Shelby Krzastek

On March 8, 2017, Anita Poe-Smith filed suit against Epic Health Services, Inc. (“Epic”), and Leo and Sherrie Weigand, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. Ms. Poe-Smith works for Epic as a home health aide.

In February 2015, Epic assigned Ms. Poe-Smith to work for a client residing in the home of Leo and Sherrie Weigand. Ms. Poe-Smith claims that from February 2015 to May 2015, Mr. Weigand sexually harassed her by directing sexual innuendos and inappropriate comments toward her and, ultimately, physically assaulting her when, according to Ms. Poe-Smith, Mr. Weigand pushed her down and hit her on her buttocks. After reporting the incident to Epic, Ms. Poe-Smith was offered a new assignment, which she was unable to accept because it interfered with her familial obligations. Several weeks later, Epic offered her another full-time assignment, which she accepted. Ms. Poe-Smith then sued Epic Health Services and the homeowners for sexual harassment and retaliation.

Harrison Paige and Lev Craig

On February 27, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling in Kalu v. Florida Department of Children and Families, a gender discrimination suit brought under the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the defendant, a Florida state hospital, finding that plaintiffs—two female nurse practitioners at the hospital—had failed to show that a $20,000 disparity between their pay and a male nurse practitioner’s salary constituted unlawful gender discrimination in violation of the EPA.

Plaintiffs Patricia Kalu and Susan Linder-Wyatt worked as nurse practitioners at a hospital managed by the Florida Department of Children and Families. When plaintiffs discovered that they made nearly $20,000 less than Michael Peel, a male nurse practitioner with identical job responsibilities, they filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleging that the pay disparity between female and male nurse practitioners violated the EPA. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs had failed to show that the hospital’s pay disparity was discriminatory, and plaintiffs appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Today, the United States Senate will hold its second day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Neil M. Gorsuch. Judge Gorsuch currently serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Although his confirmation hearings have been contentious, President Trump’s nominee is likely to be confirmed, as Republicans control enough votes in the Senate to do so. As the Supreme Court is presently split 4-4 between liberal and conservative Justices, Judge Gorsuch would likely represent the swing vote on the Court.

Judge Gorsuch has a long history of judicial decisions and legal writing to parse for clues as to what type of a Supreme Court Justice he might be. Putting aside some of the judicial issues that have received more attention recently—such as abortion, gay marriage, healthcare, use of force by the police—the incoming Supreme Court Justice will have a significant impact on the state of employment law in the U.S. in light of the Court’s current mixed political makeup.

Harrison Paige

The U.S. District Court of Colorado recently certified a class action lawsuit filed against GEO Group, Inc. (“GEO”), a billion-dollar private prison conglomerate. Plaintiffs claim that they were forced to clean the Aurora Detention Facility (the “Facility”) while detained and awaiting immigration hearings, in violation of federal slave labor laws, and that GEO was unjustly enriched by Plaintiffs’ work. This is the first time that a court has certified a class action claiming that a private U.S. prison violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”). The TVPA’s prohibitions against forced labor state that obtaining labor or services via means or threats of force, restraint, harm, abuse, threatened abuse of law, or deceptive schemes is illegal. The approval of class action status means that up to 60,000 current and former inmates of the Facility “are now part of the lawsuit without having to actively join as plaintiffs.

First, Plaintiffs claim that GEO violated the TVPA “by requiring detainees to clean the private and common areas of the Facility without any compensation and under the threat of solitary confinement and other punishments.” Allegedly, GEO chooses a handful of inmates each day and forces them to work as janitorial staff for the 1,500-bed Facility, violating Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”) own sanitation policy, which only mandates that “all detainees perform personal housekeeping,” like making their own beds, organizing their bunk area, and keeping the floor free of clutter. The sanitation policy does not include any mandate regarding detainees working as janitorial staff for the entire Facility. Thus, Plaintiffs claim that Facility staff’s threats of solitary confinement and additional criminal charges to solicit detainee labor violates the forced labor provision of the TVPA (18 U.S.C. §§ 1589, 1595).

Lev Craig

On September 21, 2016, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Southern District of Alabama’s decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, in which the district court held that an employer’s policy prohibiting employees from having dreadlocks did not constitute race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

In May 2010, Chastity Jones, who is Black and wears her hair in dreadlocks, completed an online employment application for a customer service representative position at Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS), an insurance claims processing company based in Mobile, Alabama, and was selected for an in-person interview. Ms. Jones performed well in her interview, and CMS hired her for the customer service representative position on the spot.

Lev Craig and Shelby Krzastek

Earlier this week, on March 6, 2017, class members and McDonald’s management requested final approval of a $950,000 proposed settlement in James Wesley Carter v. Shalhoub Management Co., et al., a class action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The approximately 2,300 class members allege that Shalhoub Management Co. (“Shalhoub”), a California-based McDonald’s franchise operator, did not comply with its obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) when it conducted background checks on employees and job applicants without their knowledge and used those background checks to determine whether to hire or terminate those individuals.

The FCRA is a comprehensive statute that regulates how consumer reporting agencies store, disseminate, and use consumer information. Under the FCRA, employers requesting background information, such as credit reports or criminal background checks, from job applicants must get the applicant’s written permission and inform applicants in writing—in a separate notice not included in the employment application—that the results of the background check may be used to make employment decisions. If an employer then takes an adverse action against an employee or refuses to hire a job applicant based on the received background information, the employer must provide the employee or applicant with a copy of the relevant report, inform the individual that they were rejected or terminated based on the report, and provide an opportunity to dispute or explain any inaccurate or negative information.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Most Americans know that February is Black History Month. Newspapers run a few additional civil rights stories; politicians will invoke Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; schools implement some additional lessons; and companies run commercials extolling tolerance and diversity.  Whether all this accomplishes anything with respect to the real obstacles that African-Americans routinely face because of their race remains to be seen.

Fewer Americans know that March is designated as “Women’s History Month.” If we did, we could expect Women’s History Month to consist of many of the same gestures as Black History Month—with the result being commercialization and political opportunism, with little lasting change. This is not to say that the efforts to educate people about the struggles faced by African-Americans, women, and other minority groups are pointless. A basic understanding and appreciation of the longstanding oppression of a majority of the people in the United States is necessary to grapple with the ongoing disparate treatment that these groups continue to face. However, this education is often delivered out of context, without paying adequate attention to ongoing marginalization or to finding a plan of action to address it.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1990 created the H-1B nonimmigrant classification, which provides a vehicle by which a qualified alien may seek admission to the United States on a temporary basis to work in his or her field of expertise. An alien may file a H-1B petition to perform (i) services in a specialty occupation, (ii) services relating to a Department of Defense cooperative research and development project or coproduction project, or (iii) services of distinguished merit and ability in the field of fashion modeling. Prior to employing an H-1B temporary worker, the U.S. employer must first file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the Department of Labor (DOL) and then file an H-1B petition. The LCA specifies the job, salary, length, and geographic location of employment. The employer must agree to pay the alien either the actual or prevailing wage for the position, whichever is greater.

In Palmer v. Trump Model Management, LLC, Alexia Palmer, a Jamaican fashion model, brought a putative class action against Trump Model Management, LLC (Trump Model Management), for allegedly violating the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a federal statute governing U.S. immigration-related matters, including employment of immigrants. Palmer claimed that, for years, Trump Model Management had engaged in a fraudulent scheme whereby the company lures foreign models to the United States with false promises of “a life of glamour in Soho clubs and on catwalks,” lies to the federal government in order to obtain H-1B visas for the models, and then cheats the models out of their pay.  Trump Model Management moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action.

Harrison Paige

In Edwards v. Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, Chris Edwards, a Black man, brought claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), alleging that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (“OBN”) refused to promote him to the Agent in Charge (“AIC”) position because of his race. On January 30, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma denied OBN’s motion for summary judgment.

In its motion, OBN argued that Mr. Edwards did not receive the promotion because he (1) was not qualified for the position, and (2) performed poorly during the interview. In response, Plaintiff argued that, with respect to the first point, OBN did not consider qualification in its decision. Mr. Edwards alleged that the OBN division director responsible for hiring for the AIC position, Darrell Weaver, preselects candidates for promotions and holds sham interviews to hide the preselection, thereby making a candidate’s qualifications for the position obsolete. In support, Mr. Edwards alleged that, on previous occasions, Mr. Weaver had sent employees through “chief school” before those employees had been promoted to the “chief” position; Mr. Weaver then held interviews with those two employees for the chief role and, unsurprisingly, chose them for the job.

Lev Craig

On Wednesday, President Trump rescinded protections implemented by the Obama administration which had, among other things, allowed transgender students to use the school restrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identities.

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title IX) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs, but does not explicitly protect transgender individuals. Last May, the Obama administration issued guidance regarding transgender students to all public schools in the U.S. in a joint letter from the Departments of Justice and Education. The guidance stated that both departments interpret Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination as encompassing “discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status” and that the departments “treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations.” Effectively, the guidance required schools to treat transgender students the same as non-transgender students of the same gender for Title IX purposes—for example, schools could not subject transgender girls to different rules and policies than non-transgender girls—and prohibited schools from discriminating against students on the basis of transgender status.