The New York City Commission on Human Rights (“NYCCHR”) recently announced that it collected $1.4 million in penalties in 2015, which is double the amount collected in 2014. Carmelyn P. Malalis joined the NYCCHR in February 2015 as its new Chair and Commissioner, after almost a decade as a plaintiff’s attorney. Under new leadership, and given recent statutes regarding criminal and credit background checks and amendments to the New York City Human Rights Law, 2016 may prove a record year for NYCCHR penalties.

The NYCCHR announced a 20 percent increase in discrimination investigations, for a total of 755 investigations, up from 628 in 2014. On average, the NYCCHR collected $21,777 per case in 2015, while in 2014 the average collection per case was $9,725. The most common complaints involved allegations of disability discrimination, which comprised 30 percent of all complaints in 2015, followed by race discrimination (20 %), gender discrimination (18 %), and discrimination based on national origin (15 %).

The NYCCHR’s press release also highlights some of its cases, including a $250,000 penalty in a sexual harassment case, which was the largest civil penalty in the NYCCHR’s history and the maximum civil penalty that the NYCCHR may assess. In another case, the employer paid a pregnant job applicant $20,000 in damages and $2,500 in civil penalties for refusing her employment.

Employers should take particular note of two new employment protections added to the New York City Human Rights Law in late 2015, one of which explains the increased number of investigations. First, the Fair Chance Act (“FCA”), in effect since October 27, 2015, makes it illegal to ask about criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment unless a few, narrow exceptions apply. The NYCCHR opened 77 criminal history-related discrimination investigations in 2015, compared to 12 the previous year - a six-fold increase.

The Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act (“SCDEA”) has been in effect since September 3, 2015, and prohibits an employer from requesting or using an applicant or employee’s credit history unless the role falls within one of a number of narrow exceptions. The New York City Human Rights Law was also amended in 2015 to prohibit employment discrimination based on an individual’s “caregiver status.” In addition, the NYCCHR released enforcement guidance regarding the New York City Human Rights Law’s protections based on gender identity and expression. 2016 may see increased enforcement activity around the FCA, SCDEA, and other recent amendments to the New York City Human Rights Law.

The NYCCHR announced that it expanded its legal staff and intends to “streamline its processes [and] sharpen its investigatory tools.” It also noted that it will continue to offer educational workshops and materials in 10 different languages.

Given that New York employers are likely to face an increasingly active NYCCHR and increased enforcement activity, it is critical that employers continue to stay abreast of recent amendments to the New York City Human Rights Law, with particular focus on the FCA and SCDEA.