August 2012 Archives

August 29, 2012

Teen Files Religious Discrimination Suit against Burger King

1119511_burger.jpgRecently, many of the workplace discrimination lawsuits filed have involved people over 40 who feel they have been discriminated against because of their age. Employers seem to be favoring younger employees who will most likely work for less pay and benefits. However, in a recent discrimination case, the worker that filed a lawsuit was only 17 years old, and the lawsuit did not have anything to do with her age.

The teen had applied at a Burger King in Texas for a cashier position. She follows the Christian Pentecostal faith, which does not allow women to wear pants. She mentioned this to the person interviewing her and was told that she could wear a long skirt instead of pants. She was hired and reported to work for her first day. The manager handling the orientation not only told her she was required to wear pants, but also told her to leave. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) agreed that the teen was discriminated against because of her religion and a lawsuit was filed. The suit asks for damages to cover lost wages with interest as well as punitive damages.

This lawsuit is based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against potential or current employees based on their religion, among other things. The act states that employers should do their best to accommodate employees' needs based on their religion as long as it does not cause undue hardship on the employer. Undue hardship might be caused by the employer having to spend large amounts of money to make an accommodation or putting other employees in harm's way. In this case, the employee simply wanted to wear a long black skirt instead of black pants to work. How that might cause undue hardship on a fast-food employer is unknown. What is known is that the teen was denied the right to make a little money while she finished up high school.

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August 21, 2012

Kentucky Employment Law Cases Put Ministerial Exception Doctrine to the Test

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case where a teacher at a Lutheran School had filed a wrongful termination suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the case, stating she could not file a workplace discrimination lawsuit because she was covered by the "ministerial exception." The Court of Appeals overturned the ruling based on the fact that the majority of her day was not spent in a ministerial capacity. However the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that she was indeed covered by the doctrine and that the school had the right to terminate her.

The ministerial exception doctrine gives religious institutions the freedom to hire individuals that they think are most qualified to minister to their members without worrying about discrimination charges. But who constitutes a "minister" at a church-affiliated school or hospital and exactly what employment law issues are covered is still unclear. Three recent Kentucky employment law cases involving ministerial exception had differing results.

The first two cases involved two professors at the Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. Both taught at the Protestant school, but neither were followers of the school's faith. In 2009, the seminary cut staff. Both men filed wrongful termination lawsuits, stating they were tenured professors and that they could only be terminated for failing to do their jobs or for misconduct, not for budgetary reasons. But both the district and appeals court ruled against the professors because of ministerial exception, stating the school has the right to decide who to terminate and that the government cannot intervene.

In the third case, a Louisville, Kentucky pastor was fired by the church he led from 2005 to 2010. In this case, the pastor was not claiming wrongful termination, but rather a breach of contract. A breach of contract occurs when and employer and employee agree to certain terms and sign a contract, the one party does not uphold their part of the agreement. In this case, the pastor claimed he was over $64,000 in salary and benefits by the church and he wants the church to pay him this amount. The Jefferson County Circuit Court refused to hear the suit based on the ministerial exception. In this case, the employee was an actual minister, so the court's decision makes sense in that respect.

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August 2, 2012

Alleged Kentucky Sexual Harassment Incident Included in Police Officer's Lawsuit

An ex-employee of the Hyattsville Police Department in Maryland has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city of Hyattsville. She joined the force in 2005 when she was 21 and stayed until she was allegedly forced to retire in 2009.

According to the lawsuit, the female police officer was frequently the victim of sexual harassment from her supervisors and coworkers while on the job. Perhaps the worst incident allegedly occurred in 2007 in Louisville, Kentucky. The officer was invited by her superior officer to attend a Fraternal Order of Police Conference there. During the conference, the suit claims that the superior officer took her into a men's restroom and forced her to touch his crotch. Then later that night he allegedly came into her hotel room, climbed on top of her and tried to have sex with her. The female officer's roommate allegedly helped to get him off of her. The female officer claims that nothing was done when she reported the incident and that she was even assigned to the offending officer's squad after it happened. The city of Hyattsville disagrees with her claim, stating disciplinary action was taken against the superior officer, but they did not provide any details.

The female officer said the repeated sexual harassment and hostile work environment forced her to go on short-term disability because she suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The suit also claims that she was retaliated against after reporting the harassment and she was eventually forced to retire and relocate in 2009.

Her lawsuit seeks an unknown amount of damages. The damages would cover her lost wages and benefits as a result of supposedly being forced to retire early. They would also compensate her for any mental or emotional distress incurred because of the harassment and retaliation. If a jury would rule in her favor, the police department would likely have to provide training to all personnel regarding avoiding sexual harassment in the workplace, and how to handle sexual harassment complaints when they occur. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) goal is not only to obtain justice for those who have been mistreated, but also to prevent that type of behavior in the future, so training and supervision from an outside party is frequently part of the award or settlement in this type of case.

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