New York State Lawmakers Vote To Reform Sexual Harassment Laws

The state Assembly and Senate passed two bills that address the statute of limitations on rape, workplace harassment and nondisclosure agreements.

The Time’s Up and Me Too movements bagged major wins in New York on Wednesday when state lawmakers passed bills empowering survivors of rape and victims of workplace sexual harassment to seek justice.

The bills were passed on the last day of New York’s legislative session.

Actress and activist Mira Sorvino celebrated the new legislation, proclaiming in a tweet, “We did it!!”

Along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and anti-harassment activists, Sorvino spoke at the state Capitol in Albany last week, urging lawmakers to pass legislation to protect victims of second- and third-degree rape, assault and harassment.

During that press conference, hosted by Cuomo, Sorvino revealed that she was a survivor of second-degree rape.

The state Assembly and state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday extending the statute of limitations for rape in the second and third degree to 20 and 10 years, respectively.

A bill that tackles workplace harassment also passed both the state Assembly and state Senate on Wednesday.

It removes a long-held standard in New York, requiring workplace harassment to be “severe or pervasive” in order for employees to take legal action against it.

Advocates of the bill argued that this legal definition prevented victims of other types of harassment from speaking out. The new legislation removes the terms “severe or pervasive” from the legal standard, forcing employers to address all forms of harassment in the workplace.

The bill also bans employers from using nondisclosure agreements to prevent employees from reporting discrimination and extends the statute of limitations for complaints to three years.

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement that these were the first steps in making “a truly harassment-free New York for all.”

“Today’s victory is a culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears of courageous survivors, fierce advocates, and dedicated lawmakers,” Biaggi said.

This year, Cuomo teamed up with the high-profile anti-harassment group Time’s Up to prioritize pushing for legislation that focuses on sexual harassment and assault as part of his 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda.

“Part of that agenda was aimed at addressing the absurd legal standard that says sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be ‘severe or pervasive’ in order for a victim to bring a claim,” Cuomo said after the bills were passed. “Under the status quo, sporadic sexual harassment is permissible as long as it is not pervasive — that’s unacceptable and we are changing it.”

The governor is expected to sign both bills.

The new legislation comes as a much-touted win in the aftermath of the Me Too movement and downfall of film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who is accused of rampant sexual assault and harassment and is facing related criminal charges in New York. Sorvino is among the women who have accused Weinstein of harassment.

While Time’s Up was a prominent voice advocating for New York’s anti-harassment legislation, state lawmakers on Wednesday night credited New York-based Sexual Harassment Working Group with spearheading the ongoing fight for stronger laws, according to the Albany daily paper the Times Union.

The group is made up of seven former staff members of the New York Legislature who had experienced or reported sexual harassment while working there.

New York Attorney General Letitia James congratulated lawmakers for passing Wednesday’s legislation.

“This sexual harassment bill updates our state’s harassment laws by establishing stronger protections for employees & steps-up our sexual harassment prevention policies,” James tweeted Wednesday night. “Well done, NY.”

This story was updated with comment from Cuomo.

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