Bahama Breeze Pays $1.26 Million for Race Claim

On December14, 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a class-action settlement with national restaurant chain Bahama Breeze for $1.26 million and significant remedial relief. The case originated with 37 black workers at the company’s Beachwood, Ohio, location who claimed they were repeatedly harassed because of their race.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Bahama Breeze managers committed numerous and consistent acts of racial harassment against black employees, including frequently addressing black staff members with slurs such as “Aunt Jemima,” “home boy,” “you people,” and the “n” word. Additionally, managers allegedly imitated what they perceived to be language and mannerisms of black employees and denied them breaks while allowing breaks to Caucasian employees. Despite the employees’ complaints to management, the alleged race-based harassment continued.

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Categories: Legal News

Tap Into Generational IT Insight

M. Lee Smith Publishers’ President Dan Oswald comments on the generational divide that most companies are experiencing in relation to technology and offers five tips for how employers can harness the know-how and insight of their younger employees.

I recently handed a newspaper column written by Financial Times columnist Luke Johnson to my 18-year old son for him to read. I knew that my son would like Mr. Johnson’s message. The column topic was the “clash of generations under way at the top of so many organizations.” His premise was that we are now in the Digital Age, yet most of those in leadership positions came of age in an old technology world and, therefore, are not “digital natives.”

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Categories: Feature

“English-Only” Lessons from a Taos Motel

Employment law attorney Robert P. Tinnin, Jr. tackles the tough question of whether an employer can implement an”English-only” policy.

Q A couple moved to Taos, New Mexico, from Abilene, Texas, last summer and purchased a deteriorating old motel, hoping to rehab it as they’ve done with several other properties. According to news stories, the husband, Larry Whitten, immediately ordered workers at the motel to stop speaking Spanish and to use Anglo versions of their Spanish first names at work. Whitton’s action, as might be expected, caused an immediate uproar in some local circles, leading to statewide and national attention. What’s up with this guy? Can he get away with this?

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Categories: Q&A

EEOC Claims Continue to Rise

According to its annual report issued November 16, 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 93,277 private-sector discrimination charges in fiscal year (FY) 2009, its second highest total in the past 20 years. In addition, the EEOC obtained record relief of almost $300 million for alleged discrimination victims through administrative enforcement.

Breakdown of Charges

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Categories: Agency Insight

EEOC Sues Over Use of Credit Checks, Criminal Histories

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a complaint in the U.S. district court in Maryland against Freeman Companies, a Dallas-based corporate event-planning company. The EEOC claims that Freeman’s use of credit histories and criminal background checks discriminates against black, Hispanic, and male job applicants in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title VII and Disparate Impact

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Categories: Legal News

Employing Developmentally Disabled Can Be a Win-Win

Individuals with serious disabilities encounter many difficulties when attempting to enter the workforce. They may have physical or mental deficiencies that make it difficult, if not impossible, to become competitively employed. There are, however, incentives and exceptions to normal workplace rules that “even the playing field” for employees and employers alike.

Undoubtedly, many employers think that employing a developmentally disabled worker is fraught with pitfalls. You may worry about making all the necessary accommodations. Or maybe you’re concerned about the disabled individual’s interactions with coworkers (and vice versa) or how reliable he’ll be. There are many legitimate concerns. However, employing the developmentally disabled can be a win-win situation for everyone involved. The disabled individual is empowered by his employment and you provide a service to the individual and the community at large. Several incentives are available to employers to encourage employment of the developmentally disabled.

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Categories: Feature

Happy Birthday, Jesus

Employment law attorney Justin Pierce tackles the tough question of whether an employer should allow an employee to hang a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” sign in his office.

Q Last year at Christmas, one of our employees, we’ll call him “Bob,” put up a small sign in his office that read “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” A non- Christian employee was recently heard saying that he was offended by the sign last year and that if Bob puts it up again this year, he’s going to file a complaint. We figured it’s better to find out now how to react to an anticipated complaint that may come as a result of the sign. If Bob puts the sign up again, should we tell him to take it down? If not, what do we do if another employee complains about the sign?

A You shouldn’t tell Bob to take the sign down if he puts it up again. Given the circumstances, I think that if you asked him to take it down, you could wind up defending a claim of failure to accommodate Bob’s religious beliefs. Now, as a footnote to that, you might have a technical defense that displaying a sign isn’t an accommodation that would be required for Bob to practice his religion. But given that we’re talking about a small sign in an office (as opposed to him bringing in an eight-foot Christmas tree and stringing blinking lights all across his office), I think it’s too risky to rely exclusively on that sort of a technical defense.

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Categories: Q&A

Events Can Help Build Camaraderie

The workplace isn’t meant to be a play zone, but workers who feel a sense of camaraderie tend to be more effective and satisfied. That is especially important in an office where employees come from diverse backgrounds because it serves to build a common bond, which should lead to better working relationships. Try to promote that sense of camaraderie through occasional company-sponsored events. Here are some ideas that will be free or relatively cheap for you while encouraging your employees to have fun together and build relationships within your company:

  • Have potluck lunches with a theme.

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Categories: Ideas for Leaders

EEOC Reaches Record ADA Settlement with Sears

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced a record-setting settlement resolving a class-action lawsuit against Sears, Roebuck and Co. under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for $6.2 million and significant remedial relief. The consent decree, approved on September 29, represents the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history. The EEOC’s suit alleged that Sears maintained an inflexible workers’ compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities in violation of the ADA.

The case arose from a discrimination charge filed with the EEOC by a former Sears service technician. According to the commission, the employee was injured on the job, took workers’ comp leave, and, although still disabled by his injuries, repeatedly attempted to return to work. The EEOC alleged that Sears never provided the employee with a reasonable accommodation that would have put him back to work and instead fired him when his leave expired. According to EEOC, discovery in the lawsuit (the pretrial exchange of evidence) revealed that hundreds of other employees who had taken workers’ comp leave were also terminated and that Sears never seriously considered reasonable accommodations to return them to work while they were on leave or seriously considered whether a brief extension of their leave would make their return possible.

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Categories: Legal News

Celebrating Halloween in a Diverse Workplace

Allowing your employees to celebrate Halloween can be a fun experience and a great way to promote motivation and engagement. If you don’t plan ahead, however, you could be in for some scary results.

Probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Halloween is costumes, and many offices allow employees to dress up for the holiday. Some even encourage it with costume contests. Unfortunately, there’s always the possibility that someone’s poor judgment in costume choice will offend a coworker or customer.

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Categories: Feature

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