Monday
Apr042016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Apr. 3-9, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 4/3/16, we against asked the question: Independent contractor or employee? The answer can make a HUGE difference. The answer to the question depends first on whether it is for federal or state purposes. Most often the agency will use the economic realities test. Those factors are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Knowing how to properly classify a worker is important in many ways, including tax withholding and entitlement to the benefit of certain state or federal laws.

The post on Monday 4/4/16 was about Jewish professors filing charges claiming religious discrimination that damaged their reputations & careers. The professors allege that the school's president and other administrators discriminated against them after they spoke out about a lack of a Jewish perspective on campus (which, in turn, has now created a fear in others of speaking out). The post contains additional allegations levelled against the small, 811-undergraduate student school, including that an outside consultant acted as an “enforcer” and further exacerbated matters. The school has denied the allegations. The matter is in the EEOC charge process.

TAKEAWAY: If adverse action is taken or adverse treatment practiced, make sure there is a valid legal reason for same.

In the post on Tuesday 4/5/16 we noted that a failure to timely and thoroughly investigate sexual harassment claims may cost you. A recent federal court decision said that claims of sexual harassment and hostile work environment are not limited to victims of the opposite sex. The decision was based on a finding that the employer failed to take thorough, timely action after a male employee complained of improper, unwanted, offensive physical contact from another male-co-worker. More details are in the post. This case contrasts with one that is binding on PA cases (unless factually distinguishable).

TAKEAWAY: When a complaint of same-sex harassment is filed by an employee, you must investigate it timely and thoroughly, just like you would any other complaint.

The post on Wednesday 4/6/16 provided the Top 10 workplace discrimination claims in 2015 (based on a breakdown from the EEOC). It resolved 92,641 charges in FY15 and secured in excess of $525M for victims in that period. Retaliation was the #1 charge (39,757 charges filed and GINA took the #10 spot with 257 charges filed. The rest are in the post.  

TAKEAWAY: Don’t be (part of) a statistic; always strive to ensure no charges of illegal harassment or discrimination are filed against you.

In the post on Thursday 4/7/16 we talked about a $1.3M discrimination verdict being overturned in a police case. In 2009 the village’s then-Mayor appointed Miguel as the new police chief. A white lieutenant sued the village and Mayor, alleging failure to promote based on race. A jury verdict awarded the lieutenant over $1.3M but ordered a new trial (for procedural reasons).

TAKEAWAY: While this case may not be final yet, it underscores the fact that employers should never make decisions based on race. Period.

The post on Friday 4/8/16 was about how sexual harassment allegations caught up with Peyton Manning after 20 years. He usually maintains a squeaky clean image, but he was named in a complaint filed by a sports team trainer against the University of Tennessee’s athletics department. Facts are in the post but include athletes calling her breasts “midgets” and violence by athletes toward women having been “played down” by supervisors and an effort “made to shield the student athletes”. The 27th allegation concerns Peyton Manning; details are in the post. While that charge was settled, it is still part of a suit recently filed against the University (after an earlier suit filed against Peyton and other family members was also settled and a second suit is closed with no details as to what happened).

TAKEAWAY: Even settled matters involving discrimination and harassment have a way of rearing their ugly heads in the future. The best way to avoid that is to ensure nothing happens to form the basis of a complaint in the first place.

Finally, in the post yesterday 4/9/16, we learned that gay couples sued a hospital for discrimination. Why? Straight couples who worked there were allowed to work in the same unit but the gay couples were not. When the hospital finally relented, it was with behavioral conditions not imposed on hetero couples. Suit was filed earlier this year.

TAKEAWAY: If you allege that an action (or failure to act) violates a policy, make sure that policy has been disseminated and is evenly enforced. Otherwise you too could be facing down the barrel of a suit.

Monday
Mar282016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Mar. 27 - Apr. 2, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 3/27/16, a federal court ruled that a former Dollar Tree assistant manager’s work environment was not hostile. Doreen was hired in Dec 2010 and promoted to assistant store manager shortly after. In Jan 2012 a new supervisor came in. Doreen says that the supervisor harassed her on the bases of sex and religion for a month until she (Doreen) was discharged. Details are in the post, but include that the supervisor told her if she wore a necklace with a cross pendant again he’d rip it off her neck. Many claims were in the initial suit but were disposed of by the trial court; this appeal centered on only the retaliation (hostile work environment) claim. The appellate court also found insufficient evidence of a HWE.

TAKEAWAY: You don’t have to like where you work or the people with whom you work, but that doesn’t make the environment illegal.

In the post on Monday 3/28/16 we learned that a jury awarded $450,000 in a discrimination suit against the county and treasurer. The case was filed in federal court in Illinois by the former Comptroller. Linda alleged that after a hospitalization, she had an impairment that qualified as a disability under the ADA. When she returned to work, she found out her duties were being transferred to someone less experienced than she AND that she had to train that person. More details underlying the suit are in the post (including comments that an employer should never utter). After another hospitalization, her position was eliminated but she alleges that the duties were performed by the other person she trained. Is it any wonder she filed suit under the ADA? Or that the jury found in her favor?

TAKEAWAY: No matter what the employer thinks about a person, it should never be stated aloud unless a lawsuit is sought. Employees with disabilities, or those who have a record of disability or are perceived as having a disability, should be treated like everyone else unless and until they request an accommodation. Anything else might be illegal.

In the post on Tuesday 3/29/16 we talked about when you should consult with an attorney about harassment or discrimination in the workplace. If you are asking the question, the answer is probably NOW. An employee who doesn’t complain but quits may lose the right to sue. Likewise, if an employer is creating a trail in the employee’s file, the employee may or may not have certain rights. Other ways an attorney can help an employee are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: The flip side is that the time for the employer to consult an attorney about alleged harassment or discrimination in the workplace is also NOW. The attorney can help ensure that (1) an investigation is done and done properly and (2) appropriate, legal action is taken as a result if warranted. The attorney can also help the employer document any findings and the basis for taking or not taking any action.

The post on Wednesday 3/30/16 was about a former employee accusing Hahnemann University Hospital of age discrimination. Hits close to home … In a lawsuit filed earlier this year in federal court, the former employee claimed age discrimination based on his job termination. The complaint says that Richard was employed at the Hospital almost 40 years and unexpectedly discharged in mid 2013. He says no reason was given for the discharge (NOTE that, all else being equal and no agreement to the contrary, the employer is not required to have or provide a reason for the discharge, a result of PA’s strong at-will doctrine). Anyhoo, Richard says that he was the most senior of all employees in his department and the discharge was based on age discrimination. The relief he seeks in the suit is detailed in the post.

TAKEAWAY: It is not illegal to discharge an older employee, but make sure you have a solid legal basis to do so, otherwise you too might be staring down the barrel of an age discrimination suit.

In the post on Thursday 3/31/16 we learned that a Vail hotel paid a #1M sex harassment settlement – yep, that’s a lot of snow! The settlement amount from the federal suit brought by the EEOC goes to 8 employees (at least 2 of whom were in the US illegally). The civil suit came on the heels of a criminal case in which the housekeeping manager was convicted of sexually harassing 2 females on his staff (find out how in the post). He was convicted of criminal extortion and unlawful sexual contact. The trial revealed that the primary accusers didn’t complain for more than a year after the fact and that when they did, management was hostile and eventually fired them. Later the police filed criminal charges, he was convicted, and thereafter the EEOC filed its civil suit. The EEOC pointed out that even though some of the women were not in the US legally, the law still protected them in the workplace and suit was appropriate on their behalf. The complaint even alleges that the company’s owner went to have funding cut to the entity assisting the women in filing their EEOC charge (they did not have an attorney) if the continued to assist.

TAKEAWAY: Remember that the laws about discrimination and harassment apply to everyone in the workplace; don’t think that illegal status of an employee will overcome an illegal action by the employer.

The post on Friday 4/1/16 also contained big bucks: an Indian-origin US man won $3.1M in a discrimination suit – no joke! This man was among 47 immigrants denied recruitment as police officers for being foreign born alleged the complaint filed against the Chicago police department. 2 men, one of Indian origin and the other a Belize-born man, won $3.1M. They both took and passed the 2006 police exam but they were rejected for having lived in the US fewer than 10 years. They filed EEOC charges. The suit alleged that the residency rule adversely impacted foreign-born applicants.

TAKEAWAY: As in any other area, make sure that hiring policies have a rational relationship to the job and do not have an adverse impact (intended or otherwise) on any protected class.

Finally, in the post yesterday 4/2/16 – another close to home – we asked is the Rittenhouse Hotel guilty of age discrimination? Here, a former housekeeper, John, filed an age discrimination suit against the Rittenhouse Hotel (the name under which Hersha Hospitality Management operates the property). He said he worked as an assistant executive housekeeper and performed well. He further alleges that Ken, a much younger male, was hired as co-assistant despite having less experience; further, the hotel gave Ken a more desirable shift and reassigned John’s duties to Ken. When John, age 53, was fired but Ken was not, John sued.

TAKEAWAY: This case is recent and as of now we have nothing further. But we can caution employers in this situation to ensure they have valid legal bases for any adverse action taken against someone in a protected class.

Thursday
Mar242016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Mar. 20-26, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 3/20/16, we talked about a woman who claims to be the victim of reverse discrimination. Alicia, a white woman, claimed in a federal suit that she suffered discrimination and retaliation for being white and not Native American. She worked with the employer for about 6 years. In October 2014 she got a new boss. She alleges that in the first few weeks, he made several comments to her suggesting he thought she was of Native American descent. Alicia neither commented nor corrected him. Her children fell ill before Thanksgiving; when she returned to work after taking a few days to care for them, she commented about the employer being closed for the holiday. As part of the ensuing conversation (more details are in the post), it came up that Alicia was not Native American. Her boss’s behavior toward her changed after that, including making other racial comments to her – including that he wanted to hire only Native Americans. Alicia’s complaint also alleges that she took it up the chain of command and, in return, suffered suspension without pay and a discharge in January 2015 (when she was the facility’s deputy director).

TAKEAWAY: It’s not common, but reverse discrimination does happen. Keep your eyes peeled as this one progresses.

The post on Monday 3/21/16 was about Greyhound’s agreement to pay (at least) $375,000 to settle disability claims. That is to be divided $3000 to certain passengers with disabilities and $75,000 for a fine. The settlement came about after allegations by DOJ that Greyhound didn’t maintain required accessibility features on its fleet, failed to help disabled passengers board and exit buses, and failed to let wheelchair-bound customers make reservations on-line. There is an uncapped fund for affected passengers so the $300,000 figure might go a lot higher. Go to the post for more details.

TAKEAWAY: Once again David beats Goliath – all employers must comply with all applicable provisions of the ADA.   

In the post on Tuesday 3/22/16 we asked can you lose your home in a business lawsuit? The answer is, of course, “it depends”. On how your business is set up and whether or not you observe corporate formalities. If you operate as a corporation, LLC, LLP or LP, and observe corporate formalities, your home is probably not reachable by creditors. However, if you operate as a sole proprietorship, the home is probably reachable by creditors.

TAKEAWAY: This question – and the answer – is but one reason someone starting a business should meet with an attorney at the start: to protect assets against a downside.

The post on Wednesday 3/23/16 was about a dyslexic employee winning a discrimination case against Starbucks. Note: this happened in the UK but would probably play out the same here in the US. Starbucks allegedly wrongly accused Meseret, a dyslexic employee, of falsifying documents when she merely misread numbers she was recoding. The tribunal found that Starbucks failed to accommodate under the UK equivalent of the ADA. Details are in the post. A separate hearing will be held to determine the damages to be awarded.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must know of their obligations under the ADA and act so as to fulfill those obligations – else a heavy hammer might fall.

In the post on Thursday 3/24/16 we highlighted an applicant who couldn’t not raise an arm as protected by the ADA. Michael applied for a field engineer position; after an offer, he underwent a pre-employment physical. The employer learned he had unsuccessful surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and couldn’t raise his right arm above his shoulder. Michael told the doctor that he had taken a prescription painkiller, retained the prescription, but no longer took the medication. The doctor cleared him to work if the employer put in place certain restrictions (listed in the post). The employer’s manager said the restrictions would prevent Michael from doing the job. After more back-and-forth between Michael and various of the employer’s departments, including Michael providing additional documentation, the company withdrew its offer of employment based on his inability to climb a ladder. Michael filed a charge with the EEOC; it found the company had failed to perform its obligations under the ADA and issued a right-to-sue letter; Michael sued. The trial court initially ruled in favor of the employer on the basis that the rotator cuff injury did not render Michael disabled under the ADA and that he was not qualified for the position. The appellate court reversed, in part because rescission of the job offer showed Michael “had a substantial impairment in the major life activity of lifting” or that the company believed he did. The case then was allowed to proceed.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must think through the possible repercussions of any adverse action taken against employees and applicants.

The post on Friday 3/25/16 was a finding by a federal court that the Philadelphia School District was not liable for discrimination against a fired janitor. Odell Wray, an African-American high-school janitor, sued the School District for racial discrimination after he was fired. He alleged that it all stemmed from his interracial relationship with a Caucasian teacher at the school. The allegations include that the principal told him “jungle fever” was not allowed at school (and other actions/comments noted in the post). The final incident occurred 11/28/11 when Wray went into the school with a female whom police knew to be a prostitute. When they left the building, Wray told the police he’d gone to get his debit card and let her use the bathroom. She, however, admitted to a sexual encounter inside the building (and that it was not a one-time occurrence). Wray disputed what she said. The next day the police told the principal what happened. There was then a long disciplinary process including hearings and he was fired in April 2013. He sued (you saw that coming, right?), alleging discrimination under the cat’s paw theory. The Judge found no proximate cause between any act motivated by discriminatory animus performed by the non-decision-maker principal and the discharge itself. Details of the analysis are interesting and in the post.

TAKEAWAY: An employer with a legitimate reason and basis for adverse action can indeed take that action (but it should be prepared to show the support if necessary).

Finally, in the post yesterday 3/26/16 we said, don’t cry over spilled milk: best practices for handling nursing employees. Yes this is about employees who are nursing and need to express milk in the workplace. They have both state and federal protection (depending on the state in which they work). In reverse, under Title VII (federal law), there can be no discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or its related medical conditions, one of which is lactation. The post gives some examples of EEOC enforcement guidance on this subject. The FLSA contains applicable provisions (as a result of the ACA!); they include that employers must provide reasonable break time for non-exempt employees to express milk as frequently as needed for one year after childbirth and others mentioned in the post. The FMLA also applies because lactation can result in medical disorders; see the post. In addition to those laws, state or local laws may apply.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must be aware of ALL laws that might apply under their given circumstances. Some other suggested actions are in the post.

Wednesday
Mar162016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Mar. 13-19, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 3/13/16, we alerted you that the EEOC now gives employees access to employer position statements (including exhibits/attachments) upon request. This is a policy change and lets employees get the actual statement rather than just a summary form the EEOC. Because of this, employers must carefully redact information and note on any exhibits or attachments that they are confidential. This change should either really help or really hurt an administrative claimant as s/he will now know what the employer is claiming (and how to counter it if possible). The policy became effective 1/1/16. What is still not part of the policy, however, is employers getting a copy of any response the employee files to the employer’s position statement.

TAKEAWAY: This policy change by the EEOC may give employees an arrow to place in their quiver, but if the employer had a valid, legal basis for any adverse action it took, it probably need not worry.

The post on Monday 3/14/16 taught that a woman sued the school board for discrimination and retaliation under the FMLA. Jill was a teacher for the county for 11 years; she says the employment ended by an illegal discharge in violation of the FMLA (and other laws). In 2014 she had some serious health conditions (details are in the post); she notified the employer and go an approved personal leave. In August she turned in FMLA paperwork but the employer did not change her leave to FMLA leave. She was discharged in October 2014.

TAKEAWAY:  Make sure to follow all the steps related to an FMLA leave – from soup to nuts – to avoid liability.

In the post on Tuesday 3/15/16, we talked about Yahoo sued over employee rankings and alleged anti-male (gender) discrimination. Gary was discharged in 2014. He said that since Yahoo reduced its workforce by more than 30% around that time, he should have gotten a 60-day notice under applicable law. That came 3 months after he had been selected for a prestigious fellowship, Yahoo executives approved his attendance, and he was in the middle of the fellowship. The suit also alleges that supervisors favored female workers and that they received preferential treatment.

TAKEAWAY: Let’s see, we have an older male who was fired when younger women were not. Did Yahoo really think this wouldn’t lead to a suit?

The post on Wednesday 3/16/16 talked about a black bartender’s firing reminding that blatant discrimination still happens. Here it was a six digit lesson for the employer. This took place in a sports bar where, as the author said, one would think “the color of your jersey tends to trump the color of your skin”. Well apparently not so. The owner of a new bar wanted employees to have a certain look to attract the clientele he wanted. A white look, with young, blond female bartenders and servers. He fired a black bartender who had apparently been hired without his knowledge. She sued. The jury award is in the post. And the owner was not subtle about it: apparently he would not shake her hand, fired her within an hour, and thereafter insisted on seeing every applicant pre-offer “to prevent the hiring of another African-American employee”. To make things worse (yes they could be), the bar closed early one night when the clientele was predominantly African-American and used a fake guest list the next night to discourage African-American customers. And there’s even more in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Everyone should know that race has nothing to do with job performance - so don’t make adverse employment decisions based on race. Just don’t do it.

In the post on Thursday 3/17/16, we learned that another Disney security worker filed suit. What is in the air there in the Mouse House? The suit by a long-time employee (24 years!) alleges discrimination or retaliation. What happened? She says she didn’t get a promotion because she is married to an African-American. She filed an internal complaint, after which she was told she could no longer work in the security division. She ended up as a custodial administrative assistant. And the internal complaint was determined to be unfounded. Go figure. More details on this and the other 7 suits are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: We’ve said it before and will again: Employers should have a valid, legal reason to take adverse action against an employee – especially when there is a protected characteristic or other legal implication on the horizon.

The post on Friday 3/18/16 dealt with an employee’s age discrimination suit that settled for $600,000. Here, Lori, a municipal employee who had filed suit against her employer alleging age discrimination, retaliation and failure to prevent discrimination will receive a $600,000 settlement AND a new job. After Lori got a preliminary layoff notice, and in response to her inquiry, she was told reassignment was not an option. However, after Lori was laid off, the employer reassigned a co-worker with less seniority to a temporary position in another office after that position’s predecessor was also reassigned. Details are in the post. So this co-worker (who got the position Lori wanted): she is also the comparator in a suit filed by the EEOC against the same employer alleging a failure to properly hire.

TAKEAWAY: Again, adverse actin should have solid legal footing – or a solid check will be written by the employer to the subject employee as happened here.

Finally, in the post yesterday 3/19/16, we learned that Rental Pro will pay $37,000 to settle a discrimination suit. Age yet again. In this suit the EEOC alleges that the employer fired Ronald, age 52, due to age, that the employer wanted “younger and peppier” employees to bring “young blood” into the company. Wrong. Now the only blood that was involved was that being wrung from the employer along with the settlement payment.

TAKEAWAY: Employers, are you listening? Age will rarely if ever be an indicator of job performance or ability, so don’t take adverse action on account of age.

Monday
Mar072016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Mar. 6-12, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 3/6/16, we noted that all dogs go to heaven, but can they go to work? Dogs become family members to some people; they often calm and comfort people, hence the desire to bring them to work. The ADA doesn’t talk of service dogs, so they must be looked at under the accommodation context (and as part of the interactive process). The ADA does define ‘service animal”, so that is one starting point, but it applies only to public accommodations and not employers. Tips on what an employer should do are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t just reject out of hand an employee’s request to bring his/her dog to work. Find out on what the request is based and work through whether allowing the dog’s presence may be legally required.

The post on Monday 3/7/16 was about 7 policy provisions to curb FMLA abuse. Yes Virginia, FMLA leave is an entitlement under certain circumstances, but that doesn’t mean employers have no control over it. The post lists 7 provisions that should appear in a handbook concerning FMLA leave, including that all leave requests should be in writing and medical certifications and recertifications will be required.  The other tips are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: While the employee is away (on FMLA leave), the employer … will still control the basics of the leave as outlined in the post, starting with how the leave will be requested.

In the post on Tuesday 3/8/16, we talked about 2 reasons not to forget about the ADA’s interactive process. What are the reasons? NC and WI. The states where we find the defendants in 2 recent cases dealing with the ADA interactive accommodation process. Read the post for details on the cases.

TAKEAWAY: If the employer knows of the need for reasonable accommodation, it must, in good faith, engage in the interactive process.  Period.

The post on Wednesday 3/9/16 we learned that Cessna settled a disability discrimination suit (and isn’t flying so high now). It will be paying $167,500 to 2 former employees. Read the post for more.

TAKEAWAY: Just because an employee has a disability does not mean the person cannot perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. The employer’s first step should NOT be to take adverse action based on the disability.

In the post on Thursday 3/10/16, we moved close to home where an ex-employee accused Medical Products Laboratories of racial discrimination. James filed suit in federal court, alleging unlawful termination and discrimination based on race. He said he had excellent evals, but that a co-worker, subjected Liberian- and African-descent employees to discrimination, including doing unnecessary work. More details are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must ensure that employees at all levels are trained in what is and is not discriminatory and told the company does not tolerate the former.

The post on Friday 3/11/16 told us the diocese settled with a food pantry coordinator fired for a same-sex union. This part of sex discrimination is the new (but now here) frontier. So what (allegedly) happened? The diocese specifically cited to her same-sex union as the reason for dismissal (which happened only after the marriage became public and mentioned the church); she sued the diocese and its former bishop. Coincidentally, the settlement came 2 days after a judge decided that 2 of her 3 claims could proceed to a jury trial. More details are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: The dismissed claim was based on employment discrimination against an ecclesiastical entity; this was one of a few (if not the only) situations where religion can trump normal employment discrimination statutes and jurisprudence.

Finally, in the post yesterday 3/12/16 we learned that Two Hawk Employment Services was dues by the EEOC for disability discrimination. Two Haw is a temp agency; it allegedly asked an applicant illegal medical questions during the application process and, to top that, refused to hire the applicant based on the responses. Ugh.

TAKEAWAY: Make sure you know what you can and cannot legally ask of applicant and employees relative to their ability to perform essential functions of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Not knowing will land you in hot water.

Monday
Feb292016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Feb. 28 – Mar. 5, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 2/28/16, we asked whether an employer can prohibit an employee from job hunting during FMLA leave. The answer is – as it is so many times – it depends. On whether or not the “no looking for a job” policy applies to all employees or just those on FMLA leave (with the latter being illegal). On whether employers want happy employees who want to be there …

TAKEAWAY: A policy can be legal if applied to all employees, but once you start applying it only to a protected class (in this case employees on approved FMLA leave), the legal problems begin.

The post on Monday 2/29/16 was about termination: employee fired for making sexual remarks (and whether it was legal). Here, a federal appeals court affirmed dismissal of a race discrimination suit against the Arkansas DHS. The quick and dirty background (more details are in the post) is that DHS hired Sharon, an African-American female, in February 2010. The 3 clients initially assigned to her were later reassigned to another female employee, Woods. During Sharon’s first visit in 2013, Woods was told that the admissions coordinator had received an inappropriate call at work from Sharon in which Sharon made moaning sounds and made comments including that Sharon was “dying for sex”. Woods was also told that Sharon called back; the admissions coordinator had someone else answer the phone; during the second call, Sharon repeated her comments. Woods told her supervisor and then, upon direction, a manager. An investigation ensured. Sharon denied making the calls. DHS terminated Sharon on September 5th. She internally grieved the discharge; the discharge was upheld after an internal fact-finding hearing and Sharon again appealed. While that appeal was pending Sharon also filed a charge with the EEOC. The grievance panel found in Sharon’s favor; soon after, the EEOC issued a Right to Sue letter. Sharon then sued, alleging race discrimination via the discharge, failure to promote, and failure to reinstate (per the grievance panel’s award). More details on the charges are in the post. On appeal, the appellate court agreed with dismissal of the failure-to-promote and failure-to-reinstate claims for lack of exhaustion of admin remedies. It also agreed with dismissal of the wrongful termination claim for lack of evidence supporting a reasonable inference that DHS’s proffered reason for discharge was pretextual.

TAKEAWAY: Make sure you have support for any adverse action against an employee, but especially when the employee falls into a protected category (such as here with race).

In the post on Tuesday 3/1/16, we talked about the FMLA: when absences and certifications don’t match up. What is an employer to do in this situation? The employer should request recertification – allowable every 30 days unless an exception (see the post) applies. If the original certification and actual absences differ, then that might constitute a change in duration and frequency permitting the employer to recertify. The employer should request the same information as in the original certification, but updated (and may ask if the need for leave is consistent with the absences that have occurred). Recertification is at the sole expense of the employee.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t just let employees on leave run amok – monitor the leaves and whether or not they fit within the approved parameters (and take action if they don’t fit).

The post on Wednesday 3/2/16 was about the Trump campaign sued for gender discrimination. Elizabeth alleges that men and women with the same job titles were not paid equally, that men planned and spoke at rallies while she was not allowed to do that, and that when she met Trump at a rally last summer he told her and another female volunteer, “You guys could do a lot of damage”, referring to their looks. She also alleges that her discharge was gender-related (males who took the same action were not discharged). More details are in the post. Trump denies the allegations.

TAKEAWAY: It’s the season of politics, but that doesn’t give candidates carte blanche to violate the law – let’s see how this one plays out.

In the post on Thursday 3/3/16 we asked if you use the rolling method to calculate FMLA leave (and how one employer learned the hard way). This all starts with the FMLA allowing leave in a 12-month period without specifying how that period is to be calculated (but giving options – see the post). One method is a rolling year, counting backward from the date of an FMLA leave. But if the employer, who sets the method of calculation, fails to tell employees how it will calculate, then the calculation will be deemed to favor the employee (and might put the employer on the wrong side of the law).

TAKEAWAY: Employers can choose the calculation method they will use for FMLA purposes, but to stay out of hot water must tell employees about it and apply it uniformly.

The post on Friday 3/4/16 mentioned not necessarily the mark of the beast: how to accommodate sincerely-held religious beliefs. The first reference is, of course, to the case where an employee refused, on religious grounds, to sue a biometric hand scanner and the company did not offer him any alternatives (but did to physically handicapped individuals). So what should an employer do in a situation involving religious accommodation? The process begins when management learns of a religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement. After that, the employer must determine if the belief is sincerely held – whether or not it’s widely-held or popular. The next steps are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Just as employers have learned the interactive accommodation process for disabilities under the ADA, so too must they learn the process when dealing with sincerely-held religious beliefs. And one case is almost never the same as another.

Finally, the post yesterday 3/5/16 talked of Cheddar’s settlement with the EEOC of a sexual harassment suit for $450,000. Yep, that’s a lotta cheese! (Yeah, I know, boo hiss on the attempt at humor.) The EEOC filed suit, alleging hostile work environment by the employer allowing sexual conversations and jokes and letting a GM and bar manager subject female employees to sexual harassment and failure to remedy after complaint. Details of the actions are in the post and include touching. Yuck. Well, Cheddar’s settled and will pay $450,000 to 15 individuals plus other relief. .

TAKEAWAY: The EEOC said it best: “Having and disseminating an anti-harassment policy does not satisfy federal prohibitions against sexual harassment … Employers must also enforce it ….”

Tuesday
Feb232016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Feb. 21-27, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 2/21/16, we learned of a manufacturer accused of age discrimination – it asked about age in its application form! The quick and dirty is that Seymour Midwest, a hand-tool manufacturer, picked 58-year-old Steve from an applicant pool for the position of Senior VP of Sales, asked questions (see the post) including whether he was within the company’s “ideal” 45-52 age range, then refused to hire him after getting the answers. The EEOC filed suit.

TAKEAWAY: Age almost always has nothing to do with a job (or the qualifications of an applicant or employee to do the job) – so don’t get caught up taking illegal action based on age.

The post on Monday 2/22/16 was hot, hot hot: a sex discrimination suit against Chipotle. Yes it still has problems from the E. coli outbreak. But apparently that wasn’t enough – now Chipotle is facing another suit. 3 former general managers sued, alleging wrongful termination based on sex. The women say that despite receiving similar or better performance evaluation, they were not treated as well as male GMs. The jury was made up of 3 men and 5 women. Part of the early testimony described the former area manager as saying “There sure are a lot of overweight women working here.” Other statements by or about him are in the post. Chipotle argues that the women performed poorly (well, what else did you expect them to say?)

TAKEAWAY: Few cases actually go to trial; when they do, there is often a smoking gun in the hand of the plaintiff. Employers beware!

In the post on Tuesday 2/23/16, we talked about the new way sex discrimination suits will be framed – employers pay attention! Here suit was brought by a mother claiming the insurance carrier refused to pay for her teenage son’s health care during his female to male transition. He was diagnosed in November 2014 and prescribed medications. The insurer says that services and surgery for gender reassignment are specifically excluded. The mother says that if her son had been born a boy, one of the medications would have been covered and if born a girl, the other would also have been covered. Interestingly, the suit also says that the EEOC found reasonable cause for sex discrimination.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must be aware of the minefield that surrounds gender identity, including reassignment, and take care not to make adverse decisions based on same – the EEOC now includes this under sex discrimination.

The post on Wednesday 2/24/16 gave us more hot: Chipotle lost the sex discrimination suit. In a case that went all the way to a jury trial, the verdict was that 3 former general managers were wrongfully terminated based on gender and FMLA violations. The suit claimed a regional manager treated these 3 women differently than male managers. Read the post for more details. The verdict included about $600,000 in damages – mucho caliente!

TAKEAWAY: As an employer there is a chance that illegal conduct on your part may go unchecked, but when you get caught, you will get absolutely stung – so just don’t do it.

In the post on Thursday 2/25/16 we learned (and saw) that Dorney Park offered to rehire a special needs employee after a socmed outrage. So what happened? Chris, a special-needs man, had worked at Dorney Park for 12 seasons, mostly keeping bathrooms clean. Dorney Park changed its interviews for the 2016 season – it now included various activities as listed in the post. Chris didn’t do well; in fact, he says he was told he “didn’t fit in”. Well, that hit socmed and exploded. The next day he received an offer for the 2016 season. Dorney Park’s response is in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Employers are free to hire (and fire) to meet their needs as long as there is no legal violation along the way.

The post on Friday 2/26/16 told us that Rental Pro will pay $37,000 over age discrimination allegations as part of a settlement with the EEOC. The suit alleged that it had terminated the employment of Ronald Johnson, age 52, based on age, as the owner wanted “younger and peppier” employees and more (see the post).

TAKEAWAY: Know the protected characteristics and don’t make adverse employment decisions based in any way on those characteristics. Period.

Finally, the post yesterday 2/27/16 talked about the EEOC suing a Subway franchise for firing an HIV-positive worker. The suit was filed seeking back pay and punitive damages for the unnamed employee who was “fully capable of working and experienced in the restaurant industry”. When the employer found out he was HIV-positive, it fired him. What reason did Subway give him? Read the post.

TAKEAWAY: Employers should not act without knowing the facts – if an employee cannot perform the job (with or without reasonable accommodation), then it might be legally ok to discharge that employee. But acting before knowing … BAD.

Monday
Feb152016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Feb. 14-20, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 2/14/16, we wished you a Happy Valentine’s Day (and took a break from the legal).

TAKEAWAY: Sometimes a break is a good thing!

The post on Monday 2/15/16 noted that an employee who threatened to kill a supervisor before psychological treatment may be fired. OK, so this is (hopefully) not your everyday scenario. By way of background, Mayo and others complained that a supervisor was bullying them; 1 reported on the hotline. HR met with the employees. In the presence of co-workers, Mayo then made several threats of gun violence against the supervisors (and others); the threats were reported by the co-workers. After a meeting with Mayo, HR suspended him, barred him from the property, and made a police report. Mayo was hospitalized after a police interview and, thereafter, took 2 months of medical leave. He was cleared to return to work with a suggestion of a different supervisor. The company discharged him. Mayo then brought suit under disability law. More details are in the post. The federal appeals court said that since Mayo couldn’t appropriately handle stress and interact with others, he was not a ‘qualified” individual (and thus there was no violation).

TAKEAWAY: Employers are not helpless in the face of an employee with mental problems, especially when that person might present a threat of violence to self or others.

In the post on Tuesday 2/16/16, we learned that The Pines of Clarkston will pay $42,500 to settle an EEOC disability discrimination suit (resulting from this elderly care center discharging after learning about epilepsy). The employer runs assisted living facilities. The suit alleged that it fired the administrator after learning about her epilepsy (through a medical exam). We don’t know why the medical exam took place, but we know the employer settled the suit.  

TAKEAWAY: Just don’t – take adverse action against an employee (or applicant) based on disability, that it. First engage in the interactive accommodation process (assuming the person is qualified for same).

The post on Wednesday 2/17/16 asked a confidentiality conundrum: can you reveal a complaint to stop sexual harassment? A federal court was faced with this question and answered in the affirmative. Here, Daniel was a married, heterosexual RN. He worked in pediatric ICU as 1 of 2 male nurses in a total group of 9. He claimed that the females harassed him over a period of 5 months, including joking about him having a homosexual relationship with another male nurse in the unit. More of the alleged comments are in the post. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he said doctors and residents joined in too. They never heeded his requests to stop (but instead it got worse). After the employer called a meeting, some comments stopped, but others (and behaviors) did not. He then complained about the retaliation. At HR’s urging that Daniel transfer within the hospital, he looked and didn’t accept 1 offer and skipped an interview for another. The employer then discharged him. He sued. And lost.

TAKEAWAY: If an employer suggests a method of resolving a situation to which the employee agrees, the employee’s failure to participate in implementation is at his/her peril.

The post on Thursday 2/18/16 asked if you can fire an employee for refusing to work overtime. The answer depends (on whether or not the person is bound by a contract or agreement or is an at-will employee).  If the former, then the terms of the document will govern. If the employment is at-will, then the employer can probably fire the employee who refuses to work overtime – as long as the discharge stems solely form that and is for no illegal reason.

TAKEAWAY: Unless there is a writing to the contrary, you can force employees to work overtime – just make sure to pay them properly (and take action you consider appropriate if they refuse the work).

The post on Friday 2/19/16 told us that some people never quit … on racial and ethnic discrimination and retaliation. What do I mean? Well, the owner of Peters’ Bakery allegedly harasses Marcela Ramirez, a sales clerk, with repeated derogatory comments and jokes and eventually fired her. Examples of the comments are in the post. She filed charges with the EEOC. What did the bakery do then? Filed a defamation suit against her (which was dismissed), delayed job reinstatement, told co-workers about her charge and wrote her up. The bakery then tried to fire her again but the EEOC got a TRO. The case is now headed for trial (unless it earlier settles).

TAKEAWAY: When an employer does something that is illegal, it should not dig in its hells and make the situation worse for itself. Rather, it should try to make amends and come out with its head (and reputation) held high if possible.

Finally, the post yesterday 2/20/16 said “I’m Outta Here” – what to do when an employee quits without notice. Do NOT get excited or go on a rampage. So keep it professional, tell staff (under most circumstances), and the other steps mentioned in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Most employment is at-will. While it is usually the employer who ends the employment relationship, sometimes it is the employee who quits – and with no notice at that. Just have a Plan B in case this ever happens.

Thursday
Feb112016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Feb. 7-13, 2016

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 2/7/16, we looked close to home where a Franklin County employee alleged disability discrimination. The man claimed in his suit that he was discharged based on his disability and need for accommodation. The employer was the Franklin County Jail (part of Franklin County). He was a correctional officer for several years; he was injured in May 2013 and, thereafter, required accommodation to work as his ability to walk, climb stairs, and perform manual tasks was limited. His suit claims that he was subjected to a hostile work environment after being placed on light duty, that his complaints were not dealt with properly, and that he was discharged in retaliation for the complains. More details are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: The jury’s still out on this one as the case was just filed in July 2015. But employers can take from it that any adverse action should have a sound, valid, legal basis of support – or risk the employer being named as a defendant in a suit.

The post on Monday 2/8/16 talked about religious accommodation and 5 steps to avoid liability after Abercrombie. The reasons the Supreme Court ruled against Abercrombie are in the post, including the applicant wore a head scarf to the interview and it violated Abercrombie’s dress code. Abercrombie was a good case because it stressed that Title VII has no requirement of knowledge (contrary to the ADA). So what does an employer who wants to be legally compliant do now? 5 tips are in the post, including not assuming and not asking.

TAKEAWAY: It is harder and harder for employers to toe the line and find or keep good employees, but they must toe that line or face possible suit. A good employment attorney will help you stay on the right side of the line.

In the post on Tuesday 2/9/16, we learned that wineries often overlook harassment liability. OK, be honest, even if you don’t care about the legal angle, it’s always interesting to read about wineries, right? Winery employees are often in the field, not office, so harassment training is apparently less (or even non-existent). This can be costly for the employer, especially in places with workforces consisting largely of minority employees. There is also the danger that those with whom the wineries contract for labor will be considered joint employers, making the winery liable for the actions of the contractor. Some tips on how to prevent liability are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: While wineries seem a world away to many of us, they are in fact just another type of workplace. And all workplaces need to ensure legal compliance or face complaints or, worse, suits.

The post on Wednesday 2/10/16 was about a trend alert: NLRB holds employee acting alone engages in concerted activity (and yes, ALL employers care about this). Why do all employers care? Because whether or not the workplace is unionized, employees still have the right under the NLRA to protected concerted activity. Here, by decision 7/29/15, the NLRB said that a lone employee, acting alone, and without the consent of his peers, engaged in protected activity. Yep, many of us are shaking our heads. The employee filed a collective action (not a class action) suit where other members must opt in to participate. The employee was the only named plaintiff and there was no evidence he planned or even discussed the filing with other employees or that they wanted to op in. However, the NLRB said that by initiating the action, the employee sought to initiate or induce group action and, thus, engaged in protected concerted activity.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must be careful, very careful, now that action by a single employee could implicate the NLRA and its protections. Discuss this and any questions with a knowledgeable employment attorney.

In the post on Thursday 2/11/16, we talked about an unsolved problem: claims of post-employment retaliation by (formerly) problem employees. By now you know (or should) that in most circumstances, retaliation against employees is in itself illegal (so just don’t go there). But did you know that actions against former employees may also be illegal retaliation? Actions like providing poor references or refusing to provide a reference, contesting UC applications, and others (in the post). Just don’t do it – resist the urge.

TAKEAWAY: When employers take these types of actions, they may find themselves subject to suit by a former employee. Just when you thought you were done with that person …

The post on Friday 2/12/16 told us that a black nurse’s lawsuit over a white patient’s care was dismissed. So what happened? Tamika Foster said that the hospital intentionally discriminated against black workers, that she was subjected to an adverse employment action, and that she lost a promotion due to her race.  The comment that was apparently the last straw was this, made by a nursing supervisor: “You know, the people in 312 don’t want any black people in there … so just – for now just don’t even worry about it. Don’t go in there.” More details are in the post. The judge dismissed the race discrimination suit since Foster could show no change in shift, hours, position, title, duties, status, pay, benefits or other significant employment aspect based on that nursing assignment. The judge’s decision on the other claims is also in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Possessing a protected characteristic is not alone sufficient to carry the day – there must still be facts to back up any claim of discrimination.

Finally, the post yesterday 2/13/16 told us that Celadon Trucking settled a discrimi-nation suit for $200,000 (a lot of miles). The suit was filed by the EEOC and alleged that Celadon discriminated on the basis of disability by making certain applicants take medical exams before a conditional offer of employment was extended to them (and also by discriminating against applicants based on disability or perceived disability). After the judge’s intermediate rulings (which are in the post), the case settled.

TAKEAWAY:  Remember that the ADA protects not only employees but also applicants for employment – make sure you ae in compliance when dealing with both groups.

Monday
Feb012016

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week – Jan. 31 - Feb. 6

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

In the post on Sunday 1/31/16 we learned of a company held in contempt for failure to follow a court order (including providing information and paying the EEOC’s attorney’s’ fees). This relates back to a prior post about Sparx Restaurant which operated as a Denny’s. By Order dated 7/28/15, the federal court held it in contempt for violating a prior order requiring it to provide information to the EEOC (about its financial status) and to pay the EEOC’s attorney’s’ fees. That prior order was after the EEOC got a judgment (after jury verdict) that the company retaliated against an employee by firing him after complaining about a racist posting in the Sparx workplace. Sparx didn’t pay so the EEOC began collection efforts. Details on those efforts (and what the contempt against Sparx entails) are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: It’s bad enough that you be found in violation of laws preventing discrimination – don’t pile on top of that and flaunt the order that found you in violation.

The post on Monday 2/1/16 was about a man suing Little Caesars for sexual discrimination – pizza pizza – not not. Troy was subjected to what he claimed was unlawful discrimination based on his sexual orientation. He says he was commonly called “faggot” and the company also made unwelcome and insulting slurs based on his sexual orientation. As if that weren’t enough, he says the company was made aware of this and failed to take timely and appropriate action to correct the problem. Want more? He alleges that in 2014 he was suspended without pay during a 3-day investigation based on an unfounded complaint against him and that post investigation, the company told the supervisor to “make something up” and “fire the … faggot anyway”. He was fired shortly after. More details are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: The EEOC has said that sexual orientation is covered under the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex, so don’t do it. Just don’t.

In the post on Tuesday 2/2/16, a woman alleged gender-based discrimination at work. This case was filed in the federal court with jurisdiction over Central Pennsylvania, against a former employer and 2 individuals alleging sex and gender-based discrimination and retaliation after reporting the former. Jean started working for the employer in September 2011 and almost immediately was subjected to continuous gender-based discrimination: males excluding her from interactions and communications and management favoring males employees (as detailed in the post). She began to complaint in 2013 but nothing was done about it (other than retaliation by or on behalf of the employer). The employer says she was terminated as a result of a customer complaint, to which Jean responds “pretext”. More juicy details are in the post.   

TAKEAWAY: Whenever an employee is in one or more protected classes, make sure you have clear support for any adverse action – or you may find yourself in a situation as did this employer.

The post on Wednesday 2/3/16 was about avoiding lawsuits: legal versus illegal interview questions. Be careful when asking any question that touches on a protected characteristic, including age, race, national origin, religion, gender, disability and pregnancy. Don’t wait until suit is filed to revamp the questions you ask job applicants; do it now! Examples of questions you cannot ask include: What is your race? What country are you from? When did you graduate from high school? Do you have children? Do you celebrate religious holidays? Are you taking any medications? Have you ever been arrested? More are in the post. Examples of questions that are permissible include Are you authorized to work in the US? Are you over the age of 18? Would you be willing to work overtime? We often work on holidays and weekends; will this be problematic for you? Can you perform the essential functions of the job? Have you been convicted of theft, embezzlement, or other similar crimes (only if related to the job requirements)? Other examples of legal questions are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: There are ways to elicit the information you seek about potential employees – just make sure you do it the right way. Consult an employment law attorney if you’re not sure.

In the post on Thursday 2/4/16, we talked about a soda & beer manufacturer settling a gender and disability discrimination and retaliation suit for $72,500. Taprite, based in San Antonio, has settled a suit filed by the EEOC. The claims included that Taprite subjected a female employee to sex-based wage discrimination, disability discrimination and retaliation after she questioned the wage disparity between sexes. The EEOC alleged Taprite paid a male more than $3/hour more than this female employee for substantially the same job and that she was retaliated against when complaining about the wage disparity (how tit retaliated is in the post, as are additional background details).

TAKEAWAY: Before taking adverse action against an employee – any employee – make sure it is supported by credible, legal facts/evidence. If not, you too may be visited by the EEOC.

The post on Friday 2/5/16 asked under the FMLA does texting applies to a call-in policy. A federal court said it might and sent the matter back for trial. So what’s the background? ON 12/28/11, Supervisor Delbert was ill and didn’t go to work; he had his girlfriend report his illness for that day and the next few. She fold Delbert’s supervisor of the late/absence on 12/28. Delbert also texted his supervisor – before shift start – about the illness and absence for a few days. While the company’s policy required personal calls to the direct supervisor, Delbert says he often texted his supervisor. He was out 12/28, 12/29 and 12/30 and not scheduled to work 12/31, 1/1 or 1/2. He went to a doctor ½. ON 1/3 he presented the employer with a doctor’s note covering 12/28 – 1/7; he requested leave for those dates, intending to to be FMLA leave. He completed the employer’s form, saying someone else checked the “non-FMLA” box after he signed it. He was approved for non-FMLA leave. He returned 1/9 and was terminated (after investigation by the employer – the details are in the post). He sued for FMLA interference and discrimination for the FMLA leave. The trial court ruled for the company and Delbert appealed. The appellate court analyzed his claims under applicable law and found sufficient factual questions to enable him to go to trial.

TAKEAWAY: If you have a policy, make sure it is followed uniformly; otherwise, you cannot rely on that policy to support adverse employment actions.

Finally, the post on Saturday 2/6/16 talked about handling the habitual leave employee – under the FMLA and ADA. You know, those employees who try to game the system? So what can you do? Know who has what obligations under both the FMLA and ADA and how the 2 might be connected. Document, document, document, Put in place, update, and uniformly enforce leave policies. And create accurate job descriptions. More details under each of these items are in the post.

TAKEAWAY:  You can’t stop someone from trying to game the system, but you can make that employee play by the rules of the game. Know what those rules are before you go to bat.