$30K Settlement Closes EEOC’s Religious Bias Suit for Rastafarian Employee at Orlando Resort

Grooming standards sometimes have to give weigh to religious accommodation in order to avoid violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Latest case in point: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced yesterday that an Orlando staffing company dedicated to Central Florida’s massive hospitality industry will pay $30,000 and implement a company-wide accommodation policy to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit

The EEOC’s lawsuit filed last July charged that HospitalityStaff violated religious discrimination law by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to Courtnay B. Joseph, a Rastafarian, when it required him to cut his dreadlocks to comply with its client’s grooming standards in order to keep his position at an Orlando-area hotel. The EEOC said that HospitalityStaff took Joseph off his assignment and never reassigned him.

Rastafarians wear dreadlocks as part of their sincerely held religious belief, and making an employment decision because of such a religious practice violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under the decree, which was agreed to soon after EEOC filed its lawsuit, HospitalityStaff agreed to pay Joseph $30,000 in damages. The company will also amend its employee handbook and policy manual to include a clear policy providing for reasonable accommodations covering both disability and religious-based requests. Further, HospitalityStaff agreed to provide training to its managers and human resources personnel, and to voluntarily provide information to EEOC concerning its handling of religious discrimination complaints for three years.

“HospitalityStaff’s decision to provide training and to implement policy changes relating to reasonable accommodations should be commended,” said Kimberly A. Cruz, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Office. “These policy changes demonstrate the company’s commitment to providing reasonable accommodations to its employees with sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“The Supreme Court’s opinion in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch reminds us that we must be vigilant in protecting sincere religious expression in the workplace,” said Robert Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Office. This is particularly important where the Commission has recognized ‘the increasing complexity of employment relationships and structures, including temporary workers, staffing agencies, and independent contractor relationships’ in an ever more on-demand economy.”

KFC Restaurant Ousted Employee Because She Took Meds for Bipolar Disorder, Alleges EEOC

It’s against the law for an employer to force an employee to forego medical treatment or stop taking prescription drugs as a condition for keeping their job.

That’s what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is alleging happened to an employee who worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant franchise in Dublin, Ga.

According to the EEOC, restaurant operator, Hester Foods, Inc., Hester Foods’ owner violated the Americans With Disabilities Act when it fired restaurant manager Cynthia Dunson in July 2015 when he found out that she was taking medications prescribed by her doctor for bipolar disorder.

The restaurant owner referred to Dunson’s medications in obscene terms, the EEOC said, and made her destroy her medications by flushing them down a toilet at the restaurant. When Dunson later told the owner that she planned to continue taking the medications per her doctor’s orders, the owner told her not to return to work and fired her.

“Managers and owners cannot force employees to forego medical care or prescribed medications to keep their job,” said Bernice Williams-Kimbrough, director of the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office.

Antonette Sewell, regional attorney for the Atlanta District Office, added, “Whether an employee works for a large corporation or a local restaurant, she has a right to be protected from discriminatory actions by employers. We want employers of all sizes to understand their duties under the law and for employees to report such actions when they occur.”‘

The EEOC announced the suit’s filing on Monday, June 12.

For a refresher on disability discrimination, click here.

Plowed Under: Latina Tractor Driver Harassed, Retaliation Against at Organic Farm, Says EEOC

The situation down on the farm was inhospitable to a Latina tractor driver, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The largest grower of organic tree fruit in the United States, Stemilt Growers, and its integrated business, Stemilt Ag Services, violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by subjecting a Latina tractor driver to sexual harassment and then retaliating against her after she reported the abuse, the EEOC alleged.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Heidi Corona had worked for Stemilt as a tractor driver for over three years in Quincy, Wash., when she transferred to the company’s Wenatchee, Wash., orchard, where she was the only female in this job position. The EEOC charged that on her second day at the new location, Corona’s direct supervisor drove her to a remote area and then proceeded to make sexually explicit comments, proposition her for sex, and attempted to kiss her. Trapped in a moving vehicle at an unfamiliar and remote location with no cell service, Corona asked him to stop making such comments and stated that she was only there to work.

The agency also found that after this incident, the supervisor assigned Corona to pick up trash and excluded her from meetings with the other tractor drivers. When Corona reported the harassment to upper management, she was given a choice of continuing to work under that supervisor or accepting a transfer to work as a warehouse sorter for lower pay. She took the latter, the EEOC said.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under which employers are required to prevent and remedy sexual harassment and are prohibited from retaliation against an employee who reports harassment. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (Case No._____________) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. EEOC seeks lost wages, monetary damages (including compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages), and injunctive relief, including training on anti-discrimination laws.

“No one should have to choose between continuing to work under a harasser or taking a pay cut to feel safe at work,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Carmen Flores. “Employers are responsible for the conduct of their supervisors and must act promptly to stop harassment of their workers.”

EEOC Seattle Field Office Director Nancy Sienko said, “We have seen how farmworkers, a group that is so often comprised of immigrant women working in isolated areas, are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment. The EEOC has made a priority of defending the civil rights of vulnerable workers and will seek the full extent of legal relief for Ms. Corona.”

Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC and its wholly owned subsidiary Stemilt Ag Services LLC operate and manage over 150 acres of orchards in Eastern Washington and employed over 6,000 workers in the 2009 growing season.

The EEOC’s Seattle Field Office has jurisdiction over Eastern Washington.

Overtime Rule Blocked, But Still in Effect, Lawyers Argue in Lawsuit Against Chipotle

Did the U.S. Labor Department’s overtime rule take effect on December 1 of last year, despite a court order banning the agency from enforcing it?

On the answer to that question may determine whether employees of fast-food eatery Chipotle get overtime they claim the company is denying them.

The overtime rule finalized under the Obama Administration more than doubles the income threshold-from $23,660 a year to $47,476 a year–under which workers must be eligible for overtime pay.

A federal court enjoined the DOL from enforcing the rule while it is subject to legal challenge by a coalition of states and businesses.

Attorneys for Chipolte employees in New Jersey argue because the injunction left the rule standing, it took effect on Dec 1, 2016.

The attorneys also argue that the injunction applied narrowly to the Labor Department but doesn’t block other parties, such as employees, from enforcing the rule in court.

Transgender Employee’s Rights Violated By Applebee’s Restaurant in New York, EEOC Says

The firing of a female employee allegedly because she complained about sexual harassment has resulted in her employer opposite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in an employment discrimination lawsuit.

The EEOC announced on Friday that it has filed this Title VII lawsuit against Apple Metro, Inc., which operates several dozen Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill restaurants in the New York City area. The alleged Title VII violation took place at the company’s Hawthorne, N.Y., restaurant, the EEOC said.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, Apple Metro staff made numerous crude and derogatory references to the employee’s transgender status, repeatedly and intentionally referred to her with a male name and male pronouns, and made offensive comments about her genitalia. After the employee complained to management about the harassment on several occasions, the company fired her.

“The law requires employers who receive reports of sex harassment to investigate and take action to stop any unlawful treatment of their employees,” said Kevin Berry, the EEOC’s New York District director. “That includes harassment of individuals because of their gender identity.”

“The EEOC is committed to protecting the rights of all employees under federal law, through litigation if necessary, so that employees can work with dignity,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office.

 

Auditor in Large Settlement With U.S. Labor Department in Asian Hiring Bias Complaint

KPMG, one of the world’s largest auditing firms, has entered an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to resolve allegations of hiring discrimination, the DOL announced today.

The agreement with KPMG LLP follows an OFCCP investigation that found from Oct. 1, 2011, to March 31, 2013, the auditing firm discriminated against 60 Asian applicants for associate audit positions at its facility in Short Hills. The agency determined that KPMG’s actions violated Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating in employment based on race, color or national origin.

KPMG does not acknowledge any liability. It agreed to pay $420,000 in back pay, interest and benefits to the 60 Asian applicants for associate audit positions. The company will also provide associate audit job opportunities to six affected applicants as positions become available. In addition, KPMG will take steps to ensure its personnel practices, including record-keeping and internal auditing procedures, meet legal requirements.

“Together, the department and KPMG will ensure that this issue is resolved, and that the company has the measures in place to comply with federal hiring and employment law,” said OFCCP Acting Director Thomas Dowd.

The company has contracts valued at more than $14 million with federal agencies including the U.S. departments of Energy, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as NASA and the IRS.

Car Dealership Pays $45K to Settle ADA Suit Over Withdrawal of Job Offer to Prescription Drug User

Employers’  blanket refusal to hire anyone who has used prescription drugs is a surefire route to the courthouse.

A car dealership in Arizona is the latest employer to make the mistake of having a no-exceptions policy to lawful drug use.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced today that Bell-Arrow Automotive, Inc. and Bell Leasing, Inc. located in Scottsdale, Arizona, have agreed to pay $45,000 to settle the commission’s ADA lawsuit against them.

In this ADA suit filed in August 2016, the EEOC charged the companies violated federal law when they rescinded a job offer made to an individual after a pre-employment drug test revealed a prescription drug used to treat a disability.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the companies refused to hire an applicant to work at a dealership in Scottsdale because of her disability and her need for a reasonable accommodation.

The lawsuit charged that Bell-Arrow Automotive, Inc., doing business as Bell Lexus, and Bell Leasing, Inc., doing business as The Berge Group, had a policy of refusing to employ any applicant who tested positive for substances on a list maintained by Bell Lexus and The Berge Group. Bell Lexus and The Berge Group allegedly extended a job offer to one woman to work as a salesperson, but rescinded the offer when her drug test came back positive.

According to the EEOC, the applicant explained that the substance was legally prescribed to treat a disability; it would not affect her ability to perform the duties of the job; she would provide proof that the substance was legally prescribed; and she was willing to try a different medication. Bell Lexus and The Berge Group refused the offer of proof of the prescription and the offer to change medications, the EEOC said. Instead, the companies refused to hire her.

In addition to the monetary settlement, the defendants agreed not to discriminate in the future against applicants with disabilities and not to administer any drug test to a job applicant prior to a conditional job offer. Bell Lexus and The Berge Group also committed to training their managers, supervisors, and human resources personnel on the ADA and to reviewing their employment discrimination policies.

“While drug testing is permitted in some contexts, it cannot be used to discriminate against people with disabilities,” said EEOC Phoenix Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “Communicating with job applicants about drug test results before jumping to wrong conclusions is an important part of the interactive process that is required under federal law.”

“Blanket exclusion policies based on drug test results harm job applicants and employers. The ADA requires a case-by-case evaluation of applicants with disabilities to make sure employers assess these applicants on their merits,” said EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle.