The distinction is significant. It stands to reason that a person, employed or not, should not be discouraged from applying for a job. Indeed, with unemployment still higher than anyone is comfortable with, the long and short-term unemployed should not be discouraged from trying to become gainfully employed. But stating that companies cannot discriminate against the unemployed in their hiring decision will make companies even more wary about interviewing unemployed applicants. With many job openings getting hundreds of applications, an employer can easily rationalize why the select certain candidates for an interview. However, once the select few are interviewed, an unemployed interviewee that is not selected now has a basis to sue the employer.
Now employers have to worry not only about not discriminating against the disabled and those falling within the immutable characteristics of age, race, sex, religion, and national origin, they now have to worry about the new "immutable characteristic" of unemployed status. I certainly sympathize with the plight of the unemployed, but I doubt this is the appropriate way to address the problem (inviting more subjective litigation, as if there is not a plethora of discrimnation lawsuits already pending and clogging up the justice system).
Now that NYC has seemingly made 'unemployed status' equivalent to the long-recognized protected statuses (immutable characteristics) pursuant to Title VII, the ADA, ADEA and similar state statutes, what is next? Will we next prevent people from being discriminated against based upon the prestige of the university where they graduated? Will employers have to consider a degree from Capella University equivalent to one received from Yale or risk a lawsuit for prestige discrimination? If that happens, watch out Marissa Meyer and Yahoo - you might be in trouble!