Lev Craig

On September 26, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut denied defendants’ motion to dismiss in Shakerdge v. Tradition Financial Services, Inc., allowing Jo Layla Shakerdge to move forward with her claims that her previous employer, Tradition Financial Services (TFS), retaliated against her for filing a complaint about discrimination at TFS by sabotaging her subsequent job search.

Shakerdge was employed as an energy commodities broker at TFS, a brokerage firm, where she alleges that she was subjected to sexist and racist comments and sexual harassment. Shakerdge describes a workplace that “objectified and degraded women”: her male coworkers allegedly openly viewed pornography on their computer screens, made offensive comments about TFS clients and employees, including Shakerdge herself, and subjected Shakerdge to physical sexual harassment, including an incident where TFS’s CEO attempted to whip Shakerdge with a riding crop Shakerdge had brought to the office to use for horseback riding. After her termination in June 2015, Shakerdge filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), bringing hostile work environment, wrongful termination, and retaliation claims.

Lev Craig

On October 5, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to the heads of all federal government agencies and all U.S. attorneys, stating that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is now taking the position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or transgender status. The memo reverses the DOJ’s previous stance on the issue and runs contrary to the position taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as various federal appellate and district courts.

While Title VII explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, there has been heated debate in recent years over whether that prohibition includes discrimination against transgender workers. The status of legal protections for transgender employees is complicated: no federal law explicitly forbids discrimination against transgender people in the workplace, state and city employment protections vary widely, and the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to address the question of whether Title VII covers gender identity­–based discrimination. The EEOC views discrimination against transgender people as discrimination based on sex and therefore a violation of Title VII, but the EEOC’s interpretations of Title VII are not legally binding, and federal appellate and district courts have differed in their applications of the statute to transgender workers.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear two cases that will have major ramifications for workers across the country. One case threatens one of organized labor’s most important rights, and the other impacts employees of car dealerships nationwide.

The Court agreed to hear arguments on Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which concerns a union’s right to take dues from non-members who are in the same bargaining unit as members the union represents. This issue of union dues has been long, and corporate interests have been successful in gradually rolling back organized labor’s ability to raise funds.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Arbitration between employees and employers favors employers’ interests at employees’ expense. Ostensibly, arbitration merely requires that any employment claims be litigated in a private forum; in reality, it discourages employees from suing their employers because, as compared to litigation, employees are less likely to win and generally recover lower damages. As such, many employers require their employees to sign arbitration agreements.

Indeed, a report from the Economic Policy Institute has found that, since the early 2000s, the number of workers subject to mandatory arbitration has more than doubled, covering 60 million U.S. private-sector non-union workers. These agreements prevent 55 percent of U.S. workers from accessing the courts to protect their employment rights.  This figure increases to 65.1 percent among large companies—those with 1,000 or more employees.  Of the employers who require mandatory arbitration, 30.1 percent also include class action waivers in their procedures—meaning that about 25 million employees also lose the right to address widespread employment rights violations through class action.  For large companies, the number of employees subject to class action waivers increases to 41.1 percent. In total, 23.1 percent of private-sector non-union employees no longer have the right to bring or participate in a class action against their employers.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On May 4, 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law prohibiting employers from inquiring about a prospective employee’s salary history, which goes into effect on October 21, 2017. The Office of the Mayor hopes that preventing employers from asking questions during the hiring process about an applicant’s previous compensation—which is often used as a benchmark for a new employee’s starting pay—will end the “perpetuating cycle of suppressed wages” for minorities.

The new law prohibits an employer from asking about or using a job applicant’s compensation history to determine their salary during the hiring process, including the negotiation of a contract. An applicant’s salary history includes their current or prior wage, salary, benefits, or other compensation.  Employers are still allowed to discuss expectations about salary, benefits, and other compensation with a job applicant.  Further, if an applicant, voluntarily and without prompting, discloses their salary history to an employer, the employer may consider that information in determining the applicant’s salary, benefits and other compensation.

Lev Craig

Last week, on September 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied Uber’s motion for partial summary judgment in Razak v. Uber Technologies, Inc. This decision allows a putative class of Philadelphia-based Uber drivers to move forward with claims against Uber for failing to compensate them for “on-call” time they spent logged into the Uber app, but not driving customers.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to compensate employees for all hours worked, including on-call time: hours worked where “the employee is required to remain on the employer’s premises, or […] although not required to remain on the employer’s premises, finds his time on call away from the employer’s premises is so restricted that it interferes with personal pursuits.” The recent rise of gig economy work— individual projects and tasks picked up at a worker’s discretion, often using apps like Uber and TaskRabbit—has presented a challenge to the existing model of on-call time, as courts are asked to consider what constitutes compensable on-call time for workers who may never report to a central place of employment or who are, at least to some degree, able to work whenever they choose.

Owen H. Laird

The Harman Firm blog has run several stories over the past year about the evolving case law concerning sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  Last week, a plaintiff in a sexual orientation discrimination case in the Eleventh Circuit, Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, requested that the United States Supreme Court take up the issue.

To recap: Title VII is one of the foundational federal anti-discrimination statutes; it protects employees against discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.  Sexual orientation is not one of the protected statuses enumerated in Title VII.  In 2016, however, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) – the federal agency tasked with administering Title VII – filed two lawsuits asserting sexual orientation discrimination claims under Title VII.  This was a major change, as both the EEOC and nearly every federal court had previously taken the position that sexual orientation discrimination was not prohibited under Title VII.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On September 5, 2017, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision in EEOC v. CollegeAmerica Denver, Inc., allowing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to proceed with its interference claim against CollegeAmerica.

On September 1, 2012, after Debbi Potts’s resignation as campus director for CollegeAmerica, a private college based in Salt Lake City, she and CollegeAmerica entered into an agreement which provided that CollegeAmerica would pay her $7,000 in exchange for her waiving any claims against CollegeAmerica (Ms. Potts had asserted that CollegeAmerica owed her $7,000 in unpaid bonuses), refraining from personally contacting any governmental or regulatory agency with the purpose of filing any complaint or grievance against CollegeAmerica, and refraining from disparaging the reputation of CollegeAmerica.

Lev Craig

On September 6, 2017, a coalition of 16 states filed suit against the federal government in response to the Trump administration’s pronouncement that it would revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established by President Obama. The lawsuit, led by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that rescinding DACA unlawfully discriminates against individuals of Mexican national origin, violates the due process rights of DACA grantees, and negatively impacts states’ residents and economies.

DACA was established by the Obama administration in June 2012 via an executive branch memorandum issued by Janet Napolitano, the then–Secretary of Homeland Security. The policy allowed undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and met certain eligibility conditions to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for work permits and protection from deportation for two years. Immigrants requesting DACA were required to have lived continuously in the U.S. since 2010 and to be currently in school, have a high school diploma or GED, or be an honorably discharged U.S. military veteran. In addition, individuals who had been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, or who USCIS determined would “otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety,” could not apply for DACA.

Edgar M. Rivera

On August 31, 2017, in State of Nevada v. United States Department of Labor, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas invalidated the Department of Labor’s final rule, which increased the salary threshold for “white collar” exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Employers claiming that an employee is exempt under the executive, administrative, or professional exemption from FLSA overtime requirements (called the “white collar” exemptions since they pertain to white-collar workers) must show that the employee performs specific job functions (the duties test) and is paid a salary above a certain threshold (the salary test). Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Labor promulgated a final rule that would double the salary threshold, moving it from $455 a week (or $23,660 annually) to $913 a week (or $47,476 annually). The new salary level is based on the 40th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage and most impoverished U.S. census region—the South—which comprises the states Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Washington D.C., North Carolina, and South Carolina. The final rule was intended to go into effect on December 1, 2016.