April 2012 Archives

April 27, 2012

Kentucky Bourbon Company Sued for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

1072868_a_double___.jpgMaker's Mark is known across the country for its ability to make bourbon in Kentucky. On April 6, the Kentucky employment law firm of Miller & Falkner filed a lawsuit against Maker's Mark on behalf of five female employees of the distillery. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, alleges that Maker's Mark broke numerous state and federal laws.

The female workers allege in the complaint that their troubles started before and got worse after answering a survey distributed by Maker's Mark. The survey asked employees to tell if they had ever experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or any other type of discrimination at work. The five women answered positively, and they claim they have been treated negatively since then.

Before the survey, the women say they were subjected to a hostile work environment. This situation can occur in a variety of ways, but ultimately it makes the workers feel uncomfortable enough at work that they may consider quitting. In this case the women claim that indecent exposure occurred, inappropriate birthday cards were sent, and sexual encounters were retold while they were trying to work. This type of behavior from co-workers made Maker's Mark and uncomfortable place to work for them.

The lawsuit also alleges that they were victims of sexual harassment. One type of sexual harassment occurs when someone is subjected to unwanted sexual advances or is propositioned. This is the type of harassment that the women encountered at the distillery. Discrimination based on an employee's gender was also noted by the women. They state that they were denied certain positions and were not promoted on certain occasions simply because they were women.

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April 17, 2012

Kentucky Workers Being Worked Too Hard in Warehouses

Amazon is known worldwide for its competitive pricing and efficient shipping. Based in Seattle, Washington, the company has over 70 warehouses around the world and employs a large number of Kentucky workers in its Campbellsville site. On paper, a job with Amazon looks like a great deal. They offer a decent hourly wage, 401(k) with matching and health insurance for full-time employees.

But working for the internet giant also has a down side, as some Kentucky employees have discovered. While Amazon touts its warehouse safety records as being better than the average for warehouses and even department stores, some of their actual employees may disagree. They say the number of reported injuries is kept lower by Amazon in a couple different ways. Some employees are afraid to report incidents for fear of being written up and potentially losing their job. Others are told to attribute a certain injury to a pre-existing condition even though the current injury was work-related. At least some of the Amazon warehouses have their own medical personnel to treat workplace injuries so the employees are not seen by outside doctors, which might lead to a federal report.

Extreme temperatures are also an issue in the Amazon warehouses, as they are in other facilities. But Amazon seems hesitant to allow workers to take more breaks or to work at a slower pace, even when the temperature gets very high. An Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania was under scrutiny when it was discovered that ambulances were parked outside the building, just waiting to take workers suffering from the heat to the hospital. One Kentucky employee who used to work as a safety official was concerned about the Campbellsville employees when temperatures reached 100 degrees, but he never talked to management about slowing production because he knew it wouldn't happen. To keep employees safe in the heat, he had people walking around offering them Gatorade. Amazon did install air-conditioning in its Lexington warehouse last year, and the rest of their Kentucky facilities should have air-conditioning this year.

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April 5, 2012

Adding Veterans as Protected Class in Workplace Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects several groups of workers from discrimination in the workplace. According to the law, no one should be refused work, fired, demoted, paid less, or otherwise negatively treated because of their race, religion, sex, age, or disability. AMVETS, a group that supports American veterans, would like to add military personnel to this list.

Stewart Hickey, the executive director of AMVETS, thinks that veterans are discriminated against for a couple different reasons. Those currently serving in the military may be passed over for a job because the company is concerned that they will be called back to active duty, leaving the position to be filled in the interim. And employers may be hesitant to hire veterans who have already served because they are afraid the applicants suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.

There is legislation in place that makes it illegal for a company to refuse someone employment because he or she is a veteran. It is called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and it was enacted in 1994. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel summarizes the act as "a federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other "uniformed services:" (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service."

Ironically, the federal government has been accused of disobeying this law by firing service members who have been gone on active duty, and rescinding job offers to those serving who did not return from active duty soon enough. In 2011, over 250 cases of the USERRA being violated were brought against the federal government.
So will adding veterans as a protected class under Title VII help the situation? Mr. Hickey can't say for sure, but his hope is that it will. He thinks that giving veterans the protected class status will at least make employers think extra hard before they turn down a vet for a new job or terminate one from an existing position. Even those who may not knowingly discriminate against veterans now may be more apt to hire a veteran if they become protected by workplace discrimination laws.

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