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Category Archives: Employment Law

EEOC Sues DHD Ventures and Affiliated Companies for Racial Harassment and Retaliation

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Real Estate Management Company Fired Employees After Complaining About Harassment, Federal Agency Charges

GREENVILLE, S.C. – DHD Ventures Management Company, Inc., a New York-based real estate management company, violated federal law when it subjected two black employees to a racially hostile work environment, then terminated them in retaliation for their complaints of discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed yesterday.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, from late 2007 through November 2011, Charles Lesine and Marlin Ware worked at Grandeagle Apartments, a residential complex in Greenville, S.C., that was managed by DHD Ventures Management Company. During that period, they were subjected to racial harassment, including continuous racial slurs made by a coworker. The complaint alleges Lesine and Ware were called “n***r” or “nigga” on a near-daily basis by the coworker. Although Lesine and Ware made multiple complaints to the coworker and to management, the racial epithets continued. The agency says the men were terminated in November 2011 due to their complaints.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial harassment in the workplace and protects employees who oppose racial harassment and race discrimination. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Greenville Division (EEOC v. DHD Ventures Management Company, Inc., et. al, Case No. 6:15-cv-00102-TMC-KFM) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary relief, including back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief for Lesine and Ware.

“Companies must take prompt action to stop harassment in response to complaints of racial slurs being used in the workplace,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “Firing the complaining employee because of his or her complaint is never the correct response and is a violation of federal law.”

DHD Ventures Management Company, Inc. operated as an integrated business enterprise with DHD Ventures NC, LLC and DHD Ventures, LLC.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.

Carolina Metal Finishing Will Pay $40,000 to Settle EEOC Racial Harassment Lawsuit

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Bishopville Plant Subjected African-American Employee to Racial Abuse and Fired Him for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Carolina Metal Finishing, LLC, a Bishopville, S.C. based metal finishing company, will pay $40,000 and furnish significant remedial relief to settle a race harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

Tieron L. Parks worked as a powder coater at the Bishopville plant. According to the EEOC’s complaint, from around October 2011 until around May 21, 2012, Parks was repeatedly subjected to racial slurs by two white employees. The comments included repeated use of the “N-word.” The EEOC alleged Parks complained to company management, but the harassment continued. Within hours of his final complaint on or around May 21, 2012, Parks was fired, the EEOC said, in retaliation for his complaints of racial harassment.

Race discrimination, including racial harassment, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII also protects employees and applicants from retaliation for making complaints about discrimination. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division (EEOC v. Carolina Metal Finishing, LLC, Civil Action No. 3:14-CV-03815-MBS-PJG) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to paying $40,000 in monetary relief, the company must abide by the terms of a two-year consent decree resolving the case. The consent decree enjoins Carolina Metal from engaging in future racial discrimination. The decree also requires the company to conduct anti-discrimination training at its Bishopville facility; post a notice about the settlement at that facility; implement a formal anti-discriminatory policy prohibiting racial discrimination; and report certain complaints of conduct that could constitute discrimination under Title VII to the EEOC for monitoring.

“We are pleased that Carolina Metal Finishing settled this case, and that the company will provide training to employees on federal anti-discrimination laws,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “Racial discrimination remains a problem in today’s workplaces and a major concern to our agency. The EEOC will continue to fight for the rights of employees affected by such illegal employment practices.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.

Kaufman Children’s Center Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination

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Disabled Employee Barred from Returning to Work after Medical Leave, Federal Agency Charges

DETROIT – Kaufman Children’s Center violated federal law when it terminated an employee with a disability returning to work from a medical leave absence, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the lawsuit, Kaufman Children’s Center refused to let the employee, an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapist, return to work in a light duty capacity or offer the employee another reasonable accommodation after she was off work due to a serious cardiac condition. When she sought to return to her previous position, Kaufman Children’s Center formally fired her because of her disability, the EEOC said.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-motor, & Social connections, Inc., Case No. 2:14-cv-14947) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan after first seeking to reach a voluntary settlement through its pre-litigation conciliation process. The Commission seeks to recover monetary compensation for the fired employee, including back pay and compensatory damages for emotional distress, as well as punitive damages.

“Employers violate the ADA when they ignore requests for a reasonable accommodation and terminate employees because they are disabled,” explained Nedra Campbell, trial attorney for the EEOC. “Kaufman Children’s Center had a duty to determine if it could accommodate this employee,” she added.

Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-motor, & Social Connections, Inc. is a Michigan company that specializes in providing services to autistic children (www.kidspeech.com).

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

Shipley’s Do-Nuts Franchise Sued by EEOC for Pregnancy Discrimination and Retaliation

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Company Forced Pregnant Employee To Take Unpaid Leave, Provide Medical Release, Then Fired Her When She Opposed The Demand, Federal Agency Says

HOUSTON – D & S Shipley Donuts d/b/a Shipley’s Do-Nuts, a Katy-area franchise of Shipley’s Do-Nuts, violated federal anti-discrimination laws when it forced an employee whom it suspected of being pregnant, to take unpaid leave until she was cleared by a doctor indicating that she could work despite her pregnancy, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. When the employee failed to provide a release, and after she and her mother disputed the legality of the requirement, the employee was fired in retaliation.

The EEOC’s suit alleged that the owner of Shipley’s Do-Nuts confronted Brooke Foley based on informal reports by other employees that she was pregnant. In an impromptu meeting attended by two other employees, the owner asked Foley intrusive personal questions about whether she was pregnant, which Foley refused to answer. At that point, the owner took Foley off the schedule and told she could not return (and therefore not get paid), until she provided a doctor’s note allowing her to work and assuring Shipley’s she did not have a “high risk” pregnancy.

The lawsuit further alleged that the same day as the confrontation with the owner, Foley’s mother, acting on her daughter’s behalf, confronted the owner about the legality of the release requirement. The following day, Foley was fired by a supervisor over the phone alleging she failed to report to work, despite her having been removed from the schedule.

Such alleged actions violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex or pregnancy and also prohibits retaliation against an employer for opposing an illegal workplace practice. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 4:14-cv-03712) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks an injunction, back pay with pre-judgment interest, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages.

“The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensures that female employees are not forced out of the workplace because of their pregnancy. The decision of whether a pregnant employee should remain gainfully employed during her pregnancy rests solely upon her,” said Martin Ebel, acting director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office.

Jim Sacher, EEOC’s regional attorney in Houston, explained, “The Supreme Court has made clear that the employee alone is responsible for making decisions that affect her safety and that of her future offspring. An employer who forces leave on a pregnant employee violates federal law. The law also prohibits retaliation against an employee for opposing unlawful attempts to interfere with that decision-making.”

Shipley’s Do-Nuts, the franchisor, has approximately 300 company-owned and franchised stores in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. This Shipley’s franchise owns and operates at least three restaurants in or around Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

The EEOC’s Houston District Office is located on the sixth floor of the Total Building at 1201 Louisiana St. in Houston.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC and the laws it enforces is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.

What You Should Know about the EEOC and Enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act

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July 26, 2014 is the 24th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Title 1 of the ADA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified job applicants and employees based on their physical or mental disabilities. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees who need them because of their disabilities, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. These requirements apply to businesses with 15 or more employees, and state and local governments.

We are proud of our efforts to enforce this landmark law and will continue to work to eradicate disability discrimination. To that end, the Commission recently adopted a Strategic Enforcement Plan, identifying certain emerging issues under the ADA as a national enforcement priority.

Since EEOC began enforcing the ADA in July 1992 the number of charges alleging disability discrimination has grown from just over 15,000 in FY 1993 to near 26,000 last fiscal year. Through the resolution of these charges during the investigatory process and conciliation, the EEOC has obtained millions of dollars in monetary benefits, most recently obtaining $109.2 million for the victims of disability discrimination in FY 2013. A few recent and notable conciliations are highlighted below:
•A nationwide systemic investigation of a major retail establishment was successfully resolved by a conciliation agreement when the employer agreed to pay $2.3 million to a class of 76 individuals whom the EEOC found were denied reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Under the agreement, the employer has also agreed to make significant changes to its reasonable accommodation policies and practices nationwide; to conduct issue specific training for employees on the ADA and reasonable accommodations.
•In an ADA leave policy case, the Chicago District conciliated a charge for over $1.6 million. Approximately 2,000 individuals were affected by the employer’s nationwide policy of denying additional leave as a reasonable accommodation for a disability. The conciliation agreement included provisions requiring the employer to revise its disability leave policy at all of its facilities nationwide, post a notice for all employees, conduct ADA training for all managers, supervisors and Human Resources personnel and EEOC monitoring of any revisions or modifications of its leave policy for the term of the agreement.

Since July 2013 alone, the Commission has filed more than 50 lawsuits alleging disability discrimination. The Commission filed these lawsuits to seek relief for discrimination victims with a variety of impairments, including cancer (e.g., breast cancer, basal cell carcinoma, and colon cancer), dwarfism, epilepsy, deafness, blindness, retinitis pigmentosa, Fuchs Endothelial Dystrophy, Usher’s Syndrome, traumatic brain injury, HIV, multiple sclerosis, spinal stenosis, neuropathy, herniated discs and other back impairments, diabetes, anemia, coronary artery disease, end-stage renal disease, PTSD, narcolepsy, depression, anxiety disorder, and dyslexia.

The alleged discrimination has included failure to provide reasonable accommodation (including the failure to provide appropriate leave for disability-related needs or treatment); asking prohibited disability-related questions of employees; refusing to hire qualified applicants based on myths, fears, or stereotypes concerning certain impairments, and discharging qualified workers on the basis of disability.

A few notable cases addressed by courts or resolved over the past year are highlighted below:
•EEOC v. Hill Country Farms. The EEOC obtained the largest award ever under the ADA and the largest award in the history of the EEOC – $240 million for the class of men with intellectual disabilities. The EEOC alleged that a food processing plant in Iowa subjected a group of 32 workers with intellectual disabilities to a hostile work environment, discriminatory pay, and other discriminatory terms of employment for many years. Specifically, the company paid the men only $65 a month for full-time work, subjected them to abusive verbal and physical harassment, restricted their freedom of movement, required them to live in deplorable and sub-standard living conditions, and failed to provide adequate medical care. In September 2012, the court entered partial judgment for the EEOC and ordered the company to pay class members $1.3 million in back pay for work they performed between 2007 and 2009. In May 2013, a jury returned a verdict of $240 million for the class (reduced by the court to $1.6 million because of the ADA’s damages cap). Ultimately, the court ordered payment of $3.4 million for the class members. In May 2014, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the entry of judgment in favor of the EEOC.
•In EEOC v. Ford Motor Company. The EEOC sued Ford Motor charging that the company’s denial of a particular employee’s request to work from home up to four days a week as an accommodation for her irritable bowel syndrome violated the ADA. Harris was a resale steel buyer whose job primarily required telephone and computer contact with coworkers and suppliers. Ford’s telecommuting policy authorized employees to work up to four days a week from a telecommuting site. The district court granted summary judgment for Ford Motor, holding that attendance at the job site was an essential function of the employee’s job, and that her disability-related absences meant that she was not a “qualified” individual under the ADA. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court, explaining that “the law must respond to the advance of technology in the employment context . . . and recognize that the ‘workplace’ is anywhere that an employee can perform her job duties.” The Appeals Court held that the “highly fact-specific” question was whether presence at the Ford facilities was truly essential, and that a jury should decide that issue.
•EEOC v. Princeton Healthcare. The EEOC sued Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS), alleging that its fixed leave policy failed to consider leave as a reasonable accommodation, in violation of the ADA. According to the EEOC, since PHCS’s leave policy merely tracked the requirements of the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees who were not eligible for FMLA leave were fired after being absent for a short time, and many more were fired once they were out more than 12 weeks. Under the consent decree settling the suit PHCS will pay $1,350,000, which the EEOC will distribute to employees who were unlawfully terminated under PHCS’s former policy. PHCS also is prohibited from having a blanket policy that limits the amount of leave time an employee covered by the ADA may take. PHCS must instead engage in an interactive process with covered employees, including employees with a disability related to pregnancy, when deciding how much leave is needed. In addition, PHCS can no longer require employees returning from disability leave to present a fitness for duty certification stating that they are able to return to work without any restrictions. PHCS also agreed that it will not subject employees to progressive discipline for ADA-related absences, and will provide training on the ADA to its workforce.

Other significant resolutions of EEOC cases involving leave and attendance policies from previous years include Interstate Distributor, ($4.85 million nationwide resolution challenging maximum 12-week leave policy), Supervalu ($3.2 million resolution challenging termination of approximately 1,000 employees at the end of medical leave),Sears ($6.2 million resolution challenging automatic termination policy and failure to accommodate employees injured at work) and Verizon ($20 million nationwide resolution challenging “no fault” attendance policy).

In fiscal year 2013, the Commission’s outreach, education and technical assistance efforts focused on increasing voluntary compliance with federal equal employment laws and on improving employee and employer awareness of rights and responsibilities under federal employment discrimination laws, especially among underserved groups and in underserved areas. To this end, in FY 2013 the EEOC reached more than 60,000 individuals with information concerning the ADA through 850 outreach and education events. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of people educated about the ADA over the past 24 years.

The Commission has developed a robust catalogue of technical assistance documents on the ADA as well as publications outlining how the law may apply to medical conditions, and the workplace rights of individuals with those conditions. On May 15, 2013, the EEOC issued updates on four of these documents to address how changes in the definition of “disability” as a result of the 2008 Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) may affect who is covered under the ADA. The revised documents include the following:
•Cancer in the Workplace and the ADA
•Diabetes in the Workplace and the ADA
•Epilepsy in the Workplace and the ADA
•Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in the Workplace and the ADA

Additionally, the EEOC has recently issued guidance designed to address questions from mental health providers concerning their role in the reasonable accommodation process, as well as the employment of veterans with disabilities.

We will continue our efforts to eradicate discrimination in the workplace by enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws and educating employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities.

Baker Wellness Center Illegally Fired Employee Because of Disability, EEOC Claims in Lawsuit

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Company Openly Stated in Termination Letter That It Fired Employee Due to’Medical Problems’ After Learning of Her Diabetes, Federal Agency Charges

NEW ORLEANS — Baker Wellness Center, Inc., a Baton Rouge, La., area adult day care and wellness center, illegally fired a Direct Service Worker (DSW) because she had a disability–diabetes, and in retaliation for her not giving prohibited medical information on its application, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, in October, 2011, Brenda Lanus filled out an application to be a DSW. The suit alleges that Baker Wellness made unlawful medical inquiries on Lanus’s job application, without having first made a conditional offer of employment. One question asked whether she had any physical condition which would limit her ability to perform the job in question, which consisted mostly of driving clients, to which she truthfully responded “no.”

Lanus was hired and performed her job without incident until December 2011 when she experienced a few minutes of blurred vision. She informed Baker Wellness of the incident and the fact that she had diabetes. At that point, Baker Wellness required her to undergo medical examinations to be cleared for duty. In the meantime, Baker Wellness continued to assign Lanus to drive clients, which she did without incident, the EEOC charged.

In early January 2012, at the company’s insistence, Lanus provided Baker Wellness with a doctor’s note, which recommended that Lanus not drive until she was cleared by her eye doctor. Baker Wellness then removed Lanus from her work schedule, without reassigning her to a job not requiring driving, such as cleaning duties, which a facilities manager had told Lanus earlier she could perform if she had to stop driving temporarily.

The EEOC further alleged that in mid-January, Lanus provided Baker Wellness with a release from her eye doctor, stating that she could return to work and placing no restrictions on her duties. Nevertheless, Baker Wellness fired her immediately, stating in the termination letter: “Brenda Lanus [is] no longer with this facility due to her medical problems which were not disclosed at the time of her hire.”

Such an alleged series of incidents violated the ADA, which prohibits asking any medical questions at the pre-hire state; forbids singling out individuals with disabilities for post-hire medical exams; requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations where necessary on a temporary or permanent basis; prohibits firing an employee for having a disability; and pro­hibits retaliation for failure to comply with illegal questions. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Baker Wellness, Civ. No. 3:14-CV-00808) in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting Baker Wellness from engaging in further disability discrimination. The suit also seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Lanus.

Keith Hill, director of the EEOC’s New Orleans Field Office, said, “Employers cannot fire an employee just because of a physical impairment that does not affect the ability to perform the job properly and safely. Federal law prohibits it.”

“The days when employers treat an employee as disposable because of a physical impairment, like diabetes, should be long gone,” said EEOC Houston Regional Attorney Jim Sacher, whose jurisdiction includes Louisiana. “The ADA has prohibited disability discrimin­ation since 1990. The EEOC will continue to prosecute violations, in order to provide relief to victims, educate the employer community, and foster compliance.”

Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). Another SEP priority is for the Commission to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA among others.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information is available on the agency’s website at www.eeoc.gov.

Justice Department Files Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education

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WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education, alleging that the board discriminated against pregnant teachers at Scammon Elementary School by subjecting them to adverse personnel actions, including termination in some instances, after they announced their pregnancies. According to the complaint, these adverse personnel actions were in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. The statute explicitly prohibits employers from discriminating against female employees due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that, starting in 2009, the principal at Scammon subjected female teachers to lower performance evaluations, discipline, threatened termination and/or termination because of their pregnancies. The complaint further alleges that the board approved the firing of six recently pregnant teachers employed at Scammon and forced two other recently pregnant teachers to leave Scammon. The department’s complaint seeks a court order that would require the board to develop and implement policies that would prevent its employees from being subjected to discrimination due to their pregnancies. The relief sought also includes monetary damages as compensation for those teachers who were harmed by the alleged discrimination.

Two teachers who had been pregnant while working at Scammon filed charges of sex discrimination with the Chicago District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC investigated the charges and determined that there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred against the two charging parties as well as against other pregnant teachers. The EEOC was unsuccessful in its attempts to conciliate the matter before referring it to the Department of Justice.

“No woman should have to make a choice between her job and having a family,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division. “Federal law requires employers to maintain a workplace free of discrimination on the basis of sex.”

“Despite much progress, we continue to see the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices in the workplace,” said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang.

“The EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination against pregnant employees,” said John P. Rowe, former District Director of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office. Rowe led the EEOC’s administrative investigation of the charges filed by the two teachers.

This lawsuit is brought by the Department of Justice as a result of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the EEOC and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for vigorous enforcement of Title VII.

More information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the website of the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division (www.justice.gov/crt/about/emp/).

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information on the Civil Rights Division’s work is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt/. Pregnancy discrimination, in particular, has been identified by the EEOC as a strategic enforcement priority, and earlier this year, the agency issued updated guidance, which is available at www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy_guidance.cfm

Appellate Court Overturns $4 Million Fee Award Against EEOC

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Eighth Circuit Says Lower Court Improperly Made “Universal Finding” that All of EEOC’s Claims Against CRST Trucking Company Were “Without Foundation”

CHICAGO – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued an order Monday reversing a federal district court’s decision granting over $4 million in fees and costs to CRST Van Expedited Inc. (CRST), a trucking company, against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and remanding the case back to the lower court to “individually assess each of the claims” and “explain why it deems a particular claim to be frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.”

EEOC brought suit against the trucking company in 2007, (EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited Inc., 1:07-cv-00095-LRR, N.D. Iowa), alleging that CRST was responsible for severe and pervasive sexual harassment in its New-Driver Training Program, ultimately identifying over 150 individual victims of the alleged harassment for whom it was seeking relief. In a series of orders, the district court dismissed the claims of all of these women. EEOC appealed and the parties eventually settled the claim of one of the women alleging harassment. The district court then awarded the company fees and costs against EEOC, stating that CRST was the prevailing party with respect to the remaining 153 individual claimants.

In its 25-page order in the current appeal (No. 13-3159, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Cir.), the appellate court reversed some of the findings of the district court on which it had based its fee award. Specifically, the Eighth Circuit reversed the lower court’s award of attorney’s fees based on a purported pattern-or-practice claim, holding that EEOC had made no such claim. The court also reversed the lower court’s award of fees relating to the dismissal of 67 claims based on the alleged failure of EEOC to satisfy its pre-suit obligations, holding that such dismissal does not constitute a ruling on the merits – necessary for justifying an award of attorney fees.

The appellate court then turned to the individual claims of the alleged victims. Instead of individually analyzing whether each of the 153 claims was “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless,” as required by controlling legal precedent, the lower court summarily found that all 153 claims satisfied this standard. The Eighth Circuit found this was error. More problematic, the appellate court found that the lower court included in its decision other claims for which the appellate court explicitly found earlier that CRST was not entitled to any fees (the pattern-or-practice claim and the 67 claims dismissed based on EEOC’s pre-suit obligations). The Eighth Circuit therefore remanded the case back to the district court to make individual assessments on the merits of each of the remaining claims.

David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC, said, “We view the 8th Circuit’s decision as a favorable one. The appellate court’s careful analysis reinforces long-standing principles of law, and the decision emphasizes that fees cannot be awarded against the EEOC absent particularized determinations that the claims pursued by the EEOC were frivolous. To us, that is a principle of absolutely critical importance, and we understand the court’s decision to turn upon that principle. The case is, of course, not over, and further proceedings lie ahead. We are encouraged that the 8th Circuit has again articulated the principle which will govern as we move forward.”

The EEOC’s Regional Attorney in Chicago, John Hendrickson, added, “As anyone who has followed the CRST litigation knows, the agency has absorbed its share of criticism about the case even though the proceedings were ongoing. Today’s decision illustrates the perils of rendering premature judgments and counsels a more measured approach.”

EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

Can My Employer Withhold My Last Paycheck if I Don’t Sign My Noncompete?

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Occasionally, employers will require employees to sign a non-compete contract during their employment. However, the one thing they cannot do is withhold your last paycheck if you fail to sign one. The Kentucky Wage and Hour statute says you can’t withhold an employee’s final paycheck for any reason. If a company does, they subject themselves to double liquidated damages (that means you can sue for double damages), plus attorney fees.

If you’re ever asked to sign any kind of document at work, you should take it home, read it thoroughly, and ask an attorney go read it as well. The document could be a non-coBig Officempete, severance agreement, or some other last chance agreement. These types of documents are usually written in large single spaced paragraphs with lots of provisions making them difficult to understand. You want to make sure they’re not trying to take away certain rights or benefits, so always read a document thoroughly. Often times, severance agreements will ask the employee to look over the document with an attorney, so you can approach your employer by saying your attorney suggested specific changes to a document.

If you’re actually in the process of being fired, there’s no need to rush to sign anything. (It’s not like they can fire you faster or harder.) Frequently, the reason terminated employees are asked to sign anything is for some sort of severance agreement where the employer wants the employee to waive their right to sue, in exchange for either being paid some amount of money or agreeing not to fight an unemployment claim.

If you’re handed any sort of document at work and are asked to sign it, always read it over thoroughly. Make sure you’re not signing away important rights or benefits. Ask an attorney for help when necessary. It can be difficult to approach your employer with your concerns, especially if you’re being let go.

If you feel you’ve been unfairly treated by your employer, or given a document to sign that you’re unsure of, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100 to see how we can help.

Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Sony to Pay $85,000 under Decree Resolving EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

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Electronics Giant Allegedly Engineered Firing of Employee Because of Her Prosthetic Leg

CHICAGO – Sony Electronics, Inc. will pay $85,000 under a consent decree entered in federal court today ending a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that Sony violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it brought about the termination of a woman with a prosthetic leg because of her disability.

The employee had been sent by Staffmark Investment LLC, a staffing agency, to inspect Sony televisions on a temporary basis at a facility located in Romeoville, Ill. According to the EEOC, on the employee’s second day on the job, a Staffmark employee approached and removed the employee from the worksite, explaining that there were concerns she would be bumped into or knocked down.

Julianne Bowman, the EEOC Acting Chicago District Director who managed the agency’s investigation, said, “We found that although the employee’s removal was executed by Staffmark employees, it was actually prompted by a request from Sony’s management which made Sony complicit in the discrimination.”

The EEOC filed suit against both Staffmark and Sony. The case against Staffmark ended in a consent decree entered June 25, 2013 under which Staffmark paid $100,000 to the employee.

The consent decree, entered today by U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel of the Northern District of Illinois, ends the EEOC’s lawsuit against Sony and provides an additional $85,000 in monetary relief to the victim. The decree also requires Sony to report all employee complaints of disability discrimination to the EEOC for the next two years. Sony must also train certain of its managerial and supervisory employees on the laws pertaining to employment discrimination, including the ADA. The decree also specifically provides that Sony cannot require the employee to keep the facts underlying the case confidential, waive her rights to file charges of discrimination with a government agency, or refrain from applying for work with Sony or any of its clients.

John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago, said, “The ADA provides robust employee protections, even for short-term temporary workers hired through staffing agencies. Smart employers will learn from this case that they cannot insulate themselves from liability for discrimination by acting through employment and staffing agencies. That’s axiomatic under the civil rights laws we enforce-if you can’t do it directly, you can’t do it through someone else.”

EEOC filed the case, EEOC v. Staffmark Investment LLC and Sony Electronics, Inc., No. 12-cv-9628, on Dec. 4, 2012, after first attempting to reach a negotiated settlement through the agency’s conciliation process. EEOC Trial Attorneys Ann Henry and Brad Fiorito, and Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason, litigated the case on behalf of the government.

EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.