Articles Posted in Workplace Discrimination

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On October 30, an administrative law judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) approved a $10 million class-action settlement. A news source reported that the plaintiffs are former employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA) who applied for a promotion in 2003. Apparently, these individuals made a “best qualified” list but were not chosen for promotions. The plaintiffs argued that they were not chosen because of certain enumerated disabilities.

handicap-parking-1271666-m.jpgIn response to the settlement, the SSA will begin to significantly improve its policies and procedures in regards to disabled workers. This will include trainings and providing individuals with reasonable accommodations. The compensation will include over $6.5 million to members of the class that was discriminated against, and the rest of the settlement will go towards legal and administrative fees.

Kentucky Disability Discrimination
In Kentucky, discrimination because of a legitimate disability is unlawful. Both Kentucky and federal law require that public employers provide any employee who has a known disability with reasonable accommodations. Disabilities include both physical and mental limitations of qualified individuals. It is important to note that this ban on discrimination does not only include current employees but potential employees as well. For example, employers cannot ask a prospective employee whether he or she is disabled before he or she is hired. They can only ask about any disabilities after the employee is hired.
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Late last week, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that the Department of the Army engaged in discrimination against a transgender veteran. A prominent Washington newspaper reported that the Counsel determined that the Army was discriminating against a transgender individual who transitioned from male to female.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 4.49.18 PM.pngApparently, the individual was working as a software specialist for the Army in 2010 when she transitioned from male to female. During this transition, the Army put restrictions on which restrooms she could use, insulted her, and refused to give her work.

The victim filed a lawsuit in 2012 and explained that the restrictions had isolated her and segregated her from the rest of her employees. Furthermore, an investigation found that her gender transition did not have any negative impact on her work or other employees’ productivity. Fortunately, after this suit the Army has implemented training to ensure that no further discrimination occurs in the form of diversity and sensitivity training.
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Currently, sexual preference discrimination is not an area that is covered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, there is a significant push for this area to be included. According to one article, a recent poll has indicated that Americans are generally supportive of protection against discrimination in all areas.

rainbow-flag-1392509-m.jpgA small percentage of individuals felt that some discrimination was warranted. Some examples included allowing places of worship and some private employers to discriminate against employees who were not their religions. An overwhelming two-thirds of those individuals polled believed that federal law should include protection against discrimination because of sexual orientation and identity.

This poll is likely a foreshadowing of what is to come in regards to protection from discrimination, especially in light of recent same-sex marriage laws.
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The Eighth Circuit decided an employment discrimination case earlier this month brought by an employee of a railroad carrier. Apparently, the plaintiff in this case had a significant history of good work performance, but at some point he violated a serious safety rule. He agreed to a 30-day suspension and a period of probation. At some point during his probation, the plaintiff was viewed walking in the tracks, which is another serious safety violation.

fall-railroad-1433372-2-m.jpgThe supervisors who witnessed the above violation began an investigation. A hearing was held, and it was decided that the plaintiff would be terminated from his position. The plaintiff believes that his termination was based on the fact that he made two previous complaints and not because of the alleged rule violation. The lower court ruled in favor of the employer, and the Eighth Circuit agreed, finding that there was no unlawful retaliation and the plaintiff would have been discharged even without the rule violation.

What is Retaliation?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains that employers cannot harass, terminate, or demote an employee or retaliate against him or her for filing a claim for discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or other similar activities. Generally, a retaliation suit is brought when an employer participates in an adverse action against a qualified employee because he or she engaged in a constitutionally protected activity.
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Last week, the Supreme Court of Washington State ruled in favor of Clark College in an age discrimination suit brought against the college by a professor employed by the college. The Court ruled that the professor did not meet the requirements necessary to establish discrimination.

doodled-desks-2-1193228-m.jpgThe Background of the Case
In 1994, the plaintiff started teaching English as an adjunct professor at the college. After about nine years, she applied for a tenured position. In addition to the plaintiff’s application, Clark College received 151 other applications, and it subsequently screened 13 of the candidates during a teaching demonstration. They then recommended the four screened individuals to the president and vice-president of the department.

The plaintiff was 55 at the time of the interview and was one of the four candidates chosen to be recommended to the president. The college did not hire the plaintiff and instead hired two other individuals who were younger than 40 years old.
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The Education Management Corporation (EDMC) has recently motioned the court to dismiss a suit against the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, which it manages. According to a report by one news source, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh was sued by two former employees who alleged that they were being discriminated against because of their race and age.

ring-binder-2-1286890-m.jpgBackground
In April of 2014, two former admissions office employees sued EDMC, making allegations that the Institute engaged in a series of illegal employment practices. The two individuals claimed that the Institute terminated individuals and refused to promote others because of their race and age. Furthermore, they alleged that the Institute participated in retaliation in regards to a disput- resolution policy.

The attorney for the Institute attempted to dismiss the suit by arguing that its dispute-resolution policy is the only way to resolve any workplace issues. However, the attorney for the plaintiffs in this case countered by explaining that, although the company has a dispute-resolution policy, that policy does not trump the Supreme Court, nor does it trump statutory law, nor is it appropriate public policy.
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Earlier this year, a pregnant woman and police officer in the City of Florence filed suit against her employer after they refused to accommodate her request for a job more fitting for a pregnant woman.

police-car-126271-m.jpgAccording to a report by one local news source, the police officer has a master’s degree in Criminal Justice and has been with the force for a number of years. In fact, this was not her first pregnancy while on the police force. Back in 2012, she was pregnant with her first child, and the police department accommodated her request to transfer to a desk job once it became physically impossible for her to go out on her regular shifts.

Evidently, the police department’s policy has always been that only those injured while on the job are eligible for a temporary desk job. However, they clearly made an exception for this particular officer’s first pregnancy. At some point after she gave birth to her first child, the department sent out a memo telling management not to approve desk duty for anyone who was not injured while on the job.
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The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently found that a lower court erroneously ruled against an Indiana prison employee who had brought Title VII discrimination claims against her employer.

prison-1431136-m.jpgThe details of Orton-Bell v. Indiana seem like they belong in a movie or television show. Connie Orton-Bell worked as a substance abuse counselor in Pendleton Correctional Facility, one of Indiana’s maximum security prisons, from 2007 until April 2010. During her time in the position, she claimed that numerous sexually inappropriate behaviors took place in her work environment. For instance, an investigation into security breaches uncovered that night shift employees were having sex on Orton-Bell’s desk. The investigator’s only reaction was that Orton-Bell should wipe her desk off every morning.

Orton-Bell also claimed to be the personal recipient of many sexual remarks by her superior, Superintendent Brett Mize. Mize allegedly instructed Orton-Bell to never wear jeans to work because “her ass looked so good, she would cause a riot.” Such comments were allegedly common from Mize, who was eventually terminated for reasons unknown prior to the events that led to the lawsuit. However, Ortin-Bell claimed that these comments were common among all of the male employees, and that female employees were “bombarded.”
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The Sixth Circuit recently sided against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a case involving whether black applicants for employment were rejected at a higher rate than white applicants due to their credit scores.

prancheta-192682-m.jpgIn EEOC v. Kaplan Higher Education Corp., Kaplan offered both graduate and undergraduate degrees, with some of the students receiving financial aid through the Department of Education. As Kaplan’s employees had access to student financial records, there was a troubling string of events where employees were stealing checks intended for students and causing other irregularities. To prevent further problems, Kaplan installed a pre-employment credit check system for anyone applying to executive, financial aid, or accounting positions.

Third-party vendors performed the credit checks, flagging any applicants who filed for bankruptcy, were delinquent on their child support payments, any outstanding civil judgments worth more than $2,000, garnishment of wages, and Social Security numbers that did not match what the credit bureau kept on file. Kaplan then reviewed the applications and determined which ones should move forward.
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Recently, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal district court’s ruling dismissing an Ohio safety officer’s claims that he was forced to resign from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety in 2010 due to racial discrimination.

ready-to-roll-542939-m.jpgIn Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, Mark Laster, an African American man, had worked for the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety for more than 23 years. During his employment, he claimed that he was treated less favorably than other employees in similar situations. For example, Laster believed that he was subjected to greater scrutiny, that policies were selectively enforced against him, and that his employer stood back and permitted individual employees to discriminate against or harass Laster. Laster believed that at least part of his treatment was due to his race. After reporting many instances of harassment to his employers, he eventually filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, then Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims against his former employer.

The district court found in favor of the City of Kalamazoo and Laster appealed. The Sixth Circuit applied strict scrutiny to the circumstances of his case, which is required for racial discrimination cases involving government bodies. For a government body to pass strict scrutiny, it must be shown that it had a compelling government interest, that the law or policy was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, and that the law or policy was the least restrictive means for achieving that interest. Strict scrutiny is used for race, national origin, or alienage situations, compared to intermediate scrutiny for gender and rational basis (the lowest scrutiny) for nearly everything else.
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