Adverse employment action because of accent is illegal

May 17, 2015 0 COMMENTS

by Joseph Cooper

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination on the basis of national origin in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, and job assignments. Because an employee’s accent or language skills are often associated with her national origin, employment decisions based on those characteristics are scrutinized closely by courts and administrative tribunals. A recent decision from the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights (RICHR) illustrates that point.  Time for a conversation

Teacher wants to take English classes

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DOJ is the latest federal agency to extend Title VII protection

April 19, 2015 0 COMMENTS

by Leslie A. Sammon

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination by all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions with 15 or more employees. We are all familiar with Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination in the workplace. In recent years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VII, has found that claims of sex stereotyping by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are covered under the Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination. The EEOC has also interpreted Title VII to prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity, including transgender status. On December 14, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a reversal of its previous position and has now joined the EEOC in extending the protection of Title VII to allow claims based on an individual’s gender identity.  Transgender

DOJ explains its position

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Anatomy of an employment lawsuit: best HR practices to help you win

April 19, 2015 0 COMMENTS

by Michael J. Modl

Imagine you employ Rajesh Tank, an employee of Indian descent, as a regional VP. Other employees report that Tank engaged in unprofessional conduct that hurt team morale, showed favoritism toward certain employees, and pressured employees to hire a particular contractor. You investigate the allegations, find some truth to them, order Tank to terminate the contractor, and place him on a corrective action coaching plan.  scales of justice

Tank then reports inappropriate racial workplace comments and objects to the level of discipline meted out to the employee who made the comments. He engages in unprofessional conduct after being placed on the corrective plan, and despite your request that he terminate the contractor, he doesn’t. He also raises concerns that he is being discriminated against in the workplace. As a result of coworkers’ complaints about him, you conduct a second investigation and conclude that discharge is the appropriate course of action.

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Avoiding reverse disability discrimination claims

February 15, 2015 0 COMMENTS

by Andy Rodman

Q As part of my company’s diversity efforts, I would like to reach out to some disability advocate groups to try to fill a few vacant positions. I’m afraid that by doing so, I may be opening up the company to reverse discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Are my fears justified?  Able to Work

A First off, I applaud your company’s diversity efforts, particularly with respect to the disabled — a group that sometimes is forgotten when it comes to outreach efforts. As for your fears, they are justified only to the extent that there is little (or nothing) you can do to stop a rejected nondisabled applicant from filing a failure-to-hire claim based on perceived reverse disability discrimination. Unfortunately, as many companies see from time to time, some disgruntled applicants and employees will sue for almost anything — even if the claims have no legal basis.

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Tribal hiring preference not national origin discrimination

February 15, 2015 1 COMMENTS

by Nancy Williams

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows employers on or near an Indian reservation to give preferential treatment to Indians living in the vicinity. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken the position that this provision doesn’t permit preference for members of a particular tribe. In the continuing saga of a case that has dragged on for years, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal (whose rulings apply to all Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington employers) recently issued its third decision, finally ruling against the EEOC.  The Right Candidate

Coal company leases have Navajo hiring preference

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Maintaining a religion-neutral workplace

March 16, 2014 0 COMMENTS

by Charles S. Plumb

About a year ago, a group of private citizens paid for a seven-foot-tall granite monument of the Ten Commandments and gained approval for it to be placed on the north end of the Oklahoma Capitol grounds. Not surprisingly, a satanic group then asked Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission for permission to erect a seven-foot-tall “homage” to the Prince of Darkness, and a Hindu organization applied to have a monkey god statue join the growing list of Oklahoma statehouse religious monuments. Most recently, the Pastafarians—people who follow the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—have asked how they can apply for a spot for their statue on Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds. I’m serious.  ReligiousSymbols

What does this have to do with your workplace? Hopefully nothing. But it serves as a good reminder about the potential curveballs an employer can face when religious issues gain prominence at work.

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Wiccan what? Religious accommodations and sincerely held beliefs

March 16, 2014 0 COMMENTS

by Steve Jones

Q If an employee asks for time off for her religious beliefs, can I legally question her about her religion (e.g., what her religion is and why she needs off)?  Wiccan

A Most likely, yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for a worker’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on business operations. Under Title VII, the “undue hardship” defense requires an employer to show that under the particular circumstances, the proposed accommodation poses more than a minimal cost to or burden on the employer.

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ENDA may be coming soon—what will its impact really be?

January 19, 2014 0 COMMENTS

by John R. Merinar, Jr.

A great deal of attention has been focused on the U.S. Senate’s recent passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The House of Representatives has yet to take up the bill, but there’s much speculation that supporters have the votes necessary to secure passage. Often, supporters can be heard using the phrase “fundamentally transform,” made popular by President Barack Obama, to describe the impact of ENDA in the workplace. But, in reality, the legislation may merely be an example of lawmakers catching up with the citizens they represent.  Senate

Behind the curve

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Reconsidering the status of sexual orientation in the workplace

December 15, 2013 0 COMMENTS

by Harold Pinkley

From the time I began practicing employment law (too many) years ago―and probably for longer than that―employment lawyers have been quite comfortable advising clients that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender and other protected status) does not cover sexual orientation. Many states’ laws don’t prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, either. In other words, when it comes to homosexual or bisexual employees, discriminate away.  SexualOrientation

However, it has become fairly clear that such glib advice is incomplete and perhaps even wrong not just from an ethical standpoint but also in terms of legal liability. This article provides an overview of some changes and developments to be mindful of when addressing sexual orientation issues in the workplace.

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Criminal and background reports as evidence in EEOC class actions

April 14, 2013 0 COMMENTS

by Steven Collis

In its first class action lawsuit challenging an employer’s use of criminal records, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ended up dropping its case against PeopleMark and getting socked with $750,000 in sanctions. Recently, the EEOC suffered another stinging loss when a federal court dismissed its discrimination case against Kaplan Higher Education Corporation (which was discussed in a previous blog post, “EEOC’s use of ‘race raters’ against Kaplan University gets failing grade”) based on an unsound analysis by the commission’s expert witness. With the same expert providing statistical evidence in another case, could the agency strike out in a third background check class action lawsuit?

Over the past few years, the EEOC has aggressively challenged the use of credit reports and criminal history checks in hiring decisions, alleging that use of the information results in a discriminatory impact on candidates in protected groups. In 2012, the commission successfully negotiated a $3.13 million prelawsuit settlement of a race discrimination charge against Pepsi in which the soda giant’s criminal background check policy was called into question for allegedly discriminating against African Americans. However, the agency has been less successful pursuing similar cases in court, mainly because of its struggle to proffer reliable evidence of discriminatory impact. Despite the EEOC’s mixed results, the recent settlements and case filings indicate that the use of credit and criminal history checks in the hiring process is a hot topic. read more…

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