Employment Discrimination

Some employers view a reduction in force as an apparently easy and clean way to get rid of employees they do not want – like poor performers, who have not been properly performance-managed.  There may even be less appropriate considerations in mind – an older employee viewed as slowing down, an employee with health problems who has missed a lot of work, a pregnant employee who will need leave after her child’s birth. These employers assume that if the employee accepts a severance package and signs a release, the matter is closed.  The case of Hawks v. Ballantine Communications, Inc., however, highlights the peril of such thinking.
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In my occasional series on extraordinary employee misconduct, I was both shocked and amused by a case involving a trooper who was fired after he hit on a female motorist after arresting her! While he was on a last chance agreement for (wait for it…) hitting on another female motorist after arresting her! I mean, I know the dating scene can be rough, but this really does not seem like a good dating approach.
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An employee requested that she be permitted to leave work early every day due to her anxiety triggered by driving home in heavy traffic (those of us in major metropolitan areas would never survive!). When her demand was rejected and she ended up being terminated, Heather Trautman brought suit against her employer, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and related state laws, Trautman v. Time Warner Cable Texas, LLC.
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When a company relaxes its workplace policies to allow employees to openly display tattoos and use social media at work, does that mean it’s discriminating against older people? That question presumes that only younger people have tattoos and use social media (which is itself discriminatory!). But, in Wyss v. PetSmart, Inc., a 60-year old employee attempted to use her employer’s social media policy and permission to display tattoos and piercings as evidence of age discrimination!
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A recent case highlighted a important point under the Americans with Disabilities Act that is often overlooked – reasonable accommodations are not limited only to enabling employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs! They must also be provided to allow those employees to enjoy privileges and benefits of employment equal to non-disabled employees!
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It has become an all too familiar story in this age of #MeToo (although this one has a twist, as you’ll see below): a supervisor using managerial authority to pressure a subordinate to give sexual favors. In this story, the employee claims the pressure started at hire, involved the supervisor demanding attention, favors, gifts and even food then escalating to demands for sex in the office. The employee needed the job and ultimately concluded that sex was the only performance metric that mattered because the clear implication was that the supervisor would ruin the employee if the employee did not comply.
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Before I became a lawyer or even considered the profession, I was a waitress. I also was a feminist.  I was 18 and working at a restaurant In Providence RI.  Ronnie’s Rascal House!  One of the line cooks constantly called me “honey, baby and sweetie.”  Every time I put an order check on the wheel and spun it to him into the kitchen, he said it. One day I had had enough and I said, “I am not your honey or baby or sweetie.”  I snapped those words. He looked at me stunned and said, “I am sorry. I had no idea.”  After that we became very good friends.
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A recent case brought something to my attention that I had not focused on before. As noted by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Vodopivec v. Anthony’s LLC, Section 1981’s specific prohibition on “race discrimination” encompasses more than just the traditional notions of race – it also includes ancestry and ethnicity! But not national origin. What?!!!
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I was perusing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s recently released Volume 2 of its 2018 Federal Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law (yes, I know I need some better hobbies), and noticed an article entitled, “Assessing Workplace Harassment Prevention Methods Through Comparisons With Similar Crime Prevention Strategies.” The article posits that “[b]y comparing harassment prevention strategies to similar crime prevention efforts, for which empirical research already exists, the EEOC hopes to identify useful tools for preventing workplace harassment.” Well, that struck me as an interesting, if somewhat questionable, approach. But let’s look at what the EEOC says.
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This week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission trumpeted a $4.4 million settlement in a lawsuit in which the EEOC claimed that Amsted Rail had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by disqualifying applicants based on the results of a test for carpal tunnel syndrome. In the EEOC’s press release, Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney for the EEOC’s St Louis District Office, was quoted as follows: “While it is lawful under some circumstances for employers to conduct limited medical exams after making conditional offers to job applicants, it is not ‘anything goes’.” Wait, what? Actually, I thought it was “anything goes” at that point!
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