Protecting Veteran & Military Status in NYC Human Rights Law

From our first policy agenda meeting last September to our Policy Design Workshop in December, follow-on group "Draft" workshops in January, and community responses to our 2016 surveys--it has been clear that veterans, military members, and their families are facing a wide range of challenges that can and must be addressed at the local level. But foundational to all of these issues is one key absence: veterans and military members are not included as protected categories of persons in NYC's human rights law.

NYC law currently protects individuals from discrimination based on age, race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, disability, pregnancy, and marital or partnership status. Employment protections are further afforded under NYC’s human rights laws for individuals with criminal records, domestic violence victim status, and credit history. Housing protections are afforded to individuals regardless of lawful income source or presence of children.  

There is, however, no policy or protection status listed under NYC’s human rights policies specific to veteran or military status.

The foundation of holistic policy change for NYC veterans is, we believe, the basic recognition that veterans, active duty service members, and military reservists must be protected from harmful discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions. This is our top priority for 2016, and we are pleased to announce that our policy team has drafted legislation to amend NYC's human rights law, and last month we proposed this to Public Advocate Tish James.

We are pleased to announce that the Public Advocate and her staff support this initiative and is working with us to move this legislation forward.

A great supporter of NYC's veterans, Public Advocate Tish James will be hosting a Town Hall with NYC Veterans next week, and we look forward to hearing more on this and other initiatives for our veterans. We will post updates as this initiative progresses. Below is the introduction to the legislation we have proposed:







A local law to amend section 8 of the administrative code of the City of New York, in relation to discrimination based on veteran and military status.


It is in the interest of the City of New York to protect its citizens from discrimination. Discrimination, prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry directly and profoundly threaten the lives, rights and freedoms of New Yorkers. The Human Rights Law was established to protect New Yorkers from those dangers, but it doesn’t currently cover discrimination against veterans and military personnel, despite the fact that both are frequently discriminated against by both employers and landlords, and retaliated against for reporting said discrimination. This comes despite protections of the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA),[1] which are not well known or understood by the civilian population, and are often not well known or understood by service members or veterans themselves. Veterans and military personnel must be protected from prejudice and discrimination at this most fundamental level. 

When searching for housing, many veterans find themselves without recourse as landlords refuse to accept payments from the VA as legitimate income, and both active military members serving locally as well as reservists find landlords denying them housing because of concerns that they’ll be called up for overseas service. Other disabled veterans find landlords refusing housing to them because of service animals or other issues related to their conditions and needs. 

Many qualified veterans, active Reservists, and National Guardsmen are discriminated against in the hiring process. The growing disconnect between civilians and our military population has led to many employers failing to understand the actual realities of military life, and instead assuming that veterans are coming back from combat with aggressive forms of PTSD, making them unstable and unable to assimilate into a civilian job. Employers are often loath to hire a veteran that requires reasonable accommodations for his/her physical or mental disability. Additionally, prospective employers will refuse to hire members of the Reserve or National Guard forces because of their scheduled monthly and annual military duty, or because they may be called to active duty.

Though many of these issues are actionable under other federal, state, or local laws, adding veterans and military personnel as a protected class under the New York Human Rights Law gives them another avenue to ensure that they have recourse when their rights are violated by prospective employers or landlords.

Many other towns and cities across the United States, including the cities of Chicago[2], Boston[3], Miami[4], and Seattle[5], have already included veterans and military personnel in their anti-discrimination ordinances, and New York City should as well in order to keep pace with our fellow progressive cities and to promote fairness and equal opportunity for more New Yorkers.

[3] See Boston Municipal Code: §12-9.1 “military status” definition- “the condition or being, or having been in the services of the military.”

[4] See Miami-Dade County: §11A-34 “It has been and is the policy of Miami-Dade County to provide equal employment opportunity for all without regard to race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, ancestry, marital status, pregnancy, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, veteran's status, or actual or perceived status as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence or stalking and to prohibit unlawful discrimination on such basis.”