Environmental Discrimination: Hampering Individual Achievement

In the 1950s, segregation in America was still predominant. Separate busses and separate water fountains were mandated, dividing white from black in a manner that should never be repeated. While segregation has long been outlawed for decades from a legal standpoint, racism still rears its head in a number of arenas, from institutional to professional to educational to environmental.
Environmental discrimination came about in the 1980s, and established the desire to create a legal precedent in which racial elements influenced environmental factors. Its definition is broad, its legal influence is growing, and its affect on your situation at work or at home may be a determining factor in your need for an attorney.
What is Environmental Discrimination/Racism?
Environmental discrimination, or environmental racism, is the affect that race plays on one’s environment. Separate water fountains make for a simple example: were the water fountains used by whites in the 1950s cleaner, well-maintained, and more sterile than those used by blacks? When environmental discrimination is present, individual achievement is hampered. This is simply antithetical to the American way. Every American should have equal opportunity to move forward, work hard, and achieve his or her goals. While overcoming hardship is an essential component to success, racism is an unacceptable hardship in the United States.
How Might Environmental Discrimination Affect My Situation?
Environmental discrimination in New York may be more common than you realize. If a landlord owns properties in several neighborhoods, yet refuses to invest in maintenance on properties “because of the people in the neighborhood,” then that might legally be defined as environmental racism. Not only is that potentially illegal, it is terrible business practice, and a disservice to the community.
In business, if a franchise owner decides to invest more in “white neighborhoods” than “black neighborhoods” or “latino neighborhoods,” then environmental discrimination is clearly present.
Zoning and Environmental Discrimination
This type of discrimination may go into the government sector as well. For instance, when voter districts are changed to racially segregate a vote, then that is environmental discrimination. Zoning laws, when drawn with race as a factor, constitute racist behavior and may potentially open the doors for litigation.
If you feel you are a victim of environmental discrimination, then you need an attorney with an expert knowledge of your situation. Call the law offices of Valli, Kane & Vagnini, and put your trust into experienced attorneys.

Wage Theft Prevention Act: Redundant Bureaucracy or Employer Protection?

No state in the Union has taken more steps to protect its workers and employees than the state of New York. However, critics say the state went too far with the Wage Theft Protection Act. This act caps off what some industry leaders—especially in construction—call an explosion of bureaucratic red tape that renders New York business unprofitable and untenable. The law’s proponents have commented that the new Wage Theft Protection Act may actually protect New York’s employers from horrific, small business-destroying lawsuits. Read on for the basics of the WTPA debate.
As of February 1, the act requires that workers be notified of their wages annually. The WTPA Pay Rate form must include how much the employee is paid and when, the name and address of the employer, and allowances. The new form must be provided in English, and the employee’s primary language, if applicable. New York’s Labor Department provides translations in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Polish, and Haitian Creole. Failure to comply will result in fines up to $50 weekly.
Businesses have complained that the new paperwork burden will cost the state’s industry millions, and that the law will do little to curb shady work practices. The Wage Theft Protection Act is essentially, say critics, bureaucracy without function. However, the law may provide advantages to employers.  For example, the WTPA may prevent lawsuits from employees that sue over pay disputes.  As paperwork is a key component in all legal proceedings, this paperwork functions to protect employers in the event a dispute over pay turns into litigation.
Only time will tell if the WTPA changes the way New York does business for the better. America’s economic turmoil has been felt deeply in New York State. Entrepreneurs most often call for deregulation, citing that decreased laws and streamlined businesses will turn NY’s economy around. However, most would agree that employees need protection as well, and the WTPA’s goal is to provide that.
As the Wage Theft Protection Act forces your employers into documenting information relating to your wages, you may become aware that your employer has not been paying you properly or depriving you of certain rights relating to your pay.  If you are involved in a wage dispute in New York, then you may benefit by speaking to an employment lawyer. An expert employment attorney can help you understand the complexities of New York workplace law as it relates to you and will vigorously fight for your right to fair pay. Do not let yourself be victimized. Call the law offices of Valli Kane & Vagnini. LLP now at (866) 441-2873 and get one of NY’s most experienced and accomplished employment attorneys on your side.

Nooses in the Workplace: A Disturbing Trend

Noose, workplace, eeoc, discriminationA noose is placed on a desk or a chair, or on a door or in a locker. The symbolism is clear. Nooses in the workplace are meant to intimidate because of race. The noose of the hangman is meant to be a frightening visual representation of the harassment that included thousands of black people who died at the hands of lynch mobs following the civil war and on into the twentieth century. This history has led to symbolic use of a noose. It has long been a tool of various hate groups. The turning up of nooses in the workplace has been having an affect on black employees, and that affect has been spilling over to affect other minorities.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) officials and law enforcement officials report on this trend. While companies routinely try to settle nooses in the workplace cases out of court, the EEOC are always pursuing dozens of such cases. The EEOC point out that, when in seen light of their overall caseload, these cases are disproportionally high.  The EEOC maintains that nooses in the workplace is a growing trend.
Every case of nooses in the workplace has its own distinctive characteristics, but there seem to be elements common to most of the cases brought forward. The noose is almost never the only method of intimidation. Racist slurs, racial epithets, racist jokes, racist graffiti and other ongoing intimidation and harassment usually accompany the noose.
discrimination suit, rascism, workplace
No one knows for sure why these racist incidents have risen lately. Some discrimination attorneys have speculated that there may be a growing intolerance by younger workers not familiar with the civil rights movement and struggles of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The incident may grow out of resentment of some whites over the implementation of affirmative action resulting in diverse workplaces where blacks and minorities were previously excluded.
Another reason cited for the rise in such incidents reported to EEOC is a growing number of employers fighting it in court. Some employers are referring to the incidents as banter and horseplay between employees without harmful intentions.Diversity, discrimination, equality, workplace
There have been some accusations of minority workers filing false claims for purpose of collecting money. Employment and discrimination attorneys generally agree that a false claim of racially related harassment, violence and misconduct in the workplace is extremely rare. History has borne out that out; there have been only a handful of false claims involving nooses in the workplace. Employment and discrimination attorneys also point out that, when subjected to scrutiny, the false claims are easily brought to light.

Your Cheat Sheet to Understanding the ADA Amendment Act of 2008

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted to protect workers across the U.S. from discrimination against disability.  Congress has recently amended the definition of disability within the ADA by instating the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008.  The March 25, 2011 ruling made significant changes to the ADA, making it easier for individuals to prove they are disabled under the ADAAA’s guidelines.
The changes appear minimal, but will have a sizable impact on the number of citizens classified as disabled. The Amendment is one of the most significant changes in the fight for equality among disabled citizens. It finally provides the disabled an opportunity for protection against unjust discrimination, and implements the necessary change for equality.
We have compiled the most important things you should know about the new ADA Amendment Act.  The ADAAA does the following things:

  1. Provides an interpretation of the word “disability” that is applicable to many impairments that were previously unprotected. The definition of disability remains the same, “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.”  However, the ADAAA encourages that the terms in the definition should be interpreted broadly.
  2. Supplies guidelines for determining if the disability is “substantially limiting”. A substantially limiting disability is one that makes a person ”significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which a major life activity can be performed, in comparison to the average person or to most people.”  The ADAAA also encourages this term to be interpreted broadly, but further develops the law to include guidelines for future court cases.
    1. Broad construction- The narrow interpretation of the words “impairment” and “substantially limiting” was changed to provide a broader spectrum of the definitions.
    2. Comparison to general population– The disability can be substantially limiting if the person cannot perform a major life activity in comparison to the general population.
    3. Primary issue is compliance, not substantial limitation– Court cases should focus on if the employer was in compliance with the law, rather than focusing on if the disability was, in fact, substantially limiting.
    4. Individualized assessment– all impairments that are alleged to be substantially limiting must be determined on an individual basis.
    5. No requirement for scientific analysis- when the performance of a major life activity by the disabled person is compared to the general population, no scientific, medical or statistical analysis is needed.
    6. No consideration of mitigating measures– when determining if a disability is substantially limiting, mitigating measures (other than ordinary eye glasses or contact lenses) may not be considered.
    7. Episodic impairments or conditions in remission– episodic impairments are still regarded as disabilities when in remission as long as the disability would limit a major life activity when active.
    8. One substantial limitation is sufficient– one determination of a limitation of a major life function is enough to classify an impairment as a protected disability.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your disability, contact an attorney to discuss your options.

Protect Your Privacy in the Workplace

Employers are utilizing new technologies to monitor employees on computers, telephones, email and video.  There are very few federal laws that protect a worker’s privacy.  Therefore, if you are using company owned devices your employer can legally read your email conversations, listen to your personal telephone calls and check what websites you are visiting.
According to a 2007 American Management Association’s “Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey”, 73% of employers monitored email messages, 66% scrutinized Web surfing, 48% watched over video surveillance, and 45% checked keystrokes and computer files.  In some cases, employees are unaware of the company’s privacy policies and are being monitored oblivious to the watchful eye.
Because privacy rights are virtually unregulated, it is the employee’s responsibility to become informed of the company’s policies and to regulate their usage on company devices.  Privacy policies can be presented in memos, employee handbooks or at meetings.  It can even be as simple as a sticker on a computer or phone that displays the company’s rights to surveillance.
Always be mindful of what you say and do at work.  Improper usage of employee technology can lead to termination.  Therefore, it is important that anything that is private is communicated through personal devices or emails.  Use a mobile phone or pay phone for personal calls, and create your own personal email for discussions that are not work-related.  Be wary of your social network sites as well.  According to a 2009 survey, 60% of executives believe they have a right to monitor employee’s social networking sites to see how employees portray themselves online.  Don’t ever bad-mouth your workplace or boss on social networking sites, as there are no laws to protect you from termination.
If you believe that your employer is monitoring you for discriminatory reasons, it is important to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. If you are being monitored more than other employees, or are being isolated as the sole employee being watched, file a complaint with HR and document any instances that attest to your claim.  It may be advisable to consult an attorney if workplace discrimination is present.
If you are pursuing a legal claim against your employer, or even if you are just contemplating one, the most important way to protect yourself is to always use personal means of communication when contacting your attorney or a prospective attorney.  Attorney-client communications may not be privileged if they are taking place over your work phone, email or other device owned and monitored by your employer.
Always assume that your workplace communications are being monitored, and protect your rights by avoiding personal conversations on company property.

The Dangers of Signing Severance Agreements at Termination

Although America’s economy is slowly recovering, Americans are still in fear of mass layoffs or company downsizing.  Some companies provide their employees the safety net of severance pay when they are laid off, but there are no U.S. laws that require companies to provide compensation as an unemployment benefit.  Most severance agreements must be signed by the employee and require that the employee give up their right to take any legal action against their employer for any wrongdoing that may have occurred during their employment.
If presented with a severance agreement, your employer should give you ample time to seek legal advice.  Given that most severance agreements will require you to waive  your legal rights,  you should always consult an attorney if you have doubts about giving up your rights.  These agreements can be complex or impose other legal restrictions on you such as Non-Competition clauses, so speaking to an attorney is advisable.
Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not regulate severance pay, there are laws that can function as severance pay laws. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires certain employers to provide 60 days notice of layoffs, and stipulates that employees must be paid for the 60 days regardless if they were required to work or not.  The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) monitors companies that maintain severance pay policies and ensures that plans are executed fairly and honestly.
Discrimination laws may also stand-in as severance pay laws.  If the employee feels that he or she was denied severance pay on account of a discriminatory factor such as age, race, disability or gender, the employee may have grounds for an employment discrimination claim.
Written contracts that provide for  severance pay  may provide a legal basis for a claim if  severance pay is promised and then reneged upon.    Similarly,  if an employer historically offers severance pay to its terminated employees and denies you severance pay upon termination without good cause, you may have a breach of implied contract claim, even if severance pay is not provided for in a written contract.
It is always important to consult an attorney when proposed with a severance pay agreement.  Seeking legal advice can prevent you from losing your rights as an American worker.