New York City Enacts Protection Against Credit History Discrimination

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

When people think about discrimination, the types of discrimination that come to mind are typically the major categories covered by federal laws: race, gender, age, disability, religion, and the like. While these types of discrimination still remain problematic, people are generally aware that they are illegal and that laws exist to protect individuals who suffer from such discrimination.

However, employees and prospective employees experience other forms of work-related discrimination, and are often unaware that the employer’s conduct is illegal. For example, lesser known types of employment discrimination include discrimination on the basis of citizenship status, genetic information, military status, marital status, and one’s status as a victim of domestic violence. While most employees working in New York City are protected against these types of discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), millions of employees across the country do not have legal protection against one or more of the above forms of discrimination.

One particular form of discrimination that is receiving a lot of attention is credit history discrimination. Here in New York City, Mayor de Blasio signed the Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act (“SCDEA”) into law on May 6, 2015 (the law took effect on September 3, 2015). The SCDEA amends the NYCHRL to prohibit discrimination on the basis of consumer credit history in hiring and employment decisions. Employers may no longer use or request credit histories when evaluating job applicants, and may not discriminate against current employees in the terms and conditions of their employment based on the employee’s credit histories. Employees may raise claims of credit history discrimination with the New York City Commission on Human Rights or file a complaint of credit history discrimination in court.

Credit history discrimination is a problem for many New Yorkers. Not only does screening employees by credit history prevent no- and low-income individuals from finding employment, but it can also serve as a proxy for race discrimination, as credit history discrimination has a disproportionate impact on minorities.

The next step in protecting New York City workers against credit history discrimination is raising awareness of the protections that the SCDEA provides. The New York City Commission on Human Rights will run an advertising campaign aimed at educating the public about the new law. The Commission will also host trainings and seminars for both employees and employers to help ensure compliance.

Although there are a number of exceptions and limitations to the law, the SCDEA is a significant blow against credit history discrimination. However, as the SCDEA only covers those working in New York City, the vast majority of American employees and job seekers may continue to face such discrimination without legal recourse; without additional action at the state and local level, millions will remain at risk of credit history discrimination.

To learn more about credit history discrimination, visit the New York City Commission on Human Rights’ website. If you believe that you have been discriminated against because of your credit history, contact the Harman Firm, LLP.