Taryn Phaneuf Apr. 15, 2016, 9:32am


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) — A well-publicized settlement between the New York Attorney General Eric Schndierman and Bon-Ton brought attention to the issue of discrimination against domestic violence victims in the workplace and the laws that outlaw such behavior, a New York attorney who advocates for women's rights in the workplace says.

The settlement, reached in November, followed claims that the company discriminated against one of its New York employees after she informed personnel that she had received death threats from her estranged husband. The Eastern Hills Mall Bon-Ton store manager knew that Jodi Porter had filed a police report and sought a protection order.

Still, she was sent home early and told to stay there until the protection order was in place. Later, she was told she’d be paid for the time off.

Schneiderman filed a suit, claiming Bon-Ton violated the New York Human Rights Law.

About half of working domestic violence victims say they lost their job or were forced to quit in part because of their situation at home, said John Tuckner, of Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser..

“Employers in states with workplace protections must be supportive of women who are victims so that they’re not victimized twice - first by the abuser and then by the employer who leaves them out in the cold just when they have nowhere else to turn,” he said.

“That the AG of NY prosecuted such a ‘low value’ economic case and promoted its enforcement and settlement will prevent another employer somewhere from repeating this harm just to avoid being named and vilified as Bon-Ton was.”

As a result of the settlement, Bon-Ton agreed to revise its policies; educate and train its New York employees on the protections offered to domestic violence victims; ensure anyone who invokes the protections doesn’t face retaliation; and contribute $5,000 to the Erie County Sheriff’s Department’s Domestic Violence Unit.

Tuckner said Bon-Ton’s actions constituted victim-blaming.

Porter’s employer essentially put “the onus on her to make the employer feel safe before she’s allowed to maintain her job,” he said.

“The store was not permitted to punish her economically because her husband threatened to kill her — they were not permitted to send her home without pay — and they couldn’t suspend or fire her,” he said.

Domestic violence victims are protected in New York by a state humans rights law. About 20 other states, cities and towns have such laws.

A New York City human rights law goes even further than the state law by requiring companies with at least four employees to “reasonably accommodate” the needs of employees experiencing domestic violence.

Tuckner said these laws help to bring the issue into the light and prevent employers from further harming those experiencing domestic violence — who are mostly women — by taking away their job when they really need it.

When a woman was fired after missing four days of work because she was assaulted by her husband and was in the hospital, his law firm could sue the employer under the human rights law. The settlement from the suit had the two-pronged effect of providing much-needed support to the woman and her four children and held the employer accountable while warning others like it.

“The more that awareness is raised regarding DV issues and the rights of women to remain gainfully employed even while they’re being stalked, threatened, beaten or otherwise victimized by a former significant other, the more that employers and the culture at large will evolve, learn and protect vulnerable women,” Tuckner said.

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