Obama Asks $376M For EEOC in 2017

Money talks in Washington, D.C.  This week that took the form of President Obama’s submitted federal budget for fiscal year 2017.

For the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the administration is seeking a yearly appropriation of $376,646,000, including $29,500,000 for state and local fair employment practice agencies and tribal employment rights organizations. That’s an increase of $12.146 million above the enacted fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

According to the EEOC’s submitted budget document, that amount would go toward fulfilling EEOC’s priorities for fiscal year 2017, including making critical investments needed to 1) expand the commission’s impact through strategic law enforcement; 2) strengthen partnerships across the government and with stakeholder communities; 3) leverage technology and streamline operations; and 4) transform the workplace at EEOC to promote inclusion, collaboration, and innovation.

Obama’s budget requests routinely are declared “dead on arrival” on Capital Hill in the face of unyielding Republican opposition against just about anything he proposes.

But as an indication of administration priorities–and for employers who want to know what resources the EEOC is seeking to do its job enforcing the nation’s employment discrimination laws–the budget documents are worth studying.


EEOC Sues N.C. Restaurant for Refusing to Hire HIV-Positive Applicant For Food Server Job

Restaurants do not have the right to deny employment to HIV-positive job applicants because solely on assumptions that they can’t work safely around food.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed an Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit against a restaurant in North Carolina charging it with refusing to hire an applicant for a server position because he was HIV positive.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the guilty party is Sappyann, Inc., which operates Yesterday’s Pub & Grille restaurant in Sanford, N.C.  The EEOC says the employer discriminated against a man who applied for the server’s job after receiving a medical discharge from the military. When confronted about that by management, the man said he was HIV positive.

He tried to persuade the management that it was safe for him to work in the food industry despite his HIV-status, but it refused to hire him.

Today’s announcement of the filing of the lawsuit is here.

Reservist to Get New Chance at Promotion in Settlement of USERRA Lawsuit Against City

As our soldiers conclude their military service, it’s important to honor their rights to return to civilian employment with the same opportunity for advancement than when they began their tours, rights enshrined in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).

A settlement announced today between the City of Somerville, Massachusetts and the U.S. Department of Justice will return a Marine reservist to his rightful place following 9 years of being away on active duty.

DOJ filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sean Keane, a firefighter with the city since 1989.

As related by DOJ: Following his return from service, Keane took a lieutenant’s make-up promotional exam to replace the regular administration of the examination that he missed because of his military service.  Keane received the highest score on the test, which placed him at the top of the promotional list, ahead of two firefighters who had already been promoted in July 2013.  When Keane was eventually promoted in October 2014, he requested that his promotion be effective as of July 2013, the date he would have been promoted had he not been away on military service.  He was denied the July 2013 promotion date and, as a result, was deemed ineligible to take a make-up exam for a captain’s position.

Subject to certain limitations, USERRA requires that service members who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the military be reemployed by their civilian employers in the positions that they would have held if their employment had not been interrupted by military service.

Under circumstances like those here, federal law also requires that a servicemember be reemployed in a position of comparable seniority, pay and status so that no opportunities for advancement or promotion are adversely affected by military service.

As part of the settlement, Somerville will pay Keane $15,000 in back pay and permit him to make-up a missed examination for promotion to captain.  Based on his score, Keane will be as eligible for a promotion as others who took the examination on its regular schedule.

Here’s today’s announcement of the settlement.

Blind to Accommodation: Group Will Pay $25K to Hebrew Pentecostal Fired for Wanting Time Off

Some employers still don’t get that have to try to reasonably accommodate employees who can’t work certain days for religious reasons. Not doing so is a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, unless the accommodation would result in undue hardship for the employer.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Federation for the Blind never even made that effort in the case of an employee who couldn’t work sundown Friday to sundown Saturday because he is a Hebrew Pentecostal.

And because it didn’t reasonably accommodate the employee, it has agreed to pay $25,000 to settle the EEOC’s Title VII lawsuit against it.

EEOC charged that about two months after the employee started working as a bookkeeper at NFB’s Baltimore office, management told him he would have to work certain Saturdays. The employee explained that he could not work Saturdays due to his religious beliefs and requested a reasonable accommodation, such as working on Sundays or working late on week nights other than Fridays. NFB refused to provide any reasonable accommodation and instead abruptly fired Massey because of his religion, according to the lawsuit.

For more information on the lawsuit and settlement, click here.

Here’s the EEOC’s web page on religious discrimination, including the need for religious accommodation.

DOL: Meat Market On Hook for $149K in Back Wages, Damages for FLSA Overtime Violations

Eight employees at a Selma, California meat market will share in $149,000 in back wages and damages resulting from the market’s failure to pay them overtime, the U.S. Department of Labor announced last Friday, February 5.

According to the DOL, Alfonso’s Carniceria, Inc., doing business as Alfonso’s Meat Market, failed to pay cashiers, prep cooks and the butcher’s assistant for all the hours that they worked. In addition, the company paid two butchers flat salaries, without regard to how many hours they worked. This resulted in the employer failing to pay these workers overtime for hours they worked beyond 40 in a week. The firm also failed to maintain records required by the FLSA.

It’s the latest instance of the DOL holding restaurants’ feet to the fire when it comes to complying with the nation’s wage and hour laws.  In January DOL got 10 restaurants of the San Jose Mexican Restaurants chain in North Carolina to agree to pay $511,745 in back wages to 125 employees unlawfully deprived of their proper pay.

Here’s the Feb. 5 announcement of the action against Alfonso’s Meat Market.

Muslim Employees Fired Over Prayer Breaks

The rights of Muslim employees to take prayer breaks during the workday versus the employer’s right to set workers’ schedules came to a head recently at a Wisconsin company.

According to media reports, seven Muslim employees of Wisconsin-based Ariens Co., a lawn mower and snowblower manufacturer in Brillion, Wisconsin, were fired for taking unscheduled breaks taken to pray in observance of Islamic custom. Fourteen workers resigned in the process, while 32 Muslim employees chose to stay with the company.

Observant Muslims pray five times daily. The company previously had a break schedule that accommodated the prayers. As it hired more Somali immigrant workers, however, it reached a  “critical mass” of employees seeking a more lenient prayer-break schedule, an Ariens spokeswoman said.

Though Muslim employees called on the company to keep the previous break schedule, Ariens decided to do away with the policy in favor of two 10-minute breaks per shift, no matter the employee’s faith.

Ariens is just the latest company to encounter such disputes. Late last year, 190 employees at a Cargill meat processing plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado, were fired, over a change in policy on Muslim prayer breaks. The move occurred more than a week after workers protested the changed policy by walking off the job at a Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fort Morgan. The plant had decided to stop allowing special breaks for prayers, CAIR said.

Under the original policy, Cargill had not only allowed the practice but also provided a room for the purpose. The time for the ritual was carved out of a 15-minute break period or from an unpaid lunch break.

Cargill denied changing the policy, saying it has provided a “reflection area” for all employees but that no accommodation is guaranteed, but rather must be flexible depending on staffing needs.

Cargill said it fired the workers only after multiple attempts to discuss the situation with local Somali employees.

Don’t be surprised if either or both of these disputes winds up before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if the parties cannot settle the matters privately.

In the meantime, here’s the EEOC’s web page on religious discrimination, including reasonable accommodation of religion in the workplace.

This post was featured in Ohio Employer’s Law Blog weekly wrap-up on February 12.


Yahoo Fights Off Suit by Ex-Employee Claiming It Manipulated Performance Review to Justify Firing

Did Yahoo manipulate its performance rating system to justify the firing of a male employee who had recently received a promotion, raise and compliments for his work?

That’s what Yahoo ex-employee Gregory Anderson is claiming in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in California on Monday.

But that was all for naught when the company told Anderson he was in the bottom 5% of Yahoo’s employees based on quarterly performance reviews and would lose his job, according to his lawsuit.

That information was conveyed to him in November 2014. At the time, Anderson had been with the Sunnyvale-based company for four years and was the editorial director in charge of Yahoo’s autos, shopping, homes, travel and small-business sites.

Anderson was among about 600 employees laid off that November based on results of the quarterly performance reviews, according to the lawsuit.

Anderson is alleging violations of the state and federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Acts, which require employers to notify employees before large layoffs. The lawsuit also says Yahoo should have compensated those laid-off employees for up to 60 days.


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