EEOC Bags $94K Settlement for Employee Denied Time Off for Jewish Holiday Observance

The alleged failure to find an accommodation for a Jewish employee who wanted time off to observe the Jewish New Year came back to bite his employer.

XPO Last Mile, Inc., a logistics company that specializes in the delivery of items such as office furniture, home furnishings and fitness equipment, will pay $94,541 and furnish significant relief to settle a federal religious discrimination lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced Jan. 30.

According to the EEOC’s suit, XPO Last Mile’s operations manager offered an applicant a dispatcher/customer service position at its Elkridge, Md., office and told him his start date would be on Oct. 3, 2016. When the applicant told the operations manager he could not start work then because he celebrated the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah on that date, the operations manager replied that he thought it would be acceptable for the applicant to start on Oct. 4. Later that evening, however, the market vice president called and told the applicant that the company would not give him a religious accommodation. XPO Last Mile violated federal law when it revoked its offer of employment because the applicant was unable to work on Rosh Hashanah due to his religious beliefs, the EEOC said.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an applicant’s or employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless it would pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division (EEOC v. XPO Last Mile, Inc., Civil Action No.1-17:cv-01342), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to the $94,541 in monetary relief to the applicant, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit enjoins XPO Last Mile from terminating employees based on religion or denying religious accommodations absent an undue hardship in the future. The company will implement and distribute to all employees a detailed policy against religious discrimination. XPO Last Mile will provide training on unlawful employment discrimination, which will emphasize prohibiting religious discrimination and on providing religious accommodations. The company will also report to the EEOC on how it handles any religious accommodation requests and post a notice regarding the settlement.

“The EEOC is gratified that XPO Last Mile worked with us to reach an amicable settlement which compensates the applicant and ensures that no employees or applicants are discriminated against based on religion,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence.


$80K Settlement Extricates Caregiver From Pregnancy Bias Suit Over Light-Duty Denial

Had this employer given a pregnant worker a light-duty assignment, it would have kept the EEOC at bay and saved itself some money.

Silverado, a network of memory care, at-home care, and hospice care centers, will pay $80,000 and provide other relief to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced Jan. 29.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Silverado discriminated against Shaquena Burton, a caregiver at the Silverado Oak Village facility in Menomonee Falls, Wisc., when it fired her rather than accommodate her pregnancy-related medical restrictions, which it could have done by putting her on light duty assignment.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which protects employees from discrimination based on pregnancy. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Silverado Menomonee Falls, LLC d/b/a Silverado Oak Village and Silverado Senior Living, Inc., Case No. 2:17-cv-1147) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee on August 22, 2017, after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The consent decree settling the suit, entered by U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller on January 29, prohibits future discrimination, prohibits retaliation, and provides that Silverado will pay $80,000 to Burton. Silverado must also post notices of the settlement, revise its anti-discrimination and record-keeping policies, report any requests for light duty or other job modifications periodically to the EEOC, and train its managers regarding those rights, obligations, and procedures.

“We thank Silverado for its commitment to settle this case before the sides incurred significant costs and its willingness to ensure a level playing field for its pregnant employees seeking job modifications, including light duty work, otherwise available to non-pregnant employees,” said EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney Gregory M. Gochanour. “The EEOC will continue to enforce the federal laws so that all pregnant employees have the same opportunities as non-pregnant employees to contribute to our thriving economy,” said Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s District Director for the Chicago District Office.

Md. Leave Law in Effect, But Questions Remain

Maryland’s new paid sick leave law takes effect today but many questions remain about the new law.

Under the new law, companies with 15 or more employees must provide five days of paid sick or safe leave each year. Sick leave can be used for one’s own serious illness or a family member’s serious illness.

Safe leave gives workers time off to seek help with domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Several categories of employees are exempt under the law, including those who regularly work less than 12 hours a week, independent contractors, real estate brokers, construction workers covered by union contracts, and persons under the age of 18.

But those are the easy parts. As the new law takes effect starting today, these questions have yet to be answered:

  1. do minors and workers located out of state count toward the total number of years (the latter yes, the former no);
  2. what counts as “regularly” for purposes of determining whether a person works enough hours to qualify for the benefit;
  3. how does the state requirement jive with local laws mandating sick leave. Does it add any requirements; which law applies if employers have employees in multiple counties?

Last Monday, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation mailed basic guidance to about 210,000 people, including businesses who participated in work groups on the issue or contacted the agency with questions.

Answers may come in the form of enforcement guidelines expected to be released by the state government within the next few weeks.


$90K Payment Closes EEOC Suit Alleging Employer Fired Harassment Complainer

The MeTooMovement takes aim not only at sexual harassment against women but also at the payback that often ensues when a woman complains about harassment. Such retaliation is illegal under federal civil rights law.

Plastipak Packaging, Inc. will pay $90,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to resolve a federal retaliatory discrimination lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced Jan. 29.

The EEOC charged that Plastipak fired a female employee, who had been placed by a temporary agency, because she complained that one of its employees had sexually harassed her. Rather than investigating her complaint, the EEOC said, Plastipak terminated her assignment.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation against individuals who complain about discrimination or harassment. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Plastipak Packaging Inc., Civil Action No. 1:16-cv-03278) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to the $90,000 in monetary relief to the retaliation victim, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit enjoins Plastipak from engaging in retaliation at its Havre de Grace, Md., facility in the future. Plastipak will implement a detailed policy prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation. Plastipak will train all managers, supervisors and employees on preventing sexual harassment and retaliation. The training will also emphasize mutual respect in the workplace and train employees to respond appropriately when they are bystanders to unacceptable behavior. The consent decree requires Plastipak to report to the EEOC on how it handles any internal complaints of unlawful sexual harassment or retaliation and to post a notice regarding the settlement.

“All employees, including temporary workers, have the right to earn a living without being subjected to sexual advances and to exercise their right to oppose unlawful harassment without being fired,” said EEOC Philadelphia Director Jamie R. Williamson.

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, “We are pleased that Plastipak worked with us to reach an amicable settlement. This settlement, including the comprehensive injunctive provisions, policy changes and training requirements, should create a more respectful workplace and ensure that all employees are protected from unlawful harassment or retaliation.”

The EEOC’s Baltimore Field Office is one of four offices in the agency’s Philadelphia District, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.

Lowe’s on Hook for $55K to Worker Demoted After Being Denied Reasonable Accommodation

If an employee can continue to perform the essential functions of a job with a reasonable accommodation, the employer has an obligation to continue to try accommodating that worker to let him continue doing the job.

Not doing so put a leading hardware chain at peril in an Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit.

Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC, a nationwide chain of home improvement and hardware stores, will pay $55,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced Jan. 26.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Lowe’s failed or refused to accommodate a department manager who is disabled because of a spinal cord injury that substantially limits the use of his right arm. The employee was hired by Lowe’s as a customer service associate in 2006 and promoted to a department manager in 2008. The company was aware of his disability at the time he was selected for promotion, and he successfully worked as a department manager for six years. The employee’s disability prevented him from using power equipment that requires the use of two hands, but he delegated that task to associates under his supervision. EEOC’s lawsuit claimed that in June 2015, Lowe’s notified the employee that he could no longer be provided with a reasonable accommodation, and demoted him to a non-supervisory associate position. As a result of the demotion, his hourly rate of pay was cut by more than $4 an hour.

The EEOC alleged in its suit that the company’s refusal to accommodate the department manager, a qualified individual with a disability, and subsequent decision to demote him to a lower-paying position violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC sued in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division (Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-02589-M) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The three-year consent decree settling the suit, signed by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Barbara Lynn, calls for Lowe’s to provide monetary relief to the employee, as well as to conduct training on the ADA for employees, managers and human resources personnel at the Cleburne Store.

“It is important for companies like Lowe’s to carefully make decisions regarding reasonable accommodations to ensure its employees with disabilities can perform their work successfully,” said Suzanne Anderson, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office. “The early settlement of this litigation assures that this employee will continue serving as a productive member of the Lowe’s team.”

“This result benefits both the employee represented by the EEOC and all current and future employees of Lowe’s who can successfully perform the essential functions of their job with reasonable accommodation,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Meaghan Kuelbs. “By spreading awareness of the Americans with Disabilities Act through training and notice-posting in the workplace, we hope to educate both employees and employers on the proper steps to take in making and handling a request for reasonable accommodation and thereby prevent additional lawsuits of this sort in the future.”

EEOC: Nearly $400M Recovered in 2017

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did well in the aggregate in recovering money for victims of employment discrimination last year, and it also cut its backlog of charges considerably.

Those are just some of the nuggets from the agency’s comprehensive enforcement and litigation statistics for FY 2017, which ended Sept. 30, 2017, posted on the agency’s website.

Some 84,254 workplace discrimination charges were filed with the federal agency nationwide during fiscal year (FY) 2017, and $398 million secured for victims in the private sector and state and local government workplaces through voluntary resolutions and litigation, the EEOC announced.

The EEOC resolved 99,109 charges in FY 2017 and reduced the charge workload by 16.2 percent to 61,621, the lowest level of inventory in 10 years. The agency achieved this by deploying new strategies to more efficiently prioritize charges with merit, more quickly resolve investigations, and improve the agency’s digital systems. The agency handled over 540,000 calls to its toll-free number and more than 155,000 inquiries in field offices, reflecting the significant public demand for the EEOC’s services.

“Over the past year, the EEOC has remained steadfast in its commitment to its core values and mission: to vigorously enforce our nation’s civil rights laws,” said EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. “The results for the last fiscal year demonstrate exactly that.”

The FY 2017 data show that retaliation was the most frequently filed charge filed with the agency, followed by race and disability. The agency also received 6,696 sexual harassment charges and obtained $46.3 million in monetary benefits for victims of sexual harassment. Specifically, the charge numbers show the following breakdowns by bases alleged, in descending order:

  • Retaliation: 41,097 (48.8 percent of all charges filed)
  • Race: 28,528 (33.9 percent)
  • Disability: 26,838 (31.9 percent)
  • Sex: 25,605 (30.4 percent)
  • Age: 18,376 (21.8 percent)
  • National Origin: 8,299 (9.8 percent)
  • Religion: 3,436 (4.1 percent)
  • Color: 3,240 (3.8 percent)
  • Equal Pay Act: 996 (1.2 percent)
  • Genetic Information: 206 (.2 percent)

These percentages add up to more than 100 because some charges allege multiple bases.

EEOC legal staff filed 184 merits lawsuits alleging discrimination in fiscal year 2017. The lawsuits filed by the EEOC included 124 individual suits and 30 suits involving multiple victims or discriminatory policies and 30 systemic discrimination cases. At the end of the fiscal year, the EEOC had 242 cases on its active docket. The EEOC achieved a successful outcome in 90.8 percent of all suit resolutions.

Bad Bet: Nonaccommodation of Stressed-Out Employee Costs Casino $140K in ADA Settlement

This roll of the dice backfired for a Detroit casino operator. The result is a costly settlement of disability discrimination charges.

A Detroit casino operator will pay $140,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced Jan. 24. The EEOC had charged that Greektown Casino LLC unlawfully failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with stress-anxiety disorder, leading to his discharge.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the employee, a pit manager, requested an additional four weeks of extended leave to return to work following a stress-anxiety-related collapse on the job. Greektown denied the request and subsequently fired the employee after his leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) was exhausted.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that covered employers provide reasonable accommodations for the known disabilities of employees. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit (Case No. 2:16-cv-13540) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

As part of the consent decree settling the suit, Greektown will pay $140,000 to the employee, and will all train supervisory and human resources employees on the requirements of the ADA.

“We are pleased with the relief provided by the consent decree,” said Dale Price, the EEOC attorney who handled the case. “It provides meaningful protections for the employees of Greektown. With this resolution, Greektown has taken a positive step towards protecting the rights of employees with disabilities.”