Is Refusal to Provide Light Duty Work a Violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

October 16, 2014 by Jim Higgins

By Anne Hunter Williams

If you are pregnant and you have asked your employer for light duty work, and the employer refuses, has the employer violated the law? Most likely. In most situations, an employer must provide light duty work to a pregnant employee if light duty jobs are available. Here are a few examples:

Scenario A: Annette requests light duty because of her pregnancy. Her supervisor is aware that she is pregnant and knows that there are light duty positions available that she could perform. Nevertheless, her supervisor denies her request, telling Annette that having a pregnant worker in the workplace is just too much of a liability for the company.

Result: This is a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Because the employer made derogatory comments about her pregnancy, she doesn’t need to produce evidence it is not necessary for Annette to produce any evidence that other workers who weren’t pregnant received light duty.

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Equal Pay for Equal Work … Seems Fair, Right?

April 14, 2014 by Jim Higgins

On Wednesday, April 16, 2014, Senate Republicans blocked—for the third time—the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill proposing to close the pay gap between men and women. The goal of the bill—the attainment of equal pay for equal work—seems like a no-brainer, right? Women with the same job, and same qualifications, as men deserve to be paid the same. They should not discriminated against because of gender. It just seems obvious. However, not a single Republican Senator voted in favor of the Act. So right now the status quo continues, which yields women making about 77cents for every dollar men make.

Had it passed, the bill would have made it illegal for employers to retaliate against a worker who inquires about or discloses her or his wages or the wages of another employee in a complaint or investigation. And as part of this bill, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be required to collect pay information from employers.
What’s a girl to do??

Even though the Paycheck Fairness Act has stalled for now, there are still ways a woman who is underpaid for the same work a man is doing can prevail. The Equal Pay Act, enacted in 1963, provides a remedy for gender-based pay inequities. Also, women can bring a case for pay inequality as part of a gender discrimination

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Class-Action Settlement Protecting Female Workers

January 8, 2014 by Ryan Simmons

Back in 2002, a woman named Shirley Ellis filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In her complaint she alleged that Costco Wholesale Corporation denied her a promotion from assistant manager to store manager based on her gender. Due to Ms. Ellis filing her complaint, it was alleged that Costco retaliated and transferred her to a different store, one that could require up to a four hour daily commute.

In 2004, Ms. Ellis filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of herself and women similarly situated claiming that Costco methodically discriminated against women in how they managed promotions. Late last year, Ms. Ellis and Costco reached a tentative settlement agreement that will compensate Ms. Ellis and approximately 700 other women who were passed over for promotions.

Due to Ms. Ellis’ ability to file a class-action lawsuit, there are going to be real and tangible changes within Costco that will create better situations for both the company and the employees. Without this case proceeding as a class-action, is it unlikely that anyone would know anything about the fact that women comprise approximately 50% of Costco’s total number of employees but only 17% of the top management positions. Without a class-action lawsuit, it is unlikely that the 700 women who were also improperly denied promotions would be receiving any compensation from Costco. Finally, it’s highly unlikely that Costco would have agreed to wide institutional changes: to change its promotion procedures, hire a professional to evaluate its methods, create a posting process for job vacancies, and establish a system to track employee interest in promotions to management positions. These progressive changes only came about because a group of women had the legal ability to rally together and present their collective case. There is no question that a multitude of voices can make such a greater impact than a single voice.

However, recently some courts have started to determine that an employee can be required to sign an arbitration agreement that bans class action lawsuits as a condition of employment. By allowing this ban, the courts have greatly increased the protection afforded to employers. The ban on class action lawsuits as a condition to employment is something that employees will have to fight for years to come. Additionally, the impact of this type of defense should be unsettling to all employees. It is an effort of an employer to isolate itself from the laws that protect us all. So if an employee decides they are going to fire a group of people because of their religion, their race or gender they could potential escape any significant responsibility by relying on arbitration agreements. Preventing groups of people who have been discriminated against from joining together to have their claims hear in unison. A denial of their right to present their grievances to a jury of their peers. It is sad to me that corporate America can use their money and power to chip away at the rights of an average American.


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Anti-Gay Graffiti Leads to Likely a Large Settlement with Metro Nashville

August 27, 2013 by Jim Higgins

Repeated homophobic graffiti may end up costing Metro Nashville as much as $50,000 in the settlement of a lawsuit brought by a Metro employee. The lawsuit filed in 2012 claims that Metro fostered a hostile work environment that resulted in mental and emotional suffering. The suit was filed pursuant to the Tennessee Human Rights Act which allows successful plaintiffs to recover damages for mental and emotional suffering, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. To recover under the Act, the harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive.

Les “Bud” Buckner was hired by Metro Water Services nearly seven years ago. However, Buckner quickly found himself the target of repeated homophobic slurs in the form of graffiti.

According to the lawsuit, many of the homophobic slurs would appear in the work areas where he would often visit as a part of his job. Buckner alleges that he often found the slurs written in the Metro Water Services’ vehicle bays, restrooms, inside of work vehicles, and at a gas station. Buckner alleges that this occurred for years.

The Complaint states, Bucker complained to supervisors on a number of occasions, but there was no action taken to remedy the issue. The lawsuit claims that the supervisors never attempted to identify or discipline the perpetrators. Rather, Buckner alleges that one of his supervisors physically assaulted him at one point.

The lawsuit describes Buckner as an individual who is fit and takes care of his appearance. The Complaint reads, “He is the victim of same sex gender stereotyping, and perceived by both his co-workers and his supervisors as being homosexual.”

Attorneys for the city conducted a legal analysis on other recent court rulings dealing with claims of hostile work environments. The analysis determined that courts have given “serious weight” to similar claims. Specifically, in 2012 the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled to uphold a $3.8 million verdict against auto-manufacturer Chrysler after homophobic and racist graffiti were found in the workplace. Similarly, the Tennessee Court of Appeals chose to uphold two awards of $300,000 against the city of LaVergne after discriminatory remarks were made by employees.

The Metro Department of Law was of the opinion that Metro would likely be found liable for harassment under the Tennessee Human Rights Act because of the numerous slurs that were posted over a span of several years. Based on the recommendation by the attorneys for Metro Nashville, an amount of $50,000 was proposed for a potential settlement with Buckner. Metro Council approved the settlement amount in a vote on August 6. While Buckner still has to accept the settlement, Metro Council’s approval of the settlement amount likely will facilitate the settlement agreement.

The perpetrator or perpetrators of the graffiti are still unknown. Metro Water Services and Metro Police are still searching for the people responsible for the graffiti. Metro Water Services has pledged to provide training to help prevent any actions that can create a hostile work environment.

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Strip Club Discrimination Lawsuit Settles

July 13, 2013 by Jim Higgins

Discrimination comes in many different forms and is prevalent in many different areas of life. Unfortunately, discrimination is all too prevalent specifically in workplaces across the country. Whether it occurs in fast food restaurants or office buildings, discrimination is not tolerable in any location. In fact, it is against federal law to do so. While many people may be worried about retaliation from superiors for filing an employment law discrimination claim, it is your right to have a workplace free of discrimination. This means everywhere. Even places you wouldn't normally think of.

A Jackson, Mississippi strip club has recently been at the center of a lawsuit claiming that the club had discriminated against several of its black entertainers. The employer known as Danny’s Cabaret, bills itself as the largest and oldest adult entertainment club in the state of Mississippi. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against Danny’s Cabaret on behalf of Sherida Edwards and three unnamed women after the employer had subjected black entertainers to less advantageous terms and conditions of employment than white entertainers, including maintaining openly segregated dancing schedules.

The lawsuit also claimed that the employer then retaliated against Edwards for filing a complaint to the EEOC. Danny’s Cabaret pressured Edwards to withdraw her complaint against the company. When she did not withdraw the complaint, the club cut Edwards work hours and also forced her to compete with other dancers for spots on what was known as the “Black shift.” The working conditions became so bad for Edwards that she was forced to quit her job as a dancer. The EEOC charged that Danny’s Cabaret had violated federal law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with its actions against black dancers.

The EEOC announced the news of the suit’s settlement earlier this week. Danny’s Cabaret will pay $50,000 and provide other relief to the women involved with the suit. The club will also be required to implement new policies and practices in order to prevent racial discrimination and retaliation while also developing a confidential process to bring forth potential discrimination claims and ways to handle the investigation of such effectively. In addition, the club must conduct supervisor and employee training on anti-discrimination and retaliation laws. The EEOC has been aggressive in an effort to eliminate any racial discrimination and retaliation in the workplace.

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University of Tennessee Sued For Gender Discrimination

October 30, 2012 by Jim Higgins

Three very high ranking employees in the University of Tennessee's athletic department have filed a sex discrimination lawsuit alleging they were discriminated against based upon their gender. Basically, the lawsuit depicts the athletic department as a "good old boys club". In light of the rise of women's sports these and prominent women holding important administrative positions at Universities across the country there should be no tolerance for paying an employee less based upon gender. Recently, attorney Jim Higgins was interviewed on the case. You can watch the interview below:

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Toshiba Facing $100 Million Lawsuit for Gender Bias

February 1, 2011 by Jim Higgins

Tennessee employees and employees throughout the country deserve to be treated with respect and to be treated equally by their employers. It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, or even their weight. Unfortunately, many companies discriminate against their employees based on these classes all too often. If you or someone you love feels like they have been unfairly discriminated against at work due to gender, race, and disability or for another reason, then you should talk with a Tennessee employment discrimination lawyer right away. They will hear your case and make sure you get the compensation you deserve by law.

According to this lawsuit, a senior human resource manager with the Toshiba Company filed a lawsuit claiming that a U.S. unit of the Japanese company has a gender bias against women concerning pay and promotions. The lawsuit states that Elaine Cyphers alleges that the company pays women lower salaries and bonuses than men who do similar work. She also claims that the company leads women into lower positions and favors men for the promotions.

According to Cyphers, “only 3.4 percent of Toshiba’s 6,273 managers throughout the world are women even though the company created a “Gender Equality Office” six years earlier.” Cyphers also says that she has been a human resources manager at Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corporation as well as the highest ranking U.S. employee at that unit. She states she was received $90,000 to $91,800 between 2008 and 2009 while men employed in similar positions received $120,000 a year.

The lawsuit is seeking class action status on behalf of all the current and former Toshiba female employees in the U.S. Cyphers was hired at Toshiba in 2008 after working in human resources for a quarter of a century. Cyphers stated that not long after she was hired, the company promoted a male employee with less experience to a position above her.

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Employee Files Lawsuit against Oak Park after Claiming Harassment over Sexual Orientation

November 20, 2010 by Jim Higgins

In Tennessee as well as across the country, when we apply for a job or work at a job we expect to be treated with respect and dignity by our managers, bosses, and even our co-workers no matter what our differences may be, because we are all supposed to be treated as equal employees with the same rights and privileges as any other employee at our workplace. However all too often, many employees are harassed, bullied, and given different amounts of pay for the same work depending on their gender, race, sexual orientation or any other status. If this has happened to you at your work, you should speak to a Tennessee employment lawyer right away. This kind of treatment is illegal and your lawyer will help make sure you get the compensation and treatment you are entitled to by law.

In this case, an Oak Park municipal employee, Michael Aguayo, who is gay, claims that he received unfounded write-ups and reprimands as well as being demoted and eventually fired when several employees found out about his sexual orientation in November of 2007. The lawsuit also claims that Michael was the victim of verbal abuse which created an unfavorable work environment for which he sought medical treatment.

Aguayo's attorney, Maurice Dusky said that he was terminated because a Family Medical Leave Act dispute and then reinstated. Currently, Aguayo is employed by Oak Park. Oak Park’s village manager, Tom Barwin denied Aguayo's claim that he was terminated from his role in the public works department. Adam Rosen said the union, Service Employees International Union Local 73 represented Aguayo in the FMLA dispute which involving him taking funeral leave for the death of his partner’s mother. Rosen stated that he was fired on February 10th and then reinstated after the union representatives met with the village about the dispute.

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Well known Coffee Company Maxwell House Faced with Equality lawsuit

November 14, 2010 by Jim Higgins

Many residents of Tennessee as well as many people across the United States want to feel respected when we go to work each day. We want the pay we deserve the work we do and we want to be treated well like every other coworker. However, sometimes in many workplaces this is not the case. Sometimes certain employees get treated differently because of their gender, disability, race, or just because the company views them as a little different from all of their other employees. Whatever the reason, this is against the law and should not be happening. If you feel that you have been treated differently or not properly respected by your workplace, then you should talk to a Tennessee employment lawyer right away. They will help make sure you get the compensation and respect that everyone deserves when they are at work.

In this case, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC filed a lawsuit against Maxwell House alleging that the coffee company discriminated against a female employee at a Jacksonville plant. The lawsuit claims that Francena Smith received harsher discipline than her male coworkers when they were involved in situations where coffee had been damaged. It also claims that Smith was fired in October 2008 because of her gender.

Smith was given her job back after union arbitration but this lawsuit seeks monetary damages. An attorney for the EEOC tried to settle with Maxwell House after an investigation, but had no success. Maxwell House’s discipline policy is an oral warning, a written warning, suspension and then termination. However, Smith was involved in an incident in June 2008 where coffee had been damaged and she was fired, while the male employee involved only received an oral warning. After the arbitration she received her job back but failed to receive any compensation.

The case is seeking both compensation and punitive damages. A Kraft Foods spokesman said, "We believe this complaint is without merit. I can assure you that Kraft Foods complies with all applicable employment laws. We will vigorously defend ourselves in this matter."

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Gender Discrimination Case against Novartis is won by Female Sales Representatives

May 18, 2010 by Jim Higgins

Every day many of us have to go to work to support ourselves and our families. When we are at work, we expect to be treated with respect by our coworkers, our bosses and the company we work for. Unfortunately in many places across the country and even right here in Tennessee that is not always the case. Many employees face discrimination and some of it may just be because of their gender.

A jury recently found the company Novartis Pharmaceuticals, guilty of gender discrimination in issues involving pay, promotions, and pregnancy. This was a nation wide class action suit of 5,600 female sales representatives making it the largest gender discrimination case to go to verdict.

The jury also awarded the twelve testifying witnesses 3.36 million in compensatory damages for the specific instances of discrimination that those witnesses testified to. That was also just the beginning of the money that will be awarded as a result of the verdict. Other punitive damage amounts are being decided on today, Tuesday May 18, 2010. Finally, in separate hearings, compensatory damages for each member of the class action that opts in will be decided on.
In this case, the judge, Judge McMahon, also gets to decide what orders to give to Novartis to change its policies and procedures to in order to help prevent more discrimination in the future. This case included female sales representatives that worked for Novartis between 2002 and 2007.

The jury stated that what they learned from this case is that you would not “want your wife, your mother, your sister or your daughter to work," for this company.

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