Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘discrimination’

21 Female Senators to Help Decide Fate of Bill That Would Kill Harassment, Discrimination Suits

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Asking female applicants whether they were married and planned to have children in a job interview. Telling female employees how to dress (and show more skin). Overtly and concretely penalizing female employees for taking maternity leave. Promoting low-performing men over the highest-performing women. Asking women employees to have sex with their boss to advance their careers. Penalizing female employees for not taking part in alcohol-fueled corporate partying when they were pregnant or breastfeeding. Bragging about how many female subordinates a male executive had had sex with.

This sounds like the bad old days but, unfortunately, it isn’t. Just a few years ago, current and former female sales representatives at a medical cosmetics company, Medicis Pharmaceutical (now owned by Valeant Pharmaceuticals), banded together to bring a class action against their employer for regularly doing all of these things, and more, including unequal pay and retaliation for reporting discrimination and harassment. Each of the approximately one hundred women in the class who filed claims received an average of $44,000 in back pay and damages, and the attorney’s fees were not taken out of that compensation. That’s not small change.

But there’s more. In theory, an individual woman could have brought the case and gotten back pay and damages. What an individual woman could almost certainly not have done was force Medicis to change its practices – Medicis could have paid her money and washed its hands. Here, though, the class was able to use its leverage to get Medicis to agree to, among other things, create anti-discrimination policies and training; establish systems for investigating reports of discrimination and harassment; be transparent about how it set and measured sales goals; eliminate penalties for taking parental leave; and establish policies about alcohol at corporate events and intra-office romantic and sexual relationships. In other words, it took a class action to ensure that Medicis follows the law not just with regard to the women who sued, but with regard to all the women who come after.

In the minefield of workplace discrimination and harassment, there’s another advantage to class actions, too. One woman bringing these types of claims may (unfortunately and wrongly) be easily dismissed as too sensitive, as not qualified for the promotion she sought, or as subject to one-off comments from a single troublesome executive. She may also be retaliated against for speaking out – as many of the women in this suit were. But where woman after woman after woman tells the same story, she cannot be so easily dismissed.

And yet Congress is on the verge of wiping away the ability for women to band together and challenge such discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Last week, the House GOP narrowly approved the so-called “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act.” The bill would drastically roll back the ability to bring class action lawsuits like the one against Medicis. Fourteen Republicans opposed the bill, along with every single Democrat in the House, but that wasn’t enough to defeat it. After being pushed through the House Judiciary Committee – without a hearing, and with a nighttime vote – the bill now makes its way to the Senate, where a record 21 female Senators will be among those deciding its ultimate fate. While the Senate has not yet scheduled any action on the issue, civil rights groups and their allies are mobilizing to ensure the House proposal never becomes law.

There are a lot of big, important and downright frightening ideas making the rounds on Capitol Hill these days, from taking away Americans’ health insurance to eliminating Meals on Wheels and turning the Environmental Protection Agency over to oil and gas lobbyists. But it’s imperative that voters insist their Senators give proper attention to this all-out assault on the courts. Unless they do so, a key tool in battling discrimination could quickly disappear. That threat is too real, too serious and has too many dire consequences for too many Americans for Senators to do anything other than give it the deliberative attention – and debate – that it deserves.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on March 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy. Follow him on Twitter: .

Leah Nicholls joined Public Justice’s D.C. office in September 2012 as the Kazan-Budd Attorney. She was previously senior staff attorney for civil rights and general public interest at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. Leah had also been a teaching fellow and adjunct law professor at the Law Center.

Groundbreaking Bill in Illinois Would Give Temp Workers Equal Pay and Rights as Direct Hires

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Sweeping legislation introduced in the Illinois state legislature last month would dramatically improve pay, benefits and working conditions for almost a million of the state’s temp workers toiling in factories, warehouses and offices.

The Responsible Job Creation Act, sponsored by State Rep. Carol Ammons, aims to transform the largely unregulated temporary staffing industry by introducing more than 30 new worker protections, including pay equity with direct hires, enhanced safety provisions, anti-discrimination measures and protection from retaliation.

The innovative law is being pushed by the worker centers Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (CWC) and Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), which say it would restore the temp industry to its original purpose of filling short-term, seasonal labor needs and recruiting new employees into direct-hire jobs.

Across Illinois, there are nearly 850,000 temp workers every year. Nationally, temp jobs are at record highs, with more than 12 million people flowing through the industry per year.

“Instead of temps just replacing people who are sick or coming during periods of higher production, they’re actually becoming a permanent staffing option,” says CWC executive director Tim Bell. “There’s nothing ‘temporary’ about it.”

Mark Meinster, executive director of WWJ, says there has been “an explosion” of temp workers in recent decades, especially in manufacturing and warehousing. “Those sectors are part of large, global production networks where you see hyper competition and an intense drive to lower costs. Companies can drive down labor costs by using temp agencies.”

CWC activist Freddy Amador worked at Cornfields Inc., in Waukegan, for five years. He tells In These Times the company’s direct hires start off making at least $16 an hour, but later get raises amounting to $21 an hour. As a temp, however, Amador was only making $11 an hour after five years on the job.

“As a temp worker, you don’t have vacation days, sick days, paid holidays”—all of which are available to direct hires, Amador says.

In These Times reached out to Cornfields to comment on this story. It did not immediately respond.

“Once a company is using a temp agency, it no longer has to worry about health insurance, pension liability, workers’ comp, payroll and human resources costs,” Meinster explains. “It also doesn’t have to worry about liability for workplace accidents, wage theft, or discrimination because, effectively under the law, the temp agency is the employer of record.”

This arrangement drives down standards at blue-collar workplaces, Bell says. “The company itself doesn’t have to worry about safety conditions because these workers aren’t going to cost them any money if they’re injured.”

“The safety for temp workers is really bad,” Amador says. “Temp agencies send people to do a job, but nobody trains them. Sometimes temp workers are using equipment they don’t know how to use, and they’re just guessing how to use it. I’ve seen many accidents.”

Under the new bill, temps like Amador would receive the same pay, benefits and protections as direct hires.

“This is landmark legislation,” Bell says. “There’s nothing like it in the United States.”

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found a pattern of systemic racial and gender discrimination in the temp industry nationwide. Industry whistleblowers allege that African-American workers are routinely passed over for jobs in favor of Latinos, who employers consider to be more exploitable.

Discrimination can be hard to prove because staffing agencies aren’t required to record or report the demographics of who comes in looking for work. As Bell explains, applications often aren’t even filled out in the temp industry, but rather “someone just shows up to go to a job.”

The new bill would require temp agencies to be more transparent about their hiring practices by recording the race, gender and ethnicity of applicants and reporting that information to the state.

Furthermore, the bill includes an anti-retaliation provision that says if temp workers are fired or disciplined after asserting their legal rights, the burden is on the company and temp agency to prove that it was not done in retaliation.

“There’s this fundamental imbalance in the labor market that leads to a whole range of abuses and then non-enforcement of basic labor rights,” Meinster explains. “The changes we’re proposing in this bill get at addressing that structural issue.”

To craft the bill and get it introduced, CWC and WWJ received research and communications support from Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition of eight Chicago worker centers. The Illinois AFL-CIO, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, National Employment Law Project, Latino Policy Forum and Rainbow Push Coalition are among the legislation’s other supporters.

Though the Illinois government is still paralyzed by an unprecedented budget stalemate between the Republican governor and Democratic legislature, organizers are optimistic about the bill’s prospects.

“There’s potential for huge movement around this bill,” Bell says, citing the popularity of the presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, which both touched on the theme of economic insecurity. While Trump focuses on jobs fleeing the country, Bell notes that “jobs here in this country have been downgraded.”

“We need to be talking about job quality, not only ‘more jobs.’ Both are important,” Meinster says. He believes existing temp jobs “could and should be good, permanent, full-time, direct-hire, living wage jobs with stability, respect and benefits.”

The author has worked with WWJ in the past on issues related to the temp industry.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 9, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

Congresswoman Will Introduce First-Ever Bill To Get Rid Of Salary Histories

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Bryce CovertWhen Congress gets back from recess, one of the first items on Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D-DC) agenda will be salary histories.

She, along with co-sponsors Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), will introduce the first-ever bill to ban employers from asking about applicants’ prior pay before making an offer.

The bill is aimed at closing the gender wage gap, which means the average woman working full-time, year round makes 79 percent of what a man does and women of color make even less.

Norton has a long history of working to end the wage gap, from her time enforcing equal pay laws while chairing the Equal Employment Opportunity Office to introducing and sponsoring equal pay legislation in Congress. Yet even she is somewhat new to the issue of salary histories and was inspired by a recent law that passed in Massachusetts banning their use.

“It was not instinctive to me to understand that asking an applicant for prior history could have a lifelong discriminatory affect,” she told ThinkProgress. But, she added, “All you need to do is think five seconds about it and you understand it.”

The issue is that women and people of color start out being paid less, a disparity that only compounds if their next job’s pay is based off of their prior pay. Women make less than men in their first jobs, a gap that is actually increasing, and then continue to earn less in virtually every occupation and even if they get more education.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) at the DNC. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) at the DNC. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

“If this disparity can begin from the moment you go to your first job, and it follows you throughout your career, it will never be rectified and the wage gap itself will never be rectified,” Norton said. “It is a hidden form of discrimination that many employers may think is reasonable to ask and may not understand the discriminatory effect.”

There is always room, of course, for employers to ask questions of applicants to determine who to hire and who will be a good fit. But Norton doesn’t think this one lives up to that scrutiny. “What somebody earned before does not go to merit… It doesn’t tell you how that employee, for example, should be judged relative to other employees,” she said. She noted it may even be hampering men, who would also be protected under the new bill.

The idea of eliminating salary histories has quickly gained prominence. Massachusetts passed its bill in the beginning of August, and a few weeks later a similar bill was introduced in the New York City council. Now it’s poised for federal attention.

For Norton, it’s a matter of halting a pattern that’s keeping pay disparities in place. “People of color and women never break the chain of discrimination, because it’s built in,” she said.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on August 30, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

House Republicans stand strong for anti-LGBT discrimination in the wake of Orlando shootings

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

LauraClawsonLGBT people may be able to marry, but in many states they can also be fired or not hired because they’re LGBT. And House Republicans are fighting to keep that from changing.

President Obama’s executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity went into effect in 2015. Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has been trying to get the House to pass an amendment backing up that executive order, but House Republicans are not having it. They’ve beenfighting to keep allowing employers to discriminate against LGBT workers even if they get federal money, and they’re not stopping now.

The House Rules Committee blocked Maloney’s amendment from getting a full House vote. Again, we’re talking about something saying that if you want federal money, you can’t discriminate. And context matters here:

Maloney argued that allowing a vote to prohibit discrimination in the workplace after the targeted attack on the gay nightclub would send a message of solidarity with the LGBT community.

“It’s hard to imagine that any act that is so horrific could lead to anything positive. But if we were going to do anything, it would be a very positive step to say that discrimination has no place in our law and to reaffirm the president’s actions in this area,” Maloney told The Hill. “Seems to me a pretty basic thing to do.”

Sorry, make that—context should matter here. But House Republicans have made it clear that there’s no context that would stop them from enabling discrimination.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on June 15, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

On Equal Pay Day, We Could Use Some Sunshine

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Isaiah J. PooleImagine a workplace where everyone clocked in at 9 a.m. and was paid the same day’s wage for the work they did – but the men could get their pay for the day at 3:20 p.m. and leave, while the women had to stay on the job until 5 p.m. to get the same check the men got an hour and 40 minutes earlier.

That’s another way to think of the gender wage gap – with women earning on average only 79 cents for each dollar a man earns – that Equal Pay Day, April 12, is intended to highlight. The“79 percent clock” is being promoted by the National Partnership for Women and Families and MTV as a way to dramatize that wage inequity. If you are a woman, you can enter the start and end of your workday and the calculator will “show you when 79 percent of your day has passed and you (or your female colleagues) are no longer being paid.”

For an eight-hour workday that starts at 9 a.m., that moment is generally 3:20 p.m. But that’s an average; for women of color, the moment at which a woman is no longer compensated for her day could be as early as 1:24 p.m. for Hispanics or as late as 3:44 p.m. for Asian Americans. For unmarried women, that moment comes at 1:48 p.m. – 60 percent of the day – the same moment as African-American women, according to a report released this week by the Voter Participation Data Center that also includes state-by-state data for unmarried women.

Of course, if we could see men and women leaving workplaces at different hours because they weren’t equally compensated for the work they did, there would be less opportunity for denying that the wage gap is real. But salary information is usually confidential, especially in mid-level jobs and above. Often, women who are being unfairly paid for their work don’t even realize they are being discriminated against.

When discrimination is documented, we get, particularly from conservative and Republican politicians, the usual round of denials and excuses. Comments from the 2016 Republican presidential candidates are typical: “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job,” said Donald Trump in 2015, who has also said that determining whether a man and a woman is doing “the same job” is “a very, very tricky question.” Ted Cruz as a senator voted to block a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act and has dismissed equal pay legislation as “just empowering trial lawyers to file lawsuits.” (Yes, that’s what lawyers do when laws are violated and people are harmed as a result, but I digress.) John Kasich suggested in 2015 that gender pay disparities are “all tied up in skills” and experience.

The Center for American Progress has published “The Top 10 Facts About the Gender Wage Gap,” and several of those facts address the myths perpetuated by the Republican presidential candidates. The wage gap is real, it does appear among men and women with the same education and experience doing similar jobs, and, according to the CAP fact sheet, “38 percent of the gap is unexplainable by measurable factors,” such as women being concentrated in certain lower-wage occupations or being more likely to have to take unpaid leave to care for family members.

Having Congress pass the Paycheck Fairness Act would go a long way toward reinforcing the already existing Equal Pay Act and getting at the root of gender pay discrimination. A key requirement in the law would be that employers would have to disclose pay information to the federal government based on race, sex and national origin. That would make it easier for the government and individual employees to hold employers accountable for violations of the equal pay laws that already exist but are regularly evaded.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton highlighted her support of the Paycheck Fairness Act atan event sponsored by Glassdoor.com, where she praised Silicon Valley firms like Salesforce and retailers like Gap for succeeding in closing the gender pay gap in their companies.

Bernie Sanders has likewise been a longtime supporter of the Paycheck Fairness Act, including it as the first item of his 10-point women’s rights agenda.

Like the “79 percent clock” that rings an alarm when a person has reached 79 percent of their work day, the Paycheck Fairness Act allows for an alarm bell to ring when workers are not receiving equal pay for equal work. It would bring pay inequities into the light of day, instead of the darkness in which Republican presidential candidates would rather have this issue continue to fester.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on April 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives inWashington, DC.

What Will Discrimination Cost Georgia?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Terrance Heath

Fifty-two years after Lester Maddox famously chased African-Americans out of his restaurant with an ax handle, the phrase “We don’t serve your kind here” may be heard once again in Georgia.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a law that says the state may not “substantial burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a law, rule, regulation, ordinance or resolution of general applicability.” Essentially, the law says that businesses may discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of religious beliefs, and the state can’t do anything about it — even it violates local ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

Last spring, when conservatives legislators in Indiana and Arkansas pushed through “religious freedom” laws designed to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination, Georgia lawmakers were working on their own bill. It didn’t pass, due to strong opposition from businesses in the state.

But Georgia Republican lawmakers didn’t learn anything from their defeat, or the backlash against Indiana and Arkansas last year. Georgia’s zombie “religious freedom” bill was defeated last year, but it didn’t die. It was resurrected in the Senate in January, and passed only after it was forced through while Democrats were in the bathroom, along with another bill that would allow public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and might even allow public employees to refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage on a death certificate.

The bill launched a “civil war” in the state GOP. Moderate Republicans (who somehow still exist in Georgia) wanted little to do with it, and tried to add provisions to make it less awful. Republican Rep. Mike Jacobs proposed an amendment clarifying that the bill must not be interpreted as legalizing discrimination, but conservatives declared that the amendment would defeat the purpose of the bill, and tabled it when the amendment narrowly passed.

Even Georgia’s Republican governor Nathan Deal spoke out against the bill. Deal said that Jesus’ outreach to the outcasts of his time ran counter to the standards of the “religious freedom” bill saying, “If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.” Deal invoked the New Testament Gospel of John to emphasize, “that we have a belief in forgiveness and that we do not have to discriminate unduly against anyone on the basis of our own religious beliefs.”

In response, Georgia’s conservative lawmakers made the bill worse, adding language that could undermine local ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination and “permit hospitals to refuse to provide medically necessary care, or allow a taxpayer-funded service provider to discriminate by denying a job because of the applicant’s religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” Sen. Emanuel Jones even got Republican Sen. Greg Kirg to admit that the GOP’s “religious freedom” law would also protect the Ku Klux Klan.

Businesses backlash was strong and swift. The Decatur-based telecom company 373K announced via Twitter that it would be leaving the state.

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“I’m gay, our CFO is gay, we have people from every walk of life working here” co-founder Kevin Williams said. “I’ve got Muslims, Buddhists, atheists here. We’ve got great Christians working for us. They’ve never thought of not serving anyone – that’s not the message of Christ.” 373K Client Relations Manager Brian Greene said the company no longer feels comfortable paying taxes in the state.

Salesforce, one of the nation’s largest tech marketing firms has threatened to pull its 15,000-person convention out of Georgia — along with the revenue it brings into the state — and proceed with moving business out of the state if the governor signs the bill, which “creates an environment of discrimination and makes the state of Georgia seem unwelcoming to same-sex couples and the LGBTQ community.”

“If HB 757 is not vetoed and instead becomes law, Salesforce will have to reduce investments in Georgia, including moving the Salesforce Connections conference to a state that provides a more welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community,” the company said in a statement. The statement is consistent with Salesforce’s actions last year when the company cancelled “all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.”

The NFL issued statement suggesting that the bill could ruin the state’s chances of hosting a Super Bowl. The Atlanta Falcon’s new stadium is set to open next year, and the city had hoped to host a Super Bowl in either 2019 or 2020.

A group of 480 businesses called Georgia Prospers have come out against the bill. The group includes Google, Marriott, Delta, Home Depot, Coca-Cola as well as many small businesses.

Already, events in Georgia are shaping up to resemble last years’ backlash against Indiana.Indiana’s law cost the state $40 million in cancelled deals and cancelled contracts. Discrimination could cost Georgia a lot more, if the state’s Republican lawmakers have their way.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on March 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Unanimously Strikes Down Lifetime Employment Ban for Those with Prior Criminal Convictions

Friday, January 29th, 2016

Levan, TadOn December 30, 2015, the unanimous Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, sitting en banc, declared the lifetime employment ban contained in The Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA) to be facially unconstitutional and enjoined Pennsylvania from further enforcement of the law (See Peake v. Commonwealth).  OAPSA is a Pennsylvania law that, among other things, prohibits anyone who has ever been convicted of any disqualifying crime at any time in his or her life from ever holding any job at any covered residential health care facility.  In essence, the Act imposes a lifetime employment ban, forever disqualifying individuals from work due to often long-past actions for which the offender’s debt to society has since been repaid.  Even if the owner or operator of a covered facility, based upon his or her years of experience in the industry, believes that an applicant or employee with a prior conviction is the best qualified for the job, the criminal history of the applicant or employee is the only factor the employer may consider and employment is barred.  Employers have no discretion to make individualized hiring decisions.

Writing for the 7-0 Commonwealth Court, Judge Leavitt ruled that the ban “is unconstitutional on its face” because “it goes beyond the necessities of the case and is not substantially related to the Act’s stated objective of protecting older adults.”  The Court also found that OAPSA’s employment ban unconstitutionally imposes an irrebuttable presumption of unfitness for employment that is not universally true and that reasonable alternative means exist for ascertaining an individual’s fitness.  The Court therefore granted the Petition for Summary Relief, declared OAPSA’s employment ban unconstitutional on its face, and enjoined the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from future enforcement of the law.

Barring all individuals with prior criminal convictions from employment is antithetical to any concerns for rehabilitation and reintegration with society.  An individual who has successfully completed his or her punishment after a criminal act should not be further stigmatized by being unable to get a job.  Not surprisingly, recidivism rates are substantially lower for individuals with steady employment opportunities; thus, public safety is actually harmed by statutory employment bars like OAPSA or hiring practices that automatically exclude individuals with criminal records.  Allowing those with prior criminal convictions to reenter the work force also saves public tax dollars by avoiding the high costs of corrections and other social service benefits to which an unemployed individual may be entitled.  To successfully reintegrate an individual with a record back into society is the very epitome of a win-win situation.

In addition to making for bad public policy, lifetime employment bans such as that in OAPSA are based on a faulty premise: namely, that a past criminal act is indicative of an increased risk of future criminal behavior.  Rigorous social science studies have now confirmed that after a limited number of years – four to seven years for a single conviction and no more than ten years for multiple convictions – an individual with a prior criminal conviction is no more likely to commit a criminal offense than any member of the general public.  Lifetime employment bans like OAPSA, which are based on an irrebuttable presumption of “once a criminal, always a criminal,” simply are not supported by social science results.

A more thoughtful and balanced approach is required:  Yes, under certain circumstances, a prior conviction may be relevant to the fitness of a specific candidate or employee for the requirements of a specific job; but those determinations must be made on a individualized basis with due consideration of all relevant factors, including the nature and severity of the prior criminal conduct, the time elapsed since the conviction, the efforts at rehabilitation and reintegration the individual has made in the interim, and the specific job requirements of the position for which he or she would be hired.  The decision whether to hire an individual with a past criminal conviction is not amenable to a one-size-fits-all solution.  And a lifetime ban, which completely precludes an employer from hiring an individual with a record (often from decades past), even if the employer thinks that he or she is well-qualified for the position, is irrational and counterproductive.

It’s time to bring some common sense back to this issue: Individuals with a prior criminal conviction already have plenty of barriers to overcome in becoming reemployed.  Their reintegration into society should not be made impossible through misguided efforts that are premised upon faulty assumptions and actually result in increased safety risks.

A version of this article was originally published on the LeVan Law Group website.  Printed with Permission.

Peter H. (“Tad”) LeVan, the lead attorney working pro bono on Peake and it predecessor case, Nixon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a seasoned trial and appellate attorney who has tried a number of high-stakes cases against national banks, Wall Street financial institutions and a Madoff investment firm, securing settlements on behalf of injured plan participants that have exceeded $700 million

Woman sues Walmart after being told to 'choose between her career and her kids,' then fired

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Women filing discrimination lawsuits against Walmart are nothing new. Walmart firing people for questionable and controversial reasons is also nothing new. Now a woman is suing the low-wage retail giant, saying she was fired after complaining about discriminatory treatment. Specifically, Rebecca Wolfinger says her boss told her she had to “choose between her career and her kids.”

Wolfinger’s suit focuses on what she claims was her mistreatment while working as a shift manager. She was being required to work seven days a week when she received the “career or kids” threat, she contends.

Other male shift managers weren’t on a seven-day work schedule, Wolfinger claims. Her February 2012 firing occurred after she reported her boss’ comment to a company human resource officer, the suit states.

Wolfinger was officially fired, she says, for selling Pampered Chef outside of work—but coworkers who engaged in similar activities weren’t fired. And of course a sophisticated company like Walmart doesn’t admit to having fired someone for complaining about illegal discrimination.

Several years ago, 1.5 million women who worked or had worked at Walmart attempted a class action lawsuit against the company, only to have the Supreme Court say that “[e]ven if every single one of these accounts is true, that would not demonstrate that the entire company operate[s] under a general policy of discrimination.” That’s despite evidence like this:

Many female Walmart employees have been paid less than male coworkers. In 2001, female workers earned $5,200 less per year on average than male workers. The company paid those who had hourly jobs, where the average yearly earnings were $18,000, $1.16 less per hour ($1,100 less per year) than men in the same position. Female employees who held salaried positions with average yearly earnings of $50,000 were paid $14,500 less per year than men in the same position. Despite this gap in wages, female Walmart employees on average have longer tenure and higher performance ratings.

Doubtless all just a coincidence, though. Just like Rebecca Wolfinger was coincidentally fired for something that other workers did after she reported being discriminated against.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com/blog/labor on January 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is the Daily Kos contributing editor and has been since December 2006.  She has also been the labor editor since 2011.

Employment Equality - When is the Federal Government Going to get on Board with LGBT Employment Rights? A Lawyer’s Look at State & Federal Workplace Protections

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

BraniganRobertsonThe topic of LGBT rights has dramatically increased in the last few years. Most have heard about the recent Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the nation. Whether on the legislative floor or in the courthouse, there is no question that LGBT rights have really come a long way in America in the last few years. But what about in the workplace? What employment law protections are there against LGBT discrimination at work?

What many people do not know is that workplace protections for LGBT employees vary by state jurisdiction. This can be confusing as many people may assume that the law is uniform throughout the nation. It’s not. Simply put, federal and state laws may differ as to whether an employer may discriminate against an employee because of his or her sexual orientation.

Federal Law Does Not Ban Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Federal law is not very good at protecting LGBT employees in the workplace. The main federal anti-discrimination law is Title VII. It doesn’t ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some federal courts have held that discrimination by an employer based on an employee’s sexual orientation is not a violation of federal law. See Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Ctr., Inc. (7th Cir. 2000) and Bibby v. Philadelphia Coca Cola Bottling Co. (3rd Cir. 2001) (“It is clear…that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.”) What is really interesting is that Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based upon their “sex,” but some courts have interpreted that to refer only to their biological gender, not someone’s sexual orientation or identity.

However, just because an LGBT employee is not be protected at the federal level does not mean they are out of luck. Most states have some sort of protection banning discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s sexual orientation. For example, California explicitly bans employment discrimination based on “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression.” See CA Government Code § 12940. Case law supports this as well.

State Law is Better for LGBT Employment Rights (Depending on Where You Live)

Complicating the matter, there are still a few states (eighteen in total) that have no state laws whatsoever prohibiting LGBT discrimination in the workplace. To make it even more confusing, some states prohibit discrimination in all workplaces (public and private) but some states, such as Alaska and Arizona, only prohibit public employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

The good news is that there is an increasing amount of states joining the movement of implementing laws that are very favorable to LGBT employees. From 2012 until present, three states have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. I’m an lawyer in California which has had laws protecting LGBT employees in the workplace since the early 1990s. So why is the federal government not on board with most of these states yet?

Answering that question is pretty difficult as there are so many factors to be considered as to why the federal government has not followed the majority of the states yet. But what can be said is this; in today’s legislative environment, the federal government usually does not implement controversial or hotly debated law until an overwhelming majority of the states have already done so. Rather than anger many states by forcing them to adopt a law they dislike, the federal government will sit on the sidelines until enough political pressure has built up that Congressional leaders and the Supreme Court align with the states. For example, the Supreme Court did not legalize same sex marriage until thirty-seven states had already done so and public opinion swung towards legalization. So if that is the case then when is the federal government going to implement favorable laws protecting LGBT employees in the workplace?

The Momentum is Growing for Federal Protection

As stated above, most states offer some level of protection to LGBT employees, but some states provide a higher level or protection than others. So arguably, there is not yet an overwhelming majority of states that offer LGBT employees total protection like that of the laws in California. But every year a state or two adopts favorable LGBT employment laws. Thus, assuming a state or two adopts favorable laws every year we may see some major changes to federal law within the next decade protecting LGBT employees.

Moreover, aside from statutory changes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken a stance on the issue. In 2015, the EEOC released a statement that federal law prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based on his or her sexual orientation because it is a type of sex discrimination. Considering that the EEOC is the federal administrative body that handles employment claims, this is a huge step in the right direction. However, such statements made by the EEOC are not binding on the federal courts or the legislature, but they can influence a court or the legislature to take a certain stance.

At the end of the day, LGBT rights in the workplace have come a long way from what they used to be only a few decades ago. In the span of only a couple decades, most states have adopted some sort of law protecting LGBT employees, and almost half of the states have total protection for LGBT employees. Things are looking good for the LGBT community when it comes to protection in the workplace, but there is still some work to be done. In light of Obergefell v. Hodges and the most recent stance taken by the EEOC, I would not be surprised if in the next decade or so, whether it be by the legislature or a Supreme Court ruling, that the federal government amend Title VII to offer more protection to LGBT employees in the workplace.

Branigan Robertson is an employment attorney in Orange County, California. He is a member of the California Bar, California Employment Lawyers Association, and the National Employment Lawyers Association. He exclusively represents employees (the little guy/gal!) in lawsuits against employers and focuses his practice on discrimination and wrongful termination. Mr. Robertson attended Chapman University School of Law and was President of the Employment Law Society.

Strangers Raise Money For Walmart Worker Fired For Picking Up Cans

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

AlanPyke_108x108When a parking lot attendant dared to recycle trash he picked up outside an upstate New York Walmart, the store fired him. Now generous strangers are trying to help cushion his sudden fall.

Thomas Smith, 52, had been earning $9 an hour at an upstate New York Walmart for less than three months when his manager terminated him over the cans. Smith was in charge of rounding up shopping carts from the lot outside the store, and started collecting trash from the lot while making his rounds. After storing up cans for a couple months, he recycled them in the store’s machines in early November. He got $5.10 for them.

Then he got fired. His manager told Smith his actions were “tantamount to theft of Walmart property,” the Albany Times Union reports, and said he would have to repay the $5.10 or lose his job. Smith, who commuted an hour by bus from Albany for the job, returned to the store two days later with the cash. But he’d already been fired.

“I didn’t know you couldn’t take empties left behind. They were garbage. I didn’t even get a chance to explain myself,” Smith told the paper. He also said his manager told him that a coworker who’d been caught stealing cash from a store register was allowed to keep her job because she repaid the theft and “because she has five kids.”

That thief was white. Smith collected trash while black.

The store manager who made the decision refused to speak with the Times-Union, and a Walmart spokesman told the paper it does not comment on personnel matters. After the story got picked up by local TV news, a company representative claimed Smith had admitted to stealing from inside the store itself. “They certainly didn’t indicate that both when I talked to them and our attorney talked to them,” Alice Green of the Center for Law and Justice said of that claim. Smith says he wrote out a statement for managers acknowledging he’d recycled the cans and no more.

Smith’s story has prompted strangers to send money through the crowdfunding site GoFundMe. So far the effort has collected more than $2,200 – an amount Smith would’ve had to work more than six weeks at full-time hours to earn.

While going viral for his sudden termination from a low-wage job has provided some short-term help, Smith will likely still have a hard time getting back on his feet. He was paroled in May after more than a dozen years in prison for armed robbery. He’d spent four months homeless after his release before finding housing through a charitable group. The Walmart job would have been one of his first, if not his very first, opportunities since his release for earning a living and achieving a degree of economic independence.

Formerly incarcerated people face immense hurdles to re-entering society and the workforce. Trust is hard to come by. Many job applications feature a check-box requiring applicants to volunteer information about their criminal history, which generally ruins their chances of even getting an interview.

The rejection naturally encourages desperate people to return to criminal activity for an income, as Glenn Martin, who now runs a non-profit that works with the formerly incarcerated and wasturned away from 50 different jobs in the month after his own release from prison, has described. Activists like Martin say efforts to reform the criminal justice and prison systems should include “ban the box” measures to restrict how hiring managers can ask about criminal histories – something President Obama recently did for federal hiring practices – and a revamp of education programs behind bars.

Since being fired, Smith has gotten plugged in with a legal aid group in Albany that is helping him recover his footing and that may eventually help him sue Walmart over his treatment. For now, though, he’s more worried about how he’s going to buy Christmas presents for his two teenage children.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on November 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

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