What to Know
NYC is investigating an alleged discriminatory ad on Sittercity.com, a site used by millions to find full-time and part-time child care help
The Manhattan family's ad said they required "born in US with US passport;" a teacher saw it and reported it to the city
By NYC law, most employers are prohibited from excluding job applicants based on their national origin; liability here is a tricky question
An employment post for a part-time nanny on a site used by millions of people to find part- and full-time child care is raising questions about what parents can and can't say in those job descriptions.
Last month, a Manhattan family placed an ad on Sittercity.com, looking for a part-time nanny to watch three kids on weekend trips to the Hamptons. The ad listed requirements that include "Perfect English," a "Perfect driving record" and said the applicant should be "born in US with US passport."
The phrase "born in US" caught the attention of Lily Pollak, a kindergarten teacher who sometimes looks for side jobs on Sittercity.
"That to me seemed discriminatory," Pollak said. "For a position like a nanny, it makes sense that you would want to hire someone who speaks the same language as your children. It makes sense that you would want to hire someone who is authorized to work in the United States. It makes sense that you would want to hire someone who knows how to drive a car. But I couldn’t think of a reason that you would need someone to have been born in the United States."
After Pollak reported the Sittercity job post, New York City’s Commission on Human Rights launched an investigation. Under city law, most employers are prohibited from excluding job applicants based on their national origin. Thousands of naturalized citizens and non-citizen residents are authorized to work in the United States despite not having been born here.
"There can be legitimate reasons to state that you need to have a certain set of skills, but not that you need to be born in the United States," said Katherine Carroll, a supervising attorney at the Commission on Human Rights.
Despite the city’s prohibition on "national origin" discrimination, it is unlikely the parent who posted the Sittercity ad would be held liable, mainly because the city’s Human Rights Law applies only to those who employ at least four workers.
Whether Sittercity could be held liable for discrimination is a trickier question.
The company does employ more than four people, but Sittercity distances itself from the specific language in individual users’ ads.
"It’s important to clarify that Sittercity is a platform where caregivers and families connect," said Christine Reimert, a public relations professional representing the website. "Sittercity is not an employment agency nor does Sittercity match families with caregivers or employ caregivers."
After Pollak complained about the job post that seeks only nannies who were "born in US," Sittercity did review the matter but ultimately decided to stand by the family’s prerogative to exclude applicants who aren’t native-born.
"At times families look for caregivers and make hiring decisions based on personal preferences that they feel are important for their families, including gender, age, education level, and faith, among others,” Reimert said. "We have been advised by outside counsel that this job post does not violate New York City or New York State law.”
Because of the open case, Carroll couldn’t comment specifically on whether Sittercity could be held liable for national origin discrimination. But she did say the Commission on Human Rights draws a distinction between language in job postings that emphasize skills -- and language that emphasizes only an applicant’s ancestry.
"You know, it’s ok in an advertisement for an Italian restaurant to say we’d like someone who has expertise in Italian cuisine, rather than someone who is Italian to come work for us," Carroll said.