Frequently Asked Questions for Businesses
The New York State Division of Human Rights is a State agency mandated to receive, investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination under N.Y. Executive Law, Article 15 (“Human Rights Law”). The Division’s role is to fairly and thoroughly investigate the allegations in light of all evidence gathered.
What types of complaints are handled by the Division of Human Rights?
The Human Rights Law forbids discrimination in employment, apprenticeship and training, purchase and rental of housing and commercial space, places of public accommodation, certain educational institutions, and credit transactions. If a person feels that he or she has been discriminated against by of reason of race, color, creed, sex, age (not public accommodation), disability, national origin, marital status, familial status (housing only), conviction or arrest record (employment only), genetic predisposition (employment only), military status, or sexual orientation, or because he or she has opposed any practices forbidden under the Human Rights Law, that person may file a complaint with the State Division of Human Rights.
How does a person file a complaint?
Persons wishing to file a complaint of discrimination may contact the nearest regional office of the Division of Human Rights. The Human Rights Law requires that they must file such a complaint within one year of the alleged unlawful discriminatory act.
What is the investigative procedure?
The Division represents neither the Complainant nor the Respondent. The Division pursues the State’s interest in the proper resolution of the matter in accordance with the Human Rights Law. Complainant and Respondent can retain private counsel to represent them during the investigation, but such representation is not required.
Upon receipt of a complaint, the regional office will:
- Notify the Respondent(s). (A Respondent is a person or entity about whose action the Complainant complains. An employer must have four or more employees, with certain exceptions, for the Human Rights Law to apply.)
- Resolve issues of questionable jurisdiction.
- Forward a copy of the complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), where applicable. Such federal filing creates a complaint separate and apart from the complaint filed with the Division, although in most cases only one investigation is conducted pursuant to work-sharing agreements with these federal agencies.
- Investigate the complaint through appropriate methods (written inquiry, field investigation, witness interviews, requests for documents, investigatory conference, etc.), in the discretion of the Regional Director. The investigation of the complaint is to be objective.
- Allow the parties to settle the matter by reaching agreement on terms acceptable to the Complainant, Respondent and the Division. The Division will allow settlement from the time of filing until the matter reaches a final resolution.
- Determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe that an act of discrimination has occurred, if the matter cannot be settled prior to that Determination. The Division will notify the Complainant and Respondent in writing of the Determination.
You, or your attorney, may review the Division's file in this matter, and may copy by hand any material in the file, or obtain photocopies at a nominal charge. The Complainant in this matter has the same right to review the file.
What is the Division's policy on adjournments and extensions?
It is the Division’s policy to investigate all cases promptly and expeditiously. Therefore, you are expected to cooperate with the investigation fully and promptly. No deadlines will be extended at any time during the investigation, unless good cause is shown in a written application submitted at least five (5) calendar days prior to the original deadline. Failure to comply could result in an adverse finding against you, which would be shared with, among others, the Secretary of State and the applicable State licensing agencies that govern your business.
What is the procedure following the investigation?
If there is a Determination of no probable cause, lack of jurisdiction, or any other type of dismissal of the case, the Complainant may appeal to the State Supreme Court within 60 days.
If the Determination is one of probable cause, there is no appeal to court. The case then proceeds to public hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Under Rule 465.20 (9 N.Y.C.R.R. § 465.20), the Respondent may ask the Commissioner of Human Rights within 60 days of the finding of probable cause to review the finding of probable cause. Such application should be sent to the General Counsel of the Division and to the Complainant, and Complainant’s attorney, if any.
What is a public hearing?
A public hearing, pursuant to the Human Rights Law, is a trial-like proceeding at which relevant evidence is placed in the hearing record. It is a hearing de novo, which means that the Commissioner’s final decision on the case is based solely on the content of the hearing record. The public hearing is presided over by an Administrative Law Judge, and a verbatim transcript is made of the proceedings.
The hearing may last one or more days, not always consecutive. Parties are notified of all hearing sessions in advance, and the case may be adjourned to a later date only for good cause.
Respondent can retain private counsel for the hearing, and, if Respondent is a corporation, is required to be represented by legal counsel. The Complainant can retain private counsel for the hearing, but is not required to do so. If Complainant is not represented by private counsel, the Division’s counsel prosecutes the case in support of the complaint. Attorneys for the parties or for the Division may issue subpoenas for documents and to compel the presence of witnesses.
At the conclusion of the hearing sessions, a proposed Order is prepared by the Administrative Law Judge and is sent to the parties for comment.
A final Order is issued by the Commissioner. The Commissioner either dismisses the complaint or finds discrimination. If discrimination is found, Respondent will be ordered to cease and desist and take appropriate action, such as reinstatement, training of staff, or provision of reasonable accommodation of disability. The Division may award money damages to Complainant, including back pay and compensatory damages for mental pain and suffering, and in the case of housing discrimination, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and civil fines and penalties. A Commissioner’s Order may be appealed by either party to the State Supreme Court within 60 days. Orders after hearing are transferred by the lower court to the Appellate Division for review.
What is a compliance investigation?
The compliance investigation unit verifies whether the Respondent has complied with the provisions of the Commissioner’s Order. If the Respondent has not complied, enforcement proceedings in court may be brought by the Division.
Notice Pursuant to Personal Privacy Protection Law
Pursuant to the Human Rights Law, the Division collects certain personal information from individuals filing complaints and from those against whom a complaint has been filed. The information is necessary to conduct a proper investigation; failure to provide such information could impair the Division’s ability to properly investigate the matter. This information is maintained in a computerized Case Management System maintained by the Division’s Director of Information Technology, who is located at One Fordham Plaza, Bronx, New York, (718) 741-8365.
Penal Provision of the Human Rights Law
The Human Rights Law contains the following penal provision:
“Any person, employer, labor organization or employment agency, who or which shall willfully resist, prevent, impede or interfere with the division or any of its employees or representatives in the performance of duty under this article, or shall willfully violate an order of the division or commissioner, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and be punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary, or county jail, for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars, or by both; but procedure for the review of the order shall not be deemed to be such willful conduct.” Human Rights Law § 299.
For a more detailed explanation of the process, see the Division’s Rules of Practice (9 N.Y.C.R.R. § 465) available on our website www.dhr.ny.gov/rules-practice. If you have any additional questions about the process, the investigator assigned to the case will be available to answer most questions.