By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Jan 9 (Reuters) - In a bid to close the wage
gap, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday called for
legislation to award attorneys' fees to victorious plaintiffs in
employment discrimination cases.
The proposal, which would also apply to lending and credit
discrimination cases, came during Cuomo's annual State of the
State speech in Albany.
Currently, plaintiffs in these cases brought under state law
cannot recoup attorneys' fees, even when they prove
discrimination at trial. By contrast, the Civil Rights Act of
1991 provides for attorneys' fees in federal discrimination
At the same time, Cuomo threw his support behind legislation
aimed at preventing wrongful convictions.
Addressing the discrimination issue, Cuomo said in a report
accompanying the speech that many victims never seek redress
because they can't afford lawyers. Those who do retain counsel
are not made whole, he said, because they must pay their
attorneys out of their recovery.
During his speech, the governor said the proposal was part
of a larger bid to close New York's wage gap. Women in the state
earn 84 percent of what men earn, he said, and 77 percent of
employment discrimination cases are filed by women.
The proposal would "ensure that victims of employment and
credit and lending discrimination -- most of whom are women --
have an opportunity to vindicate their rights."
The governor also urged state lawmakers to pass a bill
increasing the damages female plaintiffs are entitled to if they
win employment discrimination cases.
Under current law, discrimination plaintiffs are entitled to
the back wages they would have earned had they been paid on an
equal basis, as well as additional "liquidated damages" equal to
100 percent of the back wages due. Cuomo said he wants to triple
the liquidated damages to 300 percent of the back wages.
"Doing so will make women whole and at the same time
encourage all employers to evaluate their current practices,"
the policy book said.
Cuomo did not say when he would introduce the measures, or
if he had already secured the support of state lawmakers. A
spokesman did not return a request for further comment.
Cuomo also reaffirmed his support for a pair of proposals
aimed at reducing wrongful convictions. One of the measures
would allow eyewitness photo identification to be introduced at
trial when a "double-blind" procedure has been used. In a
double-blind identification, neither the witness nor the
official administering the identification know the identity of
The second proposal would mandate the videotaping of
custodial interrogations. Supporters, including Chief Judge
Jonathan Lippman and the state Bar Association, have said the
proposal would reduce the likelihood of false confessions.
In a statement, Lippman said Cuomo's proposals represented a
bold step in protecting against wrongful convictions.
Last year, Cuomo and state lawmakers expanded the state's
criminal DNA database to include almost anyone convicted of a
crime, making it the most expansive database in the country. At
the time, he rejected calls by some lawmakers to include
wrongful conviction reforms in the DNA legislation.
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