Recently in Indiana Employment Discrimination Category

November 6, 2014

Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace: A Growing Area of Concern

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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April 26, 2013

Indiana Restaurant Settles Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit

Workplace discrimination takes many forms, including age, race, gender, and disability. All of these types of discrimination are illegal under federal law. A more recent type of job discrimination that has surfaced is pregnancy discrimination.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed in 1978 and amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add protection for women in the workforce who are pregnant or have recently had a child. It pertains to those women who are currently employed and those who are seeking employment. In a recent Indiana employment discrimination case, a local restaurant was accused of discriminating against both a current employee and an applicant because they were pregnant.

The first woman in the lawsuit was a server at the restaurant. In August 2010, she told her supervisor that she was pregnant, which she claims was required by the restaurant of all female employees. Her hours were allegedly cut immediately to about 50% of what she was working before she notified them of her pregnancy, and in January 2011 she was terminated. The second plaintiff in the lawsuit was a woman who claimed she applied for a job at the same restaurant in October 2010 but was denied employment because she was pregnant at the time.

In April, 2013, the restaurant settled the lawsuit with both women. The first woman who had been an actual employee of the restaurant received $18,000; the applicant received $8,000. In settling the case, the restaurant did not admit guilt, the owner stated they settled to avoid a costly trial. As a result of the settlement, the restaurant is no longer allowed to ask applicants if they are pregnant or require employees to inform their supervisors if they become pregnant. They also must have a written policy against sex discrimination, and specifically pregnancy discrimination, and they are required to have a way to handle these types of complaints in the future. If an employee requires a revised schedule due to pregnancy, her request must be accommodated.

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March 22, 2013

Woman Can Continue Indiana Discrimination Lawsuit against Catholic Diocese

In April, 2011, an Indiana woman's teaching contract was not renewed by the Catholic school where she had taught for eight years. The reason allegedly given to her was that she had undergone in vitro fertility treatments, which is against the doctrine of the Catholic Church, and that as a teacher at the school she was required to abide by that doctrine. She filed a lawsuit against the diocese claiming gender and disability discrimination.

This case is similar to one filed in Missouri. In that case, a woman claimed she was discriminated against because of her disability when she was wrongfully terminated by a Lutheran school. The school said the lawsuit should be dismissed because of ministerial exception, which is meant to keep the separation of church and state by allowing religious institutions to make employment decisions without regard to federal discrimination laws. In some situations, this separation makes sense. For instance, a Catholic church shouldn't be required to consider a Jewish rabbi as a potential leader so that they are not guilty of religious discrimination. But who this exception pertains to outside of direct ministry is still unclear, despite a Supreme Court's ruling in January 2013. The ruling agreed with the lower court's decision in the Missouri case that allowed the Lutheran church to terminate the teacher, but it basically said every case of this kind should be considered individually.

Based on the Supreme Court's decision in the Missouri case, the Catholic diocese in Indiana filed a motion to dismiss the case against them, stating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act did not apply in this situation because the school is a religious institution, and therefore is exempt. The district court judge hearing the case denied their motion, allowing the case to go forward.

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December 6, 2012

Supreme Court to Rule on Case Regarding Definition of "Supervisor"

On November 26, 2012 the Supreme Court heard the case of Vance v Ball State, an Indiana workplace discrimination lawsuit. Their ruling on the case will likely affect not only plaintiff and defendants in the case, but also other current and future workplace harassment lawsuits.

Here is a little background on the case. Ms. Vance started at Ball State University in Indiana in the banquet and catering department in 1989. During her numerous years of employment, she was usually the only African-American employee. One of her supervisors did not seem to care for her. She allegedly threatened her physically, and at one point the plaintiff heard that the supervisor referred to her in a derogatory manner because of her race. She reported the behavior, but the only outcome was both women were required to undergo counseling. The worker contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and filed a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the university. The lower court that heard the case threw it out because they did not think the alleged harasser was an actual supervisor of the plaintiff. She then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So the matter before the Supreme Court is deciding what constitutes a "supervisor." The federal appeals courts seem divided on the issue, with some using a broader definition than others. The court that heard the case above took a very narrow approach to the meaning of the word. They ruled that because the alleged harasser did not have the power to hire or fire employees, she was not a supervisor. The EEOC and some other federal courts define a supervisor as someone who "has the authority to recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee or if the individual has the authority to direct the employee's daily work activities." The plaintiff in this case felt the harasser was her supervisor because she was not required to fill out time sheets like the rest of the employees.

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November 19, 2012

Indiana Teacher Claims Age Discrimination at Age 80

How old is too old to work? According to one teacher from South Bend, Indiana, there is no set age. When she feels like she is doing a disservice to the children that she teaches, or herself, she will call it quits. But she refuses to let a school board president decide that for her. And at 80, she does not think her time has come.

The teacher in question filed an age discrimination complaint in the summer of 2012 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As evidence of the discrimination, she has two emails that the president of the school board sent requesting that she and another teacher be "gently escorted out of the classroom" so that two younger teachers could keep their positions rather than being let go. He specifically mentions "two teachers in our system who are 80 (or over) who by all accounts are no longer able to teach adequately."

The teacher says she is perfectly able to continue teaching and has her most recent teacher evaluation from 2010 as proof. Her March 2010 evaluation states that she is able to maintain control in the classroom and teaches effectively, and the evaluator recommends that she be re-employed for the next year.

Sometimes it does seem that younger employees are discriminated against when it comes to downsizing. But it is much more likely that a younger employee will find another position. In his email, the school board president says one of the younger teachers has already been offered a position with another school district and the other one is going to be offered a job elsewhere as well. It goes without saying that the 80-year-old teacher would have had a much more difficult time finding someone to hire her if she had been the one let go.

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July 23, 2012

Alleged Workplace Discrimination at Bass Pro Shop in Indiana

43211_fishing_pole.jpgBass Pro Shop is known for providing equipment of all types to those who love the outdoors. Their stores are filled with camping, hunting, and fishing gear, and often have indoor fish ponds and activities to keep children occupied while their parents shop. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), one thing you may not find there is a large number of minority employees.

In a lawsuit initially filed in 2011, the EEOC alleges that Bass Pro Shops in several states, including Indiana, practice racial discrimination. Minorities had been denied retail positions in the stores since at least 2005, the lawsuit claimed. In May 2012, the federal court ruled against the EEOC, stating there was not enough evidence provided in the initial case to prove discrimination occurred. The case was dismissed without prejudice, which meant the EEOC could file an amended complaint.

Which is exactly what the EEOC has done. On July 20, 2012, an amended complaint was filed against the retailer with 247 pages of information that was allegedly gathered over a two-year period. The suit states that the discrimination starts all the way at the top with the founder and owner of the entire chain, who supposedly said, "This company will never have a [racial] quota system because that's not the kind of people I want working in my stores." Specifically in Indiana, the lawsuit says a manager of the Bass Pro Shop there was throwing away certain employment applications because the names of the applicants sounded like they were minorities and that they "don't make good employees." The lawsuit also states that retaliation occurred against Bass Pro Shop employees that spoke out about or tried to stop the discrimination.

The company has responded to the lawsuit by stating the EEOC is stereotyping Bass Pro Shop and its customers. It says those who love the outdoors are being stereotyped as discriminating people who don't support equal opportunity for everyone. The EEOC denies this claim.

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July 4, 2012

Wrongful Termination and "At-Will" Employment in Kentucky and Indiana

Kentucky and Indiana are both "at-will" employment states. What this means is that employees can be demoted or fired by their employers at any time. Workers who have certain types of contracts with their employers or are union workers may be more protected when it comes to being demoted or fired by their employers. If it is legal for employers to fire employees for pretty much any reason, how do Kentucky and Indiana wrongful termination lawsuits even exist?

An employee can claim wrongful termination for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is if an employee has a written contract to work a certain length of time and the employer fires him before the contract is up. Breaking a union contract through firing may also lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit, but only after the proper grievance procedure of the union is followed.

Most often, wrongful termination cases arise from other situations. If someone thinks they have been let go because of their race, religion, age, gender, or disability, this may constitute workplace discrimination and they may be able to take legal action. In a recent Kentucky wrongful termination case, a former vice president of the Courier-Journal has filed a lawsuit stating he was wrongfully terminated because of his age. He was let go at age 62 and was told that his job was being eliminated. Subsequently the newspaper allegedly hired someone who was younger than him to fill the position. Employees over the age of 40 are covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits employers from terminating employees based only on their age.

If an employee is fired for trying to protect their legal rights, that may also qualify them for wrongful termination. For example, if someone with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation at work and they are fired, they may have been wrongfully terminated as retaliation for asserting their rights. In the case of an Indiana tennis coach who just settled a wrongful termination lawsuit against Ball State, her suit alleged that she was fired as retaliation for her sexual discrimination complaint. The university recently settled with her for $710,000.

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May 23, 2012

Can Protective Orders Lead to Indiana Job Discrimination and Wrongful Termination?

Employees are discriminated against for many reasons, including their age, the color of their skin, whether they are male or female and their religious beliefs. Recently an Indiana court was asked to consider whether or not an employee was discriminated against because she asked for a protective order against an abusive ex-boyfriend. While the two may seem unrelated at first, there is a definite connection.

A female employee at Pitney Bowes requested a protective order from the court to keep her abusive ex-boyfriend from having any contact with her. When it was granted, she told her employer about it. Her employer put her on paid leave for about two weeks to determine how to handle the situation. When the employee called for an update on November 1, 2011, she was told she had been fired. Her supervisors did not deny that her firing was based on the protective order; rather they said that was the exact reason she was let go. They said they had to consider the safety of their other employees.

The fired employee's attorney said he tried to negotiate with the company to get her job back, but it wasn't until a discrimination lawsuit was filed that Pitney-Bowes offered to find the Indiana employee a position in a different location. The agreement has not yet been finalized. The lawsuit claimed gender discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because the majority of people who seek protective orders are women; so a company that discriminates against employees that request protective orders is essentially discriminating against women.

Women's advocates fear that this potential discrimination will keep abused women from filing protective orders. They may feel they have to stay in an abusive relationship to keep from losing their jobs. Fifteen states currently have laws that prevent employees from being fired for seeking legal protection from an abuser, but Indiana is not one of them. The state does have a law that compensates women with unemployment benefits if they have to quit their jobs because of an abusive or violent domestic situation. Unfortunately, the state of Kentucky does not have either of the above laws to help women who were or are in an abusive relationship and want to get out. Hopefully that will change in the near future.

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February 25, 2012

Age Discrimination Cases at Indiana Universities would be Fewer if Age Limit was Abolished

Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Worth (IPFW) is set to lose Michael Wartell as Chancellor due to a university retirement policy. The current policy requires high-level administrators to retire at the age of 65. However, many are questioning the usefulness of this type of policy.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted in 1967 to protect workers over the age of forty from being discriminated against in decisions such as hiring, firing, and promotions. However, an exception was made for high level executives in both the public and private sectors that allowed employers to set mandatory retirement ages for those individuals at the top. Most U.S. colleges took advantage of this exception, setting mandatory retirement ages for both faculty members and high-level administrators. In 1994, schools were forbidden by federal law from making faculty members retire at a certain age. And over the years, most universities have done away with forced retirement of administrators as well. But many universities in Indiana are still enforcing this policy.

Last year, Indiana University faced an age discrimination lawsuit from a 64-year-old dean who was denied a three-year position. Even though a large majority of the faculty wanted her to be reappointed, the vice chancellor had to turn her down because she would have hit the mandatory retirement age of 65 during her term. The EEOC agreed with the dean and determined that the policy did not apply to her because she would not have received a large enough retirement benefit to qualify for the policy. The university settled with her and allowed her to stay on in a different position. But she remains disappointed in the university and its decision to retain the mandatory retirement requirement. "I can tell you that having no choice but to step down from an office wherein I was viewed as being successful by my colleagues and to which I was otherwise entitled to retain by virtue of an excellent review felt discounting and humiliating," she said.

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September 28, 2011

Age Discrimination Complaint Filed and Settled by Ex-dean of Indiana University Southeast

On April 30, 2010, Annette Wyandotte, former dean of the School of the Arts and Letters and associate professor of English at Indiana University Southeast, filed a complaint with the Indiana office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The charges were age discrimination and sex discrimination. Ms. Wyandotte was being forced to retire from her dean position on June 30, 2010.

Indiana University Southeast has a policy that requires individuals at an executive level to retire at the end of the academic year when they reach the age of 65. This may seem illegal based on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protects employees over 40 from being forced out of their jobs. But section C12 of the Act states, "Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prohibit compulsory retirement of any employee who has attained 65 years of age and who, for the 2-year period immediately before retirement, is employed in a bona fide executive or a high policymaking position, if such employee is entitled to an immediate nonforfeitable annual retirement benefit from a pension, profit-sharing, savings, or deferred compensation plan, or any combination of such plans, of the employer of such employee, which equals, in the aggregate, at least $44,000." This section allows employers to require individuals in higher positions to retire at a certain age to promote turnover at upper executive levels.

Ms. Wyandotte, who is currently 67, was allowed to finish out her three-year term as dean. When her term was up, she was not recommended for another term as dean, despite a 33 to 1 vote by the department to reappoint her for another three years. The vice chancellor for academic affairs said she was denied another term based on the university policy. In addition to the age discrimination claim filed with the EEOC, Ms. Wyandotte also claimed sex discrimination because exceptions to this mandatory retirement policy were made for other individuals who were male.

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September 9, 2011

Age Discrimination by Companies, Agencies, and Unions in Hiring and Training

As baby boomers age and the economy struggles to recover, the subject of age discrimination is being discussed more frequently than ever before. Everyone knows if an individual's employment is subject to wrongful termination based solely on age, it would constitute age discrimination. But there are many other situations in which age discrimination can occur.

When an employer is seeking a new employee, it is unlawful for her to directly ask the age of the prospective employee or to ask questions to help her ascertain the interviewee's age. While this is fairly common knowledge, what you may not know is that it is also illegal for an employment agency to use age as a basis for referring potential employees to a company. Some companies try to get around the age discrimination issue by having an employment agency do the screening for them. In a case involving Hollywood TV writers over 40, talent agencies were included as defendants because they were not recommending older writers to networks and studios for sitcoms or dramas. In 2010, the case was settled when the defendants agreed to pay $70 million to thousands of writers whose careers were damaged by this discrimination.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 also pertains to unions. Unions may not discriminate against potential members, nor may they use age as a basis for referring individuals for employment. A union may also be liable if it fails to act on an employer's discrimination against an employee.

An individual can be discriminated against for youth as well. Even though he may be qualified as far as experience and education, a younger applicant may be passed over for a supervisory role because the interviewer incorrectly thinks he will be less authoritative and not respected by older employees. Young female applicants may also be wrongfully denied employment if the prospective employer thinks she will need maternity leave or may decide to quit working after having a child.

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September 5, 2010

Seventh Circuit Decides Race Discrimination Case

Indiana employment lawyers are pleased with the July 20, 2010 Seventh Circuit Decision reversed the District Court's decision in favor of a healthcare facility which was honoring the racially motivated preferences of residents.

The case, Chaney v. Plainfield Healthcare Center, reviewed the summary judgment motion granted by the trial court. According to the decision Chaney alleged that she was 1) prohibited from providing assistance to nursing home residents who requested "white-only" care, 2) subjected to comments by coworkers including the use of racial slurs and profanity, and 3) subjected to a suspicious and unexplained termination.

The defendant argued that it needed to adhere to the patients' requests to not be assisted by African-American CNAs, that catering to these requests amounted to a bona fide occupational qualification. The Seventh Circuit, however, did not agree.

Instead, the Court held that law does not support race as bona fide occupational qualification. The Court reversed, returning the case to the lower court for further proceedings.

If you have been a victim of discrimination in the work place, or subjected to discriminatory comments by your coworkers, you should contact an discrimination attorney as soon as possible to learn more about you rights.

March 18, 2009

Indiana Sherriff Sued By Department of Justice For Sexual Harrassment, Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit against Harrison County Indiana Sheriff ,G. Michael Deatrick, under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found probable cause that Sheriff Deatrick sexually harassed, created a hostile work environment and retaliated against two female employees of Harrison County.

Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin and age. Also an employer is prohibited from retaliating against an employee for availing themselves of the protections afforded by Title VII.

The two female employees, Deanna Decker and Melissa Graham, sued Sheriff Deatrick and Harrison County, Indiana in 2008 for a violation of their civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The two female employees are represented by Charles W. Miller of Miller & Falkner.

To see more information regarding the Department of Justice lawsuit please visit:

Wlky.com: Judge Rules DOJ Lawsuit Against Sheriff May Proceed

The Corydon Democrat: Feds File Suit Against Deatrick, County

The Chicago Tribune: Feds say Harrison Co. sheriff harassed 2 workers