March 2012 Archives

March 26, 2012

Can a Potential Employer Ask a Kentucky Job Applicant for Social Media Passwords?

1362248_businessman_with_the_notebook_3.jpgFacebook has become an international phenomenon with millions of users logged in around the globe. Some people have reconnected after years of no communication, and others have forged new relationships through shared friends and interests. As a result of all of this sharing of information, numerous privacy issues have arisen.

One of the latest issues is whether or not employers should have access to employees' Facebook accounts. While a potential employer may see it as an opportunity to get to know an applicant on a more personal level, it could also lead to a potentially illegal situation.

When applying for a job, there are numerous subjects that should not be addressed by an employer. Applicants should not be asked about their age, marital status, number of children, religious background, or ethnicity. Denying someone a position based on any of these factors would most likely constitute employment discrimination, which is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, these topics should not even be brought up by a potential employer.

When an individual uses Facebook, it is under the assumption that the information posted will be viewed by friends and family members, not employers. So the subjects listed above that should not be discussed at a job interview will most likely appear on a Facebook page. Even if this information is not explicitly listed on the person's profile page, it can normally be gleaned from reading posts and viewing photos.

Some prospective employers try to get around the sticky subject of asking for an applicant's user name and password. After the ACLU questioned the Maryland Department of Public Safety's practice of requiring user names and passwords from applicants, the agency changed its policy to requiring the applicant to log into social media sites during the interview. While this gets away from requesting passwords that people should not be asked to share, it still gives the agency access to information that may be covered under Title VII. Other companies have asked applicants to "friend" human resource managers, which also gives them access to the same information that could lead to discriminatory decision-making in the hiring process.

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March 23, 2012

Plumbers Union Settles Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Unions were created to protect the rights of American workers from those higher up who may not have their best interests in mind. Sometimes, however, the unions themselves can make bad decisions that end up negatively affecting a worker they are supposed to protect.

In 2008, Jon Stokes, who is African-American, was allegedly wrongfully terminated his job as shop steward at a construction site. He was immediately replaced with a white employee who had been on the job for only two months by the local plumber and pipefitters union. Stokes allegedly contacted union leaders regarding his termination being fueled by racism, but an investigation was never done. Because of this, the Division of Civil Rights filed a lawsuit.

An agent for the union said Stokes was terminated because people had complained he was too slow in filling their requests for materials, but the workers who had supposedly complained were never identified. Also, Stokes noted that he was never made aware of any issues before his termination.

Earlier this month, the union agreed to settle this matter with the Civil Rights Division. Several changes will be implemented because of this settlement. Union leaders will be required to attend training regarding civil rights law at the state and federal level. Policies that were previously lacking will be established, including how discrimination complaints should be reported and investigated. Anti-discrimination and harassment policies will be created and given to all union members.

While this settlement does not mean the union admitted any wrongdoing, the director of the Civil Rights Division was satisfied, saying "This is a fair resolution of some troubling allegations...It is vital that all employers strive to create a healthy workplace climate, and that every employee -- from the home office to the job site -- knows and understands the law."

Jon Stokes has filed a personal lawsuit against the union and it is still pending.

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March 18, 2012

Did Religious Discrimination Lead to Wrongful Termination at NASA?

When one hears the name NASA, rocket ships and space exploration come to mind, not religion. But one man is suing a California division of NASA for alleged religious discrimination. David Coppedge was a computer specialist that worked on a NASA mission exploring Saturn and its moons. Once a team lead on the project, he claims he was demoted and eventually terminated because of his religious beliefs. Mr. Coppedge believes in intelligent design, a theory stating that something must have driven evolution.

NASA claims the 15-year project was winding down at the time of his termination and that 264 other employees were also let go at the same time because of budget cuts. Mr. Coppedge claims that his speaking to his co-workers about intelligent design led to his termination. Two other items that may have contributed was his desire to have the holiday party called a "Christmas party" and his backing of a proposed measure to have marriage only pertain to heterosexual couples.

Religion is one of many types of discrimination that are illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs." The unfavorable treatment can be in found in several forms, including refusal to hire an applicant, a negative difference in pay or benefits, being passed over for promotions, or wrongful termination.

Under Title VII, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees' religious beliefs. This may include allowing certain types of dress or appearance required by an individual's religion or not requiring someone to attend functions that go against their beliefs. Unreasonable accommodations are those that would be extremely costly to the employer, would put other employees at risk for harm, or would impede the rights of others.

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March 10, 2012

Paula Deen Sued for Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

Paula Deen continues to be in the news, this time as a defendant in a lawsuit for sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. The popular TV show host co-owns a restaurant with her brother, Bubba Hiers, in Savannah. Uncle Bubba's is the name of the restaurant where the alleged harassment took place.

Lisa Jackson, the general manager of Uncle Bubba's for five years, has filed a lawsuit claiming she was sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment while working at the restaurant. The sexual harassment allegedly occurred in several different ways. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Hiers frequently made sexual advances toward Ms. Jackson, watched pornography in their shared office, and said things that were very offensive. Ms. Jackson's claim also states that when Ms. Deen promoted her to general manager of the restaurant, she said she was "going to do something I've never done. I'm going to put a woman in a man's job."

Sexual harassment can take different forms. Sometimes it is sexual in nature, such as when Mr. Hiers allegedly watched pornography in their office and made sexual advances towards Ms. Jackson. It can also occur when derogatory remarks are made about a person's gender in general, which is what Ms. Deen supposedly did when she said she was going to give a man's job to a woman. Ms. Jackson also claims she was paid less than her male counterparts in the restaurant industry. These types of harassment can make an employee feel uncomfortable in the workplace and result in a hostile work environment. In many cases, if the sexual advances are turned down, or if the employee reports the sexual harassment, the harasser may retaliate by wrongfully terminating an employee. Ms. Jackson is not claiming wrongful termination because she voluntarily left the job based on the advice of a physician who said working at the restaurant was detrimental to her mental well-being.

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March 3, 2012

Two Companies Settle Employment Discrimination Lawsuits Regarding Workers with Epilepsy

Epilepsy affects approximately two million Americans to varying degrees. It is a neurological condition that causes people to have seizures. Some can control their epilepsy with medication and avoid having seizures for years, while others continue to have seizures even while medicated. Special caution may need to be taken in certain situations by those who have frequent seizures, but no one should have to give up living or working because of this condition. Two companies recently settled lawsuits that addressed the need to make accommodations for potential and current employees with this particular disability.

A Missouri man applied at Tyson Foods, a meat processing company, for a maintenance position. The man had epilepsy that he had kept under control with medication for 12 years. During this period he had even been employed twice by Tyson. When he applied the third time however, he was denied a position without even being examined by a physician because of a new medical evaluation process put in place by Tyson. The applicant felt he had been discriminated against because of his disability and contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which agreed with him.

The EEOC filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against Tyson on the man's behalf in May 2010. Tyson and the EEOC settled the lawsuit, with Tyson agreeing to pay the man $35,000 and promising to make some changes to their policies. Now, if an applicant at Tyson fails a medical assessment, he can have second and third assessments done at his own expense. Tyson will also provide training for those doing the assessments, will post notices regarding discrimination for its employees, and will report to the EEOC regarding its compliance.

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