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by M. McClure on Oct 8, 2013 at 9:09 AM

EEOC The federal government shutdown continues, and although the EEOC offices are impacted by the closure, the requirement for an employee to file a charge of discrimination within 180 days of the discriminatory conduct remains.

According to the EEOC shutdown notice, which can be found on the EEOC website at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/shutdown_notice.cfm, there are currently only a limited number of services available during the shutdown. Although many of the services provided by the EEOC are currently unavailable, the clock is still running for employees who are seeking to file a charge of discrimination against an employer. Thus, In Arkansas, the requirement to file a charge within 180 days of the discriminatory conduct is still in effect.

The EEOC's mediation services and the EEOC's litigation efforts are suspended during the shutdown.

 

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by M. McClure on Sep 13, 2010 at 3:31 PM

Plaintiffs gain momentum in ADA litigationThe first cases decided under the amended ADA are beginning to appear, and, as expected, they don't look great for employers. In October of 2008, Congress passed the Amendments Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADAAA), expanding the definition of disability. The new cases move away from the issue of whether the plaintiff is disabled and focus instead on whether the employer met its responsibility in the accommodation process.  Three recent cases illustrate this trend.    

Jenkins v. National Board of Medical Examiners is the only ADAAA case that has been decided by a circuit court so far.  Jenkins was a medical student that had been diagnosed with a reading disorder at a young age.  Despite this disadvantage, he successfully completed high school, college and had reached his third year of medical school before his reading disorder presented an insurmountable challenge.  The National Board of Medical Examiners refused to provide Jenkins with additional time on an upcoming test.  Jenkins sued for injunctive relief.  At trial the court applied the old, more restrictive, standard and found that Jenkins was not disabled.  Jenkins appealed.  Before the Sixth Circuit heard the case, the new standard went into effect.  Because Jenkins was requesting relief for an ongoing harm, the Sixth Circuit applied the ADAAA and found that Jenkins was disabled.  Plaintiff wins.
    
In Grizzell v. Cyber City Teleservices Marketing, Inc., the employee was sent to the Philippines for job training where he witnesses the death of a young girl.  The experience traumatized the employee, who had previously been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The employee told his employer that he might need treatment for PTSD, but the employer refused to accommodate the employee’s request.  A few weeks later, the employer fired him.  The employee sued; the employer filed a motion to dismiss; and the court held that PTSD is a disability under the ADAAA and the case should go to trial.  Plaintiff wins.
    
In Hoffman v. Carefirst of Fort Wayne, Inc., the employee was in remission after treatment for renal cell carcinoma and had been released for work with no restrictions by his doctor.  One year later, the employer changed the employee’s hours from 40 a week to 65-70.  When the employee told his employer that he could not work that long for health reasons and provided a statement from his doctor to that effect, the employer fired him.  Later, the employer called the employee, stating that he had not been terminated, and could work 40 hours a week, but could no longer work from home and must commute to a location an hour away.  The employee was not amused, and told the employer that because he had already been fired, he was not coming back to work under those conditions.  The employee then sued the employer for wrongful discharge under the ADAAA.  The employer filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that the employee was not disabled.  The Court held that cancer in remission can be a disability, and held for the employee.  Plaintiff wins.
    
The score so far: Plaintiffs 3, Employers 0.  In every ADAAA case the courts have ruled on to date, in addition to the three discussed above, the employee has been found to be disabled.  This is a major shift for employers.  Employers now need to focus on the accommodation process and give real thought to whether an accommodation is available to assist an employee who has medical concerns.   

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by M. McClure on Jan 30, 2010 at 3:41 PM

Title VII prohibits gender discrimination based on appearanceWithout being told by their lawyers, most employers know that they shouldn't fire an employee because she's not "pretty." Some employers need a little additional coaching. 

In 1989, the US Supreme Court found that gender stereotyping was a violation of Title VII.  In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court considered whether gender stereotyping disadvantaged a woman with a masculine appearance and mannerisms when compared to men. 

But, does discrimination occur when a female manager fires a female employee because she doesn't have a "Midwestern girl look"? That's just the question the Eighth Circuit recently answered in Lewis v. Heartland Inns.

In Heartland Inns, the plaintiff, Lewis, was by all accounts an excellent employee, and her supervisor recommended Lewis for a promotion to the hotel front-desk during the day shift. Lewis was in the new position for a month when a more senior manager, also female, visited the hotel. The senior manager did not believe that Lewis had the right "Midwestern girl look" for the front desk, and in the past the senior manager had stated that the Heartland staff should be "pretty," particularly at the front desk.  Upon meeting Lewis, the senior manager insisted on conducting her own interview of Lewis, although Lewis had already been in the front desk position for over a month.  

As might be expected, the interview did not go well.  The accounts of the interview varied between Lewis and the senior manager, but the result was Lewis' termination.

The Eighth Circuit reasoned that Lewis did not need to prove that she was disadvantaged in comparison to men, but instead, the court found that "the principle focus of Title VII is the protection of the individual employee, rather than the protection of the minority group as a whole." Therefore, there was no need to show that Lewis was treated poorly in comparison to men. 

Yes, this case expands the theories under which employers can be sued in the Eighth Circuit, but the rule that you should not make employment decisions based on employee's appearance really isn't news.  Unless an appearance standard is a bona fide occupational qualification (Hooters girls?), employers should just close their eyes when they make employment decisions.

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by M. McClure on Jan 16, 2010 at 8:48 AM
Filed in Discrimination | EEOC

Warning signs that the EEOC is targeting your businessThe EEOC has watched the OFCCP collect millions from employers by pursuing claims of systemic discrimination in the employers' hiring processes.  The OFCCP uses statisticians and testing specialists to uncover statistical evidence of discrimination, and this strategy has been remarkably effective for the agency. 

For the last few years, the EEOC has worked to expand individual charges into class claims, particularly in the area of failure-to-hire claims.  The EEOC will closely scrutinize any barrier to hire that the employer puts in place, such as a pre-employment tests, drug screens, or background checks. You will know that you are in the EEOC's systemic discrimination cross hairs if the EEOC issues a Request for Information (RFI) with an individual charge that requests information regarding:

  • Validation studies for pre-employment tests.
  • Hiring policy information for positions unrelated the charging party's position.
  • Background check vendors or policies.

While failure-to-hire claims are the low hanging fruit, the EEOC also looks for class claims that can be based on other seemingly neutral policies, like compensation policies. For example, if EEOC begins asking for pay data that is unrelated to the individual charge, that's a good sign that the EEOC is looking to expand the investigation outside of the individual claim. Attorneys will object to these requests as irrelevant to the charge, but the EEOC's investigative authority is broad.  The Second Circuit recently upheld the EEOC's right to subpoena nationwide records in a charged filed by an individual.  

An employer's best defense to this EEOC strategy is to get your house in order before the EEOC knocks on the door. Federal contractors who have to answer to the OFCCP are familiar with this approach and conduct self-evaluations to determine whether the company has any existing risk.  It's better to address these issues internally before a federal agency does it for you.    

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by Jewel Bennett on Oct 5, 2009 at 11:26 AM

employment lawyer recommends proceeding with caution on management behaviorIn Anderson v. Family Dollar Stores of Arkansas, Inc., the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals closely followed the US Supreme Court's direction that Title VII is not a "general civility code for the American workplace."   Employers can take comfort in the high standard courts have set regarding bad behavior in the workplace, but a company that wants to remain an employer of choice will hold their management team to a much higher standard.   Bottom line, if one of your managers is a jerk, you should demand a change in behavior or show him or her the door.

The plaintiff in Family Dollar Stores started work as a manager trainee for Family Dollar. She was fired after her first day. She complained to HR and met with the district manager. During her meeting, plaintiff claims that the district manager talked about very personal things, such as her hair, eyes, and marital status. Plaintiff was rehired and placed in a five-week training program. During the district manager's contact with plaintiff, which was once a week for approximately an hour, plaintiff claims that the district manager was physically inappropriate towards her and insinuated that he could control her future in the company.  

At the end of her training period, plaintiff was assigned to a store as manager. During the first week she made phone calls to the district manager for assistance. At one time, the district manager, who was in Florida at the time, told plaintiff that he felt she should be with him.  Another time, the plaintiff claims that the district manager called her "baby doll."

Several months after plaintiff was hired, the district manager came to the store and plaintiff addressed all of her problems with her employees. She also told him they needed to prepare the appropriate paperwork for her back pain because she was forced to unload the truck by herself.  The district manager's demeanor worsened and he grabbed plaintiff and told her he thought she was no longer willing to be a team player.  He then fired plaintiff.

Plaintiff did not report any of the harassment to HR and even though she wrote an email to HR after her termination, she did not include the sexual harassment. She first mentioned the sexual harassment in her EEOC complaint. The district court granted Family Dollar's summary judgment, finding that plaintiff's allegations were not so severe as to alter a term, condition, or privilege of her employment. The Court of Appeals agreed. The Court stated that although White's conduct was ungentlemanly and inappropriate, Title VII is not a "general civility code for the American workplace."

Sure, the district manager's conduct was not harassment under Title VII, but to create a more productive work environment, employers should not allow this type of conduct in their workplace.  It is much easier to be civil than sorry. 

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by M. McClure on Jul 26, 2009 at 4:56 PM
heat heats up sexual harrassment complaints in ArkansasJuly in Arkansas is hot.  As the days get longer and ties get loosened, employers find themselves responding to more complaints of sexual harassment. The good news for business owners and HR professionals is that it is much easier to handle an harassment complaint then, say, a wage and hour class action.  

The law requires an employer who receives an harassment complaint to perform a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and to stop the harassing behavior. Everything gets a little trickier if a supervisor is accused, but in many cases, an harassment complaint can be put to rest with an investigation and appropriate disciplinary action.  To help ease your summer workload, here's a round-up of solid investigation and harassment policy advice.  Take care of that complaint today, and get out to the lake!

EEOC's Enforcement Guidance on Harassment by Supervisors
. Check out section 1. e. regarding how to conduct an investigation.  

Workplace Investigations: Don't Forget to Communicate with the Complainant

Are Your Investigations Unbiased?


Remedial Action Must be Meaningful to Save Employer from Harassment Liability

Where There's Smoke, There's Not Always Fire


Suspended With Pay - A Call to Get the Investigation Done Quickly, Unless You Work for the Government....

Employee Handbooks: Anti-Harassment Tip Sheet


Text Message Harassment - No LOLing Matter

Text Harassment?

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