News & Insights

Home » News & Insights » Free speech issues flare up in updated NYC anti-discrimination guidelines

Free speech issues flare up in updated NYC anti-discrimination guidelines

Liability, Litigation, NYC

The city’s human rights commission published new guidelines last Friday, and eagle-eyed observers quickly noted the 29-page document included stringent, potentially unconstitutional limits on freedom of speech and expression. NYC’s human rights law prohibits discrimination, as well as harassment, on the basis of national origin. The updated guidelines state that usage of the terms “alien” or “illegal alien” with the intent to “demean, humiliate, or harass a person” constitute a violation of citizens’ rights, to be punishable by up to $250,000 in fines. [1]

Although harassment is not a form of protected speech, the prohibition of the terms “alien” and “illegal alien” drew attention because the terms exist in federal law (this is especially true of the standalone word “alien”). For many, prohibition of using the term, especially with such heavy penalties, is both a violation of the First Amendment and impractical. Many types of contracts, including rental agreements, may include this type of legal language.

The guidelines also define other actions as discrimination, including mocking someone for their accent, demanding store customers speak English, and threatening to call immigration services on tenants if they complain about repairs. It seems likely the guidelines will be challenged, as they appear to conflict with freedom of speech even as they seek to protect immigrants and citizens not born in the United States. Since more than one in three New Yorkers was born abroad, the new guidelines will undoubtedly be tested quickly and broadly as they come into effect.

[1] Herreira, C. (October 2019) New York City Bans Term ‘Illegal Alien’ In New Anti-Discrimination Guidelines from Huffington Post https://www.huffpost.com/entry/new-york-city-bans-term-illegal-alien_n_5d93d9a0e4b0e9e7605498ee Accessed October 7 2019

Recent Posts

Impact of Shorter COVID-19 Quarantine on Workplaces

On Monday, the CDC announced changes to its recommended isolation and quarantine time from 10 days to 5 days for asymptomatic people with COVID-19. They recommend that people leaving isolation after 5 days continue to wear a mask for the following 5 days. The CDC also...

Restaurants Sue Over Vaccine Mandate

Restaurant operators sued Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City over Key to NYC, the new indoor vaccine mandate program, on August 17-the same day the mandate went into effect. A group of restaurants in Staten Island, through the Independent Restaurant Owners...

Financial Regulators’ New Target: Social Media Influencers and SPACs

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) will conduct three new regulatory sweeps in an effort to combat various activities causing extreme fluctuations in the financial markets. FINRA has chosen to target special purpose acquisition companies (“SPACs”),...

Does WARN Apply to Virus Closures?

Enterprise, in Benson et al. v. Enterprise Leasing Co. of Florida LLC et al., has tried to argue that the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN”), through its natural disaster exception, does not apply to closures caused by COVID-19. Two Florida...