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Articles Posted in Retaliation

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Online social media and mobile communication are very prevalent in today’s society and are being used in all sorts of ways. They can be used to invite friends to a party, notify faraway relatives that a new baby has arrived, find long-lost friends from high school, and share decorating ideas and silly videos with people around the globe. Even charity efforts have gone mobile as phone apps have been created as a convenient way for people to help donate to those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, it can also be used in negative ways as well, such as harassment.

Supervisors and co-workers often find each other on social networks or share cell phone numbers to allow for easier communication. Sometimes it is easier to send a text regarding a work matter than it is to have an actual phone conversation. But these technologies can also be used in an abusive manner and result in workplace harassment or sexual harassment even when an employee is not at work.

There are many different ways a worker can be harassed electronically. If a supervisor repeatedly sends texts messages to an employee asking for a date or an intimate relationship, the employee may feel uncomfortable or threatened. This constitutes sexual harassment and can create a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can also occur when a supervisor or co-worker emails or posts pictures or jokes of a sexual nature that other employees find offensive. In a recent case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against a company because a manager was sending sexual texts to an employee, who told her supervisor. When the supervisor reported the harassment, the company allegedly retaliated against him by firing him. A settlement for $2.3 million was made by the company for both the sexual harassment and retaliation claims.

Other types of harassment or workplace discrimination can also occur. If supervisors or co-workers are posting disparaging remarks regarding an employee’s disability, race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, this may also be discrimination. An employee was recently awarded $1.6 million by a court because co-workers had posted negative comments about his disability and his employer did not take any action when he reported the discrimination.
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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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Bass 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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In 2009, an employee at the Fayette County Detention Center in Kentucky alleges that her supervisor sexually harassed her. Her lawsuit stated that he humiliated her in front of her co-workers and an inmate on separate occasions. She also claimed that he touched her breast. When she reported this behavior, she was supposedly a victim of retaliation as well. The lawsuit named the director of the detention center and the city. She was one of three women who filed lawsuits against the detention center alleging sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and retaliation.

This Kentucky sexual harassment case went to trial in March 2012. The jury handed down a split decision, which means they agreed with the plaintiff on some points and agreed with the defendants on others. The detention center director was excused from the case by the judge because he did not think the director played a role in the harassment. The jury found that the supervisor had indeed harassed the employee, but did not find any evidence that he actually touched her breast. Jurors also did not think there was enough evidence to prove her supervisor had retaliated against her after she complained about his behavior. They awarded the sexual harassment victim $60,000, most likely to cover any lost wages and to compensate her for any emotional or mental distress the alleged harassment may have caused her. Some of the damages may have been awarded simply to punish the city for allowing this to happen and to persuade city officials not to allow this to happen again at the detention center. Damages of this type are called “punitive damages.” The employee that was allegedly harassed says she is thankful that someone listened to her.

As a further blow to the city and its bank account, the judge agreed that the city was responsible for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees that accrued during the preparation and attending of the trial. They totaled just over $200,000. If the city decides to appeal this decision and loses, it will likely be held responsible for those additional attorneys’ fees as well.
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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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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ensure that women were not discriminated against while pregnant. The act prohibits employers from refusing to hire a woman because she is pregnant; requires an employer to treat a pregnant woman the same as someone with a different temporary disability if she is unable to work temporarily; and requires an employer to provide the same type of health insurance at the same rate as other employees.

But there are some issues that the current act does not cover, which is why legislators introduced a new bill called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in May 2012. This act would essentially afford pregnant women the same protections and flexibility that those with disabilities are given. Under the current act, many employers are not accommodating to pregnant women because they don’t have to be. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not cover pregnant women because they are not actually disabled, and some companies take advantage of the difference. Many cases illustrate this discrepancy. Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) gives this example: “We see that male firefighters who throw out their backs are given desk jobs, but women who are pregnant don’t get them…There is an ability to provide accommodations, but employers don’t want to.”

Some women don’t even request an accommodation because they are afraid their boss will force them to take their paid time off guaranteed by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) too soon. If a woman takes off too soon, she may end up having to take unpaid time right before and after her delivery, something many families cannot afford. Others who have asked have been ignored or fired.
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Known as the sponsor of the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Alltech is an international company based in Nicholasville, Kentucky that produces animal feed, a beef product, coffee and alcoholic beverages. According to a lawsuit against the company that recently settled, it also allegedly produces a hostile work environment for female employees.

A woman who worked for Alltech for about four years filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company in May 2011. She had allegedly been harassed by her boss for the duration of her employment. The harassment ranged from sexual calls and emails to actually being locked in a conference room and inappropriately touched by him. She also claims that other employees were sexually harassed by her boss and others, stating “The culture and leadership at Alltech created an environment which fostered and condoned acts of sexual harassment.”

The employee allegedly reported the situation to her boss’s supervisor who told her not to worry about it because she was a strong woman and could take care of herself. In April 2011 she went to someone who worked outside the company – an auditor – and reported what had been happening. It was announced shortly thereafter that all emails over a year old would no longer be kept, and Alltech began an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations. Her boss resigned from the company, but was kept on for special projects at the beginning of May 2011.

Then on May 17, the company stated that any employee disputes would be handled through arbitration rather than through the courts. The employee was told this new policy would cover her complaints even though she had complained before the policy was put in place. The employee did not agree with this policy and she left the company and filed a lawsuit on May 20, 2011. Alltech tried to have the lawsuit dismissed based on their new arbitration policy, but the courts said the employee had not agreed to the policy and the case was allowed to proceed. To avoid having depositions taken of their executives and other employees, the company agreed to settle the lawsuit with the Kentucky worker for an undisclosed amount.
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The KFC Yum! Center was opened in Louisville, Kentucky with much fanfare in October 2010. Ted Nicholson, general manager of the arena, took part in the excitement and was set to manage the arena through numerous upcoming venues, including the NCAA Tournament this year. Then in February 2012, Harold Workman, president of the Kentucky State Fair Board (KSFB), fired him, much to the surprise of the rest of the fair board and Mr. Nicholson himself. The KSFB chairman tried to get him reinstated to his position, but was unsuccessful. The University of Louisville then hired him to oversee the NCAA Tournament, which appeared to be successful.

With the tournament over, Mr. Nicholson has focused his energy on seeking justice for his alleged wrongful termination. On April 27, 2012, he filed a whistleblower lawsuit against KSFB. A whistleblower is someone who reports a company for a variety of reasons, including illegal activities, mismanagement of funds, corruption, and health or safety violations. This information may be divulged to someone else within the company, an outside person, or law enforcement. If the company retaliates against the whistleblower in any way, including termination, the whistleblower can file a lawsuit. Whistleblowers in Kentucky are protected by federal laws as well as the Kentucky Whistleblower Act. This state act protects employees who divulge information to the proper authorities. It does not allow employees to share confidential or incorrect information, and it gives employers the right to find out what information the employee has shared. Employees who share incorrect information can face disciplinary action.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Nicholson believes he was retaliated against after telling an outside consultant about some of the issues the arena was having and attributing them to Mr. Workman. The consultant had been hired to review the operation of the arena and Nicholson states his answers to the firm’s questions were “honest and sincere.” He claims that numerous unqualified employees were hired because they were acquainted with the fair board president and events that were not profitable continued to be booked. When the negative report came back from the consultant, Nicholson claims he was reprimanded by Mr. Workman and ultimately terminated because of it in February. The board president has announced his plan to retire at the end of the year.
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Maker’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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In an attempt to make the city of Louisville, Kentucky greener and save money, officials announced in September 2009 that Metro would implement more energy-efficient measures. Eric Garrett, a Public Works employee was involved in the effort, writing hundreds of work orders for updating or replacing equipment. Upon noticing that some of the recommended work was not being done, Mr. Garrett contacted Louisville’s government ethics tip line and Councilman Hal Heiner in 2010. About two weeks later, he was suspended from work, initially for three days, then indefinitely, because a co-worker had supposedly filed a complaint against him.

Mr. Garrett felt that the suspension coming so soon after his reporting of alleged mismanagement by the department was more than coincidence. The attorney he hired agreed, and he filed a whistleblower retaliation suit on Mr. Garrett’s behalf. The state of Kentucky has a whistleblower law that pertains to employees of the state and its “political subdivisions.” A 2010 Kentucky Supreme Court case decided that city governments are “political subdivisions,” so Mr. Garrett would be covered under this law. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees that report inappropriate behavior to the proper authorities. In this case, Metro Public Works allegedly retaliated against Mr. Garrett by suspending him supposedly for another reason no more than two weeks after he reported what he felt was mismanagement by them. The law also states that employees are not required to notify their employers that they intend to make a report. The law does not allow employees to make false accusations or divulge confidential corporate information. If this occurs, legal action can be taken by the employer.

The city of Louisville investigated the complaint against Mr. Garrett and determined there was not enough evidence to show he did anything wrong. Mr. Garrett was given back pay and benefits for the time he was suspended. He was also allowed to go back to work, but was told he would have to submit to a psychiatric evaluation to confirm he was fit to return. His attorney fought the evaluation requirement and won, stating his client had been suspended, not on medical leave. Mr. Garrett returned to work, but the whistleblower suit remained.
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