Office Supply Co. Settles Pregnancy Bias Case

If I never have to write about another case of pregnancy discrimination…then my blog will be a lot shorter.  Like a late night comic who’s always finding new material in the day’s events, cases of pregnancy discrimination keep a steady flow of blog material for me. It’s my duty to warn employers and HR staff of the dangers that lurk in this arena of the law.

Repeat after me: Title VII forbids denying a woman a job because she is pregnant! You must judge her qualifications as you would anyone else’s. If she is qualified for the job, you can only not hire her if someone else is more qualified. Otherwise, you’re likely to face a lawsuit.

Latest case in point: In January, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Benhar Office Interiors LLC, a New York-based office furnishing and architectural store in Manhattan, after learning that it had rejected a qualified applicant for a controller position shortly after finding out she was pregnant. “Benhar had interviewed the applicant multiple times, gave her positive feedback and extended a job offer through a staffing company. Soon after the staffing company informed Benhar’s president of the applicant’s pregnancy, however, Benhar refused to hire the applicant and later hired a non-pregnant applicant instead.”

Wrap it up and tie it all in a neat bow and you have a rather blatant instance of pregnancy discrimination, which the company to its credit settled for $90,000.

But it shouldn’t have gotten even that far, because as every employer should know, Title VII requires that pregnant applicants be given equal consideration to all other applicants, and that pregnancy must not factor into the employment decision.

If you need a refresher on pregnancy discrimination, the EEOC is happy to provide it for you, at this web address.

Read more about the case here.

Unpaid Interns Get Protection Under NYC Law

Each year thousands of impressionable young people flock to major cities across the U.S. in search of that internship that they hope will open career doors for them. But, as free labor, many are outside the protections of employment discrimination laws.

That’s about to change in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio this week signed a law expanding the protections of the city’s human rights law to give unpaid interns the right to sue their employers for sexual harassment and other discriminatory treatment.

The push for expanding the law was prompted in part by a federal district court’s ruling last year barring an unpaid intern from suing the TV station where she worked.

I wrote about the case last October.

So this new law brings unpaid interns some parity under the law with traditional, paid employees.

Maybe other cities will emulate New York City so that these young people who provide valuable services to a company are treated with respect in return.

EEOC Says School District’s Early Incentive Plan Violated ADEA By Disadvantaging Older Retirees

Early retirement incentives are allowed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, but as with any other policy affecting employment they have to be age-neutral. You cannot use these incentives to deny employees benefits because of their age.

According to the EEOC, that’s what a school district in Phoenix was guilty of. The commission said it recently filed suit against Murphy School District No. 21, which it said had “unlawfully used an early retirement incentive plan which grants greater economic benefits to younger retirees based upon their age.”

The lawsuit charges that the early retirement incentive plan–which the school district adopted in the 1980s–is discriminatory on its face because it grants more favorable benefits to younger early retirees based on their age.

Facial discrimination means you can see it visibly–the violation is obvious.

Early retirement incentive plans like this which are facially age-discriminatory need to be changed,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill.   “People in their 60s should not be penalized merely because they want to continue working.”

Read more about the case.

Down on the Farm: DOL Recovers $428K Against Hawaiian Grower for Wage Hour, OT Violations

Without farm hands to plow the field and pick the crops, often under the hot sun, our tables wouldn’t be as plentiful. So as a nation we’ve rightly insisted that the companies that hire these workers comply with all applicable laws on fair treatment and wages.

When companies don’t respect those rights, they must be brought to account.

That’s what the U.S. Department of Labor did this week in announcing it had settled a wage and hour lawsuit against Fat Law Farm’s Inc., a grower in Hawaii. According to DOL, the farm violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and recordkeeping provisions. Specifically, the DOL said that the Oahu-based company and its owners, members of the Law family,  did not pay employees overtime at time and one-half their regular rates of pay for all hours beyond 40 in a workweek, as required by the FLSA.

The DOL said that a federal district court in Hawaii had ordered the company to pay $428,800 to the victims of these violations.

The company employed two primary groups of workers. Filipino workers were predominantly paid at $7.25 per hour, with overtime compensation. However, other workers, mainly from Laos, were paid $5 per hour in cash, without overtime, for 70 hours per week on average.

“The department made use of a search warrant to get an honest snapshot of the pay practices and working conditions established by the employer and the documented effort to hide evidence and witnesses from inspection,” said Juan Coria, acting regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Western Region. “With the warrant, we obtained unhindered access to employee and payroll documents reflecting names and payment disbursements to workers employed at the farm, including employees paid only in cash. We will continue to protect workers, prevent abuse and enforce labor laws, particularly where workers are vulnerable and violations are so egregious, as in this case.”

You can read more about the case and settlement here.

‘Ogling’ Female Employee in Security Footage Costs Employer Damages in EEOC Lawsuit

It’s one thing to use footage from a security camera to spot and intercept employee wrongdoing, like stealing–but quite another to use it to harass and demean an employee.

An “operations manager” at a Midwestern office supply and furniture company apparently didn’t know or care about that difference. The EEOC earlier this month cited his actions in streaming footage of a female employee into his office over the security camera in announcing it had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company.

The EEOC said that it had brought the Title VII lawsuit against Davis Typewriter Company, based in Worthington, Minnesota, because it had allowed its operations manager  to use “the company’s security camera system to stream footage of a female former employee’s breasts and body onto his office computer.”

After the woman learned about this and complained to management, it did nothing to stop this harassment, the EEOC charged.

Sounds like a sexually hostile environment to any reasonable observer, and the failure to stop it puts the blame squarely on the employer. It was wise to settle.

Read more.

Hire and Retain the Most Valuable

For your Monday morning enlightment, here are insights from HR consultant and writer Robin Paggi on why it is to employers’ advantage to have a workforce of varying ages and especially to keep older workers on board. It’s all about hiring and retaining the most valuable workers–irrespective of age.

Hire and Retain the Most Valuable

By Robin Paggi, MA, SPHR-CA, CPLP, CPC

Like many people, I enjoy being in my 50s. Why is being 50ish so fabulous? According to numerous articles on the subject and my own experience, it’s generally because one is old enough to have gained valuable knowledge and experience, but still young enough to have some fun.

However, here’s a bit of news to rain on that parade. According to the AARP’s 2013 Multicultural Work and Career Study, the majority of participants who reported witnessing or experiencing age discrimination in the workplace said it begins when workers are in their 50s.

If people in their 50s are being discriminated against, what must it be like for those in their 60s, 70s, and 80s? Yes, lots of people that age are either still working or trying to find a job, including my 74-year-old mom and soon-to-be 78-year-old dad who do not intend to retire – ever.

So, what does it mean to be discriminated against because of age? Age discrimination occurs when applicants and employees are treated less favorably (such as not being hired or promoted or being terminated) because of being 40 or older. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the state Fair Employment and Housing Act make such actions illegal.

Why do employers discriminate against older people? In our youth-centric society, it’s easy to understand. Howard Eglit, a professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law who focuses on law and aging, said on www.nbc.com, “There is no question that age bias is rampant throughout American society and in the workplace in particular.”

To add insult to injury, in her article “11 Sneaky Ways Companies Get Rid of Older Workers” on www.forbes.com, Forbes staff writer Deborah L. Jacobs says that, “Companies looking to ditch older employees (have learned to) be creative in the ways they try to avoid age discrimination claims,” such as cutting job duties, cutting hours, and isolating older employees to try to get them to quit.

Telling employers that discriminating against older applicants and employees is against the law evidently does not prevent it from happening. So, here are some reasons employers should refrain from adopting an “out with the old, in with the new” philosophy regarding employment. Older workers:

Know how to get the job done. In his article “Why Older Workers are Better Workers” on www.money.usnews.com, Dave Beard says that, because older workers tend to be knowledgeable and experienced, they usually need less oversight by management.

Tend to have good communication and people skills. Older workers already had a lot of job experience before e-mail, instant messaging, or texting were invented. “As a result, they have advanced communication and people skills … face-to-face communication is an essential skill in the business world and one that junior staff sometimes struggles with,” writes Debi Ritter at Corp Magazine.

Are happier with what they’ve got. According to a study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 9 in 10 workers who are 50 or older reported being very or somewhat satisfied with their jobs. Additionally, 63 percent of workers 65 and older expressed deep satisfaction with their jobs compared to 38 percent of young adults.

Stick around. Because older workers tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and more interested in stability, they stay put, Ritter says. Indeed, my mom just celebrated her 39th anniversary at her place of employment.

Have a good work ethic. Pew Research Center survey revealed that, “Nearly 6 in 10 respondents cited work ethic as one of the big differences between young and old. Asked who has the better work ethic, about three-fourths of respondents said that older people do.”

Are connected. In a study conducted by The Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, 46.3% of employers who responded said that older employees have stronger professional and client networks than younger workers. Of course they do – they’ve been around to cultivate those relationships.

While it might appear otherwise, the above information is not intended to disparage younger workers. People of every age can bring value to the organization. My advice is to hire and retain whoever brings the most value – regardless of whether they are young or old.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

For prior columns by Robin appearing in my blog, click here, here, here, and here.

 

 

Off the Scale: Weight Watchers to Pay $45K to Settle EEOC’s Lawsuit in Pregnancy Bias Case

Pregnancy discrimination comes in all guises, but the essential point is the same. An employer must base its hiring decisions on a woman’s ability to do the job, and nothing else.

That goes doubly for an organization–like Weight Watchers–that exist for the very reason of making sure men and women keep the weight off.

According to the EEOC, a Weight Watchers in Farmington Hills, Michigan, stepped over the Title VII line when it refused to hire a pregnant woman for a group leader position because she was pregnant.

That was music to the commission’s enforcement ears.

What’s more, according to the EEOC, the Weight Watchers disqualified the woman–who had successfully maintained her weight goals prior to her pregnancy-for not meeting its “goal weight” requirement. The EEOC said that the company had agreed to settle the lawsuit for $45,000.

Evidently the company saw the wisdom of not taking this one to court.

Read more.

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