AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger

New York is recognized as, arguably, one of the most progressive states in the United States. In fact, the state boasts a law that prohibits the discrimination of people for their pronouns — one that, if violated, could end in a hefty fine.

We're talking civil penalties up to $125,000 for violations, as well as up to $250,000 for violations that are the result of "willful, wanton or malicious conduct" if people refuse to use others' self-identified pronouns, names or titles.

So what is New York's pronoun law? Here's what should you know about it.

What Is New York’s Pronoun Law?

The New York City Commission on Human Rights has proposed "Legal Enforcement Guidanc...Expression," known as Local Law No. 3 (2002); N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102(23).

The document serves as the Commission’s legal enforcement guidance on the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL)'s protections, as they apply to discrimination based on gender, gender identity and gender expression, which all constitute gender discrimination under the NYCHRL. The document does not intend to serve as a complete list of all forms of gender-based discrimination claims under the NYCHRL, however.

That said, the document reads as such:

"The New York City Human Rights Law ('NYCHRL') prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing. It also prohibits discriminatory harassment and bias-based profili

ng by law enforcement. The NYCHRL, pursuant to the 2005 Civil Rights Restoration Act, must be construed 'independently from similar or identical provisions of New York state or federal statutes,' such that 'similarly worded provisions of federal and state civil rights laws [are] a floor below which the City’s Human Rights law cannot fall, rather than a ceiling above which the local law cannot rise.'

"The New York City Commission on Human Rights (the 'Commission') is the City agency charged with enforcing the NYCHRL. People interested in vindicating their rights under the NYCHRL can choose to file a complaint with the Commission’s Law Enforcement Bureau within one (1) year of the discriminatory act or, in the case of gender-based harassment, within three (3) years of the discriminatory act. Alternatively, a complaint can be filed in court within three (3) years of the discriminatory act.

"The NYCHRL prohibits discrimination by most employers, housing providers, and public accommodations on the basis of gender. The term gender 'shall include actual or perceived sex, gender identity, and gender expression including a person's actual or perceived gender-related self-image, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic, regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth.”

Under the NYCHRL, employers and covered entities (in the areas of employment, public accommodations and housing) are required to use the name, pronouns and title (e.g. Ms./Mrs./Mr./Mx.) with which a person self-identifies, regardless of that person's sex assigned at birth or the sex indicated on that person's identification, or that person's anatomical makeup, gender, appearance or otherwise. Failing to use pronouns with which a person self-identifies can constitute as discrimination under the law.

"All people, including employees, tenants, customers and participants in programs, have the right to use and have others use their name and pronouns regardless of whether they have identification in that name or have obtained a court-ordered name change, except in very limited circumstances where certain federal, state or local laws require otherwise (e.g., for purposes of employment eligibility verification with the federal government)," according to NYC.gov.

That said, asking someone "in good-f...r pronouns is not a violation of the NYCHRL. And, because many people use non-binary or non-conforming gender pronouns (such as they/them/theirs or ze/hir), asking is sometimes the only way to know someone's pronouns. Some entities may avoid NYCHRL violations by creating policies of asking everyone for their pronouns in updated systems, intake forms and other questionnaires that allow people to self-identify.

Of course, it's important to note that since, according to the City, "refusal to use a transgender employee’s preferred name, pronoun or title may constitute unlawful gender-based harassment," harassment is a keyword of which employers should take note. Harassment law requires employers to prevent harassment by co-workers and patrons — not just themselves.

What Are Some Examples of Violations of New York's Pronoun Law?

Some examples of violations of New York's pronoun law include the following.

  • The intentional or repeated refusal to use a person's pronouns, as well as that person's name or title — such as calling a trans woman "him" after she clearly identified with she/her/hers pronouns.
  • Refusing to use a person's pronouns because they don't conform to gender stereotypes — such as insisting on calling a non-binary person "Mrs." after they have repeatedly and clearly requested to be called "Mx."
  • Forcing a person to provide proof of their medical procedures and history in order to use their preferred pronouns, name or title.
  • Refusing to use a person's name without a court-ordered name change or an identification with that name.