HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
February 28, 1944, as a result of citywide concerns about race
relations following riots in 1943, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia
created the Mayor's Committee on Unity by Executive Order. Its
purpose was "to make New York City a place where people of
all races and religions may work and live side by side in harmony
and have mutual respect for each other, and where democracy is
a living reality." The Committee had no enforcement powers,
and relied solely on the persuasive powers of its members to accomplish
Committee achieved many things during its existence, including aiding
in the passage of State Fair Employment Legislation and the Fair
Educational Practices Act. Within New York City, the Committee did
its best to promote understanding in the wake of anti-Semitic disturbances
in Coney Island, the picketing of white merchants by Harlem consumer
groups, and two riots in New York City high schools. The Committee
also investigated city services in depressed areas of the City.
the mid 1950s, however, it was apparent that without enforcement
powers the Committee could not address problems of discrimination
and bias in the City. In 1955, Mayor Robert F. Wagner and the City
Council moved to replace the Committee with a city agency that had
more extensive powers and permanent status. The Commission on Intergroup
Relations (“COIR”) was established on July 1, 1955 under
Local Law 55 to replace the original Committee on Unity.
was given the power to receive and investigate complaints, and to
initiate its own investigations into racial, religious and ethnic
group tensions on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin
and ancestry. It was empowered to hold hearings, to report its findings
of facts and to make recommendations to the Mayor. COIR was also
charged with studying the problems of prejudice, intolerance, bigotry,
discrimination and disorder caused by intergroup tension, and developing
intergroup dialogue. It also coordinated efforts among federal,
state and city agencies to develop courses of instruction on techniques
for achieving harmonious intergroup relations within the City of
first major expansion of COIR's powers was in 1958, with the passage
of the Fair Housing Practices Law (Local Law 80, the Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs
Law). This legislation, which gave COIR the power to investigate
and hold hearings on allegations of discrimination in private housing,
was the first in the nation to extend protection against discrimination
to private housing.
1962, the Commission on Intergroup Relations was renamed the Commission
on Human Rights. In 1965, Local Law 55 and Local Law 80 were amended
and combined into Local Law 97, the Human Rights Law of the City
of New York (Chapter I, Title B, later Title 8, of the Administrative
Code of the City of New York). This amendment greatly expanded the
Commission's powers of investigation and enforcement, and extended
the Commission's jurisdiction to prosecute discrimination based
on race, creed, color and national origin in employment, public
accommodations and housing, as well as commercial space.
next decade saw much growth in the Human Rights Law. The Commission's
jurisdiction was expanded through successive amendments to cover
disability, gender discrimination in public accommodation, reasonable
accommodation in employment for religious observances, gender and
marital status in housing accommodations and commercial spaces,
and age in housing and public accommodations.
the 1980s, there were many amendments to the Human Rights Law. Protection
on the basis of mental disability was added in 1981. In 1984, the
Private Clubs Bill, Local Law 63, prohibited discrimination by private
clubs with more than 400 members. Protection on the basis of citizenship
and alien status was added, and jurisdiction over housing discrimination
was extended to include protection of lawful occupation and persons
with children. In 1986, landmark legislation extended coverage of
the Human Rights Law to include sexual orientation.
1991, the Human Rights Law was extensively revised and amended.
For the first time protection in employment on the basis of conviction
or arrest record was enumerated in the Administrative Code. In addition,
the amendments broadened liability and they afforded new protection
for individuals retaliated against for opposing discrimination.
1993, the Human Rights Law was amended once again to provide remedies
for bias-related harassment.
2001, status as a victim of domestic violence was made a protected
class with regard to employment.
April 2002, the City Human Rights Law was amended by defining “gender”
to include actual or perceived sex as well as a “person’s
gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression,
whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior
or expression is different from that traditionally associated with
the legal sex assigned to that person at birth.”
In December 2003, the City Human Rights Law was amended once again
protecting victims of domestic violence, sex offenses and stalking
in the workplace. The Law requires all employers provide reasonable
accommodation to victims of these crimes.
In October 2005, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed Local Law 85, The Local Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2005, into law. This amendment to New York City's Human Rights Law was meant to ensure that the rights of those who live, work and play in New York City will continue to be protected by the strongest civil rights law in the country, despite recent state and federal court decisions diminishing the impact of groundbreaking civil rights legislation and 50 years of precedent.
The changes include a statement that state and federal law are the minimum standards to be applied when analyzing cases under the City's Human Rights Law, a clarification that an adverse impact is not required in retaliation cases, and an indication that a plaintiff whose action was a catalyst for a change in policy may be considered a prevailing party for the purposes of awarding attorney fees in state or federal court. In addition, among other things, the amendment added "partnership status" as a protected class under the law, requires the Commission to conduct "thorough" investigations and increased the penalties that the Commission is empowered to access.
The New York City Human Rights Law was amended by the City Council in March 2008 to make ‘any lawful source of income’ a new protected class. This amendment prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on the fact that they receive federal rent-subsidy vouchers, (Section 8) or other government assistance to pay their rent.
The New York City Human Rights Law was amended once again by the City Council in December, 2010 to require specific information in the Commission's annual report.
In June 2011, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed Local Law 36 into law. This amendment to New York City's Human Rights Law requires the Commission to educate the public on various types of bias-related harassment, including cyberbullying.