Archive for January, 2017

EEOC: Bread Manufacturer Allowed Harassment of Black Employee, Will Pay $30K to Settle Suit

It is costing a bread manufacturer $30,000 for allegedly failing to stop racial harassment against an African American employee. The employee was racially taunted by his co-workers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Gonnella violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by failing to respond adequately to a black employee’s complaints that he endured a pervasive pattern of disparaging racial comments made by his co-workers. Examples of the harassing conduct included persistent references to black employees as “you people,” as well as offensive statements such as, “Black people are lazy,” and “I better watch my wallet around you.”

“Employers are responsible for putting an end to co-worker harassment when they become aware of it,” explained Gregory Gochanour, EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago. “That includes the responsibility to take seriously every allegation of race harassment, and then to investigate thoroughly and take appropriate actions to eliminate the misconduct.

The EEOC announced the settlement on Jan. 10.

Why What We Wear At Work Matters

To begin the new workweek, here is our resident columnist Robin Paggi explaining why employees’ attire matters at work (Mark Zuckerberg not withstanding).

Why What We Wear At Work Matters

My favorite watering hole is Sandrini’s in downtown Bakersfield, CA mostly because of its “Cheers-like” atmosphere. It’s below street level, the affable non-drinking owner often tends bar, and its crowd when I’m there on Fridays between 5–6 p.m. is comprised of a regular group of colorful characters who mostly know each other’s names. It’s cozy and comfortable.

When Brian Sandrini opened his tavern eleven years ago, he wanted to create this kind of environment for his patrons and staff. However, a few months ago, the place began to look and feel a little too casual for his taste, so he decided to make some changes, which included implementing a dress code for his employees.

“I have always struggled with what my employees should wear,” said Sandrini. “At first, they wore uniforms, which our post 9:00 p.m. patrons hated because they felt the uniforms created a stuffy atmosphere. Then, I allowed the staff to choose their own clothing within certain parameters. But, it was becoming difficult for patrons to distinguish between my staff and other customers. So, during the summer, I implemented a dress code for my kitchen staff and noticed a positive change in attitude along with the improved appearance. I talked to my other employees and was surprised to find the majority of them favored having a dress code that would fit our updated image (we are moving from a restaurant to a classic pub atmosphere). The result has been overwhelmingly positive, as patrons have consistently complimented the staff’s new appearance.”

Sandrini and his staff experienced what researchers have been saying for years–that what we wear influences how we act and how others act toward us.

Clothes influence how we act? They do, according to a 2012 article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In a study, participants who wore a coat they believed belonged to a doctor were more focused in a series of tasks than those wearing street clothes. This phenomenon, known as embodied cognition, indicates our bodies (including what we wear) influence how we think and behave. In other words, dress professionally and you are more apt to behave professionally.

Clothes influence how others act toward us? We know we shouldn’t be judgmental; however, according to Dr. Carolyn Mair, Reader in Psychology at London College of Fashion, “many studies have found that we decide whether we like someone or not based only on their appearance in under one minute.” Generally, if people think you look like a thug, they’ll treat you like a thug.

Of course, there are exceptions. Take Mark Zuckerberg for example. In addition to his famous hoodies, the Facebook founder is usually dressed in jeans and a gray T-shirt. This billionaire reportedly wears this “uniform” every day so he can focus his attention on more important decisions than on what to wear. Because of what he’s accomplished, Zuckerberg is applauded instead of derided for his clothing choice.

However, most people can’t get away with dressing so casually at work because most employers are in business to make money, and how their employees look determines in part whether money is made. That’s why employers like Sandrini get lots of leeway in telling employees what they can wear

Do employers really need to tell grownups what to wear? Some do. surveyed 4,600 people about workplace dress codes and reported that, “hundreds of people told us about employees wearing shirts displaying drugs, drinking and violence, skimpy mini-skirts, pajamas, revealing low-cut blouses and even some unorthodox body piercings.” That kind of attire might be appropriate in some lines of work, but not most.

What we wear to work matters. Dress accordingly.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

She last wrote for us on Too Old To Wear Jeans,  Cultural Diversity Workshops and before that Managing Five Generations at Work, before that on Accommodating Religious Beliefs and before that on Politics and Work and before that on Emojis-A Workplace Communications Menace and before that on Alcoholism and the ADA in Employment. To read her previous columns, search Paggi in the search box at the top of this home page.


Lack of Hospitality: Firing of Black Workers Costs Fla. Hotel $35K in Settlement of EEOC Suit

The company that runs a Florida hotel is $35,000 poorer owing to its chief executive officer ordering the firing of black housekeepers because he did not work with “those kind of people.”

Hospman LLC has agreed to settle the Title VII race discrimination that resulted from this alleged violation of the statute, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on Friday.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Hospman fired several black employees in August 2012 after taking over management responsibility of a Fort Myers hotel.

The EEOC charged that Jose Carvalho, Hospman’s former chief executive officer, ordered the housekeeping supervisor, Tinica Jones, to terminate all of the housekeepers – all but one of whom were black – because he did not work with “those kind of people.”

Carvalho also asked Jones about her race and, upon learning that she was black, fired her as well. Risha Stewart, the only black front desk attendant, was also terminated, while other non-black front desk workers were allowed to continue their employment.

“The hospitality industry is an important sector of Florida’s economy and EEOC hopes this suit will serve as a reminder to all employers in the sector of the importance of their obligations under the federal antidiscrimination laws,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Robert Weisberg. “The law is clear – employers cannot discriminate on the basis of race in the hiring or firing of employees.”


OSHA Cites Manufacturer for Two Worker Injuries on Same Piece of Equipment in 10-Day Period

The imperatives of getting equipment back up and running can’t be outlawed to trump worker safety.

But according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators, that’s what a company in Green Bay, Wis. that manufacturers muffler components allowed to happen, resulting in a second injury to a worker from the same piece of equipment in a 10-day period.

On January 18, OSHA issued one willful, one repeated, one other-than-serious violation and two serious violations to Bay Fabrication. The company, part of the Bay Family of Companies with 75 locations in the U.S., faces $219,242 in proposed penalties.

Investigators determined a worker had his left hand crushed on July 21, 2016, by a molding machine, when the tamp head smashed his hand as he removed a mold from the machine. OSHA found the machine’s safety interlock on the door guarding the operating parts was damaged and not functional properly which disabled the safety guard and led to the injury.

On July 30, 2016, another worker suffered the partial amputation of his left middle finger. In this instance, investigators found the molding machine cycled and caught his finger in an unguarded p uinch point. They determined the machine was not locked out as required.

“The fact that two workers suffered debilitating injuries is tragic. The reality is that the company failed to re-evaluate its machine safety procedures and continued to expose other workers to the same hazards even after these injuries,” said Robert Bonack, OSHA’s area director in Appleton. “Adequate and properly installed machine safety guards and lockout/tag out procedures must be in place to prevent workers from coming in contact with operating parts.”

For more on the case, click here.

Bad Delivery: Papa John’s Pays $125K To Fired Employee With Down’s Syndrome in ADA Suit

What was an operating partner of Papa John’s Pizza thinking when he walked into one of their shops and ordered the firing of an employee with Down’s Syndrome after observing him working with a job coach?

Maybe he wasn’t thinking–because that action cost that particular pizza place a bundle of money to settle the Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit that ensued.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on Thursday that Papa John’s agreed to settle the ADA settlement for $125,000.

The EEOC filed the suit on behalf of Scott Bonn, who has Down’s Syndrome, an intellectual disability. According to the EEOC, Papa John’s employed Bonn successfully at its Farmington location for more than five months and allowed an independently employed and insured job coach to assist him.

EEOC further charged that after an operating partner visited the Farmington location and observed Bonn working with the assistance of his job coach, the operating partner ordered Papa John’s local management to fire Bonn.

In addition to the monetary payment,  Papa John’s also must review its equal employment opportunity policies, conduct training for management and human resources employees for its restaurants in Utah, and establish a new recruitment program for individuals with disabilities in Utah.

“Employers must understand that they cannot refuse to provide an accommodation to individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “The ADA is intended to ensure that each person with an intellectual disability has a right to work and be evaluated as an individual-not on the basis of his or her disability.”

Maybe the partner didn’t know that Bonn had a disability, but it looks like he just impulsively ordered management to fire him, when stopping and thinking and pondering on the situation might have avoided this legal entanglement with the EEOC.

For a refresher on what constitutes a disability, including intellectual disability, here is the EEOC web page on the ADA.

And here’s information the EEOC has published on the rights of employees who have mental health conditions.

In Deep: Mining Companies Excavate From Title VII Sex Discrimination Suits in $4.25M Settlement

Mach Mining & affiliated coal companies will pay $4.25 million to settle a pair of sex discrimination lawsuits, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced today.

The EEOC has accused the companies of hiring practices that effectively excluded women from working in the underground mines and in other coal production positions.

Besides the hefty monetary settlement, the companies agreed to hiring goals that are expected to result in at least 34 women being hired into coal production jobs in their mines that operate in Illinois.

The case achieved some procedural notoriety when the companies appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court the issue of the standard by which courts were to determine whether EEOC had met its obligation to try to resolve cases before bringing suit.

In April 2015, the high court ruled that limited review was available regarding the adequacy of the commission’s conciliation efforts.

Now nearly two years later the case has settled and the female victims achieve some justice.

Read more about the lawsuits and settlement here.

Philadelphia Bars Inquiries on Prior Pay

The city of brotherly love won’t allow employers to ask job applicants anymore about their salary history.

Philadelphia, Pa. becomes the first city in the United States to forbid employers to ask applicants about how much they were paid in prior jobs, under an ordinance signed by the mayor yesterday.

Mayor Jim Kenney brushed aside arguments from the business community that the measure would hurt the city’s economy.

Employers in the city have some time to get used to the idea. The law doesn’t take effect until May 23.

Comcast argued that the bill violates employers’ free speech rights and is threatening to sue to block the law.

Specifics of what the Wage Equity Bill (No. 160840) prohibits:

It is unlawful employment practice for an employer, employment agency or their employees and agents to:

  • Require disclosure of or inquire about (by asking in writing or otherwise) a prospective employee’s wage history;
  • Condition employment or consideration for an interview or employment on disclosure of wage history;
  • Retaliate against a prospective employee for failing to comply with any wage history inquiry or for otherwise opposing any act made unlawful by this chapter; or
  • Rely on the wage history of a prospective employee from any current or former employer of the individual in determining the wages for such individual at any stage in the employment process, including the negotiation or drafting of any employment contract, unless such applicant knowingly and willingly disclosed his or her wage history to the employer, employment agency, employee or agent thereof.

Discussions about past fringe benefits an applicant received also are prohibited under the law.

EEOC Files Title VII Sexual Orientation Harassment Lawsuit Against Arizona Business

Will the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stick to its view formulated in recent years that sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation?

We will have to see what the Trump Administration’s view is, but as of today the EEOC is sticking to its enforcement guns, announcing it has filed a Title VII lawsuit alleging that a wine bar and restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, subjected two of its male employees to a hostile work environment based on sexual orientation.

According to the EEOC, 5th & Wine allowed its management and line staff to harass two male servers based on their actual and perceived sexual orientation. The alleged harassment included egregious name calling, comments, innuendos and touching. Although the two employees complained to their supervisors, the supervisors did nothing about the conduct, and, in some instances, actually participated in the harassment, according to the federal agency. When one of the employees mentioned that he planned on taking legal action against 5th & Wine, the company fired him.

Oracle in Hot Seat With DOL, Which Complains Company Favors White Men in Pay and Hiring

Oracle, a leading technology company that provides services to the federal government, has a systemic practice of paying Caucasian male workers more than their counterparts in the same job title, which led to pay discrimination against female, African American and Asian employees, the Labor Department charged in a new lawsuit filed last week.

The suit filed with the Office of Administration Law Judges also challenges Oracle’s systemic practice of favoring Asian workers in its recruiting and hiring practices for product development and other technical roles, which resulted in hiring discrimination against non-Asian applicants.

Oracle designs, manufactures, and sells software and hardware products, as well as offers services related to its products to the federal government.

The alleged violations supposedly took place at the company’s Redwood Shores headquarters in California.

Oracle has received hundreds of millions in federal government contracts. As a federal contractor, Oracle is prohibited from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity or national origin and is required to take affirmative action to ensure that equal employment opportunity is provided to applicants and employees in all aspects of employment. If Oracle fails to provide relief as ordered in the lawsuit, OFCCP requests that all its government contracts be canceled and that it be debarred from entering into future federal contracts.

During the investigation – which began in 2014 – Oracle also refused to comply with the agency’s routine requests for employment data and records, the DOL said.  For example, Oracle refused to provide prior-year compensation data for all employees, complete hiring data for certain business lines, and employee complaints of discrimination.

But now that there is a new administration in town, it’s possible that some of this may be obselete.

At the top of the DOL announcement page is this “Please note:  As of January 20, 2017, information in some news releases may be out of date or not reflect current policies.”


Fired Amtrak Agent To Receive $892K For Blowing Whistle Under U.S. Rail Safety Law

Joe Biden, the now former vice president, is riding Amtrak back to Delaware today to begin his return to civilian life. Biden has long been an Amtrak supporter, riding the train daily to and from Washington and Delaware when he was in the Senate.

I think he would be pleased with the news that an Amtrak agent who was fired for helping another agent blow the whistle on safety violations has been ordered reinstated with back pay to his former job.

The total bill, including damages, is $892,000

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that national passenger rail service violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act retaliated against a supervisory special agent in its inspector general’s office when he raised concerns about railroad safety, fraud and abuse involving an Amtrak contractor and when he supported a fellow agent’s safety concerns during an internal investigation.

According to OSHA findings, in early to mid-2010, the agent was investigating an Amtrak contractor that had been convicted in a New York state court for fraud in examining and testing concrete at building projects in the New York City area. This Amtrak contractor had performed testing on certain Amtrak tunnel projects. Strongly believing it was necessary for safety and security reasons, the agent raised safety concerns regarding work performed by this contractor on Amtrak projects.

Then, in October 2010, the agent gave Amtrak’s Dispute Resolution Office information and provided support for a fellow employee who had received a letter of reprimand after he raised safety concerns in a separate matter. The following month, the agent received his first-ever negative performance review. In March 2011, Amtrak notified him that – as a part of an overall reorganization – his position was being eliminated. In the course of the next few months, the agent applied for other positions, but was told that he lacked the required law enforcement training, despite a 40-year law enforcement career that included equivalent training. In June 2011, Amtrak notified the agent that he would be terminated due to his not being placed in a new position.

Amtrak can appeal the order, but for now here is what OSHA has ordered it to do:

  • Reinstate the employee to his former or a similar position with all rights, seniority and benefits he would have received had he not been discharged.
  • Pay him a total of $892,551, which is comprised of $723,332 in back wages plus $34,218 in interest; $100,000 in punitive damages; $35,000 in compensatory damages; plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
  • Expunge from Amtrak’s records all references related to his discharge and exercise of his FRSA rights; make no adverse statements concerning his employment at Amtrak; and not retaliate or discriminate against him in any manner.
  • Post a notice to all railroad employees about their FRSA rights.