Articles Posted in EEOC

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By Bobbie Mae James

After the Me Too Movement was catapulted into public awareness in 2017 amid sexual assault and harassment allegations by female celebrities, sexual harassment has become an immediate, serious concern in both our personal and work lives.

In June 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a report detailing the study of harassment in the workplace.  The results were shocking.  In 2015, the EEOC received over 28,000 harassment claims for both private and public employers.  A majority of this 45% were sex-based claims, and the majority of these claims were due to sexual harassment.  The report also stated that at least 25% of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace, meaning one in four women.  Furthermore, between 87% and 94% of employees who experience sexual harassment do not file a formal complaint.  This is not surprising in the least, because it was also reported that 75% of people who reported workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.

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By Edgar M. Rivera

On May 16, 2019, in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Danny’s Restaurant, LLC, a jury before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi awarded $3.3 million to five African-American strippers in a race-discrimination case against Danny’s Cabaret (“Danny’s), a strip club.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Danny’s, alleging that the Jackson, Mississippi strip club limited when Black women could work, while White strippers had more flexible schedules, and fined only Black women $25 if they did not show up for their shift.  Essentially, Black dancers were only allowed to work during their scheduled shifts, and if a Black dancer did not show up for her scheduled shift, she was fined.  White dancers were not required to schedule their work shifts in advance, but were free simply to appear for shifts at their discretion; nor were they threatened with fines for not showing up on any certain days.  This system was later replaced with a quota system: the number of Black dancers who could dance on a given night depended on how many White dancers were present.

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By Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On May 7, 2019, three anonymous Somali Muslim women, Ms. A, Ms. B, and Ms. C, filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota against, Inc. (“Amazon”), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1961.  These women claim Amazon’s Shakopee, Minnesota fulfillment center failed to accommodate Muslim employees’ religious needs, failed to promote Somali workers, and retaliated against workers who protested discrimination.  Minnesota is home to some 30,000 immigrants from Somalia who started settling in the area in large numbers in the 1990s.  Somali immigrants make up a sizable portion of the 3,000 workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota.

The women allege that Amazon denied them adequate space and time to practice their religion.  They claim that employees feared taking time away to pray, since that lost time would reduce a worker’s “rate,” or how many items a worker packs per hour.   The warehouse’s current packing rate is 240 boxes an hour, but it has gone as high as 400.  Employees who regularly fall short of the rate—simply because they attempted to observe their religious obligations to pray—faced repercussions such as write-ups.  Several employees stopped taking breaks to perform ablutions before prayer, broke their Ramadan fast, and stopped going to the bathroom.

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In Anderson v. Postmaster General, the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) fired Dipping Anderson, a postal service police officer (“PPO”), for allegedly sleeping on the job.  Ms. Anderson sued the USPS, claiming that USPS had retaliated against her for having filed previous complaints with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).   After a seven-day bench trial, the district court concluded that Ms. Anderson was not discriminated against but the decision to terminate her employment, rather than impose lesser discipline, was in retaliation for her EEO complaints.  USPS appealed to the First Circuit, seeking to reverse the district court’s decision.

Ms. Anderson worked for USPS for eighteen years and, for the first sixteen years, was never disciplined.  In 2011, Ms. Anderson took time off work for a work-related ankle injury.  In May 2011, when Ms. Anderson reported back to work with her doctor’s permission, her supervisor refused to allow her to work for no apparent reason.  Ms. Anderson ultimately returned to her post and requested pre-complaint counseling, in which she alleged race discrimination.  In June 2011, Ms. Anderson attended an EEO conference with her superiors.  The conference, however, did little to resolve any issues between them, because in 2012, Ms. Anderson made several more requests for pre-complaint EEO counseling.  One of Ms. Anderson’s superiors was so angry that she had made complaints of discrimination, that he told a co-worker, “I want her gone. I want her gone before I retire.”

Finally, on June 12, 2013, USPS suspended Ms. Anderson without pay for sleeping on the job.  Even though Ms. Anderson denied sleeping on duty and USPS’s investigation made no factual finding of the incident, on September 9, 2013, USPS terminated her employment.  In the end, the Court credited Ms. Anderson’s version of events, for there was evidence showing that Ms. Anderson was using her cell phone during the time in question.

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In EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., on behalf of Paul Reina—a deaf, visually impaired, and intellectually disabled, cart pusher—the EEOC sued Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (“Wal-Mart”) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for failure to accommodate Mr. Reina’s request to work with a “job coach.”  Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment, which on December 18, 2018, a federal district court denied on the grounds that disputed issues of material fact remained as to whether Mr. Reina was a “qualified” individual and “whether allowing a permanent job coach was a reasonable accommodation.”

In 1998, Mr. Reina began working at Wal-Mart as a cart pusher.  In 1999, Wal-Mart allowed Mr. Reina several accommodations, including the ability to work with a job coach.  The job coach assisted in several ways, including watching for oncoming cars, helping Mr. Reina stay focused on tasks, prompting Mr. Reina to help a customer if a customer needed help loading their car, and steering longer lines of carts.  Over the years, Mr. Reina worked with several different job coaches and, with their assistance, Mr. Reina’s performance ratings were generally positive.

Working with a job coach did not go without incident.  In 2012, a shift manager reported an altercation between Mr. Reina and a job coach.  Caught on tape, the job coach was seen physically abusing Mr. Reina.  The police said the report was unfounded because there were no physical injuries.  This incident, however, made Mr. Reina’s direct manager question Mr. Reina’s need for a job coach and asked Mr. Reina to provide medically supported information about his condition and reasonable accommodation.  Mr. Reina’s physician confirmed that Mr. Reina needed a job coach to do Mr. Reina’s “seeing and hearing.”  What happened after that is disputed.  The manager claimed that he asked for more information but Mr. Reina denied that the manager made such request, instead telling him to wait to hear from him.  Mr. Reina was not placed on a schedule or contacted and lost access to Wal-Mart’s job portal.

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By Leah Kessler and Crismelly Caso

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (or “MLK Day”) is a federal holiday observed on the third Monday of January each year to celebrate the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., an influential American civil rights leader.

Dr. King’s sustained political activism has influenced and improved our country in countless ways, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“CRA”), which in turn created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)—a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.  As a result, in 2017, 84,254 individuals filed charges with the EEOC, seeking legal recourse against employers subjecting them to work environments in which they were demeaned and dehumanized.  He was closely involved in the passage of the National Labor Relations Act—which established the right of all workers to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers regarding their working conditions and wages.

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Leah Kessler

Enacted in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, the American with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis disability.  The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.”  With its passage, for the first time, Congress recognized that physical and mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, and curbed prejudice, antiquated attitudes, and societal and institutional barriers that people with physical or mental disabilities frequently face.  As one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, the ADA ensures that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Title I of the ADA (“Title I”) addresses disability discrimination in the workplace, helping individuals with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities.  An important component of the ADA—and a feature that is unique among other civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964—is its requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees.  A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that accommodates employees with disabilities so they can do their job without causing the employer “undue hardship.”  Title I also establishes guidelines for the reasonable accommodation process and addresses medical examinations and inquiries.  Title I applies to employers with at least 15 employees.

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Lev Craig and Leah Kessler

This summer, we reported on the Second Circuit’s decision to review en banc its holding in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., where the Second Circuit had affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s sexual orientation discrimination claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) on the grounds that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation discrimination. On Monday, the Second Circuit broke with precedent and reversed that decision, finding that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

While Title VII forbids discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, sex, religion, and national origin, the statute does not explicitly prohibit sexual orientation–based discrimination. This has historically left many employees vulnerable to discrimination because of their sexuality: No federal law explicitly forbids discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace, local laws differ considerably from state to state, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never addressed whether Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination. While, under the Obama administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—the government agency that interprets and enforces Title VII—made clear that it views sexual orientation discrimination as a violation of Title VII, the EEOC’s interpretations don’t have legal force in federal court, and courts have typically dismissed Title VII sexual orientation claims in the past.

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Lev Craig

Earlier this year, we reported on the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital affirming the dismissal of a former security guard’s claims that her employer had discriminated against her because she is a lesbian and did not conform to gender stereotypes. This Monday, December 11, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling in Evans, leaving unanswered the question of whether Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination.

Plaintiff Jameka Evans, who is a lesbian, worked at an Atlanta regional hospital as a security officer. She was open about her sexual orientation with her coworkers and dressed in a masculine manner, wearing the men’s security guard uniform, men’s shoes, and a short haircut. According to Evans’s complaint, the hospital discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation and nonconformity with gender stereotypes by denying her equal pay, harassing her, physically assaulting her, and targeting her for termination, then retaliated against her after she complained about the discriminatory treatment.

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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.

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