Articles Posted in Uncategorized

Edgar M. Rivera

On July 5, 2017, Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board announced that Judge Michael R. Muth, a magisterial district judge for the East Stroudsburg Borough of Monroe County, Pennsylvania, is facing ethics charges after multiple court clerks complained about his viewing of pornography in his judicial chambers. Several court clerks claim that, while passing by Judge Muth’s desk over the last four years, they saw him watching videos and viewing pictures of women performing sexual acts on each other. Judge Muth’s computer was allegedly in plain view of the clerks passing by, and Judge Muth apparently made no attempts to hide what he was watching when a clerk entered his chambers.

Over half of working men, and one-third of working women, admit to watching porn on the job. Although no one has raised sexual harassment charges against Judge Muth, X-rated habits can lead to hostile work environment claims and sexual harassment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). In Patane v. Clark, the Second Circuit found that a plaintiff stated a hostile work environment claim where she observed her superior viewing pornography, handled pornography when opening her supervisor’s mail, and discovered that her supervisor had viewed “hard core” pornography on her own working computer. The presence of pornography in the workplace and plaintiff’s forced interaction with the pornography were enough for the Second Circuit to deem that the plaintiff adequately pled a hostile work environment claim based on sex.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

The tech companies of California’s Silicon Valley are playing an ever-expanding role in the world economy and redefining how people live their lives. However, in recent years, many of these companies have come under fire for their treatment of their workers, whether for overuse of “independent contractors” or numerous allegations of racism or sexism in the predominantly white, male field. Numerous lawsuits have been filed by current and former workers of all stripes, and class actions brought on behalf of entire classes of workers; one of the most broad-reaching actions addressing discrimination in Silicon Valley is not a single or multi-plaintiff lawsuit but an investigation by the United States Department of Labor into a potential gender pay disparity at Google.

Google is not only one of the wealthiest and most powerful companies in Silicon Valley, it is also a federal contractor, which means it must grant the Department of Labor access to information about its compliance with federal anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws. The Department of Labor requested information on roughly 21,000 of Google’s employees as part of an investigation into a potential gender pay gap at the company. The Department of Labor’s investigation stems from pay disparities among Google employees identified in 2015.

by Harrison Paige

In Martin v. SIMOS, the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Records Information Act (“CHRIA”) only protects employee applicants from criminal conviction discrimination, not those who are already employed. SIMOS, an insourcing solution job center, terminated Robert Martin, who was hired through SIMOS to unload trucks for Lowe’s, because of his criminal history. Martin brought suit against SIMOS, claiming that SIMOS had violated the CHRIA.

When applying, Martin disclosed his criminal history and was told he was “good to go,” starting work at Lowe’s shortly thereafter. Not long after his hire, Martin was suspended because a female employee alleged that he had harassed her. Although the allegations turned out to be false and Martin returned to work, a human resources representative told him only one day after he returned that he would be terminated because of his criminal history. About a week after that conversation, SIMOS terminated Martin’s employment.

Shelby Krzastek

Hello, readers of the blog! My name is Shelby, and I have been working as a legal intern at The Harman Firm, LLP, for the past five months. In that time, I hope you’ve been able to read some of my posts about employment law and workers’ issues. Today is my last day, and I wanted to leave you with some insights about my time here.

The Harman Firm is small, but I benefited from this experience because I got to work closely with everyone. To be honest, I was extremely nervous when starting this position. I had never worked in a law office before and am glad The Harman Firm believed in my capabilities and gave me this chance to work as their legal intern.

Given the result of last night’s election, we at The Harman Firm are concerned that employers may feel free to follow Donald Trump’s lead with respect to their treatment of employees.   We want to remind workers in New York and elsewhere that legal protections against discrimination still exist.

If your employer says that you can’t do your job because of your national origin, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

If your employer forbids you from entering the workplace because of your religion, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Earlier this year, The Harman Firm blog covered the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) notice of proposed rule-making concerning employer “Wellness Plans”;

The EEOC issued these rules governing Wellness Plans in May of this year. The rules permit employers to discount the health insurance cost of Plan participants by up to 30%. However, a recent lawsuit filed by AARP – a lobbying and advocacy organization representing retired and other older Americans – seeks to block the implementation of the EEOC’s rules.

Rose Asaf

On September 7, 2016, Koya Abe, a former faculty member at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University (“NYU”), filed a lawsuit against his former employer. Mr. Abe, a photography instructor, is a middle-aged man of Japanese heritage. Mr. Abe alleges that NYU discriminated against him because of his race, national origin, and age, and retaliated against him for raising complaints of discrimination. NYU terminated Mr. Abe in 2009, shortly after Mr. Abe alleges that he complained about being discriminated against for being Japanese.

This is not the first lawsuit that Mr. Abe has filed against NYU. According to an opinion and order by District Judge Richard J. Sullivan of the United States District Court Southern District of New York, Mr. Abe “has been embroiled in at least eight lawsuits in a host of venues against Defendant, [NYU], and many of its administrators, deans, faculty, and staff.” The most recent lawsuit alleges that NYU has retaliated against him for bringing those earlier actions.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On August 29, 2016, in Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc., the Second Circuit vacated the Southern District’s decision and held that “retaliatory intent may be imputed to an employer where the employer’s negligence gives effect to the employee’s retaliatory animus and causes the victim to suffer an adverse employment decision.” In other words, where an employee with a discriminatory motive tricks the employer into discriminating against another employee, the employer may be liable.

Tyrell Gray, an Empress Ambulance Service dispatcher, began making unwanted sexual advances to Andrea Vasquez, a emergency medical technician (EMT), upon her hire in July 2013. He asked her out on dates, attempted to flirt with her, and touched her shoulder, making Vasquez extremely uncomfortable. After harassing Vasquez for six months, Gray escalated the situation. On January 8, 2014, Gray told Vasquez, “I bet I can make you leave your man,” and promised to “send … something between you and me.” Around midnight that night, while out on a shift, Vazquez received a text message of Gray’s erect penis, captioned: “Wat u think.”

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On August 8, 2016, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) voted at its 2016 Annual Meeting in San Francisco to prohibit discrimination and harassment in the practice of law. The ABA’s House of Delegates adopted Resolution 109, which amends Rule 8.4 of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct to “make it clear that it is professional misconduct to engage in conduct that a lawyer knows or reasonably should know constitutes harassment or discrimination while engaged in conduct related to the practice of law,” which includes “representing clients, interacting with witnesses, coworkers, court personnel, lawyers and others while practicing law, operating a law firm and participating in bar association, business or social activities in connection with the practice of law.”  The rule prohibits harassment or discrimination based on “race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status.”

This amendment is necessary because “explicit and implicit discrimination is still pervasive in our institutions as well as across a counsel table,” said Marsha Anastasia, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. In particular, many female lawyers have complained of undermining sexist remarks and gestures toward them while they are trying to practice their profession. Without a prohibition, advocates of the rule said, using “demeaning and misogynistic terms and actions to undermine opposing counsel and others too often does not have consequences.”  “A sexist remark,” said the Judge Paul S. Grewal of the U.S. Federal District Court in San Jose, California, “is not just a professional discourtesy, although that in itself is regrettable and all too common.”

Yarelyn Mena

Last year, on June 29, 2015, the Department of Labor and President Obama announced a proposed rule change to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) that would increase the number of Americans eligible for overtime pay by increasing the salary threshold for overtime from $23,660 to $47,470. On May 18, 2016, the Obama administration issued the official rule changes, which goes into effect December 1, 2016.

The FLSA requires that employers pay certain employees overtime. Specifically, employers must pay eligible employees overtime for all hours worked above forty each week, at a rate of one and a half times their normal rate. Not all employees are entitled to overtime under the FLSA; for example, employers do not need to pay overtime to administrative, executive, or professional employees. Employees who are not entitled to overtime pay under the FLSA are “exempt.” However, the FLSA also creates an exception to these exemptions: if the employee earns less than a certain salary threshold – currently set at approximately $23,660 per year—then the employee is entitled to overtime pay no matter what their job duties.