Employee Rights Short Takes: Wage Discrimination, Paternity Leave, Disability Discrimination And More

Here are a few employee rights Short Takes worth noting:

It's A First: Major League Baseball Player Takes Paternity Leave

National Public Radio recently announced that Texas Ranger’s pitcher Colby Lewis became the first major league baseball player to take paternity leave. The new MLB collective bargaining agreement allows players 24 – 72 hours off due to the birth of a child so Lewis took advantage of it. Shortly after the news, NBC Sports reported that another player, Washington National’s shortstop Ian Desmond, was also preparing to take leave to be at his wife’s side during the birth of their first child. It comes as no surprise that some folks aren’t happy about the new rule. For more, read here.

New Rules For The Americans With Disabilities Act

New regulations were issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and will take effect May 24th. The new rules were mandated by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADAAA"). The law made significant changes with respect to the interpretation of  the term "disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Before the amendments, many employees who were discriminated against were not protected because the courts narrowly construed "disability" and determined that they were not disabled. The change in the legislation, which is spelled out in the final regulations, makes it crystal clear that the term “disability” should be broadly construed to include coverage.  As legal commentator noted:

The message from Congress and the EEOC for business couldn’t be any clearer. Stop focusing on whether someone is disabled and focus on the potential discrimination and reasonable accommodation.

The new regulations also list certain impairments which will almost always be considered a disability including deafness, blindness, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, and major depression. Employees with these disabilities were often excluded from coverage in cases interpreting the law before the ADA amendments. In other words, thousands of employees who had cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, etc. lost their discrimination cases because their employers argued, and the courts agreed, that they were not disabled under the ADA.

The bottom line is that thanks to the ADAA and the new regulations, ADA litigation will finally turn on whether the disabled employee was discriminated against – not whether he or she meets the definition of disabled under the Act. This is really good news and it’s about time. For more, read here.

Discrimination Lawsuit Raises Issue Of Who Is A Man

I ran across this very interesting story in the NY Times  about a recently filed discrimination case and it's worth talking about because it will make new law. The case is about  El’Jai Devoureau, who was born a female, but identified himself as a man his whole life. In 2006, after he began taking male hormones and had a sex change operation, he adopted a new name, and received a new birth certificate from the State of Georgia which identifies him a male. His driver’s license and social security records also identify him as a male. 

The legal problem for Devoureau came up when he began working part time as a urine monitor at Urban Treatment Associates in Camden.  His job was to make sure that people recovering from addiction did not substitute someone else’s urine for their own during regular drug testing. On Devoureau's second day, his boss confronted him stating that she had heard he was transgender. She asked if he had any surgeries. He refused to answer, stating that was private, and was fired.

Devoureau sued claiming discrimination. Michael D. Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund said it was the first employment case in the country to take on the question of a transgender person’s sex.

New Jersey is one of 12 states that ban discrimination based on transgender status.  The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity nationwide was reintroduced in Congress in April.

In its defense, Urban Treatment claims that the firing was legitimate since the sex of the employee in this particular position is a bona fide occupational qualification (“BFOQ”), an exception to employment discrimination laws which permits an employer to give preference to one group over another in narrow circumstances.  (for more about the BFOQ exception, see here)

This groundbreaking case will certainly be an interesting one to follow.

Fair Pay Act And Paycheck Fairness Act Reintroduced On Equal Pay Day

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2009 shows that women who worked full time earned, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar men earned. The figures are even worse for women of color. African American women only earned approximately 62 cents and Latinas only 53 cents for each dollar earned by a white male.

Accordingly, Senator Tom Harkin most appropriately chose April 12, 2011 -- Equal Pay Day -- to reintroduce the Fair Pay Act of 2011. Harkin has introduced this bill every congress since 1996. The bill would require employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility and working conditions. It would also require companies to disclose their pay scales and rates for all job categories.

Under current law a women who believes she is the victim of pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and go through what is almost always a long drawn out legal discovery process to find out whether she makes less than the man working beside her.

Many will recall that it took Lilly Ledbetter nearly 20 years before she discovered she was being paid less than men doing the same job which prompted her to file a lawsuit.  After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against her in 2007 -- because it held that the case was filed too late -- Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which helps level the playing field for victims of wage discrimination. The bill was signed in 2009  by President Obama – but it didn’t go far enough.

Harkin was also an original co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act which passed the House during the 111th Congress but was filibustered in the Senate. The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the enforcement of the current equal pay laws, prohibit retaliation against workers for sharing salary information with co-workers, and strengthen penalties against employers for violations of equal pay laws.

The Paycheck Fairness Act was reintroduced on Equal Pay Day by Senator Kristin Gillibrand and Senator Barbara Mikulski. For more about it, read here.

It’s both disheartening and disturbing that women still must fight this hard for laws intended to effectively prevent wage discrimination which remains rampant in the workplace today.  For more, read here.

images: blogs.orlandosentinel.com  image.spreadshirt.com www.glbtq.comf

Employee Rights Short Takes: New Evidence Of Gender Pay Gap, Race Discrimination, Disability Discrimination And More

Here are a few short takes about employment discrimination stories that made the news this past week:

New Evidence Of Gender Pay Gap And Discrimination Against Mothers In Management

Women made little progress in climbing into management positions according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office yesterday.

As of 2007, the last year for which the data was available, women made up only 40% of managers in the United States work force compared to 39% in 2000. In all but 13 industries covered by the report, women had a significantly smaller share of management positions than men when compared to the overall workforce.

In addition, managers who were mothers earned 79 cents of every dollar paid to managers who were fathers.

The report was prepared at the request of Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, and chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee for a hearing before that committee on Tuesday -- where witnesses  talked about the  "shockingly slow rate of progress"  for women in corporate management positions and the "motherhood wage penalty."

Several individuals who testified urged the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act as a partial remedy to the issues surrounding gender discrimination in the workforce.

For more about the report read the NY Times article here.  For a copy of the report from Rep. Maloney’s website and more about the hearing read and watch here.

Employee With Multiple Sclerosis Settles Discrimination Case For $1.2 Million

An ex-employee of the Madison New Jersey Board of Education with multiple sclerosis settled her disability discrimination case for $1,200,000, including attorney fees, as reported yesterday by DailyRecord.com and Lawyers USA.  Disability discrimination is prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Joan Briel, a former accounts payable secretary, was diagnosed with MS in 2002. She claimed that her employer retaliated against her by inappropriately increasing her workload, repeatedly harassing her and failing to take action on her requests for reasonable accommodation -- including her request to work on the first floor instead of the third floor.

Briel also claimed that the stress of the work environment caused her to relapse and that she was fired while she was on medical leave.

The case was heading for a jury trial when the settlement was reached. Ms. Briel will receive $412,000 in the settlement. Her attorneys will receive $877,303 for the work they did on the case. The court also awarded Briel over $43,000 in costs.

Plaintiffs in civil rights cases may recover attorneys’ fees – if they prevail -- in addition to their individual award in most cases. These legal provisions are intended to encourage attorneys to represent individuals who are unable to invoke the protection of civil rights laws because they can not afford a lawyer.

Discrimination cases are difficult to litigate and are often complex and protracted. Therefore, it’s not unusual for the attorneys’ fees ( on both sides) to be larger than the award, or greater than the amount in controversy.

This newly reported case is but one example of the potentially high costs to employers when employment discrimination cases are not resolved early.

EEOC Settles Race Discrimination And Retaliation Case For $400,000

The Cleveland office of the EEOC announced a $400,00 settlement of a class action race discrimination and retaliation case against Mineral Met Inc., a division of Chemalloy Company.

Evidence in the case showed that black employees were disciplined for trivial matters – such as having facial hair or using a cell phone -- while white employees were not disciplined for the same conduct. When one of the supervisors complained, it resulted in intensified racially discriminatory treatment and retaliation according to the EEOC.

The EEOC also charged that African-American employees were also subjected to other forms of racial harassment, including evidence that a white supervisor placed a hangman’s noose on a piece of machinery. (once again shocking that this is still going on)

Race discrimination in employment and retaliation for complaining about discrimination violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 images: www.house.gov  www.window.state.tx.us

Employee Rights Short Takes: Employees Win Sex Discrimination Cases On Appeal And More

 Here are three Short Takes about some interesting sex discrimination cases worth noting:

Verizon Field Technician Wins Hostile Environment Case

A Verizon field technician scored a significant victory in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals last month in the case of Pucino v. Verizon Communications, Inc. Pucino claimed that she was singled out because she was a woman, subjected to vicious treatment, harsh and dangerous work conditions unlike her male counterparts, denied equipment, denied access to public restrooms, forced to use bathrooms without locks, denied overtime, subjected to discipline for conduct that was commonplace among the men, and constantly referred to as a “bitch” and “stupid”.

The district court concluded that the challenged conduct amounted to “nothing more than minor annoyance and inconveniences” and that the allegations were too conclusory and non specific because Pucino stated that the alleged abuse occurred “constantly” and “frequently.”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed stating that a trier of fact “might easily find that the harassment and abuse was sufficiently severe to alter Pucino’s working conditions” and that a “plaintiff, need not recount each and every instance of abuse to show pervasiveness” in order to prove a sexual harassment hostile environment case.

The case is particularly important on this last point – that is, that the victim is not required to present a list of specific acts in order to prove a sexual harassment case. Pucino’s testimony that the abuse, which was described in some detail, constant and corroborated by other witnesses, was sufficient to support the claim.

Police Officer Wins Appeal On Denial Of Promotion Sex Discrimination Case

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict last week in favor of a female police officer whose constitutional rights were violated when she was denied a promotion to the position of Detective because of her sex in the case of Lewallen v. City of Beaumont.

Although “a female employee is not required to show that she was a more qualified applicant than her male counterpart" to prove sex discrimination in employment, stated the Court, Tina Lewallen presented evidence that she had numerous attributes that made her more qualified for the Detective position than either of the male applicants that were selected instead of her including :

  • a college degree
  • more experience
  • an outstanding reputation
  • extra law enforcement training
  • receipt of a highly prestigious award

As the Court stated:

Based on the extensive record evidence of the disparity between the relative qualifications of Lewallen and Breiner, a reasonable jury could find that Lewallen was the better of those two applicants – indeed, the best among all four applicants – and the the Department’s profferred  reasons for choosing the two make applicants ahead of Lewallen were but a gossamer pretext for sex-based discrimination.

In addition to the award to the plaintiff, the appeal affirmed an award of attorneys fees of $428, 421.75.

It’s important to understand that a victory in many civil rights cases includes an award of attorneys fees to the prevailing party. Therefore, Defendant employers in civil rights cases should carefully consider the strength of their defense before taking it to to a jury. This case is a good example of how a relatively small monetary award to the employee can result in a huge loss to an employer.

EEOC Settles Sexual Harassment Class Action Case For 5.8 Million

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on Thursday that ABM Industries and ABM Janitorial Services will pay $5.8 Million dollars to settle a class action sexual harassment lawsuit involving 21 Hispanic female janitorial workers. The class members asserted that they were victims of varying degrees of unwelcome touching, explicit sexual comments and requests for sex by 14 male co-workers and supervisors, one of whom was a registered sex offender.

According to the EEOC, some of the harassers often exposed themselves, groped female employees’ private parts from behind and even raped one of the victims.  The suit charged that ABM failed to respond to the employees repeated complaints of harassment. The case, filed in 2007, claimed the conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

images: www.google.com/imgres  bensbiz.mlblogs.com aremploymentlaw.com 

The Real Reason Why Sarah Palin Is So Bad For Women

Palin's Run For President Is Huge Setback For Women's Rights

I read the other day in the New York Times that Sarah Palin is considering a run for President – and I have been trying to figure out why it makes me so angry -- other than the fact that I have to listen to her most irritating voice and garbled grammar for the many campaign months ahead.

I know it’s because she’s a woman and because she embodies a major setback to so much I have worked for over the past 30 plus years, but I’m struggling with what really makes me feel this visceral negativity. And I'm not the only one.

Is it simply because of where she stands on the issues -- her harmful views on a woman’s right to choose that would take us back to the dark and dangerous days before Roe v Wade?

Is it because she was against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and thought it was ok for a woman with no knowledge that she was a victim of  wage discrimination to be barred from bringing a lawsuit when she first learned about it?

Is it because she touts equal pay for women but takes positions against the Paycheck Fairness Act which would help ensure that women really do get the equal pay they deserve?

Is it because she’s against government programs to help women with issues like affordable child care – concerns which deeply affect working women and for which the US is light years behind other countries?

Is it because she thought it was ok to promote a sexual harasser to her cabinet?

Or is it because she is simply unqualified?

What everyone knows but barely anyone talks about is that Sarah Palin is where she is because she is pretty. As  Todd Purdham noted in his Vanity Fair article about Palin, her beauty queen looks have

captivated people who would never have given someone with Palin’s record a second glance if Palin had looked like Susan Boyle.

Susan Reimer , from the Baltimore Sun put it this way:

Put red high heels and red lipstick on a woman with a cute figure and run her out there and we promise, nobody will notice her mangled syntax or her poor sense of geography.

Unqualified women who get ahead simply because of their looks make it that much harder for intelligent, capable women to get a fair shake. Is it possible that beneath all of the chatter, it’s this harsh reality that makes feminists so upset?

There is no doubt, that for those of us who have long championed equal rights for women, Sarah Palin represents a gigantic step backwards --- and going backwards after the many hard fought struggles to get ahead is always rough. She got where she did simply because of her looks and she rejects policies which would improve the lives of women.

Simply put, for so many women, this major league anti-feminist is just really hard to take.

image: turbo.inquisitr.com

Equal Rights For Woman Still A Battleground

There is no doubt that women are still struggling for equality in the workplace.

Last week, Dell agree to pay $9.1 million dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit filed because of claims that the company discriminated against its female employees.

The case was filed in federal court in Austin, Texas in October by two former employees. It alleged that Dell engaged in a “practice of gender discrimination with respect to compensating and promoting female employees within the company."

Under the settlement Dell will pay:

  • $5.6 million in back pay for female employees who were in certain jobs between 2007 and 2008
  • $1 million dollars in plaintiffs' legal costs
  • $3.5 million to establish a pay-equity fund for current female employees in certain job grades covered by the suit including management and non-management positions

Dell also agreed, as part of the settlement, to hire experts to review compensation, hiring and promotion practices and conduct a pay-equity analysis.

That’s a whopping big settlement and a very quick one considering that the case filed less than a year ago. I have one friend who worked on a gender class-action discrimination case for over twenty-three years (a case against the US Information Agency and Voice of America which ended up in a $508 million dollar settlement for hundreds of women ).

I suspect that part of the reason for the settlement was simply that the plaintiffs had the goods on Dell. One of  women who brought the lawsuit was a former HR manager who apparently had or knew of the data which substantiated the claims.

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Harassed Pro Choice Doctor Gets Million Dollar Lawsuit Settlement

 Retaliation  Because of Fight for Abortion Training Gets Doc Million Dollar Lawsuit Settlement

A $1.4 million dollar settlement was reached last week in this important case about a doctor's advocacy for reproductive rights.

Here's the story as reported by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Dr. Christopher Carey served for many years as both Chief of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Director of the Obstetrics & Gynecology Residency Program at Maricopa County Hospital in Phoenix.

While in that position, Dr. Carey supported providing OB/GYN residents the opportunity to participate in abortion training if they so desired.

Carey also spoke out against the efforts of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and others who wanted to end those training opportunities.

As a result, Carey claimed he was harassed and retaliated against  by the Board of Supervisors and other officials who:

  • carried on an eighteen month campaign to force Carey out of his position
  • spread false statements which damaged his reputation
  • worked to block his re-appointment to the Medical Staff
  • conducted multiple baseless investigations
  • voted to remove him from his position at the hospital

Carey was terminated from his position in September of 2004.

Carey sued alleging that his Constitutional rights were violated under the First and Fourteenth Amendments,  and that he was discriminated against because of his religious and moral beliefs.

A settlement of $1.4 million dollars was announced on May 22nd by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges which represented Dr. Carey. The case was set to go to trial on June 23rd.

In an interview after the settlement, Dr. Carey said:


I am extremely pleased with the settlement, but it’s important to remember that the shortage of abortion providers in this country is extensive.

A resident’s ability to obtain abortion training is crucial to ensuring women receive quality health care when they need it.

No doubt Dr. Carey is a real champion on this very important and controversial issue.  It's reassuring to many of us that Dr. Carey was vindicated.

In addition to the important principles concerning  quality health care, and freedom free from discrimination and retaliation,  there's a broader lesson to be learned from this case.

It was simply stated by Janet Crepps, deputy director of he U.S. Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights who said:  "Personal politics have no place in medical care."

It's not often that we see cases which send this message -- let's hope it gets delivered.

 Image:blog.lib.umn.edu

            s1.causes.com

Another Victory for Working Moms

I love the decision of Gerving v. Opbiz, LLC which was decided by the Ninth Circuit a few days ago. Thanks to mmmglawblog for pointing it out.

It’s a great example of  “caregiver discrimination” about which the EEOC issued a report just last week (I wrote about it : Read Carefully to Avoid Caregiver Discrimination), and it's a case in which the caregiver wins.

The case also has a very clear analysis of what kind of evidence allows a plaintiff to get to a jury in a typical gender discrimination case.  

Here’s what happened in the case.

Karen Gerving worked as a sales manager for Opbiz (Alladin Resort and Casino) until she was fired by her supervisor, Jim Lauster.

Gerving filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Gerving’s evidence showed that after she became a stepmother, Lauster:

  • began to give her poor performance reviews
  • told her that working mothers should stay at home
  • told her that she would have to choose between being a mother and a sales manager
  • made similar discriminatory remarks to a pregnant co-worker
  • treated  Gerving differently than a male co-worker when she was reprimanded for making calls to her children while he was not

Because of the discriminatory treatment, Gerving complained to the Human Resource Deparatment. Two weeks later, an angry Lauster tried to get Gerving fired.

It turned out that Luster wasn’t able to fire Gerving until some months later when new management was in place.

In a typical discrimination case, the plaintiff can establish an inference of discrimination if she can prove:

1)   she belongs to a protected class

2)   she performed her job satisfactorily

3)   she suffered an adverse employment action

4)   she was treated differently than a similarly situated employee who does not belong to the protected class

Once the employee establishes an inference of discrimination – what’s called the prima facie case – the employer is required to "articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason" for it's employment action.

If the employer does that, the employee must prove pretext – meaning that the employee presents evidence that the reason given by the employer is not believable or made-up.

In this case, Alladin said that Gerving was fired because of poor performance and because she used profanity in an argument with a co-worker.

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Read Carefully to Avoid Caregiver Discrimination

Did you know that:

  • 90.7 % of families with children under 18 have at least one working parent
  • 1 in 10 workers cares for both children and an elderly relative 

It's well documented that most of that burden falls on women who continue to serve as the primary caregivers for children and sick or disabled relatives.

The result is that because of these responsibilities, women have suffered widespread discrimination in employment for as long as they have been working.

That's why it was really good news last week when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)  issued a document on best practices to avoid discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities.

The Work Life Law Center at UC  Hastings College of the Law  describes "caregivers discrimination"  this way:

Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD) is employment discrimination against workers based on their family caregiving responsibilities. Pregnant women, mothers and fathers of young children, and employees with aging parents or sick spouses or partners may encounter FRD.

They may be rejected for hire, passed over for promotion, demoted, harassed, or terminated -- despite good performance -- simply because their employers make personnel decisions based on stereotypical notions of how they will or should act given their family responsibilities.

The purpose of the new EEOC  document is to educate employers about what caregiver discrimination is, how it is manifested, and how it can be minimized or avoided. It also illuminates the not-so-obvious fact that men are victims too.

The report includes some good examples of flexible workplace policies and their proven benefit to both employees and employers.  Sue Shellenbarger's Wall Street Journal article on some of those programs is referenced in the report and is an interesting read.

The EEOC report also includes helpful examples of what this kind of discrimination looks like and here are a few:

Common unlawful stereotypes

  • assuming that female workers who work part-time or take advantage of flexible work arrangements are less committed to their jobs than full-time employees
  • assuming that male workers do not, or should not, have significant caregiving responsibilities
  • assuming that female workers prefer, or should prefer, to spend time with their families rather than time at work
  •  assuming that female workers who are caregivers are less capable than other workers
  •  assuming that pregnant workers are less reliable than other workers. 

 Unlawful conduct that results from the bias

  • asking female applicants and employees, but not male applicants and employees, about their child care responsibilities
  • making stereotypical comments about pregnant workers or female caregivers
  • treating female workers without caregiving responsibilities more favorably than female caregivers
  • steering women with caregiving responsibilities to less prestigious or lower-paid positions;
  • denying male workers’, but not female workers’, requests for leave related to caregiving responsibilities

Just to be clear, while caregiver discrimination has not been around as a legal concept for very long, it is not just theoretical.   Here's an example of some of the cases where caregiver discrimination has appeared:

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Big Victory for Working Moms

What happens when a working mother is denied a promotion because "she has too much on her plate"?  According to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the new opinion Chadwick v. Wellpoint, Inc. her employer can be held liable for sex discrimination. Here's what happened in the case.  

Laurie Chadwick was an employee of  WellPoint, an insurance company, since 1997.  In 2006 she was encouraged by her supervisor to apply for her second promotion to "Team Leader" because:

  • she was already performing several of the functions of the Team Lead position
  • the supervisor believed she was the front-runner for the job
  • she received excellent reviews

At the time of the decision Chadwick was the mother of an eleven year old son and six year old triplets in kindergarten.  Her husband stayed home with the kids while Chadwick worked. She took care of the kids while he worked nights and weekend shifts.  She was also taking one college course a semester.

There was no allegation nor any evidence whatsoever that Chadwick's work suffered because of her childcare responsibilities.

Even though Chadwick was the more qualified candidate, she did not get the promotion. Another employee, Donna Ouelette, with less experience and inferior evaluations, got the position instead.

When Chadwick didn't get the job,  Nanci Miller, the manager responsible for making  the decision explained why:

It was nothing you did or didn't do.  It was just that you're going to school, you have the kids and you just have a lot on your plate right now.


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GETTING FIRED BECAUSE OF PREGNANCY IS ILLEGAL

The New York Times has a long article today about pregnancy discrimination and it is certainly worth reading with one caveat.  While it is informative, I don't think it's entirely correct.

It starts off with this:

HERE’S a pop quiz: Which of the following would violate federal employment law?

1. Laying off a pregnant woman.

2. Laying off a woman on maternity leave.   

Pencils down. The answer is “neither.

I hate to disagree with the NY Times, but I think it's more accurate to say "it could be".

It's quite possible that laying off someone who is pregnant or on maternity leave is illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and to suggest otherwise is a bit misleading.

Just to set the record straight, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, ("PAD"), which was an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that:

  • An employer cannot refuse to hire a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy
  • Pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs
  • Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII

As I have written about before, times of workforce reductions unfortunately create settings where discrimination is rampant.  It is an inescapable truth that when managers are given discretion to terminate employees, some bias may come into play. It is also a fact that EEOC claims are on the rise. When managers are given the opportunity to let people go, it is an opportunity to discriminate for:

  • younger managers who don't like or who are uncomfortable with the "old timers" and replace them with younger cheaper workers
  • men who think women should be at home instead of work
  • whites who don't like blacks and other minorities

What's also true is that women who are terminated when they are pregnant can prove discrimination just like anyone else with a combination of proof showing:

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Odd Bedfellows Agree on Dumping "Conscience Rule"

It's rare that you see the Society for Human Resource Managers ("SHRM") and the ACLU on the same side of an issue -- but that's what's going on with their opposition to the federal regulation called the "conscience rule."

The "conscience rule,"  enforced by the Department of Health and Human Services, is the most  recent and thankfully one of  the last vestiges of the fundamentalist appeasing Bush Administration.

The regulation prohibits employment discrimination against health care workers who refuse certain services based on "religious beliefs" or  "moral objections"  -- such as providing abortions or birth control.

The final rule, entitled Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law, was published in the Federal Register on December 19, 2008.

The Department of Health and Human Service served notice a couple of weeks ago that it intends to rescind the regulation which went into effect on January 20th, the day President Obama took office.

There were many opponents of  the regulation when it was proposed last fall as reported in a recent article in the New York Times about Obama's plan "to undo the rule," The American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood, for example, said the rule could void state laws requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives and requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. It could also allow drugstore employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives.

According to the  same New York Times  article  several states have filed legal challenges against the December 19th regulation:

Attorney General Richard Blumentahal of Connecticut sued in federal court on behalf of his state and several others. He issued a statement at the end of February  saying that his suit will continue until the rule 'is finally stopped.'

The American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians made this announcement when the rule when it went into effect:

Today's regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under the guise of 'protecting' the conscience of health care providers, is yet another reminder of the outgoing administration's implicit contempt for women's right to accurate and complete reproductive health information and legal medical procedures.

In addition to concerns for women's health, opponents of the regulation correctly point out that  the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already offers broad protection against discrimination based on religion. Title VII requires that an employer must make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious practices and beliefs.

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Different Strokes for Different Folks

I got a call last week from a woman in Michigan who was in a great deal of distress about what  was happening to her at work.  She is employed in a  sales  position for a large company.  She told me that she became aware of different criteria being used to judge performance for different individuals in the sales department in which she worked.

From documents she saw, one formula was being used to evaluate the white men,  and a second formula was being used for the one African American in the sales department.   A third formula was being used for the one and only woman. She shared her concern with the African American employee.  He filed a grievance.  She believes that she is now being retaliated against and is fearful that she will lose her job. Let's hope not.

There are three important points to share about this scenario: 

  1. One of the prime ways to prove discrimination is by proving a difference in treatment.  If different standards are being used to evaluate performance for the same or similar jobs, it very well may prove discrimination. The practice of using different criteria to judge the same people in the same jobs is exposing a company to risk.
  2. Retaliation is a separate claim under the law which prohibits discrimination. If a person raises a complaint  -- whether formal or informal -- about discrimination or a perceived civil rights violation and is retaliated against because of it, it's illegal.
  3. If a person sticks up for or advocates on behalf  of a minority who is being discriminated against, and then is retaliated against because of it, the retaliation is illegal.

I wrote about the topic of  white employees sticking up for black friends in a recent article. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals case of Barrett v. Whirlpool Corporation  involved a white employee who protested the racially hostile atmosphere confronting some of her friends at work.  She was retaliated against because of her advocacy.  The court stated that she had a right to be free from retaliation under those circumstances under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

It is sad but true that many women in sales positions are discriminated against with regularity. They are often held to higher standards, given less preferential accounts, and excluded from networking opportunities. When they complain, they are commonly retaliated against.

I had one case involving a woman who worked for seventeen years in sales for a very large corporation without a promotion.  She was regularly training young men brought in by her bosses. The trainees were then promoted over her. Since she was a single mom with a pretty good paying job she felt she could not complain.

Finally one day she had it and decided enough was enough. She voiced her concern to her boss and was immediately shut down.  She filed a complaint with the EEOC claiming gender discrimination. When her boss found out about the charge, he fired her on the spot shouting: "You better find the best god damn lawyer that you can."  We settled the case about eighteen months later.

It seems like no matter how much training and education is provided, there is still is a lack of awareness that a difference in treatment of individuals in similar positions is discriminatory. Sadly true is that when an employee has the nerve to point it out, retaliation is often common which exposes the employee to all sorts emotional and financial distress and the employer to needless liability.

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Few Women Law Partners Comes As No Suprise

It's very well known and often bragged about that over 50% of law school graduates are women. So what's the problem with women in the legal profession?

The problem reported last week is that while women represent over 50% of those graduating from law school, they made up only 28% of those granted partnership at the 85 major law U.S. law firms according to a  new study published by the Project for Attorney Retention at the Hastings College of Law.

The disparity between the number of female law school graduates and female partners is quite remarkable. And it's not because the women are less intelligent or capable than their male counterparts. As cynical as I may be, I don't think anyone would even argue that.

While few want to come out and accuse the legal profession of  gender discrimination,  I have no problem doing so. (Of course, not every firm, not every lawyer)  It's all over the legal profession -- wage discrimination, lack of promotional opportunity, sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, stereotyping, including a particularly horrible record  for women of color. It's all there, and it occurs for many reasons.

We all know that many law firms have a hard time accommodating the needs of working wives and mothers.  While firms are certainly much better than they were twenty-five or thirty years ago about flexible schedules and part-time work, they still have a long way to go.

The Amercian Bar Association's (ABA) Commission on Women in the Profession studies this subject and published it's findings in 1988, 1995, and 2003. The contents are neither encouraging nor surprising. The last report notes:

Current data indicates that more and more firms are allowing part-time schedules, but women testifying at the the 2003 hearings still reported that choosing the part-time option posed professional risks.  A partner at a large national law firm reported a consensus at her firm that the part-time policy is simply 'words on a piece of paper''. . .[Y]our commitment to the firm is still questioned once you have decided to go on a reduced hours schedule.

In addition, women who have obligations to their families are eliminated from mentoring and networking opportunities with clients.  Often times even single women are eliminated from these events -- the golf game, the baseball game, the hunting trip -- simply because they are women.  If you don't  meet and interact with the clients, you don't get the business.  If you don't get the business, you don't produce the revenue and you don't make partner. It's really pretty straightforward.

There's also the plain old fashioned gender bias that is rampant in law firms. Many men believe that women should be home with their children and not working at all or don't have the appropriate composition to practice law. The fact that these views are held by lawyers, and that this attitude is illegal when acted upon in the workplace, does not seem to prevent many partners from discriminating against the women in their firms in a variety of ways.

The latest  ABA report on this subject included the following:

The 1995 report noted that '[b]oth men and women report that women lawyers are viewed as insufficiently aggressive, uncomfortably forthright, too emotional, or not as serious as men about their careers.  When women opt for family leave or report sexual harassment, these stereotypes are reinforced.'

In 2003, there was evidence that those stereotypes have not dissipated .....

One can hardly go a week without reading an article about a law firm being sued for or settling, or  losing  some kind of discrimination lawsuit.   It's not just because law firms are easy targets.  They really do discriminate against their lawyers at an extraordinary rate.

The fact is that many women simply leave the profession and won't sue.  I have had dozens of calls through the years from women who were discriminated against and sexually harassed at their firms.  Without exception, each decided not to sue for fear that they would never find another job.

So while it's better than it was, we are not nearly where we should be in our profession in terms of providing equal opportunity in the workplace. Wouldn't it be nice if we were at the forefront, instead of the rear, on this issue?

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