A.G. Schneiderman Agreement With Bon-Ton Stores Resolves Allegation Of Discrimination Against Victim Of Domestic Violence

Agreement Will Protect Domestic Violence Victims From Employment Discrimination And Protect Victims’ Civil Rights

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc., following allegations that the company discriminated against a Williamsville, New York Bon-Ton employee who was the victim of domestic violence. The agreement will strengthen protections against discrimination based on domestic violence victim status across the company’s 18 New York-based stores. As part of the agreement, Bon-Ton will modify its policies and procedures to acknowledge that victims of domestic violence are a protected class under New York law and to ensure compliance with the New York State Human Rights Law. Bon-Ton will also provide educational materials and trainings that specifically address discrimination against domestic violence victims to all of its 1,200 employees across New York State. In addition, Bon-Ton will make a $5,000 contribution to the Erie County Sheriff’s Department’s Domestic Violence Unit.

“My Office is committed to ensuring that victims of domestic violence are free from discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Victims of domestic violence face unspeakable hardships in every aspect of their personal lives. Our agreement with Bon-Ton Stores stands as a model for other employers and will help to alleviate the hardships faced by domestic violence survivors in the workplace. We commend Bon-Ton for taking these steps to assist victims of domestic violence. ”

The agreement with Bon-Ton resolves the Attorney General’s inquiry into complaints of discrimination against an employee based on her status as a victim of domestic violence. In October, 2015, an employee at the Eastern Hills Mall Bon-Ton store reported for her scheduled work shift and informed the store’s loss prevention specialists and her store manager that she had received death threats from her estranged husband. After informing the store manager that she had filed a police report and was seeking an order of protection in Erie County, the employee was sent home before the end of her scheduled shift. She was later informed that she would be paid for her time off, but was told to stay home until she had received the order of protection and provided it to the store manager.

The Attorney General’s agreement with the Bon-Ton Stores, Inc., requires Bon-Ton to:
 

  •  Revise its Random Threat Response Policy, which applies to any threat received by an employee and communicated to Bon-Ton, to indicate that discrimination on the basis of domestic violence victim status is prohibited within the workplace, and that a domestic violence victim is not required to provide a protective order in order to continue working;
  • Provide educational materials and training to all New York employees discussing the legal protections provided to victims of domestic violence;
  • Make a $5,000 contribution to the Erie County Sheriff’s Department’s Domestic Violence Unit; and
  • Ensure that the affected employee and others seeking to invoke the protections afforded by the Random Threat Response Policy will not be subject to retaliation, harassment, or other adverse treatment as a result of her or his complaint of discrimination.

Under the New York Human Rights Law, it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to employ, or to discharge or discriminate against an individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment, based on such individual’s status as a victim of domestic violence. In response to the Attorney General’s inquiry, Bon-Ton agreed to let the employee return to work and provided her with a safety plan pursuant to its Random Threat Response Policy. Prior to the agreement with the Attorney General, Bon-Ton’s policy did not specifically address the legal protections available for victims of domestic violence in New York State.

“Far too many New Yorkers who are victims of domestic violence are discriminated against by their employers at work because of their status as domestic violence victims. Yet, domestic violence victims’ employment is often a key factor to enable them to escape an abusive relationship and end the cycle of violence, “said Michael H. Williams, General Counsel for Safe Horizon. “It is crucial that employees coping with abuse not be penalized for disclosing this information to their employers. I thank the Attorney General Schneiderman for working to combat employment discrimination of domestic violence victims.”

Penny M. Venetis, Legal Director of Legal Momentum, said, “Often survivors of domestic violence don’t have the resources, time and ability to fight their employer in the midst of dealing with the trauma of domestic abuse. That is why it is so important for employers to comply with the law and not discriminate against domestic violence victims. We commend the Attorney General for stepping in to ensure that a responsible and valued employee got back to work, and to ensure that domestic violence victims at Bon-Ton are treated fairly in the future.”

Jodi Porter, affected Bon-Ton employee said, “With all that I was going through in my personal life, I wanted to go to work to maintain some stability in my world. The last thing I wanted was to be forced to stay home and let my estranged husband think that he can control my life. I am so glad the Attorney General helped me get back to work. Now other Bon-Ton workers dealing with domestic violence will have the protection they need to come forward about their situation without the fear of being sent home and facing discrimination or retaliation.”

The Attorney General is committed to enforcing laws that prohibit gender discrimination and protect the rights of domestic violence victims. According to Safe Horizon, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Last month, marking the 28th annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Civil Rights and Labor Bureaus issued the “Victims of Domestic Violence: Know Your Rights!” brochure.” The guide is intended to raise awareness among victims and survivors of domestic violence about the laws that protect them. The guide highlights some of the legal protections and services available to victims of domestic violence -- particularly in the areas of employment and housing. To file complaints of discrimination faced by domestic violence victims and survivors contact the Attorney General’s Office at 212-416-8250 or Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.

The investigation is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Diane Lucas and Najah Farley, and Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Joseph Abboud, led by the Labor Bureau’s Civil Enforcement Section Chief ReNika N. Moore, Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke and Labor Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein. The Executive Deputy for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg. The Buffalo Regional Office also assisted in resolving the investigation. Michael J. Russo is the Assistant Attorney General In-Charge of the Buffalo Regional Office.

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