Archive for the 'Employment' Category

Employment Discrimination Based on Perceived Status

Sometimes, an employer makes adverse employment decisions based on perceived membership in a protected class. For example, a job applicant may be rejected because he is believed to be Muslim, even if he is not. Or, an employee with an altered gait may be denied a promotion because of her perceived need for job accommodation. These adverse employment actions may be illegal.

Some federal and state laws directly address perceived status. For example:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination due to perceived disability.
  • California law protects workers against discrimination based on perceived race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, genetic information, marital status, sex, age, sexual orientation, or military/veteran status.
  • New York State’s Human Rights Law bans discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation.
  • New York City’s Human Rights Law goes even further and prohibits perceived discrimination based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital and partnership status, caregiver status, sexual orientation, or citizenship.

Unfortunately, many federal and state laws do not directly address discrimination based on perceived status. This has led to confusion and inconsistent legal interpretations.

Perceived Disability and the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically prohibits discrimination against people with perceived disabilities. The statute recognizes that employers sometimes assume that an individual with a physical or mental disability requires unnecessary accommodations. The ADA states: Discrimination

An individual meets the requirement of “being regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.

If you have been the victim of discrimination due to a perceived disability, you should contact the EEOC or an employment lawyer.

Is Employment Discrimination Illegal Based on Other Perceived Statuses Illegal?

Unlike the ADA, other federal laws do not specifically prohibit discrimination based on perceived gender, race, age, national identity, or religion. Instead, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination “because of [an] individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) similarly bans discrimination because of an individual’s age. There is absolutely no discussion of perceived status in these laws.

When a statute or law fails to clearly address an issue or protection, individual judges and courts are left to fill the gap. Typically, judges evaluate the language of the statute, legislative intent, and other factors to decide how the law should be applied. Unfortunately, this case-by-case and jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction approach may lead to inconsistency.

In cases of discrimination due to perceived status, different federal courts have arrived at different decisions. For example:

While the EEOC’s Compliance Manual prohibits discrimination based on perceived membership in a protected class, courts have not always deferred to this opinion.

It may seem counterintuitive (and against public policy) to allow incorrect categorization of an employee as a defense. Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Act and the ADEA’s lack of clarity have led to this inconsistent application of the law.

Pursuing a discrimination claim against an employer is complicated because laws vary depending on where and when you file your claim. In a perceived status case, your rights may vary dramatically based on your location.

Do I Need an Attorney?

An employment lawyer will help you choose the correct law and help with the filing deadlines specific to your claim. You should also consider legal representation if you have been offered a severance package or waiver.

ITT Tech’s Sudden Shutdown Brings New Legal Woes

ITT Technical Institute became a household name for many people who remember seeing the commercials on daytime tv during soap operas and daytime talk shows. However, ITT Tech is now becoming known for a business move that is as shocking as anything on the television programs that it once advertised. That move was to abruptly close its educational centers without much, if any, warning.

The for-profit educational juggernaut is now finding itself in legal trouble after suddenly shutting the company doors. Three employees have filed lawsuits against ITT Educational Services, Inc., the company in charge of the ITT Tech educational centers, over the fact that the company failed to provide an adequate warning to its employees before closing.

Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, companies with 100 or more employees are required to provide 60 days notice to their employees in the event of a plant closing that results in a mass layoff. A mass layoff is defined as a layoff of 50 or more employees. ITT

When the details of the WARN Act are applied to the facts of the ITT Tech situation, it does appear that ITT Educational Services, Inc. did owe its laid-off employees a warning. The mass closings of the ITT Tech educational facilities occurring all at once can equivocate to a major plant closing despite occurring at different locations instead of a singular location.

Also, the aggregate number of employees working at the various shuttered educational facilities was around 4100 employees, which means that the shutting down of the ITT Tech facilities did lead to a mass layoff if viewed as a singular action.

ITT’s Defense

However, there are two arguments that ITT Educational Services, Inc. may be able to use to successfully defend itself. First, the company could argue that the closures cannot be treated as a singular closure that triggered a mass layoff because the facilities are located all across the country with many facilities employing less than 50 employees.

Closing several smaller offices rather than one large office has a different impact on a community than if a single location employing several people in that community shuts down without warning. The court can choose to look at each facility closure as a single instance instead of choosing to aggregate all of the closures and employee numbers into a single event. If the court does choose to look at the different closures as unique events, then the number of employees lost at each educational facility may not be enough for the employment loss to count as a mass layoff.

In the event that the court does choose to look at the closures as a single event, ITT Educational Services, Inc. may still be free to argue that it should be exempt  because the closures were a result of an unforeseeable business circumstance. Under the WARN Act, a company is not required to provide a 60-day notice to its employees if an unforeseeable business circumstance is what caused the plant closing.

In the case of an unforeseeable business circumstance, the company only needs to provide as much warning as is reasonably possible. ITT Educational Services, Inc. could potentially argue that the imposition of sanctions by the federal government was an unforeseeable circumstance that made it impossible to continue operations. On its website, ITT Educational Services, Inc. claims that it had no intention of closing the ITT Tech educational services until the sanctions prohibiting it from accepting federal loans were imposed.

Danger Was Foreseeable

However, the company had been evaluated and monitored by the federal government with the threat of sanctions if certain changes were not implemented by a certain date. Also, Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit education company similar to ITT Educational Services, Inc., shut down operations just over a year ago after going through the same evaluation process and being given the same sanctions as ITT Educational Services, Inc. Thus, it could be argued that ITT Educational Services, Inc. should have been able to foresee that they may be put into a position of having to shut down operations shortly after the deadline provided by the government, and should have provided its employees with a warning of a probable closure.

Even with the availability of two possible defenses, it does appear that ITT Educational Services, Inc. may have owed its former employees a 60-day warning for the educational facility closures. If the court does find that the employees were owed a warning, then ITT Educational Services, Inc. will owe its laid-off employees wages and benefits for the amount of time in which they were owed a warning, which would be 60 days in this case. ITT Educational Services, Inc. may owe even more money beyond the wages and benefits if the court determines that the company should have also provided notice  to local governments of the intention to close its educational facilities.

Mass layoff and plant closures have a seriously negative economic impact on local communities when they happen. If a large employer such as ITT Educational Services, Inc. fails to provide an adequate warning about a mass layoff, then the economic impact cannot be mitigated by the former employees finding new employment to replace their former employment with little to no gap between periods of employment.

Thus, it is important to enforce laws such as the WARN Act. If you have recently been laid off suddenly without warning, you may be entitled to back wages under the WARN Act or another federal law.  To find out if you are entitled to such compensation, contact an employment lawyer today.

Firefighters Denied Workers Compensation

Dozens of injured San Jose firefighters have been denied workers compensation claims. Over the past several months, firefighters in the San Jose area who have been injured on duty have been denied workers compensation. These firefighters complain that they are not given the proper treatment and care that they deserve.

Workers Comp

Workers compensation is an essential component of the work force dynamic. It acts as a safety net for workers who are hurt on the job. Without such a system in place,  millions of workers will be left to support themselves and pay for their own insurance plans. Workers compensation acts as a substitute for insurance coverage. It is a form of insurance that compensates workers that are hurt on the job.

Under the California Labor Code, employers must purchase workers compensation on behalf of their employees.  Similarly, public agencies such as the Fire Department and the Police Department must provide workers comp for their employees. However, public employees are sometimes treated as contractors rather than actual employees. As a result, these public employees are denied workers compensation when they need it. Firefighter

Generally, workers compensation is an agreement between the employer and employee. The employer will provide for injuries and other related costs but, the employee will not have the right to sue the employer for negligence. This seems like a fair tradeoff. However, if the employer is mandated to provide workers comp and they do not, then they can be in legal trouble.  The deprived employee can seek damages through a civil court beyond the compensation that the employee was originally entitled to.

Moreover, the employee can go through their respective state fund to recover damages.  As mentioned before, a lawsuit cannot be commenced against the employer for grounds of negligence. The exceptions are if workers comp was not provided or if it is on discrimination grounds.

A Flawed System

The City of San Jose has wronged the San Jose Firefighters through Athens Administrators. The city contracted out its workers comp disbursement system to Athens Administrators, which has not provided for these brave firefighters in a number of instances. This is no good. These people are constantly putting their life on the line and the least the city could do is repay the favor. Some of the issues with the workers comp systems in place are logistical and not a question of outwards denial of the individual.

Logistically, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of every incoming claim. As a result, these claims are left out of the system and not tended to. The automated databases that collect and input the claims have flawed mechanisms that don’t always keep track of every incoming claim, resulting in unattended claims.

Additionally, Athens  has outright denied workers comp to firefighters because they didn’t feel the harm or injury was extreme enough. As one staff member put it, the “treatment was not medically necessary.” That’s not the point. Under workers comp, regardless of severity of injury, treatment should be given. It is absurd to think that a firefighter who has come in with bruises is denied because it does not come off as severe enough. Someone does not have to end up in the emergency room before assistance is given.

There need to be ground rules as to what is covered and what isn’t. Furthermore, the system needs to keep better track of each claim. As a number of firefighters have complained, the system neglects to even look at certain claims. Under state and federal law, workers comp is a right that belongs to workers. If this right is not upheld, then all is for naught. At the end of the day, the system is dictated by rule of law. If these laws are broken, then there have to be measures in place that will trigger a reaction that will ensure that the system is abided by.

Wearable Technology a Violation of Employee Privacy?

Performance-monitoring devices are become more prevalent in the workforce. These devices keep track of the day-to-day activities of employees in order to better gauge work performance. An ongoing concern is whether basic civil rights, in particular, right to privacy, are being violated through the use of these devices. These devices can be found everywhere. Even the police department has made use of body cameras to keep track of their police officers. How far can employers go in enforcing these devices?

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

There are many reasons why an employer would want to make use of such performance-monitoring devices. The first basic reason is that the employer will be able to manage the work efficacy of the employees. No matter what line of work they are in, the employer will be able to keep track of the individual’s work performance every step of the way. This is good and bad.

For one, the employee might feel uncomfortable knowing that their higher-ups will be able to monitor everything they do within that window of time. One other aspect to this that is often overlooked is that the employer may have a preconceived bias towards a certain employee (for whatever reason—race, gender, or even personal relationship with employer) that will cause employer to give more attention to that individual over other such employees. This is unfair because they will be unduly scrutinized for the same work done by others.  Camera

As for the positives, this new form of work surveillance, if you want to call it that, gives the employee incentive to stay on track and not fall behind. It will be a motivating force that will increase productive output. Furthermore, in the case of truck drivers and other such work responsibilities, it will keep them awake in the case of long working hours. A Rackspace study found that as a result of wearing these devices, employees are more productive and satisfied with their work.

Right to Privacy

Now to address the elephant in the room. What about basic civil rights violations? The biggest concern here is the right to privacy. Although the right to privacy is not expressly stated in the United States Constitution, it is referenced in a number of different contexts. The Fourth Amendment implies people have a right to be secure from any intrusions. Moreover, there is case law that strengthens this concept that has been in development for the past couple hundred years. Mass surveillance and privacy is an ongoing issue in various industries and it will remain at the forefront because the law in this area is vague and not clearly defined.

However, in general, it seems these performance-monitoring devices, although violating certain privacy rights, have enough benefits to them that it might not warrant stricter guidelines. Although employees are in a sort of panopticon (conceived by famed philosopher Foucault, a panopticon refers to a surveillance system where the person is constantly in fear of being punished), this new system works towards a better work experience. Whether the courts will take this into consideration remains to be seen.

As for the police force retaliating against the police department for abusing their rights, this is a matter that is not quite the same as a typical employer-employee dynamic. A police department is an arm of the government and as such, should be held to a higher standard. Unknowingly, police officers have been recorded with body cameras on their person. There has been outrage as a result. In light of recent police brutality that has garnered national attention, the police department has sought to make sure that their police officers are in compliance and do not act out of line.

This will speed up the evidence-gathering process if there ever comes a time when the officer is investigated for committing such activities. On the other hand though, there are privacy concerns. Should the police officer be obligated to wear such devices at all times? And it seems that the police department did not inform their officers of the use of such devices. One officer stumbled upon the body cameras. As this has been an issue that has received much press but little actual litigation, only time will tell what will come of this. The justice system needs to see this through.

Massachusetts Bans Employers From Asking About Salary History

Massachusetts has passed a law prohibiting employers from asking employees about their past salary history. This is a step in the right direction. Wage inequality has been an ongoing and unresolved issue in this day and age. In an era where employment opportunities are ample and there are federal laws in place that outlaw labor discrimination against women and other minorities, this type of wage disparity still exists and needs to be set aside once and for all.

Step in the Right Direction

Women’s rights has been a recurring issue in American history and politics for the past couple hundred years. From Seneca Falls to women becoming active participants in voting rights, this has been a nagging and ongoing topic of discussion with no end in sight. This recent Massachusetts law, along with similar laws enacted in other states, reinforces women’s rights and wage equality.

Although gender wage inequality is the problem posed here, such legislation helps other minorities as well. Federal law prevents gender-based pay discrimination yet wage gaps still exist. There are studies, including one from the United States Census Bureau that puts the average national salary for women slightly below their male counterparts. Piggy Bank

The new Massachusetts bill, aside from preventing employers from questioning salary history, also allows employees to share their salary with others. This not only puts the issue at the forefront, but also validates the issue. In other words, spreading the word about their respective salary, employees can gain an awareness of where they stand compared to others in the same line of work or similar profession. Furthermore, employees can better understand where they stand relative to others in their industry.

For example, if a programmer is receiving a salary and bonuses that is less than the average programmer in the same industry or particular niche, then this could be grounds for complaint for that individual. However, in light of this new piece of legislation and other such laws enacted elsewhere, this is without a doubt a step in the right direction.

Holding Its Own

Although this bill is a state-enacted piece of legislation, it has sent a ripple effect all throughout the country. Even though the Supreme Court is the law of the land, i.e., it governs all, state laws have dominion over their own borders unless Supreme Court says otherwise.

As mentioned before, although there are federal laws in place such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Equal Pay Act of 1963, and other like bodies of law, this state law has its own weight of authority and brings into focus the issue on a more personal level. This idea that employers cannot raise questions of salary history could work in a court of law because undoubtedly, this is the goal that we have been aiming for all these decades.

Since the end of the Second World War, women have sought better work conditions and more work opportunities, and rather than just be sit-in mothers. They want to be a part of the tour de force of society in building and assuming the roles of pioneers, innovators, and holding a position in society that is appreciated and will contribute towards the evolution of socio-economic values.

A Subsisting Problem

Hopefully, with this legislation and others, as well as SCOTUS stepping in to bring this much-needed change, we will be one step closer to achieving what the founding fathers strived for and what is rooted in our core values. Of course, this needs to be a group effort. Both major parties, as well as the judicial branch, need to play their part. Congressional Republicans have blocked passage of certain bills, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, that would push for greater wage equality. For progress to be possible, politicians need to put their differences aside and work in unity for the greater good.



<