Layoffs Without Lawsuits: Avoiding Litigation When Terminating Employees

Managers who approach their employees carefully in the wake of economic job eliminations may avoid legal problems later.

Phillip M. Perry, Staff Editor, Area Development  (Apr/May 09)

With the recession wreaking havoc on revenues, business owners from coast to coast are reducing employment rolls to control operating costs. Too often, though, terminations are carried out in ways that spark costly litigation.

“Given the increasing number of layoffs in recent months, there is bound to be an uptick in wrongful discharge lawsuits,” says Joseph P. Harkins, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of San Francisco-based Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest employment law firm representing management.

Lawsuits increase during economic downturns for three reasons. First, the fact that more people are being let go increases the pool of possible litigants. Second, a growing array of federal and state laws protects workers from discrimination during termination, providing the grounds for lawsuits. Third, many attorneys are themselves looking for more business, and thus are willing to represent plaintiffs on a contingency basis. That encourages litigation by terminated workers who see courtroom awards as valid replacements for lost paychecks.

Avoid Litigation
Discharged employees may bring two types of lawsuits. The first alleges a straightforward legal failure: Perhaps the employer has ignored a written or oral employment contract, or violated public policy in firing people for undertaking jury duty or some other federal or state mandate.

Discrimination lawsuits are more common in a recession, because many layoffs present the appearance of bias against protected groups even when no such unfairness was intended. The plaintiffs assert that terminations were influenced by age, sex, race, religion, national origin, or disability. Such cases require more time and cost to defend – and employers can be hit with huge punitive damages. You can avoid this trap by defining the goal of your work force reduction, then assuring your terminations support that goal.

“Probably the most important thing is to set an objective,” says Harkins. Perhaps your goal is a straight forward downsizing: “Do you need to reduce head count and control costs?” he says. “In that case, you need to do a ranking of all of your employees, keeping the best and laying off the worst.”

Or your goal might be more strategic. “Perhaps you decide you are not going to provide a certain service or line anymore, and focus instead on your core business,” says Harkins. “In this case, you can decide who you must let go because they do not have the skills to support your new strategy.”

Probably the most common mistake is to mix the two objectives or not have any goal beyond some panicky cost control, according to Harkins. In such cases, it’s too easy to terminate individuals without sufficient thought and without adequate documentation supporting the criteria used.

That carries strategic and legal risks: Six months down the road, you may realize you let the wrong people go. And it opens the door to charges by discharged individuals that your real goal was discrimination: You wanted to rid your workplace of individuals with characteristics protected by federal and state law.

It’s wise, then, to spend some time defining where you want to be in a year or two. “Do a strategic assessment of your business to determine longer-term opportunities you want to develop,” says Ian Jacobsen, president of Jacobsen Consulting Group in Sunnyvale, California. “Let’s say that you see a potential market for additional avenues of business when conditions improve. You will probably want to keep the people who are best for helping you grow your business in those areas as you ride out the recession.”

Keep Records
Keep careful records that show how your terminations support your goal. “You definitely want to document your reasons at the time of discharge,” says Harkins. “If you do get hit with a wrongful discharge suit, you can say `Employee A had a better set of skills than Employee B for the service we were planning to focus on in the future.’ Or, `I needed people who had two skills and Employee B was less versatile.’ Documenting this thought process at the time will make your case more credible later.”

If your goal in reducing your work force was an overall savings, this should also be documented. “What is important is your decision process at the time of the layoff,” says Harkins. “Documenting your good faith reason will help assure it remains the focus in any lawsuit.”

Once you have decided whom to let go, assess the makeup of the departing group. Does it have a higher proportion of individuals with protected characteristics than your surviving work force? If so, your layoff would seem to have what attorneys call a “disparate impact” and that can be evidence of discrimination. “If there’s no disparate impact and no appearance of discrimination, your group being laid off should look like the group in the work force,” says Harkins. Disparate impact can be harmful not only in terms of costly litigation but also in the diminished morale of people left behind and even in tarnished customer relations following news reports of discrimination lawsuits.

Treat People Well
Treating people well during termination is the right thing to do from the human point of view. It’s also smart legally. Fact is, people who are angry about how they were treated on the way out the door often sue their ex-employers.

“Discharged employees often go to lawyers because something in the circumstances of their termination made them angry or seemed unfair,” says John J. Myers, chair of the labor and employment law department at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Treat the departing employees with dignity. I also counsel to give employees complete explanations as to why you are terminating, as opposed to staying vague and elusive. Hopefully they will then understand why you are doing what you have done, and that reduces the likelihood of going to court.”

Indeed, attorneys suggest going the extra mile and taking a proactive stance in helping employees move on. Consider arranging for outplacement to get people focused on the future and getting on with their lives. People left unassisted are more likely to file a lawsuit as they brood on what happened.

Offer Severance Agreements
One way to help ensure you do not become the target of wrongful discharge lawsuits is to ask departing employees to sign documents that release your firm of any liability in exchange for a severance packages.

“Many times RIFs (reductions in force) are done without severance packages and corresponding releases,” says Harkins. “This is usually a mistake because most people are not looking for huge packages. They just want some transition money to take care of their families until they come up with something in a few months. Provide some transition pay and you are less likely to be the target of litigation.”

One approach is to offer “notice pay,” a week or two until the next payroll date, with no need for the employee to report to work. “If an employer can afford it, and even for a small amount of money, it is usually worthwhile to obtain a general release of legal claims,” says Harkins. “Legal consideration to support a valid release is anything of value that the employer is not otherwise required to provide. So even a day’s pay can justify a release of any discrimination or other wrongful discharge claims.”

After the Layoffs
If you’re facing the necessity of downsizing your own work force, you’re probably feeling a good deal of stress. No one wants to make a decision that will disrupt the lives of so many people, especially in today’s environment where jobs are hard to come by.

Layoffs can also affect the morale of people left behind. “Employees retained in a layoff are apt to feel `survivor guilt,’ especially if they don’t know why they were retained when their colleagues were let go,” says Jacobsen. “That’s why it is so important to explain to them the reasons that they were kept, and what they will be doing in the new, `pruned’ organization. In all probability, their jobs will change some to cover part of the work of the people who were let go. They need to understand that not all of the work that was done prior to the layoff will be done in the post-layoff business.”

To manage survivor guilt, meet weekly with the retained employees for the first month or more to find out how things are going for them. What’s working and what’s not? By solving or helping them solve problems they are experiencing post-layoff, you will ease their stress and build your relationship and credibility with them.

“One way to reduce survivor guilt is to get the remaining employees involved in the mission of cost cutting, or thinking of more efficient ways to do things,” says Harkins. “People often work off stress by feeling they are getting the business back in order.”

Also, try to stay in touch with the group that has departed. “The knee-jerk reaction is to not have your employees stay in contact with laid off people,” says Harkins. “That can be counterproductive because some of those people might reapply or they might be able to recommend someone when business picks up. You never want to burn a bridge in anything that deals with human resources.”

Stay Safe
Recessions happen. They are a fact of business life. Fortunately, they don’t last forever. You want to respond to the recession in a way that builds bridges to the future. That means conducting a layoff ethically and professionally. “Unless you plan to close your business, you want to maintain a reputation as a good place to work,” says Jacobsen. “When you survive a recession and start hiring again you want to be able to recruit the best people. And the best people will remember how you conducted your layoff.”

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

Proving Discrimination

Source: Workplace Fairness

 

Anti-discrimination laws make it illegal for an employer to take adverse employment action against you if you are a member of a protected class, or category of persons. Not all types of discrimination are protected under the federal anti-discrimination laws. Also, while the federal laws protect you against workplace discrimination, it is often very difficult to prove that discrimination occurred.

There are several questions that you can ask yourself to help determine whether you were discriminated against and whether you will be able to prove that the discrimination occurred.

  1. What is discrimination?
  2. What are the different types of discrimination claims that I could bring?
  3. What evidence is needed to prove my employer intentionally discriminated against me?
  4. I don’t have direct evidence against my employer. How do I use circumstantial evidence to show that my employer discriminated against me?
  5. What if my employer denies discriminating against me?
  6. What can I do if my employer’s reason is a cover-up for discriminating against me?
  7. What evidence do I need if my employer’s seemingly neutral policy, rule or practice neutral practice had a discriminatory effect?
  8. What are the remedies if I win my discrimination case?


1. What is discrimination?

There are several federal laws that protect you from discrimination in the workplace. Each federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against certain categories of people, known as protected classes. Not all types of discrimination are protected under the federal laws. The federal anti-discrimination laws only protect you if you fall into a protected class or category. The protected classes differ under the various federal laws and are summarized below.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.Title VII also makes it illegal to discriminate against women because of pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of age. This law protects people who are 40 or older.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 make it illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability.

Some state and local laws also make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of gender identity, immigration status, language, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, and/or genetic information. See what categories your state protects against in our Filing a Discrimination Claim page.

2. What are the different types of discrimination claims that I could bring?

If you believe you have been discriminated against based on your status as a member of a protected class or category, there may be several types of claims that you could bring.

Discriminatory Intent/Treatment
A discriminatory intent, or discriminatory treatment claim is when an employee is treated worse by an employer because of his or her status as a member of protected class or category.

Disparate Impact
A disparate impact claim is a type of discrimination based on the effect of an employment policy, rule or practice rather than the intent behind it. The anti-discrimination laws make it illegal for a seemingly neutral policy, rule or practice to have a disproportionate adverse affect on members of a protected class. For example, a strength requirement might screen out disproportionate numbers of female applicants for a job, or requiring all applicants to receive a certain score on a standardized test to be eligible for a promotion could adversely affect candidates of color.

Retaliation
A retaliation claim is when an employer retaliates against an employee who engages in conduct that the law protects, like making a complaint about discrimination, or reporting a safety hazard.See the Retaliation Page for more information about retaliation claims.

3. What evidence is needed to prove my employer intentionally discriminated against me?

There are two types of evidence that can be used to prove discrimination: direct and circumstantial.

Direct Evidence
Direct evidence is the best way to show that discrimination occurred. Direct evidence of discrimination includes statements by managers or supervisors that directly relate the adverse action taken against you to your protected class status.

For example, if your employer tells you that you are being let go because you are near retirement age and the company wants to go with a younger image, you have direct evidence that your protected class status was the cause of your termination. This evidence can be in the form of verbal comments or statements written in letters, memos, or notes.

Circumstantial Evidence
The likelihood of obtaining direct evidence of discrimination is extremely slim. Supervisors and other company personnel are too sophisticated and too well-trained by their own attorneys to openly express their biases and prejudices. In almost every case, an employee must rely on circumstantial evidence to create a presumption of discrimination.

4. I don’t have direct evidence against my employer. How do I use circumstantial evidence to show that my employer discriminated against me?

According to the “McDonnell-Douglas Test,” named for a famous Supreme Court decision, an employee must first make out at least a “prima facie case” to raise a presumption of discrimination. To make out a prima facie case of discrimination, an employee must be able to answer “yes” to the following four questions:

  • Are you a member of a protected class? For example, if you are claiming age discrimination, are you over 40? If you are claiming disability discrimination, are you disabled?
  • Were you qualified for your position? For example, if your job required you to be a licensed technician, were you licensed?
  • Did your employer take adverse action against you? Adverse action includes hiring, promotions, termination, compensation and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Were you replaced by a person who is not in your protected class (or, in the case of age discrimination, someone substantially younger than you)? For example, if you are disabled, were you replaced by someone who is not disabled?

If you can show at least these things, the law will presume, since you were qualified for your job and then discharged in favor of someone not in your protected class, that your protected class status was the reason for the adverse action.

The “circumstantial evidence” test is flexible. It has been modified over time to avoid a mechanistic approach to discrimination cases. A person claiming discrimination who does not have direct evidence of discrimination must produce enough circumstantial evidence of discrimination to allow a jury to find that the employer acted discriminatorily. The law recognizes that persons can be discriminated against even if they were not replaced by someone outside of the protected class, for example during a reduction in force.

An employee may have sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove discrimination if they are able to answer “yes” to several of the following questions:

  • Were you treated differently than a similarly situated person who is not in your protected class?
  • Did managers or supervisors regularly make rude or derogatory comments directed at your protected class status or at all members of your class and related to work? For example, “Women don’t belong on a construction site” or “Older employees are set in their ways and make terrible managers.”
  • Are the circumstances of your treatment so unusual, egregious, unjust, or severe as to suggest discrimination?
  • Does your employer have a history of showing bias toward persons in your protected class?
  • Are there noticeably few employees of your protected class at your workplace?
  • Have you noticed that other employees of your protected class seem to be singled out for adverse treatment or are put in dead-end jobs?
  • Have you heard other employees in your protected class complain about discrimination, particularly by the supervisor or manager who took the adverse action against you?
  • Are there statistics that show favoritism towards or bias against any group?
  • Did your employer violate well-established company policy in the way it treated you?
  • Did your employer retain less qualified, non-protected employees in the same job?

If you answered, “Yes” to the four questions in the McDonnell-Douglas Test and to several of the questions above, you may be able to establish a presumption that your protected class status caused the adverse employment action.

No single piece of evidence is usually enough to prove discrimination. On the other hand, there is no “magic” amount or type of evidence that you must have to prove discrimination.

5. What if my employer denies discriminating against me?

Once you establish a presumption of discrimination, consider the reason that your company gave for terminating you.

In court, an employer has the opportunity to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its conduct. The law only requires the employer to articulate, or state, a reason for its conduct. It does not have to prove that it is the true reason.

A company can almost always come up with some reason for the action that it took. Once the employer articulates this reason, your presumption of discrimination is gone and you will have to offer additional evidence, as discussed further below.

If the employer cannot offer a legitimate reason for your termination, the presumption remains and you have proven a case of discrimination. However, don’t count on this happening. You may think, “My employer can never come up with a good reason for firing me!” Recall, however, that your employer doesn’t need a “good” reason, just any reason besides your protected status. The vast majority of employers can do this.

6. What can I do if my employer’s reason is a cover-up for discriminating against me?

Assuming that your employer can offer any explanation at all for terminating your employment, you must next consider whether you can prove that the reason is just a pretext, a cover-up for discrimination. You may be able to prove that the employer’s stated reason is just a cover-up or pretext for discrimination if you can prove any of the following:

  • The stated reason is factually untrue
  • The stated reason is insufficient to have actually motivated your discharge
  • The stated reason is so riddled with errors that your employer could not have legitimately relied upon it
  • Your protected status is more likely to have motivated your employer than the stated reason
  • Powerful direct or circumstantial evidence of discrimination

In order to successfully challenge your employer’s denial, the law requires you to prove that your employer’s stated reason is false AND that your protected status played a role in your termination.

7. What evidence do I need if my employer’s seemingly neutral policy, rule or neutral practice had a discriminatory effect?

Proving a disparate impact case is similar to proving a discriminatory intent case. First, you must use circumstantial evidence to create a presumption that the employer’s seemingly neutral policy, rule or practice had a discriminatory effect on a protected class or category. Next, your employer then has the opportunity to show that the policy, rule or practice was a job-related business necessity. If your employer is able to show that the policy, rule or practice was a business necessity, then you can still win if you are able to prove that your employer refuses to adopt an alternative policy, rule or practice with a less discriminatory effect.

8. What are the remedies if I win my discrimination case?

  • Back Pay. Back pay is lost earnings resulting from the discrimination from the date of the discriminatory act to the date of a judgment.
  • Front Pay.Front Pay is lost future earnings resulting from the discrimination.
  • Lost Benefits. Lost benefits may include health care coverage, dental insurance, pension or 401k plans, stock options, and profit sharing.
  • Emotional Distress Damages. Emotional distress damages, which are also called pain and suffering, are mental or emotional injuries as a result of the discrimination.
  • Punitive Damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the employer for particularly egregious conduct.
  • Attorneys’ Fees. In addition to the damages you can recover for your injuries, you can also win an award of attorneys fees, expert witness fees, and court costs.

 

This selection was originally excerpted from Job Rights and Survival Strategies by Paul H. Tobias and Susan Sauter.



Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com



Workers Win Only 1% Of Federal Civil Rights Lawsuits At Trial

A new analysis of employee lawsuits finds a low success rate for discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, and highlights the U.S.’s most-sued employers.

Workers Win Only 1% Of Federal Civil Rights Lawsuits At Trial

Claims of employee mistreatment are center stage, between sexual harassment and discrimination scandals in the TV business and in Silicon Valley, and now the Trump Administration’s retrenchment on LGBT protections in the workplace and banning of transgender people in the military.

But according to a new analysis of employment cases by legal research service Lex Machina, very few employees who file federal job discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims even make it to court, and only 1% of those claims eventually succeed in court. A majority of cases are settled, employers prevailed on summary judgment roughly 13 percent of the time, and only 192 damage awards out of 72,000 cases included punitive damages.

THE LONG ROAD TO TRIAL

Employees who gather the courage to take action against their employer begin by filing a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, typically within 180 days from the time the discrimination took place. Through a fact-finding process, the EEOC decides whether or not a charge is strong enough to take to trial. An overwhelming number of allegations do get the EEOC’s Notice of Right to Sue, which is a thumbs-up to proceed.

But few of these cases actually become lawsuits. For fiscal year 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016), employees filed 97,443 charges, and the EEOC issued 81,129 Notices to Sue (83.3%), according to records provided to Fast Company. For that same period, meanwhile, Lex Machina counted only 7,239 cases that went onto lawsuits—less than a tenth of the charges EEOC gave a green light to over the same time frame.

Lex Machina also examined data on the lawsuits themselves, and found an even smaller fraction of victories for plaintiffs.

Over an even longer period—from January 2009 through July 2017—Lex Machina found that of 54,810 cases that were filed and closed, employees bringing the suits won just 584 times in trial, or about 1% of the total. Employers won 7,518 cases, about 14%. Another 3,883 cases, or 7%, were settled on procedural grounds, mostly dismissing the employee’s claims.

Most cases from 2009 to the present ended in nebulous settlements.

What happened to the rest of the cases? No one knows for sure why 78% of cases were dismissed by either the employee or both the employee and employer, but Lex Machina assumes that almost all of those 42,742 cases were settled. But there is no legal requirement to file the terms or even publish the existence of a settlement, so it’s impossible to know for sure how these cases panned out.

Most settlements probably awarded money to the employee, according to Brian Howard, Lex Machina’s legal data scientist. But that doesn’t mean the settlement was a win for the employee.

“We don’t know how much money, what other terms the employee had to agree to, how much they originally sought, how often personal circumstances force the settlement, whether they got any feeling of vindication, etc.,” Howard wrote in an email. “Any settlement amount would likely have to address substantial legal fees, so a plaintiff’s actual recovery might be small.”

It’s not clear why so few employee charges move on to court. One reason may be because the costs of litigation to plaintiffs are often far higher than the actual damages. Plaintiffs, especially those newly out of a job, may be more willing to take a settlement than to pursue a costly and lengthy court trial. Or the cases may not be lucrative enough for an attorney to take on, says Howard.

Only rarely does the EEOC itself bring a case on behalf of the employee–usually for cases that have wide-ranging significance. For instance, the EEOC just sued Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications, charging them with firing an employee over her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

EEOC said its legal staff resolved 139 lawsuits and filed 86 lawsuits alleging discrimination in fiscal year 2016. In total, it recovered $482 million for victims of discrimination, including $347.9 million recovered through mediation, conciliation, and settlements; $52.2 million obtained through litigation; and $82 million for federal employees and applicants.

EEOC has also pursued several LGBT related cases. But the Justice Department’s assertion last week that LGBT people are not covered under sexual discrimination laws—the same day President Trump announced that transgender people would be barred from the military—could be just the beginning of changing policies and priorities at the EEOC. Many top posts are being filled with Trump Administration appointees; and while funding has stayed the same, the White House Office of Management and Budget has ordered a reorganization of EEOC that may portend future cuts.

THE REASONS PEOPLE SUE

Discrimination claims make up the majority of complaints that go on to lawsuits, at 87%. Several U.S. laws protect employees against discrimination; Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, for instance, prohibits discrimination based on six criteria. They are, in order of number of EEOC complaints: race and sex (the vast majority), national origin, religion, and color. Another law, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, prevents discriminating against people over 40 years old. Other laws prohibit discrimination based on criteria like disabilities or being pregnant.

…The second largest category of cases, after discrimination, is retaliation, such as getting fired or demoted for complaining to the employer or the EEOC about discrimination: These represented 66% of all claims. Claims of harassment, including sexual harassment, make up 35% of legal cases filed.

If you’re wondering why those shares add up to over 100%, that’s because many cases fall into more than one category: About half the cases filed since 2009 were for both discrimination and retaliation.

Overlapping claims of discrimination, retaliation, and harassment in U.S. lawsuits filed from 2009 to present. [Graphic: courtesy Lex Machina]

WHO GETS SUED THE MOST

Based on an analysis of cases between 2009 and 2017, Lex Machina has a rough idea of which companies and government agencies have been sued the most. The most commonly named defendants, listed alphabetically, are:

  • AT&T
  • Bank Of America
  • Boeing
  • CVS Pharmacy
  • FedEx
  • Home Depot U.S.A.
  • JPMorgan Chase Bank
  • Life Insurance Company Of North America
  • Sears, Roebuck And Co
  • Target Corporation
  • United Airlines
  • United Parcel Service
  • Walmart Stores
  • Walgreen Co.
  • Wells Fargo Bank

Notice the absence of Silicon Valley companies. Despite all the attention on sexual harassment in the tech sector, so far there have been relatively few legal actions brought by its employees. That could be because most tech firms are smaller than the industrial and commercial giants listed above.

Compared with tech company workers, most of the employees of larger American corporations can face a heavier burden when bringing discrimination or harassment suits. For instance, women in lower-paying jobs who are often subject to harassment have a much harder time fighting against it, since they don’t have the means to risk leaving or losing a job, as FiveThirtyEight documented.

The most-sued government agencies are:

  • City Of New York
  • City Of Philadelphia
  • District Of Columbia
  • New York City Department Of Education
  • United States Postal Service

…In the end, it’s hard to know how well the court system is working to protect employees from unfair treatment. It’s hard to know, for instance, of those cases that are ultimately settled, how many do justice to the employee? For all the data the EEOC and Lex Machina have collected, they show how much we still don’t know.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist.



Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com



Discrimination Against Women in the Workplace: Everything You Need to Know

Source: UpCounsel

Discrimination against women in the workplace is when an employer treats a female employee less favorably than the employer would a male.

Discrimination Against Women in the Workplace?

Discrimination against women in the workplace is when an employer treats a female employee less favorably than the employer would a male employee specifically because of the employee’s gender.

Examples of discrimination against women in the workplace are when a woman is rejected for employment, when a woman loses a promotion to a less-qualified male employee, or when a woman is harmed in any way because of her gender.

Workplace Discrimination Definition

Workplace discrimination is when an employer treats either a male or female employee differently specifically because of his or her gender. Workplace discrimination is more commonly called gender discrimination or sexual discrimination.

Gender Discrimination Definition

The terms “sex” and “gender” are often used interchangeably in everyday language. But they actually have very different meanings. The term “sex” is based on anatomical identity. Social scientists use it to identify a person as male or female. The term “gender” is a cultural term for the characteristics that are generally associated with maleness or femaleness. Discrimination can be based on sex, gender, or both sex and gender. But no matter which way it is labeled, discrimination is illegal.

Federal Laws Prohibiting Workplace Discrimination

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, and national original. Title VII applies to all private employers, state and local governments, and education institutions that employ 15 or more individuals.
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law essentially applies the standards of Title VII to the federal government as an employer.
  • Equal Pay Act (EPA). The EPA prohibits sex-based pay discrimination between men and women who perform under similar working conditions. The EPA applies to all employers covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA, a part of Title VII, prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA prohibits discrimination against pregnant women and parents as well as employees with serious health conditions. In 2008, two new types of FMLA leave were created, which gives job-protected leave for family of the armed services members.

Workplace Discrimination: Promotions

In the past, qualified female employees have often been prevented from advancing to management positions in companies because of their gender. This term often used for this artificial barrier is “glass ceiling.” If this is the case, it is considered workplace discrimination against women and protected by Title VII.

Workplace Discrimination: Sexual Harassment

When a person in an authority role asks for sexual favors from an employee in exchange for a workplace benefit, it is called Quid pro quo sexual harassment. Some examples of a workplace benefit include a promotion, an increase in pay, and protection from being laid off.

It is also considered sexual harassment when a male co-worker or authority figure tells inappropriate jokes, makes threats, or exhibits any form of behavior that could intimidate a female employee or affect her ability to work. This type of sexual harassment falls under the label of “Hostile Work Environment.”

Workplace Discrimination: Breast-Feeding

Currently, there are no federal laws that protect nursing mothers. But some states have laws that make it illegal to discriminate against breast-feeding women. Some states take it a step further and require employers to give proper facilities for breast-feeding in the workplace.

Workplace Discrimination: Enforcement of the Law

The federal government agency responsible for investigating workplace discrimination complaints in workplaces of 15 or more employees is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In addition to federal laws against discrimination, there are also state laws against discrimination in most states. These states have their own agencies to enforce the laws.

Legal relief for victims of workplace discrimination may include:

  • Reinstatement
  • Back pay
  • Promotion
  • Compensatory damages (emotional pain and suffering)
  • Punitive damages (damages to punish the employer)
  • Payment of attorney and expert witness fees
  • Payment of court costs

To reduce the chance that discrimination will occur again, an employer may be legally required to take corrective action against the source of the discrimination and to stop the discriminatory practice involved in the case.



Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com



What Employees Need to Know About D.C.’s Medical Marijuana Laws.

As of September 2019, the District of Columbia has a new law that protects District of Columbia government employees who are medical marijuana users.  Act Number A23-0114 is called The Medical Marijuana Program Patient Employment Protection Temporary Amendment Act.

The Act states, “A public employer may not refuse to hire, terminate from employment, penalize, fail to promote, or otherwise take adverse employment action against an individual based upon the individual’s status as a qualifying [medical cannabis] patient unless the individual used, possessed, or was impaired by marijuana at the individual’s place of employment or during the hours of employment.”

The law does not apply to either employees in “safety sensitive positions” or to those who are required to undergo drug testing as a federal requirement.

Act Number A23-0114 specifically protects District of Columbia government employees who are medical marijuana users, but it does not protect private sector employees or federal employees who are medical marijuana users.  Nationally, laws do not protect public or private sector employees who: 1) use or possess marijuana during hours of employment, and/or 2) are impaired by marijuana during hours of employment.

In the past, an employer could terminate an employee who tested positive for marijuana.  The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) does not protect medical marijuana users and declares marijuana an illegal substance.

However, the current trend, in some state and local courts, is to protect employees who are registered users of medical marijuana due to a debilitating medical condition.  This is particularly the case in states and localities where medical marijuana is legal and reasonable accommodation laws exist that specifically protect employees who are medical marijuana users.

Currently, the District of Columbia’s laws do not protect private sector employees who are medical marijuana users.  A private sector employer could terminate an employee who failed a drug test for marijuana, even if the employee is a medical marijuana user.  Whitmere v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 359 F.Supp. 3d 761, 778 (Dist. Court, D. Arizona 2019); Coles v. Harris Teeter, LLC, 217 F. Supp. 3d 185, 188 (Dist. Court. District of Columbia 2016) (“As the courts in those cases concluded, the District here can at most be said to maintain a public policy that decriminalizes and allows the consumption of marijuana for private medical reasons. That is a far cry from prohibiting employers from terminating such users.”)

However, in light of Act Number A23-0114, which protects District of Columbia government employees who are medical marijuana users, one has to wonder whether a District of Columbia court, applying local laws, could determine that private sector District of Columbia employees who are medical marijuana users have similar protection.

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

202 508-1499

Employees may prevail against employers who use false accusations to hide severe retaliatory behavior.

Victims of workplace discrimination and/or harassment are encouraged to file a complaint with their employer or a government entity, such as, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Filing a complaint is generally a prerequisite to pursuing a claim in state or federal courts.

However, filing a discrimination complaint can trigger a retaliatory response from the employer.  In general, retaliation is an impulsive reaction by an employer to a discrimination/harassment complaint filed by an employee.  The employer’s reaction to the employee’s complaint results in harsher treatment, which can include termination.  Like discrimination, retaliation is illegal.  Kim v. Nash Finch Co., 123 F.3d 1046 (8th Cir. 1997) (“There was also evidence that Nash Finch had ‘papered’ his personnel file with negative reports…”); Gowski v. Peake, 682 F.3d 1299 (11th Cir. 2012) (The evidence here showed that the administration intended to retaliate against Gowski and Zachariah because of their EEO activity and then created a hostile environment by spreading rumors about the doctors, damaging their reputations, and disciplining them.)

While retaliation is generally impulsive, some employers are more calculating in the way they retaliation against employees. These employers use pretext (false justification) to hide their true retaliatory motive.

Like a spider and its web, these employers wait for the employee to make a minor mistake and then they use the employee’s minor mistake to falsely justify a severe retaliatory response, such as, a termination.  Hamilton v. General Electric Co., 556 F.3d 428, 435 (6th Cir. 2009) (“…Hamilton alleges that the bosses heightened their scrutiny of him after he filed his EEOC complaint. See Jones v. Potter, 488 F.3d 397, 408 (6th Cir. 2007) (noting that an employer cannot conceal an unlawful discharge by closely observing an employee and waiting for an ostensibly legal basis for discharge to emerge).”); EEOC v. Boeing Co., 577 F. 3d 1044, 1050-3 (9th Cir. 2009) (“…after Boeing substantiated a sexual harassment claim Wrede had filed, she received lower RIF scores than most engineers in her skill code and was subsequently terminated.[1] These scores were lower than the scores she had received in two previous RIF evaluations in April and July of 2002.”)

In court, most employers use pretext as a standard defense against an employee’s claim of retaliation.  An employee with a record of satisfactory job performance will suddenly be accused, by their employer, of poor job performance or serious misconduct.  Often, this defense ploy lacks credibility on its face.

Courts recognize that employers use pretext to hide their true retaliatory motive.  With this in mind, employees may prevail in court by proving that their employer’s justification is false and retaliatory.  An employee’s record of satisfactory job performance or good conduct often speaks for itself.  (“[A] plaintiff’s prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer’s asserted justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to conclude that the employer unlawfully discriminated.”).  Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143 (2000); Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 601 F.3d 289, 295 (4th Cir. 2010); Mereish v. Walker, 359 F.3d 330, 336 (4th Cir. 2004)

 

 

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

www.baclaw.com

bchapman@baclaw.com

202 508-1499

 

%d bloggers like this: