkers – and Americans across the country – continue to face. So, we commend Speaker Quinn and the City Council for taking this important step to ensure that the doors of employment opportunity are open to those who are trying so hard to secure new work.”

Speaker Quinn first announced the proposal during her 2012 State of the City address and introduced the bill, sponsored by Council Members Leroy Comrie and Vincent Gentile, last March. The legislation will be voted on at tomorrow’s Stated Council meeting and is expected to overwhelmingly pass.