Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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.

By Lev Craig

On April 13, we wrote about North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, more commonly known as “HB 2,” in a blog titled “North Carolina Passes a Controversial Law That Overturns City Anti–LGBT Discrimination Laws.” HB 2 establishes that public schools and public agencies are required to segregate restrooms by biological sex, defined by the statute as the sex listed on an individual’s birth certificate. Consequently, HB 2 effectively denies many transgender people the right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, as a transgender person’s gender presentation is likely to differ from the sex indicated by their birth certificate. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the most comprehensive and large-scale survey of transgender Americans to date, found that only 24% of respondents had been able to update their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity.

On March 23, HB 2 was passed in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly (the first called by the state’s legislature in 35 years), where the bill was introduced, debated, and voted upon over the course of just 12 hours. On May 9, the United States filed suit against the state of North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and the University of North Carolina and its Board of Governors, alleging that the bathroom regulation provision of HB 2 violates Title VII, Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Anyone living in the United States at the moment is undoubtedly aware that the 2016 election season is in full swing. This week, the news has been dominated by the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. On Tuesday night, the theme of the Convention was – ostensibly – “Make America Work Again.” Despite the stated theme, the speakers rarely touched on economic policies or issues, instead preferring to resort to the same attacks against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ­– private email server, Benghazi, etc. – that were made the night before.

On the few occasions where the Convention speakers did touch on economic issues, they primarily bemoaned the state of the “middle class worker” in America. According to the speakers, the problem facing middle class American workers is that “regulation” is choking the economy and preventing American business owners from doing whatever they need to in order to create jobs.

Yarelyn Mena

On May 31, 2016, in Janean E. Chambers v. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that an employee may suffer an adverse employment action where an employer refuses to promote the employee to a non-existent position. Janean Chambers—a longtime, legally blind, Black employee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”)—filed a complaint alleging race and disability discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, and Rehabilitation Act against the HHS after HHS denied her several requests for promotions.

In 2006, HHS promoted Ms. Chambers to management analyst. In 2007, she applied for a another promotion; however, her supervisor, Michael Curtis, informed her that her position was capped at the current pay level and that she could apply for other positions within HHS of a higher pay level or request a “desk audit” to demonstrate that her skills warranted a higher pay level. Ms. Chambers instead decided to continue working in her position and sought an “informal” promotion by requesting the creation of a higher pay level vacancy with the same responsibilities as her current position, which HHS commonly granted. Mr. Curtis supported Ms. Chamber’s efforts but advised her that he did not have the authority to create a new position.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

For New Yorkers, both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Law provide employees with rights to a minimum wage and, in many cases, overtime pay. However, many workers in New York still do not receive the pay to which they are entitled; for instance, employers may under-report employees’ hours, improperly withhold wages or tips, or simply pay a wage lower than the State minimum.

However, many employees choose to let these violations go because they are “minimal.” An employer might underpay an employee for by a half hour for each pay period, a loss that might only amount to a few dollars a month. The employee could hesitate to pursue those lost wages, afraid of upsetting things at work or doubtful that they can find a lawyer to pursue a smaller case. Despite these potential concerns, employees who believe they are being illegally underpaid should not be afraid.

Yarelyn Mena and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On April 27, 2016, the Second Circuit decided Legg et al. v. Ulster County et al., in which it reversed the Northern District of New York’s decision at summary judgment dismissing a pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  Legg arose after Ann Marie Legg, a corrections officer at the Ulster County Jail (“Ulster Jail”), requested an accommodation under Ulster Jail’s “light duty” policy.  Ulster Jail’s light duty policy allows employees suffering from medical conditions resulting from a line-of-duty injury to be reassigned to deskwork, i.e., to positions that do not include inmate contact.  Under the policy, pregnant women are not eligible for light duty; they must either continue to work “full duty,” use accrued sick or vacation time, or take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

In 2008, Ms. Legg became pregnant.  Her doctor told her that her pregnancy was “high risk” and recommended that she “shouldn’t have direct contact with inmates.”  In accordance with her doctors’ recommendation, she requested that Ulster Jail allow her to work light duty and submitted a doctors’ note in support.  Although at first Ms. Legg received a denial letter in July 2008 stating that “[e]mployees are afforded light duty assignments at the Sheriff’s discretion for work-related injuries/illnesses only,” she was later informed that Ulster Jail would grant her request once she submitted a revised doctors’ note indicating that she was in fact able to work without restriction.  Ms. Legg complied and submitted the letter. For a time, Ulster Jail assigned Ms. Legg to light work; however, around August 2008, they forced her to work with inmates again.  In November 2008, Ms. Legg, now seven months pregnant, was caught in the middle of a physical fight between two inmates during which one inmate bumped into her as he ran past her.  After this incident, Ms. Legg did not return to work until after she gave birth.  Upon returning to work, Ms. Legg brought a lawsuit against Ulster Jail alleging pregnancy discrimination for denying her request for light duty.  Ulster Jail moved for summary judgment, arguing that light duty was only available for employees injured in line of duty and that all employees regardless of their gender or pregnancy status, were treated the same under that policy. The district court granted Ulster Jails’s motion and dismissed the case.

Yarelyn Mena  and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On March 23, 2016, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed in to law the Public Facilities Privacy of Security Act (or H.B. 2), which bans transgender people from using the public bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, overturns Charlotte, North Carolina’s anti-LGBT discrimination law, prevents other localities from passing anti-discrimination laws, and prevents cities from raising their minimum wages higher than that of the state. H.B. 2 was passed days before Transgender Day of Visibility, a day that recognizes the accomplishments of the transgender community. Although there were many recent victories for the LGBT community, H.B. 2 is an important reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done before LGBT individuals have the same rights everyone enjoys.

On February 22, 2016, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina passed a law prohibiting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace. The most controversial part of the law was that it would allow transgendered people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Opponents of the bill nicknamed it the “bathroom bill” and argue that it made bathrooms unsafe for women and children. University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Payton McGarry, a transgender student, is one of the Plaintiff’s in a lawsuit challenging H.B. 2, who has been assaulted and ridiculed for using the bathroom that comports with his gender identity at his university, experiences which will only grow worse with H.B. 2 in place. H.B. 2 abrogated that law.

Yarelyn Mena and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On February 13, 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away after 30 years of service on the bench. Justice Scalia was widely renowned for his conservative political views and eloquent legal opinions. His passing left a vacanct seat at the Supreme Court, without Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court; is evenly split between four liberals and four conservatives. The Constitution tasks the President to fill that vacancy by appointing a candidate “by and with the advice and consent” of the Senate.

The media has been whirling as it awaits President Obama’s nomination in light of the President’s ongoing battle with the Republican-filled Senate’particularly because any Republicans in  the Senate have vowed to block any of President Obama’s nominations. In fact, many Republicans in the Senate wish to prevent President Obama from nominating any Justice in hopes that when his term is over at the end of 2016, a new Republican President will nominate a conservative justice.

Yarelyn Mena and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Women of color are leaving large firms at an alarming rate. According to the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession (the”Commission”), 85 percent of minority female attorneys in the United States leave large firms within seven yeas of hiring. This high attrition rate is largely due to the unique problems that women of color face at large law firms.

The Commission’s research concludes that women of color leave lucrative large firm jobs because they feel forced out due to discrimination, isolation and constant microaggressions. In 2003, it found that “in both law firms and corporate legal departments, women of color receive less compensation than men and white women; are denied equal access to significant assignments, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities; receive fewer promotions; and have the highest rate of attrition.” These problems force women of color to leave big law, resulting in the same problems for future generations, causing perpetual underrepresentation.

Yarelyn Mena

Employment discrimination can occur at the application stage; an individual does not need to be a current or former employee to bring a discrimination claim. It is important for everyone in the labor force to know that prospective employees are also protected by antidiscrimination laws.

Prospective employees generally do not attend a job interview on the alert for an interviewer’s discriminatory questions but, according to a survey conducted by the job search website CareerBuilder, twenty percent of hiring managers ask “off-limits” questions during interviews. The following is a list of ten categories that candidates should be weary of if interviewers breach these topics. It is important to note that although many of these questions are not explicitly illegal to ask, they give rise to an inference of discrimination.