Tag: labor law

FMLA, Retaliation, and Lawsuits

Ronald Rice was excited to share the news of his wife’s pregnancy with his co-workers and employer in January 2012. Within days of his announcement, however, his work relationship turned sour.

Suddenly, Rice was assigned a multitude of extra duties that were outside his job description. He endured the extra workload for six months until his wife’s pregnancy took a difficult turn. In order to take care of his wife who now had more doctor’s appointments to attend and had severe morning sickness, Rice requested to take five days of vacation time. Two of those days were denied, so Rice put in an FMLA request for those days, three days after his vacation request. The employer swiftly terminated Rice.

Rice then sued the company for interfering with his FMLA rights. The district court decided that there was enough evidence to conclude that the employer had terminated Rice due to his association with his pregnant wife and discriminated against him for trying to take an FMLA leave. The employer’s defense hinged on the testimony of managers who claimed the executor of the termination was not aware of Rice’s request. The court, however, found that there was no plan to terminate Rice previous to his FMLA request, and therefore concluded that the sole reason for termination was borne out of retaliation.

Source: Rice v. Kellermeyer Co. (Ohio 2014)

Allegations of Racial Discrimination Against GOP Chairman

John Padgett, head of the Georgia Republican Party, is facing allegations that he engaged in racial discrimination against an employee of one of his privately owned firms. Vanessa Dewberry, a former manager of Southeast Ambulance Inc., run by Padgett’s firm, filed a federal lawsuit against the politician in Atlanta.

Dewberry had a meeting last February with Padgett, who referred to an African American employee as a “black tech that’s supposed to know better.” Dewberry took offense to that statement, and described Padgett’s tone as demeaning.

Padgett is also accused of gender discrimination. He participated in the ridiculing and teasing of a staff member whose gender was questioned. Padgett allegedly referred to the employee as “the one who looks like a boy.” Another employee also called the fellow worker, “it.” This also is captured on the recording from Dewberry. Dewberry claims she immediately voiced her discomfort about the comments and complained to Padgett openly about the inappropriateness of his words.

Not too long after, Dewberry was terminated from her position for “financial reasons.” Dewberry made it clear she was going to take action against Padgett, to which he responded that he had powerful friends.

Dewberry’s complaint names Padgett directly as well as the ambulance company she had been employed with during the racial incidents.

Source: AJC.com

Bed, Bath, & Beyond Paying Correct Wages

The home furnishing chain, Bed, Bath & Beyond has yet another wage and hour lawsuit filed against them, alleging misclassification, failure to pay overtime, and failure to pay double time wages. Joshua, a department manager at the company’s Houston store, became the lead plaintiff in this new lawsuit.

He was classified as a salaried, exempt employee, earning $1,038.46 per week, not matter how many hours he worked in actuality. Through a reconstruction of his hours worked, plaintiff’s counsel alleges that Joshua worked beyond 40 hours a week and even up to 60 hours a week. Joshua’s supervisors were aware of the number of hours that he was working per week but still made no attempt to get him his correct rate of pay.

In a similar suit in California, Bed, Bath & Beyond was found liable for willful misclassification of assistant managers in order to avoid paying overtime. The suit also alleged failure to reimburse business expenses and costs and failure to provide seating.

So what makes a person exempt or non-exempt? Though there are many qualifications for an exempt classification, the best explanation is a measure of independent discretion exercised at the job. If you exercise independent discretion at least half the time (ability to make decisions on behalf of the company, are in a specialized professionals, or can negotiate on behalf of the company) then you may be exempt and can earn a salary no matter how many hours you work. Some examples would be company executives, doctors, and engineers.

Non-exempt employees are those who have a routinized, non-authoritative position that does not allow for major decisions or work to go through without approval. Examples would include retailer service workers, clerical workers, and food servers.

Source: Topclassactions.com

The Wolf of Humphrey’s County

Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Wolf of Wall Street” depicts powerful men in high places living a life of sex and drugs. It seems a Humphrey’s County, Tennessee superintendent saw himself as one of DiCaprio’s men. Jimmy Long is now being sued by a bookkeeper for the school district, Teresa Smith.

Smith alleges in her suit that Long bragged about his open marriage and continually propositioned Smith for sex. The bookkeeper complained to county commissioners, as well as the Tennessee State Controller about the harassment. In her email complaint, Smith also accused the superintendent of misusing district funds for his own personal use, and allowed other, retired district officials to do the same.

The embezzlement of funds aside, the bulk of Smith’s complaints stemmed from Long’s overtly sexual behavior. Long grabbed Smith aggressively and in a sexually suggestive way. Often, he would make comments about Smith’s breasts and speak about sexual stimulation products he utilized.

Her complaints, Smith alleges, were continually ignored and eventually led to her termination. The suit seeks lost wages, lost benefits, lost future wages, compensatory and punitive damages.

In California, this falls under a classic case of hostile work environment sexual harassment. Long’s behavior toward Smith was pervasive and created a sexually charged working environment. Long was Smith’s superior, establishing liability on the part of the school district. She also reported the situation to over the superintendent’s house, but she was met with silence. If this situation sounds similar to you in California, don’t hesitate to give our Aegis attorneys a call.

Subtle Sex Discrimination

Although the “Mad Men” days of overt sex discrimination in the workplace are mostly past, women still experience a surprising amount of gender-based discrimination in many industries, from basic entry-level jobs up to high-powered Silicon Valley firms.

Examples at a recent trial regarding sexual harassment and sex discrimination at a major venture capital firm show exactly the kind of subtle, undercover discrimination many women are still likely to face today.  As one example, women at the company testified that they weren’t invited to events like a ski trip and a dinner party, while their male equivalents were, denying them the opportunity of bonding with and becoming better known to higher-up decision makers.  Others testified about being caught in a performance review trap: first their reviews gave negative assessments that they were too passive and didn’t speak up enough, but as soon as they did speak up and sought credit for their work like their male colleagues did, they were again negatively reviewed as pushy and entitled.

As a result of these subtle forms of discrimination, women weren’t considered equal candidates when assessed against their male colleagues, even by people who weren’t the original discriminators.  Why would you promote a woman you didn’t know and who had subtly negative performance reviews over a man you had gotten to know and liked over a company dinner and who had uniformly positive reviews?  To many decision-makers, you wouldn’t, further hurting the women in their positions within the company and their careers.

These kinds of subtle discrimination are still far too common in the American workforce and are just as illegal as the more traditional and overt kinds of discrimination.