Sexual harassment unit added to city’s human rights commission

Complaints have spiked 43 percent in the last two years.

A new unit within the city’s Commission on Human Rights will focus solely on claims of sexual harassment in the workplace, the mayor and the commission announced Tuesday.

The commission, which recently put out a report on how to combat workplace harassment, has seen a 43-percent increase in sexual harassment claims within the last two years. In 2017 and 2016, 117 claims were filed, up from 82 in 2015 and 2014. Reports of retaliation against people who have made claims also have increased by more than 55 percent, with 190 reports in 2017 and 2016, compared to 122 in 2015 and 2014.

“This new unit will help us intervene in sexual harassment cases more quickly, immediately halting ongoing harassment and retaliation, and address widespread workplace harassment more effectively,” Commissioner Carmelyn P. Malalis said in a statement.

The commission’s law enforcement bureau has around 50 staff attorneys who investigate discrimination claims, but previously, none have been solely focused on sexual harassment allegations. The new unit, which will launch this summer, will include four staff members, though they have not yet been identified.

The need to expand the commission’s resources to investigate sexual harassment claims was brought up at a hearing in December, where women in a variety of fields testified about their experiences with sexual harassment.

The commission is able to fine violators of the city’s human rights law with civil penalties of up to $250,000, and it can award damages to victims. Claims can be made to the commission by calling 718-722-3131.

Nicole Brown