Supreme Court Issues Employee-Friendly Decision in USERRA Case

March 01, 2011 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

Today, in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that an employer may be liable under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) when the discriminatory actions of an employee who doesn’t make employment decisions influence the employment decisionmaker. More specifically, the Court noted, “if a supervisor performs an act motivated by antimilitary animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable under USERRA.”

In Staub, Vincent Staub, a member of the military reserves, sued his employer after his employment was terminated, alleging he was a victim of antimilitary discrimination in violation of USERRA. Staub based his claim on his supervisors’ alleged antimilitary bias, asserting they influenced the manager who fired him, even though the manager claimed he didn’t take such bias into account. In making his claim, Staub used the theory of cat’s-paw liability, which basically means one person has manipulated another. In an employment law context and specifically in this case, Staub used cat’s-paw liability to claim the employer was liable because his biased supervisors convinced the decision-making manager to take the adverse employment action (discharge) even though the decisionmaker may not have had any bias.

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Supreme Court OK’s Third-Party Retaliation Lawsuit

January 25, 2011 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

Yesterday, in Thompson v. North American Stainlessi LP, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an employee-friendly ruling in a third-party (or associational) retaliation case. The Court unanimously held that a man who was fired after his fiancée filed a gender discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) could sue for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In Thompson, Eric Thompson worked at North American Stainless, LP (NAS) with his then-fiancée, Miriam Regalado, who filed a gender discrimination charge with the EEOC. A few weeks after the EEOC informed NAS of Regalado’s charge, the company terminated Thompson’s employment. Thompson sued NAS, claiming it retaliated against him for his fiancée’s protected activity. The trial court ruled in favor of NAS, and the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, holding that Thompson couldn’t sue under Title VII because he didn’t engage in protected activity.

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Supreme Court: Background Investigations on Federal Contract Employees OK

January 19, 2011 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

Wednesday, in NASA v. Nelson, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that the government didn’t violate federal contract employees’ constitutional rights by using certain background investigations. In this case, contract employees at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sued NASA, alleging that the background checks it was using violated their constitutional rights to informational privacy.

The background checks in question required the employees to fill out a standard form that asked about their involvement with illegal drugs and whether they had received any treatment or counseling. The employees also had to sign a release that authorized the government to acquire personal information from employers, schools, and others, and the government sent questionnaires to the employees’ references. The questionnaires asked open-ended questions about the employees’ “honesty or trustworthiness” and whether the references had “adverse information” related to various other matters.

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Supreme Court Agrees to Review Massive Discrimination Case Against Wal-Mart

December 06, 2010 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review what has been called the largest employment class action in U.S. history — Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes. The class of plaintiffs is estimated to include approximately 1.5 million former and current female Wal-Mart employees seeking monetary relief that could amount to billions of dollars in back pay.

Betty Dukes, a Wal-Mart employee, initially filed the case in federal court on behalf of “certain named plaintiffs and those similarly situated.” The district court certified a class of female employees alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the certification. According to Wal-Mart’s petition to the Supreme Court, the nationwide class “includes every woman employed for any period of time over the past decade, in any of Wal-Mart’s approximately 3,400 separately managed stores, 41 regions, and 400 districts, and who held positions in any of approximately 53 departments and 170 different job classifications.”

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Maine Fire Department Pays $850K to Settle Sexual Harassment Cases

September 08, 2010 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

by Daniel C. Stockford

The long-running saga of sexual harassment in the City of Westbrook Fire Department has come to an end with large settlement payments to two female firefighters. Under the settlement agreement, firefighter Kathy Rogers is set to receive about $480,000, while her colleague, Lisa Theberge, will receive about $370,000.

Rogers and Theberge filed complaints against the city with the Maine Human Rights Commission in 2008 alleging more than 100 separate incidents of sexual harassment involving 20 fire department employees. Last October, they filed a lawsuit against the city, the mayor, and the city manager in federal district court in Portland. They alleged that the city failed to take prompt and effective action to address their numerous allegations of sexual harassment and that they suffered retaliation for complaining.

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Categories: Employment Law Cases

Wal-Mart Asks Supreme Court to Review Huge Class Action

August 26, 2010 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

By Nancy Williams

Last April, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the green light to a nationwide sex discrimination class action against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the nation’s largest employer. Unwilling to permit the suit to proceed without a further challenge, Wal-Mart has now petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the class certification issue. The Ninth Circuit’s decision had defined a class of up to 1.5 million women who worked at any Wal-Mart in the last 12 years, making the lawsuit the largest potential class action ever pursued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Wal-Mart’s petition argues that the case raises important questions under Title VII and affects operations at some 3,400 separately managed stores. Permitting the massive suit to proceed on a class basis risks violating the rights not only of Wal-Mart but also potentially of many class members. The company also urges the Court to consider whether class treatment is the appropriate mechanism for an action that focuses primarily on monetary damages and highly individual claims and defenses.

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Novartis Enters Settlement Agreement for Remaining Members of Gender Bias Suit

July 15, 2010 - by: HR Hero 1 COMMENTS

Following a massive $250 million punitive damages verdict from a Manhattan jury, Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis has agreed to settle the remaining claims in a recent gender bias suit. Pending final approval by the district judge, the settlement would be more than $152 million and would cover the remainder of the 5,600 claims filed in the class-action suit.

The case involved claims from female sales representatives that Novartis paid female employees less than male employees while denying them promotional opportunities similar to those of their male counterparts. The jury found that Novartis had discriminated in pay, promotional opportunities, and pregnancy-related matters, awarding $3.3 million in compensatory damages as well as the massive punitive damages sum — the highest award to date in a gender bias suit — to the 12 employees named in the case. Absent a settlement, damages for the remaining members of the class action could have totaled more than $1 billion.

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Supreme Court Rules for Employer in Benefits Case

April 22, 2010 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

By David R. Godofsky

Yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Conkright v. Frommert rejects the “one-strike-and-you’re-out” rule, awarding a home run to Xerox as sponsor of a defined benefit pension plan.

The Conkright case arose when Frommert and other employees brought a claim for benefits. The employees contended that the method Xerox used to compute their benefits was an unreasonable interpretation of the plan and that Xerox had not given them sufficient notice of the method. The plan administrator denied their claims, and Frommert sued.

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Price is Right Model ‘Comes on Down’ with Lawsuit

March 03, 2010 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

It’s not all fun and games on the set of game show The Price is Right. A former model on the show, Brandi Cochran, filed a suit in Superior Court in Los Angeles on March 1 claiming she was harassed and discriminated against for being pregnant, according to a report in The Wrap, an entertainment news website.

Cochran was a model on the show from July 2002 through late February 2010 when she was fired. She is suing CBS and the show’s producer Freemantle Media claiming discrimination based on pregnancy, retaliation for complaining about discrimination and harassment, wrongful termination, breach of contract, privacy violations, and fraud.

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Sears Settlement with EEOC Raises New Concerns on ADA Enforcement

September 30, 2009 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

by Burton J. Fishman

Sears recently reached a $6.2 million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations stemming from the company’s alleged refusal to return injured workers to the job. This is the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history. More aggressive enforcement has been promised by the Obama administration across the civil rights/employment discrimination front; this appears to be a product of that new policy.

At the root of the EEOC’s allegations was an “inflexible” workers’ compensation leave policy that had the effect of terminating employees rather than seeking and/or arriving at a reasonable accommodation that would yield a return to work. Although only one employee filed a charge, the EEOC claims that pretrial discovery revealed that hundreds of other employees who had taken workers’ comp leave were also terminated without regard for a return to work or an extended leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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