New York Employment Attorneys Blog

By Owen H. Laird, Esq.

In a recent decision, the National Labor Relations Board (“NRLB”) expanded its definition of what constitutes a “joint employer.”  This seemingly innocuous change in policy could have significant ramifications for millions of American employees.

The case concerned California company Browning-Ferris Industries (“BFI”), which operates a recycling facility.  BFI employs workers outside of the facility to collect and prepare waste materials (“outside workers”) but uses employees provided by another company, Leadpoint Business Services (“Leadpoint”), to perform tasks inside BFI’s facility, such as sorting and cleaning (“inside workers”).  BFI’s outside workers are represented by a union, which sought to represent the inside workers as well.

BFI opposed the unionization effort on the grounds that the employees supplied by Leadpoint were not BFI employees and, therefore, could not be part of the same bargaining unit as BFI employees.  The union contended that BFI and Leadpoint were joint employers, and, therefore, a single bargaining unit would be appropriate.

Prior to this decision, the standard used by the NLRB to determine whether an entity was a joint employer was a “direct control” test, meaning that, if the entity exercised direct control over working conditions, it was a joint employer.  In the BFI decision, the NLRB abandoned the “direct control” test, adopting an “indirect control” or “reserved control” test.  Prior to this change, for the purpose of the National Labor Relations Act, to be an employer, an entity had to actively supervise the workers in question.  Now, if an entity exercises control through another entity, both entities can be considered joint employers and, consequently, unions can negotiate directly with either entity.

The BFI decision reaches far beyond the single California recycling plant at issue; it has potential ramifications for all employees who work under two or more different employers.  For example, this change will likely affect fast-food workers because they typically work for an individual franchise within a much larger company.  Under the old definition, a fast-food worker’s only employer was the franchise where that individual worked.  If these workers attempted to form a union, the bargaining unit would be limited to those working at that franchise (or perhaps a handful of franchises if the same company owned them).  As a result, historically, fast-food workers have not unionized because hundreds or thousands of tiny, fragmented bargaining units are not a particularly effective bargaining structure.  Now, however, fast-food workers may be able to form a single union encompassing many or all of a corporation’s franchises as a single, united group, increasing their bargaining power.

This decision could have a major effect on the ongoing efforts of fast-food workers to achieve nation-wide pay increases.  Now, in addition to protesting and lobbying, these workers may be able to take advantage of existing labor laws and form a union to pursue these goals.

Nonetheless, corporate interests are sure to mount a legal challenge against the NLRB’s decision, and the breadth of this new “indirect control” system has not yet been tested.  Courts may overrule the NLRB’s decision, and even if they ultimately uphold the decision, they may not settle this dispute for years.

If you believe that your employer is violating federal, state, or local labor laws, contact The Harman Firm PC.

Jennifer Melendez and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On August 22, 2015, Shawn Lukaszewics filed a complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court against legendary comic book creator and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, his wife Joan Lee, and his adult daughter Joan Celia Lee.  Mr. Lukaszewics, the Lee family’s former executive assistant, alleges violations of California labor law, including unpaid overtime, failure to provide breaks, and failure to pay wages on time, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In October 2014, Joan Celia Lee hired Mr. Lukaszewics to set up a convention booth for Stan Lee at the Los Angeles ComiKaze convention. Her father, Stan Lee was disappointed with Mr. Lukaszewics’ final result, telling him, “This is fucking embarassing…you did a shitty job…this is fucking unbelievable.” Notwithstanding his expressed disappointment, Mr. Lee hired Mr. Lukaszewics as a full-time executive assistant at a rate of $40 per hour.

Once hired, Mr. Lukaszewics’ job duties consisted of building, launching, and managing various websites, as well as overseeing all social media and marketing on behalf of Joan Celia Lee. Mr. Lukaszewics also ran personal errands for the Lee family, requiring him to be available at all times.  According to the complaint, the Lee family failed to compensate him for his overtime hours.  When Mr. Lukaszewics raised this issue with the Lee family, they allegedly refused to pay him in accordance with the law, stating, “You are already getting paid too much. Don’t complain. You should be an intern. You are lucky to be working for the Lee family in the first place.”

Mr. Lukaszewics’ complaint alleges numerous instances of verbal abuse. For example, in November 2014, Joan Celia Lee instructed Mr. Lukaszewics to deliver mail to the Lee residence. When he arrived and rang the door bell, Mr. Lee rudely yelled over the intercom, “Get the fuck out and never ring my damn doorbell again.”  In another incident, after Joan Lee instructed Mr. Lukaszewics to post a picture to her instagram profile for her, she screamed at Mr. Lukaszewics in front of other employees, saying to him, “You are fucking stupid. You fucked up. If you fuck up again you’re fired.”  After Mr. Lukaszewics explained to Joan Celia Lee that he did exactly as instructed, she responded, “You don’t get an explanation. You are fucking wrong.  Do not challenge me, I am JC Lee.”

In December 2014, the Lee family reduced Mr. Lukaszewics’ pay rate from $40 per hour to $25 per hour.  Mr. Lukaszewics alleges that during this time he constantly had to remind and beg the Lee family to be paid on time, and that he never received the work-breaks to which he was entitled under California law.  In June 2015, Mr. Lukaszewics began to seek medical help and was diagnosed with psychiatric injuries.  On June 3, 2015, Mr. Lee terminated Mr. Lukaszewics after he continued his attempt to collect his wages from the Lee family.  Mr. Lukaszewics alleges that the Lee Family’s abusive treatment caused him to suffer emotional and physical distress, which ultimately led to depression, anxiety, headaches, high blood pressure, and sleep disturbance.

If your employer does not pay you overtime, give you meal or rest breaks, or verbally or phyiscally abuses you, contact The Harman Firm, PC.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On April 20, 2015, in Greathouse v. JHS Security Inc., the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Lambert v. Genesee Hospital, thereby expanding workers’ rights to protect employees from retaliation for oral complaints made to their employers. In this landmark decision, the Second Circuit considered the effect of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. on Lambert with respect to what constitutes “filing a complaint” under the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The Second Circuit held that a complaint does not need to be written or directed to a government agency to trigger FLSA protection.

The FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision prohibits an employer from discharging or discriminating in any manner “against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint … related to” FLSA provisions. The FLSA protects employees from, among things, the failure to receive minimum wage pay, overtime pay, and timely wage payment. In Lambert, the Second Circuit interpreted the anti-retaliation provision to mean an employee must have filed a written complaint with a government agency to trigger its protection. This interpretation was at odds with the United States Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and, ultimately, the rest of the United States Circuit Courts, which held that employees are protected whether the complaint is made orally or in writing and whether the complaint is internal or to a government agency.

In Kasten, the Supreme Court held that oral as well as written complaints satisfied the anti-retaliation provision. The Court reasoned that an interpretation that limited the provision’s coverage to written complaints would only undermine FLSA’s basic objectives to prohibit “labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers.” In the years prior to the passage of FLSA, illiteracy rates were particularly high among the working poor. As a result, the National Labor Relations Board recognized that requiring employees to write grievances would be a substantial hardship on them. Accordingly, the Court found troubling that Congress would want to limit the enforcement of FLSA’s effectiveness by “inhibiting use of the [FLSA’s] complaint procedure by those who would find it difficult to reduce their complaints to writing.…” Additionally, limiting the scope of the anti-retaliation provision to the filing of written complaints would take away needed flexibility from those government agencies charged with FLSA’s enforcement, preventing agencies from using “hotlines, interviews, and other oral methods of receiving complaints.” The Court held that to fall within the scope of the anti-retaliation provision, a complaint only must be sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it, in light of both content and context, as an assertion of rights protected by FLSA and a call for their protection. The Court did not consider the issue that the plaintiff did not complain to a government agency, but to a private employer.

In Greathouse, the Second Circuit noted that although the Kasten Court declined to specifically address whether retaliation for a complaint made to an employer is actionable, the decision “cast doubt” on Lambert’s second requirement that an employee’s complaint must be made to a government agency to fall within FLSA’s anti-retaliation protection. The Second Circuit added that an interpretation of the FLSA that “excludes clearly stated complaints from protection because they were made to the employer instead of a government agency would run counter to the broadly remedial purpose that the Kasten Court instructed FLSA serves.” Looking anew at the statutory language, “filed any complaint,” the Second Circuit agreed with its sister courts that it could be interpreted to include complaints to employers. Using tools of statutory interpretation, including the purpose of the FLSA and giving some degree of weight to the interpretations of the agencies changed with enforcing it, the court held that the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision applied to complaints to employers.

The Kasten and Greathouse decisions are victories for all who work under FLSA protection. If you have complained about your rights under FLSA and suffered retaliation, please contact The Harman Firm, PC.

Yarelyn Mena

On February 28, 2014, Dawn Littlejohn sued her former employer, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) alleging that ACS subjected her to a hostile work environment and terminated her because she was African-American, as well as retaliated against her because of her complaints regarding such discrimination. Ms. Littlejohn also alleged that ACS’s Director of Employee Relations, Brandon Stradford, sexually harassed her. The Southern District dismissed all claims against ACS; however, the Second Circuit disagreed, allowing Ms. Littlejohn to pursue her hostile environment and retaliation claims.

In April 2009, Ms. Littlejohn began working for ACS as the Director of its Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO), leading investigations regarding discrimination, training staff to spot and prevent discrimination, and advising EEO staff on office policies. In December 2009, Ms. Littlejohn began reporting to the Chief of Staff, Amy Baker, a white woman, who reported to ACS’s Commissioner, John Mattingly. Ms. Baker treated Ms. Littlejohn with hostility from the outset of their office relationship. Ms. Baker allegedly made huffing noises in front of manager’s when Ms. Littlejohn walked in the room, directed Ms. Littlejohn to unnecessarily re-create projects that were already completed, and frequently excluded her from the management meetings – which she used to attend, substituting her with a white, male subordinate. When Ms. Littlejohn discussed Ms. Baker’s conduct with her, Ms. Baker responded that Ms. Littlejohn was “just feeling left out” and that she did not “understand the culture” at ACS. Ms. Baker and other White managers continued to isolate Ms. Littlejohn and prevent her from attending meetings until a merger with the City’s Department of Juvenile Justice’s brought on a new Assistant Commissioner, who demanded that Ms. Littlejohn attend the meetings.

As the Director of Employee Relations, Ms. Littlejohn spoke to Ms. Baker and Mr. Mattingly several times regarding their practice of terminating, demoting, and unfavorably reassigning African-American and Hispanic employees at a rate significantly higher than white employees. Ms. Littlejohn also emphasized the lack of African-American women in management positions, along with a wage gap between African-American and white employees. Ms. Baker and Mr. Mattingly continued to ignore not only her personal complaints but her complaints about unequal treatment of colored employees at ACS.

In 2011, Ms. Littlejohn was involuntarily reassigned and demoted to an Administrative Staff Analyst. As a result, Ms. Littlejohn received a $2,000 per-year pay cut. Ms. Littlejohn’s more senior position was given to a white female. Her replacement allegedly had no EEO experience, received more pay than Ms. Littlejohn received while working the same position, and received an assistant, which ACS never offered to Ms. Littlejohn. Ms. Littlejohn is continuing to litigate her remaining claims.

Lawsuits like these continue to give employees the confidence to speak out against discrimination in the workplace. Often times employers try to persuade their employees to believe the isolation they endure in the workplace is not real. Employees must recognize that when management impedes their ability to work effectively, it might be due to discrimination.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, please contact The Harman Firm, PC. 

Jennifer Melendez and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On August 5, 2015, Netflix announced it would offer its employees one year of paid parental leave. The new policy allows parents to set their own schedules – taking leave as necessary – for the first year of their child’s life and gives them the option to return to work full or part-time. Netflix Chief Talent Officer, Tawni Cranz, stated:

The updated policy is intended to help the company retain valuable employees. We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances…We’ll just keep them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay.

Unfortunately, according to Sam Sanders, speaker of National Public Radio, not all employees at Netflix are eligible to participate in the new policy. The policy only applies to “salary streaming employees” and does not cover employees in Netflix’s distribution centers or customer service department, who typically are lower-paid. The policy leaves out approximately 400 to 500 Netflix employees. Shannon Murphy, a Netflix fan, stated:

It’s wrong for Netflix to create two classes of employees. Already, there’s a divide   between higher income earners (especially in the tech industry) and low wage workers in terms of access to important benefits like parental leave.

Ms. Murphy started a petition urging Netflix to expand its new paid-leave policy to all of its employees. However, the petition was a few hundred signatures short of the 6,000-signature goal and has not inspired further change.

Despite the backlash, Netflix’s new paid leave policy has influenced a wave of similar changes throughout the corporate landscape. Following Netflix’s recent press announcement, Microsoft announced that, in addition to 8 weeks maternity leave, it would add 12 weeks parental leave to both parents. Shortly after, Adobe followed suit, announcing that it would double its paid maternity leave to 26 weeks and give 16 weeks of paternity leave.

Netflix, Mircrosoft and Adobe are all raising the standards for parental leave in the corporate world. However, small companies find these offers difficult to match. As a result, finding ways to keep their talented employees from seeking better benefit opportunities elsewhere is a challenge, making small companies less competitive.

Netflix’s year of paid parental leave is creating a demand for companies, large and small, to make changes that are more suitable and accommodating for employees with growing families and may well be a cornerstone for future business success. Companies still can thrive with policies that show they value their employees. In return, employees are more productive when they are not burdened by the stress of working and maintaining their finances while afforded the opportunity to bond with their children. However, the ultimate goal is to distribute these benefits to all employees, despite their income.

If you have questions regarding parental leave policies in your workplace, contact The Harman Firm, PC.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On June 19, 2015, the Second Circuit vacated the Southern District of New York’s decision to dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the administrative exhaustion requirement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit in federal court, but rather a necessary precondition to suit subject to equitable exceptions.

In Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, Plaintiff-Appellant Cole Fowlkes, a journeyman ironworker who self-identifies as male but was born biologically female, alleged that his labor union, Ironworkers Local 40 (“Local 40”), and two of its business agents, Danny Doyle and Kevin O’Rourke, discriminated against him on the basis of gender and retaliated against him for filing an prior action against them by refusing to refer Fowlkes for work through Local 40’s hiring hall. Fowlkes alleges that, in as early as 2005, Local 40 refused to refer him to jobs for which he was qualified, giving those jobs to less-qualified individuals, because of his gender and gender-related complaints.

On May 29, 2007, Fowlkes initiated proceedings before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), charging Local 40 with discrimination and alleging that it subjected him to retaliation and gender-based discrimination in violation of Title VII. The EEOC issued Fowlkes a “Right to Sue” letter dated July 20, 2007, notifying him that the EEOC had decided not to take further action against Local 40 and advising that Fowlkes could pursue his Title VII claims by filing a federal suit against Local 40 within 90 days of his receipt of the letter. Fowlkes, however, proceeding without counsel, did not file his claim until January 25, 2008—more than 180 days later. The district court dismissed his complaint as untimely.

In July 2011, Fowlkes filed a second federal suit, again proceeding without counsel, alleging that the defendants subjected him to harassment and refused to refer him for work based on his gender, which the district court construed as stating federal claims under Title VII. The district court then held that Fowlkes’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies (namely, obtaining a second “Right to Sue” letter) prior to filing his Title VII claims deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction over those claims. A federal court must have subject matter jurisdiction, either through federal question or diversity, to hear a case.

On appeal, and now represented by counsel, Fowlkes argued that the district court erred in dismissing his amended complaint because the exhaustion of administrative remedies before filing a Title VII action in federal court is not a jurisdictional requirement, but rather a precondition of suit that may be subject to equitable exceptions. The Second Circuit agreed, citing Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc. in which the Supreme Court of the United States held: “[F]iling a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit in federal court, but a requirement that … is subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling.” The distinction between a jurisdictional requirement and an administrative prerequisite is that, with respect to the former, a court on its own may dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, whereas, with respect to the latter, a defendant must assert as an affirmative defense a failure to exhaust administrative remedies (in response to which a plaintiff may assert an equitable exception). In other words, a court has no authority to create an equitable exception to a jurisdictional requirement, but may subject a mandatory (but non-jurisdictional) precondition to an equitable exception. The Second Circuit recognized several equitable exceptions, such as: (i) that administrative exhaustion would be futile because the EEOC did not recognize the grounds on which complainant’s suit rests; and (ii) that a prior charge filed with the EEOC was “reasonably related” to the more-recent-at-issue allegation of discrimination. Ultimately, the Second Circuit vacated the district court’s decision, instructing the district court to reconsider on remand whether futility, “reasonable relatedness,” or any other equitable doctrine excuses Fowlkes’s failure to exhaust his administrative remedies.

Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40 highlights the importance of securing legal counsel prior to brining claims to a federal court or an administrative agency. An employment attorney understands the procedural obstacles a plaintiff must navigate to successfully litigate his or her claim. If you believe your employer has discriminated against you and have a case pending before the EEOC, please contact The Harman Firm, PC.

 

Yarelyn Mena and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On July 31, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed race and national origin discrimination claims against the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY). The plaintiffs used statistics alone to attempt to show that the DSNY discriminated against employees of color for management positions.

Each plaintiff believed that he or she was passed over for open positions, for which they were qualified, for lesser qualified White employees. For example, Andrenia Burgis, a Black employee, who was employed with DSNY since 1998, was promoted to Superintendent, and then to General Superintendent Level 1 in 2007. Two years later, Ms. Burgis had met all the prerequisites to continue advancing her position, but she was not promoted. In 2012, Ms. Burgis again applied for promotion to General Superintendent Level 2 but by that time, DSNY already had promoted less qualified White employees to the upper level superintendent positions instead of her.

Plaintiffs chiefly relied on statistics to show that DSNY intended to discriminate against its employees of color.  In 2007, 81% of White employees were supervisors, while a mere 11% of Black employees, and 10% of Hispanic employees, held the same position. The differences became more pronounced as employees moved up the ladder; for example, 91% of Whites held General Superintendent Level 2 and 3 positions, and a bare 5% of Blacks and 3% of Hispanics held the same position.

The Second Circuit Court found, among things, that plaintiffs failed to show that there was any specific instance of discrimination, holding that discriminatory intent based on statistics alone must “be statistically significant on a mathematical sense” and “must absolve of a level that makes other plausible non-discriminatory explanations very unlikely.” As such, the court found that plaintiffs failed to allege statistics that met this standard. The court further found that plaintiffs failed sufficiently to show differences in qualifications between employees of color and White employees with respect to the management positions at issue and, if in fact there were differences, that they stemmed from discriminatory intent on the part of the DSNY.  The court noted the fact that some plaintiffs were promoted several times, undermined their claims.

Although the court did not side with the plaintiffs in this case, it is crucial that employees speak out about the lack of promotions and advancement for employees of color.  Despite an employer’s intent, whether unlawfully discriminatory in nature, minority employees often are overlooked when companies use an informal selection process for promotions that customarily are decided by White supervisors who already hold the majority of management positions.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, please contact The Harman Firm, PC.

Jennifer Melendez and Owen H. Laird, Esq.

On June 29, 2015, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) filed a class-action lawsuit against the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) related to a security breach that released confidential information of millions of current and former federal employees. The AFGE is a federal employee union that represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C government employees. AFGE alleges that OPM violated the Privacy Act of 1974 (the “Privacy Act” or the “Act”) by negligently refusing to follow proposals to secure sensitive employee information. AFGE further alleges that OPM officials were aware of security weaknesses since 2007 yet failed to fix them. This massive data breach compromised personnel files on 4.2 million current and former federal employees, and exposed intimate background investigations of up to 18 million people.

OPM functions as the federal government’s human resources department; it is responsible for conducting background investigations related to security clearances for federal employees, as well as managing the pension benefits and regulating the health and insurance programs for retired employees and their families. Many employees that apply for security clearance must submit a 127-page form that requests highly delicate and specific information on the lives of each applicant, the applicants’ family members and their names, financial history, past residencies, names of neighbors, coworkers and their close friends. The breach released these forms.

OPM Director, Katherine Archuleta, and OPM Chief Information Officer, Donna Seymour, allegedly neglected to follow inspector general recommendations when they were told that eleven of their forty-seven computer networks should be shut down because they lacked the proper security qualifications. “Although they were forewarned about the potential catastrophe that government employees faced, OPM’s data security got worse rather than better,” officials said.  This jeopardized the security of classified federal employee information, ultimately resulting in a security breach. A cybersecurity expert hired by AFGE says log-in credentials were stolen and are on sale on the internet.

This incident is a prime example of an employer’s failure to secure employee information. Federal and state laws exist to provide a fundamental ground that protects against any invasion of privacy by a private party or even by an employer. The Privacy Act establishes fair practices that direct the collection, maintenance, use and circulation of personal information of people that is maintained in a system of records by federal agencies. The Act also prohibits the disclosure of any records. By failing to comply with inspector-general recommendations to secure their networks and secure the files of millions of federal employees, OPM may have violated the Privacy Act.

Yarleyn Mena and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the United States, faces class-action allegations that it discriminated against its gay employees seeking health-insurance coverage for their spouses.

Former Wal-Mart employee, Jacqueline Cote, alleges that Wal-Mart violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not providing spousal health insurance to her wife, Diana Smithson. In 2004, the Cote and Smithson legally married in Massachusetts. Wal-Mart provides its employees with the option to receive health-insurance benefits for their spouses, yet until January 2014, the Massachusetts-based Wal-Mart store did not offer health insurance to its employees’ spouses in same-sex marriages. Smithson and Cote paid for Smithson’s health-care insurance under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). After her COBRA period ended in 2008, Smithson purchased individual-health insurance. When that health insurance became too expensive for the couple, they sought Wal-Mart’s spousal coverage. Cote repeatedly filled out an online form to enroll in Wal-Mart’s spousal health insurance plan, but because Cote entered her and her partner’s sex as female, the program would not process her application, instead directing her to call Wal-Mart’s offices. A Wal-Mart representative told Cote that Wal-Mart does not offer health coverage to same-sex spouses despite Cote otherwise being fully qualified to receive the benefits. In 2012, Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Consequently, from 2012 to 2014, the couple accrued approximately $150,000 of uninsured-medical expenses.

Cote argues that Wal-Mart discriminated against Smithson by denying her health-insurance coverage because of her gender; Smithson would have been eligible to receive health benefits had she been a man. Carisa Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and Cote’s representative, says, “We want to send a message to companies big and small that it is illegal to deny benefits to the same-sex spouses of their employees if they provide the same benefits to employees with opposite-sex spouses.”

Health insurance is a crucial part of employment for many workers like Cote who have spouses that are in need of health benefits. Companies cannot be allowed to continue to discriminate against these workers by denying them their rightful health benefits.

Further, as we have recently discussed, the EEOC has just expanded its interpretation of Title VII gender discrimination to include sexual-orientation discrimination. While this was a step in the right direction, lawsuits like Cote’s emphasize the need for federal laws protecting against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, please contact The Harman Firm, PC.

Jennifer Melendez

On June 29, 2015, a jury in the Southern District Court of New York awarded Hanna Bouveng, a Swedish intern at New York Global Group (NYGG), $18 million in damages for sexual harassment and defamation. Bouveng sued NYGG’s Chief Executive Officer, Benjamin Wey, alleging sexual harassment, unlawful retaliation, and defamation.

On October 1, 2013, Bouveng started working for Wey as a marketing intern. Starting shortly after Bouveng’s hiring, and continuing throughout her employment, Wey sexually harassed Bouveng: he made comments about her appearance, purchased revealing clothing for her, and attempted to have sex with her. When she refused his advances, Wey threatened to fire her, revoke her visa and throw her out of her apartment.

In April 2014, Wey became disappointed with Bouveng’s resistance, demanding she show him “tangible love.” A few months later, Wey entered Bouveng’s apartment unannounced and, upon finding her boyfriend sleeping, fired her. A month after firing Bouveng, Wey published disturbing articles about her, defaming her by accusing her of being a “street walker,” a cocaine addict, and a “loose woman.” Because of Wey’s conduct, Bouveng moved back to her hometown in Sweden, starting a new life working at a small café. However, Wey tracked her down, traveled to Sweden, and sent text messages and emails to her family spreading the same lies written in his articles.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in hiring, compensation, and terms, conditions or privileges of employment on the basis of, among other things, sex. In this case, Wey’s insistence on sexual favors in exchange for continued employment is a form of sexual harassment known as “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. Out of spite, Wey used rejection as a basis for decisions affecting her employment and personal life. He is now paying the price for his illegal conduct.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you please contact The Harman Firm, PC. If you are interested in learning more about sexual harassment in the workplace, Please see The Harman Firm’s own, Ed Rivera, on PIX 11 News.