Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

By now, many are familiar with Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News. This popular Cable News Network has reshaped how news has been delivered over the past twenty years. Carlson was a fixture at Fox, yet during her time there, she was repeatedly harassed by both colleges and her boss – Roger Ailes. Her claim included Ailes making comments about how they should have had a sexual relationship and how he would ask her to turn around and show him her backside. These completely inappropriate remarks, she said, where a characterization of the entire culture at Fox – one where women were expected to have sex with their bosses or to at least tolerate their advances and comments. After the suit was filed, many other women from the network came out in support of Carlson, sharing their own stories of sexual harassment. Instead of going to trial, Fox’s parent company decided to settle the case for $20 million.

Defining Sexual Harassment

Whether you are a famous reporter or an everyday employee, the law protects everyone form sexually harassment. If it is happening to you, you have legal options. You do not have to stand for this behavior or tolerate it in any way. Instead, you should call our law firm to discuss your rights and your legal options. In the meantime, here is information that can help you to determine whether or not you are being legally harassed.

According to a recent story from the AP, the state of Tennessee has stopped taking new inmates at its newest facility in Hartsville, TN after only 4 months of operation. “We’re holding off on sending more prisoners until CCA has an opportunity to increase its recruiting efforts and staffing,” Tennessee Department of Correction Assistant Commissioner Tony Parker told the AP.

This is certainly not the first time CCA has been in trouble for overworking its employees; in 2014, CCA paid 8 million ($8,000,000.00) to settle a lawsuit for back wages for employees at its facility in California City, CA. The company also paid $260,000 to settle overtime claims in November, 2013 for shift managers at its facilities in Kentucky. The settlement was unsealed – over CCA’s objections – after Prison Legal News (PLN), a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, intervened in the case to make the settlement public.

Also, in August 2009 the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas unsealed a $7 million settlement agreement in a nationwide class-action wage and hour lawsuit against CCA. The suit, brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, alleged that CCA had required some employees to perform work duties “without compensating them for all such hours worked.” Specifically, the company was accused of not paying correctional officers and other employees for pre- and post-shift work that included roll calls, obtaining weapons and equipment, attending meetings and job assignment briefings, and completing paperwork.

Working mothers across the country and right here in Tennessee have certain rights that provide them protection from discrimination in the workplace. However, employers unfortunately do not always comply with the protections afforded by the law. Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously held that firing a nursing mother for lactating is unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Congress created the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to protect women in the workforce from discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. While this law has been around almost three decades, both expectant and new mothers are still struggling to combat discrimination in the workplace.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) originally filed suit on behalf of Donnica Venters who claimed that she had been fired following giving birth after asking whether she would be able to pump breast milk when she returned to her job. The lawsuit claimed that Ms. Venter’s employer, Houston Funding II, LLC, had engaged in sex discrimination by terminating her employment. The federal trial court had dismissed the suit on summary judgment ruling that “lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” As a result, the court decided that “firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination,” suggesting that “pregnancy related conditions” end upon giving birth to the child. The trial court determined the suit should be dismissed without a valid discrimination claim under the text of the law.

However, the Fifth Circuit did not agree with the ruling of the lower court. The court found that the firing was motivated by factors clearly burdening a woman that a male employee could not suffer from. In addition, the court held that “lactation is a related medical condition of pregnancy for the purposes of the [Pregnancy Discrimination Act].” Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act did not define what a “medical condition” is under the statute, the court looked to the plain meaning to find that lactation would be protected as a “medical condition” under the law. The court found that the EEOC had presented a valid claim for discrimination on behalf of Ms. Venters under Title VII, and the case was sent back to the trial court level to be tried in front of a jury.

What does this all mean for new mothers in the workplace? This ruling provides greater protection to employees under Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. While the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to provide new mothers with a reasonable break time and place, other than a bathroom, this ruling now clearly prevents employers from discriminating against working mothers who need to utilize a breast pump or express breast milk while at work. Working mothers have a right to know what protections are afforded to them under the law. This ruling by the Fifth Circuit is just another step in preventing discrimination in the workplace all across the country.
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The U.S. Supreme Court recently stated that they will hear arguments in a case that could determine when a company is liable for harassment by its employees. Specially, the case turns on the definition of a what constitutes a “supervisor” under a federal civil rights law that outlaws racial, religious or sexual harassment at work. Thttps://www.thehigginsfirm.com/he case will have a big impact on Tennessee Sexual Harassment Cases and other employment law matters. You can watch the interview below:

 

 
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One of the breakout shows this summer was HBO’s, “The Newsroom.” Like its aptly-chosen title, it features the goings on in a cable network nightly news show. And, like most television dramedies, it offers up great fodder for employment lawyers. If you want to learn how to sexually harass a subordinate, look no further than a recent episode of this series.

The show features life in a newsroom, however, the show is really about the convoluted romantic relationships of the cast. There is a sub-plot involving the junior executive producer, Jim, who falls in love with his assistant, Maggie, who has a boyfriend.

In episode 9 of The Newsroom, Jim’s supervisor encourages him to chase after his love interest Maggie – telling him, “Jim, gather ye rosebuds,” (an allusion to the 17th century poem by Robert Herrick). Did we mention that Jim is Maggie’s supervisor? So Jim’s supervisor is telling him that it is acceptable to pursue an employee who has indicated she is not interested. In other words, go ahead and pursue her romantically even though she has turned you down repeatedly. Unwanted sexual or romantic advances, especially from a supervisor to an underling, smacks of potential for sexual harassment.

There are sources that estimate that nearly one-third of relationships begin in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is likely because people spend many hours working and so have much less time and opportunity to meet people outside of the workplace. Therefore, it’s not unusual for love to bloom in the workplace. But watch out, because this rose has thorns.

Now, not every instance of being asked out on a date amounts to sexual harassment. But if the pursuer, who could be a man or a woman, asks the employee out repeatedly, won’t take no for an answer, makes the employee feel uncomfortable, interferes with the job, and especially if the pursuit escalates to unwanted physical touching, this may be sexual harassment.
If you are an employee and you are being pursued by a co-worker or supervisor who wants to pursue a romantic or sexual relationship with you, you may have been a victim of sexual harassment. What should you do?
• Tell the harasser that you are not interested. It’s best to do this in writing and a quick email is sufficient.
• Follow your employer’s workplace harassment policy and report the unwanted advances.
• If the harasser is your supervisor, you should report the harassment to the supervisor’s supervisor and to your Human Resources department.
• Once your report the harassment, it is illegal for the employer to retaliate against you.

If the harassment continues and you are interested in an evaluation of the facts of your situation, our Employment Law Team can help.
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In Tennessee and all across the country when we go to work, we expect to be treated with respect by our supervisors and co-workers. However, in some situations the co-worker or supervisor may be in a position of power which may make reporting harassment more difficult. If you or someone you know feels that you have faced harassment while on the job, then you should speak with a Tennessee employment harassment lawyer right away. They will hear your case and make sure you get the compensation you are entitled to by law.

In this lawsuit, Mikki Kalina, Becky Sirmans, and Christy Strawn claimed that James Blackstock, a former court at law judge and former head of the court’s Juvenile Probation Board , hugged, groped, kissed, and fondled them and had sent them sexually based pictures by e-mail. Also, according to the lawsuit, Blackstock had “for many years preyed upon women in a sexually inappropriate manner” while the local officials did nothing despite knowing about his behavior.

The jury awarded Mikki Kalina and Becky Sirmans $50,000 in actual damages and Christy Strawn received $100,000 in actual damages. They also received $1 million each in punitive damages. Blackstock resigned from his board position in 2008 after a Class A criminal misdemeanor charge of official oppression and four Class C counts of assault by offensive and provocative physical contact involving several women to which he plead no contest. He was given a fine of $2,150.
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In Tennessee and all across the country, when workers go to their workplace they expect to be treated equally and with respect. However, many times companies fail to protect their employees from sexual harassment from other workers or from their supervisors. If you or someone you love has faced harassment while at work, then you should speak with a Tennessee employment lawyer right away. They will work with you and make sure you get the compensation you deserve for what you have been through.

In this case, Ashley Alford claimed she was employed at an Aaron’s store from 2005 to 2006 and said that her store manager, Richard Moore, made verbally sexually offensive comments to her as well as inappropriately touched her and sexually assaulted her. She also claims that she told a supervisor and contacted a company hotline but the company did not take any action to end the harassment. The U.S. District Court ruled that Alford should receive $15 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages from the company.
The Aaron’s company said “it intends to appeal the verdict, saying the award does not accurately reflect the evidence in the case.” The company also said, “Aaron’s is committed to establishing and building a strong, professional and respectful employee culture, in every community we serve and in every store we operate,” according to the company’s president and CEO, Robin Loudermilk.
Due to federal limits on damages, the final amount awarded may be reduced to $40 million and attorney’s fees.
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In a Tennessee sexual harassment retaliation case the Tennessee Law Blog has been following for greater than a year, a federal jury has awarded Nashville woman $1.5M in a retaliation lawsuit case. Vicky Crawford, a former employee of Nashville schools, claimed she suffered wrongful termination after she cooperated in a workplace sexual harassment investigation at Metro Schools.

(For previous Tennessee Law Blogs on this case, see our “Harrassment Retaliation Lawsuit from Nashville…” and, for an earlier report, “TN Sexual Harassment Suit before Supreme Court Expected to Expand Retaliation Protections for All Workers”).

After working over 30 years with Metro Schools, Crawford was fired from her Payroll Coordinator position in 2003. Subsequently, she suffered lost wages, future lost wages, and pension benefits, for which she filed her TN employment lawsuit. Originally, her case was dismissed by a federal judge since Crawford, herself, was not the subject of the sexual harassment investigation.

Then, in January 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Crawford that sexual harassment retaliation protections extended to her for testifying in a sexual harassment investigation when she told investigators about sexual advances her coworker made, which are detailed in previous Tennessee Law Blogs. No action was taken against this male supervisor for these allegations. The same day the sexual harassment investigator’s report was filed, allegations were made by Metro Nashville that it was concerned about Crawford’s payroll department. In addition to Crawford’s termination, two other female employees who testified were fired.

The $1.5M award was for compensatory damages, back pay and future lost wages.
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A million dollar verdict was the only good thing to come of Carlotta Freeman’s time at the Whirlpool plant in La Vergne, TN. This was the award from Federal judge John T. Nixon at the conclusion of her suit against the company for racial and sexual harassment.

Freeman claimed that Willie Baker, a white male co-worker, repeatedly made lewd and inappropriate comments and gestures in the plant and also in the break room. Her complaints to superiors largely fell on deaf ears. Despite assurances that something would be done, an investigation was never started and the supervisor never spoke with Baker. It was not until Freeman and another African-American woman, Chinica Lillard, complained about racial slurs to Kim Wheeler, a white female co-worker, that something finally started to happen. Unfortunately what happened was the supervisor advising the women to ignore Baker and suggesting Freeman just go ahead and have sex with Baker so he’d leave her alone.

The situation escalated to the point where Baker physically assaulted Freeman on the factory floor, pushing her into the moving assembly line causing her to be struck in the head by air conditioners moving down the line and throwing a steel valve at both Freeman and Lillard who had rescued Freeman from the moving line. Baker was fired for his part in the assault and Freeman returned the next day to take an open ended leave of absence. Freeman has subsequently been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from her experiences. She has become a reclusive introvert, rarely leaving her home as a result of her ordeal.

The court stated that Whirlpool essentially did nothing about the ongoing complaints lodged by Freeman against Baker. Nixon found that every level of management in the now defunct plant failed to protect Carlotta Freeman in her place of work.
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It appears that the Cheesecake Factory was allowing some of its male employees to be treated more like beefcake. In a settlement agreement, Cheesecake Factory must pay six employees a total of $345,000 for sexual harassment. The suit claimed that management knew about and tolerated the behavior.

The men complained repeatedly to management that they were treated in a demeaning and degrading manner by other male members of the staff. They described inappropriate touching, simulation of rape and making sexual remarks. On one occasion managers witnessed the men being dragged, kicking and screaming, into a cooler and did nothing. Even the police department investigation got them nowhere.

Now, in order to avoid further legal action, Cheesecake Factory has signed a consent decree. While the decree does not acknowledge any wrongdoing, it agrees to have sexual harassment training for Cheesecake Factory employees and to appoint an ombudsman to investigate and deal with any complaints of this nature. Failure to do so could result in fines being levied by the court.
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