Fire Department Discrimination Against African American Non-Firefighter Employees

Fire Department Discrimination Against African American Non-Firefighter Employees by James Vagnini{Read in 2:30 minutes} The New York City Fire Department is filled with extremely brave men and women, some out in the field and many behind the scenes. While there is certainly a long and illustrious history of dedication and incredible courage, unfortunately over the years there have also been repeated allegations of racial discrimination. As recently as 2014, the city agreed to pay $98 million to settle what is known as the “Vulcan” case to address allegations of racial bias against New York City Firefighters.  Now, in a federal lawsuit, our firm, Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP and Washington D.C. based Mehri & Skalet filed on behalf of civilian workers of the FDNY and a federal judge ruled that the case can move forward.Continue reading

Supervisor sues Omni hotels, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation when she reported it

A former supervisor with Omni Hotels & Resorts has filed suit against the Dallas-based company, alleging sexual harassment and saying the company broke federal laws governing equal pay.Continue reading

A Small Town with a Rich Civil Rights History

st. augustine gay rightsWhen you drive through the small town of St. Augustine, Florida, your only thought is likely to be how nice of a vacation spot you’re in. Its architecture is gorgeous. The setting is idyllic. The city’s atmosphere is laid back. It is a city that is proud of its storied history, the first European settlement of the New World, one of the most contested cities in America before the nation was unified. What you may not know, however, is that St. Augustine has also been a focal point in America’s struggle for civil rights, and that it recently took a symbolic step in progressing gay rights in Florida. The small town’s struggles are a microcosm of racial and sexual discrimination in America.

Remarkable History

When Ponce de Leon sailed from Spain in the early 1500s, his supposed quest for a literal fountain of youth (it’s likely that de Leon wasn’t looking for the fountain of youth; most historians now state he was in it for the money) led him to a land he called La Florida, or “flowery.” Though unproven, many hold that Ponce de Leon’s feet first trod upon Saint Augustine when he landed. St. Augustine was nonetheless claimed by the Spaniards, then the British, then the Spaniards again before being folded into the United States. In the late 1800s, St. Augustine was discovered and then established as a vacation town, where rich tycoons financed the opulent architecture that now characterizes the city.

Desegregation

In the 1960s, efforts to desegregate elementary schools exploded in contentious, often violent protest. Martin Luther King, Jr. made St. Augustine a focal point of the desegregationist movement. It is said by some that, because of this tumultuous time in the city’s history, the nation as a whole finally understood the villainy of the Klu Klux Klan, an organization instrumental in the violence of the time, and the need for civil rights. It was the events of St. Augustine that tipped the national consciousness toward true racial progress.

Gay Rights

Over the years, St. Augustine’s reputation has gone back into the shadows, the town once again enjoying annual vacationers from all over the U.S. However, the city recently, quietly tacked on a footnote to its storied history. St. Augustine recently made it illegal to discriminate against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation when deciding if an individual can rent or own a home.
Currently, sexual orientation in terms of housing is not prohibited on a federal level. However, the states of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin prohibit such discrimination, as well as many cities throughout the U.S.
It is clear that not all areas of the United States are as progressive in the arena of civil rights as the small town of St. Augustine, Florida. The city’s struggles, however, may mirror struggles of your own. If you feel you’ve been discriminated against in any manner, please call the Law Offices of Valli, Kane & Vagnini for a free consultation.

The Great Showdown: The Supreme Court, Arizona, and Immigration


On June 25th, the Supreme Court issued its decision in what will prove to be one of the most important cases in our country’s immigration history. Arizona v. United States considered the Constitutionality of SB1070, an Arizona state law granting state police unprecedented authority to identify and arrest illegal immigrants within its borders.

supreme court Arizona ruling

The law was championed by (now former) Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, who is known as one of the nation’s most vocal adversaries of illegal immigration. Pearce and his followers cite to two primary concerns about illegal immigration: (1) they believe that illegal Mexican immigrants are stealing jobs from U.S. citizens living in Arizona, and (2) that the Mexican drug war, which by all accounts is violently out of control, is spilling into the United States and, specifically, across Arizona’s borders.
On April 23, 2010, SB1070 was passed into law. However, after a contentious battle, challengers of the novel new law convinced the Supreme Court to get involved. On Monday, the Court struck down several provisions of SB1070 law. Now, with the recently failed election bid of the law’s creator, former Senator Pearce, the political crusade against Arizona’s illegal immigration has been tempered.
What the High Court Struck Down
Three extremely contentious provisions of SB1070 were struck down by the high court. Section 6 allowed police, in certain cases, to make warrantless arrest of individuals suspected of being illegal immigrants. Section 3 made it a crime for legal immigrants to be present in the state of Arizona without valid immigration papers. Finally,  Section 5(c) imposed criminal penalties on illegal immigrants who seek or accept work in the United States without authorization. All three of these provisions of the law were preempted by federal immigration laws, and therefore struck down by the Court.
What the High Court Upheld
The Supreme Court did, however, maintain what Arizona Governor Jan Brewer called the “heart” of the law: Section 2(b) allows Arizona state police are permitted to investigate the legality of individuals if they do so while enforcing other laws.
State vs. Federal Sovereignty
In several cases throughout American history, civil rights law has boiled down to states’ policing power v. the powers that the Constitution expressly grants to the federal government. In Arizona v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court has attempted to clarify the circumstances in which immigration enforcement – which has traditionally been a federal power – can justifiably be carried out by states as part of their policing powers. One way or another this decision will have far reaching implications in the world of civil rights law.
If you feel your civil rights as an immigrant have been violated, call the Law Offices of Valli, Kane & Vagnini for a free consultation.

Gender Harassment on Late Night TV


gender harassment
From the average American’s point of view, workplace harassment suits may be relegated to office environments–cubicle mazes filled with discrimination by cold-blooded corporate predators. However, harassment runs across all dimensions of American employment, from corporate settings, to manufacturing, to construction, and so on.  Lately, a hurricane of highly publicized lawsuits serve to expose an often ignored segment of American employment: television.  At the center of it all you will find the often regarded “nicest man on television.”
Paul Tarascio is a New York-based stage manager for live television. In January, the television professional filed a lawsuit against Jimmy Fallon, as well as many employees that work on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and NBC, claiming gender discrimination. Tarascio claims that he was replaced because Fallon prefers female stage managers. When he went to his superiors–and then to union officials–he said he was fired.
Because of the notoriety of the celebrities at the center of these types of shows, this area of law has garnered national attention.  The union-driven industry is high-powered, often ego and market driven, and moves at the speed of light. Hirings and firings are as routine on television as they are among NFL coaches. Because television is a gigantic—and extremely rich—industry, many employees may refrain from bringing an action against these networks and public figures because they fear the loss of opportunities in the industry and question whether they have the wherewithal to take on these financial giants.
A similar case involving a joke made by Jay Leno on his late night show has resulted in a lawsuit. While many of the specifics of both Leno’s and Fallon’s lawsuits are not known, the lawsuits brings to light the common misconception that celebrities are somehow exempt from State and Federal discrimination laws.  Discrimination on the basis of gender is just as illegal on a multi-million dollar television set as it is at your local Pizza Hut or any other employer in the country. The law makes no exception for the elite, nor should it.  Discrimination in any form is wrong and it is punishable by law.
If you feel you have been victimized at your place of work due to your gender or any other protected basis, then you have the right to seek counsel and assert your legal rights.  An experienced discrimination attorney can help you understand the complexities of Federal and New York workplace law as it relates to you. Call the law offices of Valli Kane & Vagnini, LLP now at (866) 441-2873 and get one of NY’s finest employment attorneys on your side.

Misclassification as an Exempt/Salaried Employee: What it Means to You

Wages and the Law
Starting early in the new millennium, around 2003, article after article appeared in business journals telling businesses to brace themselves. These articles warned employers that if they have been misclassifying employees, and not giving them all the pay they have earned, they should expect wage and hour lawsuits.  These articles, which appeared in high profile business journals such as the Wall Street Journal and Kiplinger’s, proved to be prophetic. Since 2003, wage and hour collective actions have exceeded employment discrimination class action lawsuits. One of the more common violations of wage and hour law is employers classifying an employee as “exempt” when in fact they are not. Exempt employees, as the name suggests, are not subject to certain wage and hour laws. When a salaried employee is misclassified as exempt, they are often unaware that they may be entitled to overtime pay.  Many time, the misclassification by the employer is a method of saving a bundle in overtime and “off the clock” pay.  While most states have a wage and hour law on the books, the federal law applied across the nation is known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Since the most visible impact of the FLSA has been on overtime, it is sometimes referred to as the “overtime law”.  Besides overtime and off the clock work, areas covered by the FLSA are minimum wage, child labor, and equal pay.
Excemptions to the FLSA
As discussed, some jobs are exempt from the FLSA.  Employees who legitimately fall into these exempt jobs are not entitled to minimum wage or overtime as long as the requirements for these exemptions are met.  Examples of jobs excluded from overtime rules are movie theater employees, agriculture employees, and certain commissioned retail sales positions.
There are at least three major exemptions to the overtime law under the FLSA, the Executive/Management, Professional and Administrative Exemptions. Traditionally, the positions falling into these categories are classified as exempt, salaried positions.  However, often they are not.  The exemption that creates the most legal controversy is the Executive/Management Exemption.  Many employers assume that if they classify an employee as management and that employee is salaried at a minimum of $23,600 per year, that employee is exempt. This is a misconception. In addition to the employee merely being classified as management, the employer has to demonstrate the employee is truly working in management and actually has authority and supervises at least two individuals. In fact, an employee is subject to a duties test to determine whether they fit into the exemption. This test involves meeting objective standards to determine if that employee is truly part of management and is not being passed off as management to avoid overtime pay and other FLSA requirements. If the test finds that an employee classified as management has primary duties not involving management, there has been a misclassification as a salary employee and that employee is not exempt from being governed by the FLSA. As such, such an employee would be entitled to be paid for any hours of worked performed over 40 in a work week at the rate of time and half.  Under the FLSA, the employee is also entitled to liquidated damages equaling the amount of overtime pay withheld from the employee, as well as interest and attorney’s fees.
If you think you have been misclassified or are owed overtime pay or minimum wage, you can contact the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division or Valli Kane & Vagnini, LLP to learn what your rights are.