Employment Discrimination

onion-1328465Here’s a seasonally appropriate horror story for employers.

As employers know (I hope), Title VII prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of religion. That means that employees cannot be subjected to adverse employment actions based on their own religious beliefs, but also because they refuse to submit to an employer’s religious beliefs. But what is “religion” within the meaning of Title VII? The answer to that is incredibly confusing and very broad – encompassing all sorts of non-traditional belief and morality systems. The Supreme Court has said that determining what is a religious belief “is more often than not a difficult and delicate task.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in its regulations, has provided an expansive definition of religion that includes:

moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. . . . The fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief of the employee or prospective employee.

The effect of this incredibly vague and broad definition means that employers may not always recognize when they’re dealing with a situation involving religion. A striking (perhaps even terrifying) example of this can be found in the recent federal court decision, EEOC v. United Health Programs of America, Inc. Continue Reading Court Finds “Onionhead” Conflict Resolution Program = Religion

Last week, a federal district court in Nevada extended Title VII protections to a transgender employee with respect to bathroom usage by holding that discrimination “because of sex” under Title VII includersghs discrimination based on a person’s gender.

The Plaintiff (Roberts) is a transgender police officer with the Clark County School District (the Department) who identifies as a male officer.  In 2011, Roberts began dressing for work like a man, grooming like a man, and identifying himself as a man.  He also started using the men’s bathroom at work.  Co-workers in turn complained that a woman was using the men’s bathroom.  A meeting was called with Roberts, and his supervisors told him that he could not use the men’s restrooms and that he should only use the gender-neutral restrooms to “avoid any future complaints.”  When Roberts complained about the bathroom ban, he was informed that he would not be allowed to use the men’s restroom until he could provide official documentation of a name and sex change. Continue Reading Nevada Federal Court Finds that Prohibitions on Transgender Employee’s Bathroom Usage is Discrimination Because of Sex under Title VII

ml_rm_iliw_tm_4cc_d_eAs I mentioned in a recent post, “SEIU Fights Its Own Unionization,” the Service Employees International Union has been behind the push at the National Labor Relations Board to extend joint employer status to franchisors, like McDonald’s (meaning that McDonald’s would be deemed an employer of its franchisees’ employees). And now, it is further extending this push – to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On October 5, 2016, (as first reported by The Guardian) Fight for $15 (which is backed and funded by SEIU) announced that it had helped 15 McDonald’s employees (who are also Fight for $15 activists, unsurprisingly) file charges with the EEOC, claiming that they had been sexually harassed by their employers. Apparently only one of the charges was filed against a corporate McDonald’s store – the rest were filed jointly against franchisee stores and McDonald’s Corporation. Continue Reading SEIU Expands Joint Employment Fight to the EEOC

question-markSo I was trolling through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s quarterly Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law (because, yes, I am that much of an employment law nerd), and came across an article that I thought was of particular interest: “Stating a Claim in the EEO Process: Determining One’s Status as Either an Agency Employee or Independent Contractor.” Now this article is supposed to apply only to the federal government agencies as the employer – but I think the principles set forth in it provide guidance to what the EEOC’s position would be for private employers as well. (This is important because employees are covered by federal anti-discrimination and other employment laws; independent contractors are not). Continue Reading The EEOC on Independent Contractor Status

downloadAs I’ve made clear in past posts, I am increasingly frustrated with the current National Labor Relations Board’s clearly pro-union, anti-employer approach. I find many of their decisions to have little or no relationship to common sense or logic. So I found a concurring opinion by Judge Patricia Millett in the recent case of Consolidated Communications, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board to be of particular interest, as she expresses her “substantial concern with the too-often cavalier and enabling approach that the Board’s decisions have taken toward the sexually and racially demeaning misconduct of some employees during strikes.” Judge Millet goes on to say, “These decisions have repeatedly given refuge to conduct that is not only intolerable by any standard of decency, but also illegal in every other corner of the workplace.” (!!!!) Continue Reading Why Does the NLRB Tolerate Racist and Sexist Conduct?

yoga-1159968Employers (hopefully) know that you can’t fire someone based on a legally protected personal characteristic, like race, sex, religion, age or disability (among many other things). But apparently, being “too cute” is not one of them!

In this case, Edwards v. Nicolai, a yoga instructor, Dilek Edwards, worked at a chiropractic and wellness clinic owned by Charles Nicolai and his wife, Stephanie Adams. (Ms. Adams, by the way, is the first openly lesbian Playboy Playmate (Miss November 1992), as reported by the U.K.’s Daily Mail. Isn’t that intriguing?) According to Ms. Edwards, her relationship with Dr. Nicolai was strictly professional. At one point, however, he told Ms. Edwards that his wife might become jealous of her because she was “too cute.” Ms. Edwards only met Ms. Adams once, at the office, and the meeting was cordial. Continue Reading Fired for Being “Too Cute”

That’s an eye-catcher of a title, isn’t it? As reported by the New York Times, Babeland, an adult toy store, became the first sex shop to become unionized. Workers at three New York City locations voted to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, one of the country’s largest retail unions.vienna-2-1552451

Why did they choose to unionize? There were several typical reasons – wanting more transparency around hiring, promotions and discipline, as well as better ways of addressing workplace disputes and grievances.

But there were some other, less typical reasons. One is the customers. I’m sure you aren’t surprised to hear that Babeland’s customers can be, well, difficult. Some of them seem to believe that it’s ok to sexually harass sex shop workers. The workers want management to provide better training and support in dealing with these folks. Continue Reading Sex Shop Workers Unionize

male-709687_640This week, the EEOC issued a Fact Sheet regarding Bathroom Access Rights for Transgender Employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which the EEOC has stated prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  Title VII applies to all federal, state, and local government agencies in their capacity as employers, and to all private employers with 15 or more employees.

In siding with other federal government agencies that have released similar guidance (OSHA, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of Education), the EEOC stated that an employer should allow an employee to use the bathroom that corresponds with the employee’s gender identity. Continue Reading The EEOC’s Fact Sheet on Transgender Access to Bathrooms

The Maryland 2016 legislative session endedshadow-dollar-sign-1239535 on Monday.  A friend of mine mentioned that she heard the General Assembly passed an equal pay law in Maryland. But guess what? There is already an Equal Pay for Equal Work law in Maryland – it’s been in place for almost 25 years!! The current law already prohibits employers from discriminating against employees of one sex who work in the “same establishment” and perform work of comparable character or work in the same operation, in the same business, or of the same type by paying a lesser wage than an employee of another sex.

The equal pay bill mentioned, House Bill 1003, expands the prohibitions on discriminatory pay practices. It also adds an entirely new pay transparency provision. Specifically: Continue Reading “New” Equal Pay Bill for Maryland

Last week, I heard about a British company, Coexist, that is planning to develop a “period policy” to provide menstrual leave to its female employees. As a female employment attorney, I’m a strong believer in equal rights for women, but this notion struck me as so very … odd. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but intuitively it just seemed like a bad idea to me.

So I did a little research, and it turns out that menstrual leave is actually a legal right in certain Asian countries. In 1947, Japan was the first to pass a menstrual leave law. Since then, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and, most recently in 2013, Taiwan, have also enacted such laws. The laws vary as to whether the leave is paid, half-paid, or unpaid, and how much time off may be taken (e.g. as needed each month, X days per month, X days per year). These laws, however, have proven to be controversial, and their effectiveness has been questioned.red-dot

Many argue that the laws perpetuate stereotypes of women as the weaker sex. Some male rights activists (yes, they exist) argue that these laws discriminate against men. One commentator, Tim Worstall at Forbes.com, noted that a new type of paid leave will increase employer costs – and the fact that the paid leave is only available to female employees will likely exacerbate the gender pay gap. Many employers in those countries ignore the laws. And, frankly, it seems that most women are afraid to come forward to ask for menstrual leave, for various reasons – embarrassment, not wanting to burden fellow employees, fear of discrimination or retaliation, etc.

Continue Reading Menstrual Leave – Really?