SB7848A Increases Worker’s Ability to Bring Claims of Sexual Harassment to Court

workplace harassment formBy Shaloni Pinto and Aimee Christianson
{Read in 4 minutes}  With the passage of New York Senate Bill 7848A, the state will make it easier for workers to bring sexual harassment claims to court. Aimed to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, the bill will amend the general business law to limit the coverage of mandatory arbitration clauses in relation to sexual harassment and will also amend the labor law to promote the prevention of sexual harassment.Continue reading

Babb v. Wilkie – The ADEA and Federal Employees Over Forty

Babb v. Wilkie - The ADEA and Federal Employees Over FortyBy Shaloni Pinto and Aimee Christianson
{Read in 4 minutes}  Ms. Norris Babb alleges that her employer, the Department of Veterans Affairs, denied her advancement opportunities due to her age and gender, and retaliated against her after she filed complaints about the issue. If Ms. Babb was an employee in the private sector, she would have to test these allegations against the tried-and-true standards set by court precedent. Ms. Babb, however, is a federal employee, and the courts do not have a clear standard about how she can prove her age discrimination claim.
The federal-sector provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §633a(a), states that any personnel actions which affect agency employees forty or older must be free from age discrimination. The “free from” wording within the law is unique to the provisions of the federal sector. The Court will answer whether a federal employee has to prove that an action was discriminatory but for her age.
Unlike public employers, private employers cannot make decisions “because of” an employee’s protected class. Both Congress and the courts have deliberated and set precedents on the standard a plaintiff must use to have a valid claim of employment discrimination. Employees in the private sector can either use the “but-for” standard or the motivating factor standard to confirm their allegations of employment discrimination. A motivating factor standard is lenient; it only requires the plaintiff to show that bias relating to their protected class influenced their employers.
Let’s examine Ms. Babb’s case to illustrate the difference between the “but-for” and “motivating factor” standard.

  • If the Court holds that federal employees under the ADEA must use the “but-for” standard, then Ms. Babb will have to prove that she would have been promoted, if not for her age. 
  • Whereas if Ms. Babb used the motivating factor standard, she would have to prove that her age was a factor within a list of other factors that the employer used to deny her opportunities for advancement.

The “but-for” standard is stricter because Ms. Babb (as a plaintiff) must investigate the motivations of the employer and put forth an explanation that ties the other party’s decision-making to the age factor.
While the federal government has argued for the stricter “but-for” interpretation, Plaintiff Babb argues that the motivating factor standard should extend to federal employees. Now, the Court must decide whether federal employees have to abide by the stricter “but-for” standard or whether a motivating factor standard is permissible.
The circuit courts have given conflicting rulings on the issue. The DC Court of Appeals has held that the motivating factor is a valid standard for federal employees. Agencies like The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), charged to enforce the ADEA, have followed this precedent. Yet, other federal appeals courts like the Ninth and Eleventh Circuit have adhered to a stricter standard, holding that the “but-for” causation is the only way to allege age discrimination as a federal sector employee. Thus, this decision by the Supreme Court will resolve the conflicts among the circuit court of appeals and decide whether federal employees over forty need to adhere to a strict standard when alleging age discrimination. 
Reference: Babb v. Wilkie, 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4444

Employment Overwatch: The EEOC

Employment Overwatch: The EEOC by James Vagnini{Read in 5 minutes} In my previous post, I wrote about the impact an impending Supreme Court decision may have on employee protections — particularly LGBT employees. The issue is whether or not sex discrimination as prohibited by Title VII includes sexual orientation or gender identity protections for employees. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has consistently found that it does, District and Circuit Courts have differed on the matter, and the Supreme Court will rule on the issue in their next term. Continue reading

Interpreting Title VII

Interpreting Title VII by James Vagnini {Read in 4 minutes}  When I was in law school 20 years ago, I wrote an article on legislation before Congress referred to as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or “ENDA.” This legislation was aimed at expanding Title VII’s coverage to specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories not specifically provided by Title VII.  
Title VII is part of the original Civil Rights Act federal law enacted in 1964 which provides employees protection from discrimination because of race, national origin, and gender. Over the years, the law was expanded to include some protections for those over the age of 40 and the disabled, and is the bedrock of civil rights law in the employment environment.
To this day, the ENDA legislation has not been passed and there are no specific federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Moreover, Title VII has not been amended to include these additional specific categories (despite other expansions). It is a sad commentary on our country, and our politics, that in 20+ years, we could not get our act together to provide the specific protections many working citizens require.
Despite this hurdle, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the watchdog agency empowered to enforce Title VII, has interpreted Title VII to protect against discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity.  
In fact, the EEOC has consistently interpreted any act of discrimination on account of these factors to be something that is covered by sex/gender discrimination. This means you are protected if:

  • You don’t conform to sexual or gender stereotypes
  • You identify as a different gender than the gender you may appear to be or were born
  • You have a different sexual orientation or prefer sex that doesn’t conform with the popular notion of what a man or a woman should be
  • Trans workers who don’t fit the form of what is considered to be the gender norms of society

The EEOC has been granted broad discretion to resolve disputes but unsettled legal issues still have to be resolved, by and large, in court — and federal courts have differed. Some circuits agree with the EEOC’s interpretation that sexual orientation falls under Title VII sex discrimination,while others have found that it does not.
Whenever you have circuit court splits like this, the issues become ripe for the Supreme Court — which can either agree to take up the issue or decline to take up the case(s) that address the conflict between the circuits. Recently, it was announced that the Supreme Court will take up this issue in the next term.
This is going to be a big, big decision. Obviously, we have a different Supreme Court makeup today than we did a few years ago, but this is an issue that has gained a lot of popularity and a lot of momentum legally, politically and socially.
The decision will have a huge impact on the landscape of workplace discrimination.  The Supreme Court will determine whether Title VII is essentially expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes thereby making it the law of the land.  If they find that Title VII does not provide such protection, it will permit employers, to a degree, to discriminate on account of sexual orientation and gender identity.
LGBT workers would have to turn to state and local laws for protection should the Supreme Court limit the law.  Many states, such as New York, have laws that protect the LGBT community working in the state. Many states, sadly, have not extended such protections to members of the LGBT workforce.   
Things take time, but this decision will be here before we know it.  It is something that will have a huge impact on employee protections in the workplace — and could set back a lot of work and progress that has been made so far by the EEOC and the lower district courts who have upheld the EEOC’s interpretation of the law.
James A. Vagnini
Partner
email: jvagnini@vkvlawyers.com
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Employer Discrimination by Disparate Impact

Employer Discrimination by Disparate Impact by Robert J. Valli
{Read in 3:30 minutes}  In my last article, I discussed a pattern of discrimination in terms of the disparate impact on African Americans. But what does “disparate impact” mean?  In 1971 the Supreme Court adopted the position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). In Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971), the Court invalidated an employer’s requirement that applicants have a high school diploma and/or pass aptitude tests for hire and transfer into more desirable departments where prior to the enactment of Title VII the company had restricted blacks to labor positions. Specifically, the Court stated:

The Act proscribes not only overt discrimination, but also practices that are fair in form but discriminatory in operation. The touchstone is business necessity. If an employment practice which operates to exclude [blacks] cannot be shown to be related to job performance, the practice is prohibited . . . Congress directed the thrust of the Act to the consequences of employment practices, not simply the motivation.Continue reading

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

Workplace Discrimination or Harassment? What Should You Do!!

Workplace Discrimination or Harassment? What Should You Do!! by James Vagnini{Read in 6 minutes}  Recently I posted an article reminding employees that they must file a harassment complaint within 180-300 days after the latest occurrence. While working on that blog, the question came up about what an employee should do if they are the victim of harassment.
Report the Behavior
First and foremost, report the questionable behavior to someone in your Human Resources (HR) department. The company is not expected to have eyes and ears everywhere; internally,  most of them require their employees to report incidents, and the law also requires employees to report incidents themselves.Continue reading

Workplace Discrimination? Get that Complaint Filed!

Employees in this country have protections against workplace discrimination and harassment. These include protection from sexual or racial harassment, national origin, religion, age, disability, and gender (including sexual orientation) discrimination. These forms of harassment and discrimination are spelled out under Title VII, and its amendments, which is the statute enacted as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Workplace Discrimination? Get that Complaint Filed!
Prior to that time, there had been other federal statutes such as §1981 and §1983 which address primarily race and national origin discrimination as well as retaliation. These sections, however, did not include gender, religion, disability, or age discrimination. As a result of the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act was passed, which was designed to specifically address workplace discrimination and expanded protections for employees subjected to these additional types of discrimination.
The Title VII statute empowered what is known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and created that faction of the government whose job it is to survey and take complaints of workplace discrimination. Anyone wanting to bring a complaint and go into Federal court under those claims has to first go through the EEOC administrative process. As a federal statute, it is the same in every state and any employer who has 15 employees or more is subject to the statute.
The EEOC Filing Deadline
Title VII sets a complaint filing deadline of 180 calendar days. However, it also provides that in any state where there is a similar employment discrimination statute, such as New York, the deadline may be expanded to 300 days. With the exception of a few states like New Mexico and Georgia, every state in this country has a state-level statute against workplace discrimination. In those states that do not, the filing period is limited to the 180 days.
A complaint must be initiated when the harm takes place. You can’t have something happen two years earlier and then wait, worrying whether you are going to lose your job. That is certainly a legitimate worry, but if you choose to wait and try to raise that complaint after the 180-300 days have passed, it will be considered untimely because the statute requires you to make that complaint within 180-300 days of the occurrence of discrimination.
However, certain claims trigger the 180-300 day filing requirement after the last occurrence of discrimination where the discrimination takes place over a period of time. This type of discrimination is known as a “continuous violation.” For example, if you are a victim of sexual harassment and you were subjected to repeated, unwanted sexual advances or comments over a period of months, the clock starts running from the last act of harassment, not the first. Most employees do not know this.
If you believe you have a legitimate complaint, it is extremely important that you make use of resources like the EEOC’s website, or contact a lawyer like us to ask for information about what to do, even if you choose not to act on it at that time. Failing to act in many states leaves you high and dry, without any other protection, because either there is no state statute, or in more conservative jurisdictions like Texas, for example, the states only adopt the same 180-day rule as Title VII.
Paying attention to the EEOC deadlines is an important issue because an employee may have a very strong legal claim but if they do not act within a certain period of time, or get the information to act within a certain period of time, their claim may be completely barred leaving you with no avenue for justice.
James A. Vagnini
Partner
email: jvagnini@vkvlawyers.com
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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