Articles Posted in Sex Discrimination

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On Wednesday, President Trump rescinded protections implemented by the Obama administration which had, among other things, allowed transgender students to use the school restrooms and facilities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

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. As a result, 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.

Shelby Krzastek

Bikram Choudhury is an Indian yoga teacher and the founder of Bikram yoga. In recent years, Choudhury has been surrounded by controversy amid allegations of discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault, resulting in multiple lawsuits. On Tuesday, December 13, 2016, a California judge ordered that Bikram Choudhury’s income and ownership of his signature yoga college be turned over to Minakshi Jafa-Bodden to satisfy a $6.7 million judgment in her sexual harassment case against him.

Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, Choudhury’s former in-house attorney, filed a sexual harassment and wrongful termination suit against Choudhury in 2013. According to Jafa-Bodden’s complaint, Choudhury degraded and harassed female students and employees, forced Jafa-Bodden to meet with him in his hotel room at night while female students massaged him, and, on one occasion, insisted that Jafa-Bodden join him on his bed during a meeting. Jafa-Bodden claims that, in addition to the sexual harassment she faced, Choudhury retaliated against her for investigating sexual assault allegations against him. In recent years, Choudhury has been surrounded by controversy amid allegations of discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault, resulting in multiple lawsuits.

In January, after a 12-day trial resulting in a verdict in Jafa-Bodden’s favor, a jury awarded Jafa-Bodden $4.6 million in punitive damages and nearly $1 million in compensatory damages for harassment she experienced while working at Choudhury’s Los Angeles headquarters. The jury also found in Jafa-Bodden’s favor with respect to her unlawful termination claim, finding that her complaints to higher-ups at Choudhury’s organization about the ongoing sexual harassment and gender discrimination had been a substantial reason for her termination.

Yet after the trial verdict, Choudhury refused to pay any of the award—and, in fact, fled the United States to avoid payment of this judgment. Earlier this month, on Tuesday, December 13, 2016, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark A. Borenstein approved Jafa-Bodden’s request to divert to her the income Choudhury receives from agreements with vendors, yoga studio franchise agreements, and royalty and licensing payments based on his trademark, copyrights, and other intellectual property. The Court also granted a charging order to give Jafa-Bodden her former employer’s ownership interest in Bikram Yoga College of India.

Judge Borenstein also signed off on the appointment of a post-judgment receiver tasked with seizing and selling Choudhury’s trademarks, copyrights, and web domain names. Jafa-Bodden is also seeking several dozen luxury vehicles allegedly owned by Choudhury to satisfy the judgment, along with his diamond-encrusted watch and any remaining stocks or other investments of which he retains control.

All employees have the right to a workplace free of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or gender discrimination in the workplace, contact the experienced employment attorneys at The Harman Firm, LLP. Continue Reading

Lev Craig

Last Friday, the parties submitted a settlement agreement for approval in Cote v. Walmart, a class action suit filed in federal court alleging that Walmart discriminated against gay Walmart employees by denying spousal health insurance coverage to same-sex married couples. The settlement would provide $7.5 million for current and former Walmart employees who could not obtain employer health insurance benefits for their same-sex spouse.

The suit was the first class action filed on behalf of gay employees after the Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling extending marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, according to the Boston-based LGBT legal advocacy group GLAD. Jackie Cote filed suit in the District of Massachusetts in July 2015, bringing claims against Walmart under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law on behalf of Walmart employees who were married to a same-sex spouse and did not receive spousal health insurance benefits from Walmart between 2011 and 2013.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On November 4, 2016, the Western District of Pennsylvania—joining the Middle District of Alaska, District of the District of Columbia, District of Oregon, and Central District of California—held that a gay person has standing to bring a sex discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). In EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, the Complainant, Dale Baxley, alleges that his supervisor, Robert McClendon, Scott Medical Health Center’s telemarketing manager, subjected him to a hostile work environment because he is a gay man. After Scott Medical Health Center’s president and chief executive officer allegedly ignored his complaint about the discrimination and harassment, Mr. Baxley quit.

In the complaint, Mr. Baxley alleges that Mr. McClendon called him a “fag,” “faggot,” “fucking faggot,” and “queer,” and, after learning that Mr. Baxley had a male partner, made statements such as “I always wondered how you fags have sex,” “I don’t understand how you fucking fags have sex,” and “Who’s the butch and who is the bitch?” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) argued that Title VII covered this type of harassment as, had it not been but for Mr. Baxley’s sex, he would not have been subjected to this harassment. The court agreed, stating that Title VII’s “because of sex” provision prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Shelby Krzastek

Women currently hold only 4.4% of Fortune 500 CEO roles; Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer is one of them. In October, Scott Ard, Yahoo’s former editorial director, filed a lawsuit against Mayer in federal court in San Jose, California, alleging that Mayer and other female Yahoo executives—including Kathy Savitt, Yahoo’s former chief marketing officer, and Megan Liberman, Yahoo News’ current editor-in-chief—had discriminated against male Yahoo employees because of their gender.

When Mayer began at Yahoo, only 20% of top managers and chief editors were female. Within a year and a half of Mayer’s assuming leadership of Yahoo, however, top managers were more than 80% female. Similarly, of the approximately 16 senior-level editorial employees hired or promoted by Savitt over an 18-month period, 14 were women. Ard claims that female Yahoo executives intentionally hired and promoted women and terminated or demoted male employees solely on the basis of their genders.

Lev Craig

In August, we reported on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, which held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Last week, on October 11, the Seventh Circuit vacated the Hively decision and granted rehearing en banc. Plaintiff filed a petition for rehearing en banc, which requests that the Seventh Circuit hear the case before a panel of all active judges. Although en banc hearings ordinarily are not ordered, a case may be reheard en banc where the proceedings involve a request of exceptional importance.

In Hively, Kimberly Hively, a part-time adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College, alleged that her employer had discriminated against her by denying her full-time employment and promotions because of her sexual orientation. Hively argued that this treatment violated Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination. The federal district court for the Northern District of Indiana dismissed Hively’s complaint on the grounds that Title VII did not cover sexual orientation discrimination and, as such, there was no legal basis for Hively’s claims. Hively then appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

The Harman Firm blog often reports on cases of “glass ceiling” gender discrimination. These cases involve circumstances where women in the workplace are prevented from reaching higher-level positions due to their gender. This type of discrimination can take place anywhere; major law firms, pharmaceutical companies, and tech companies are just a few recent examples. The phenomenon is pervasive across the economy and hinders women seeking to advance their careers.

Recently, the New York Times reported on a similar obstacle facing women at the helm of both corporations and governments: the “glass cliff.” This theory was developed in the early 2000s in response to studies showing that corporations that appointed women to their boards tended to experience a drop in share price shortly thereafter.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On September 19, 2016, in Ernst v. City of Chicago, the Seventh Circuit held that the Chicago Fire Department failed to connect the physical skills for which it tested with the actual skills that its paramedics needed to perform the job.  

The Chicago Fire Department employs several hundred paramedics and, since 2000, Chicago has implemented a physical skills test when hiring new paramedics.  The plaintiffs argued that the physical skills test had a disparate impact on women, and that there was no evidence of Chicago paramedics ever lacking the physical ability to properly care for their patients.  Between 2000 and 2009, nearly 1,100 applicants took the physical skills test.  Among these, 800 were men, of whom 98% passed.  Another 300 were women, of whom only 60% passed. The plaintiffs’ brought two Title VII claims: disparate impact claimed decided by a bench trial and a disparate treatment claim decided by a jury trial.  The plaintiffs claimed that the physical skills test not only disproportionally hurt women’s chances of becoming paramedics, but it was intentionally implemented to keep women out.  The district court judge, however, ruled in favor of the Chicago on both claims, dismissing the action completely.

Rose Asaf

Last Friday, we reported on Kerrie Campbell’s class action complaint against Chadbourne & Parke LLP.  Ms. Campbell, through her attorneys, Sanford Heisler, LLP, alleges that Chadbourne’s female partners “have been disparately underpaid, systematically shut out of Firm leadership, demoted, de-equitized and terminated.” Not all female partners in Chadbourne, however, agree with those allegations, which has prompted pushback against Ms. Campbell and Sanford Heisler, LLP.

In a letter addressed to David Sanford, a founding partner of Sanford Heisler, 14 female partners from Chadbourne expressed that Campbell’s complaint does not properly characterize their experiences with Chadbourne. In their attack, the women state that Sanford Heisler “did not make our voices heard…but rather have attempted to silence us.” The letter asserts that the complaint “makes a group of very accomplished, assertive and intelligent professional women look like they are victims unable to hold their own with their male colleagues.” The female partners also criticize Sanford Heisler for not reaching out to them before filing the suit.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On August 31, 2016, Kerrie Campbell—a seasoned trial lawyer and leading practitioner in the defamation and product disparagement, First Amendment rights and consumer product safety fields—filed a class action complaint in the Southern District of New York against Chadbourne & Parke LLP—an international firm of approximately 400 lawyers and tax advisors, including former New York Governor George Pataki, with over $285 million of annual revenue. Campbell claims that Chadbourne systematically discriminated against its female partners.

According to the complaint, in January 2014, Campbell joined Chadbourne as a lateral partner in the litigation department. Campbell brought in approximately 40 new matters for over 20 clients, generating over $5 million in total revenue for Chadbourne. Campbell’s productivity and revenue generation was consistent with the Chadbourne’s top performing male partner, yet her pay consistently was at the bottom ranks of male partners, who brought far less revenue to Chadbourne. Chadbourne opposed the gender-based pay and asked Chadbourne’s all-male five-member Management Committee, Managing Partner, and Head of the Litigation Department to address and rectify these issues. On February 19, 2016, Chadbourne’s Managing Partner, Andy Giaccia, and Head of the Litigation Department, Abbe Lowell, told Campbell that Campbell’s practice did not “fit” with the “strategic direction” of Chadbourne and that she must leave. To incentivize Campbell’s speedy ouster from Chadbourne, they slashed her pay.