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Showing 47 posts in Discrimination.

Dov Charney’s Pants And A Sexually Charged Workplace – ‎ What Is A Company Seeking To Minimize Litigation Risk To Do?‎

We at Suits by Suits are so excited by American Apparel’s dispute with its recently-fired CEO and founder Dov Charney that we can barely keep our shirts on.  After all, the dispute between the clothing manufacturer and its controversial former leader is bursting at the seams with takeaway points for feuding companies and C-suite employees (and those wanting to avoid having feuds).  For example, as we described in an earlier post, the dispute illustrates that terminating a key company officer may jeopardize company financing.  The dispute also presents the question:  can a company like American Apparel, which knew that Charney was apparently known for not being able to keep his pants on, decrease its exposure to the inevitable sexual harassment lawsuit by having all of its employees acknowledge in writing that the company’s workplace is sexually charged?   It depends.    Read More ›

The Buddhist, The Bible, And Morning Coffee

Did you hear the one about the Buddhist marketing director who refused an order to add Bible verses to the daily morning e-mail he sent to all employees – and then got fired the next day, after an otherwise successful eight-year career?

This is, of course, not an opening line to a joke, but another installment in our occasional series about the intersection of religious beliefs (of all types) and employment – also of all types.  Religion and employment issues – whether it’s an employee in the C-suite or someone further along the hierarchy – almost never mix well.  Just this week, of course, nine of our fellow lawyers who happen to sit on the Supreme Court are hearing arguments in two cases about whether a company with a religious belief about contraception is exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for employer-provided health insurance. 

Far away from the hallowed marble home of the Supreme Court (which, by the way, we think is in a fine building -- unlike former Justice Harlan Fiske Stone) and down in the Eastern District of Texas, a new suit raises an interesting question of prohibited religious discrimination under Title VII: namely, can a fired Buddhist employee win damages from a company that, he says, fired him after eight years because he refused to put Bible quotations in the daily e-mail his employer had him write and send to all of the company’s 500 employees?  Read More ›

Sniff, Sniff: The Pungent Odor Of Sexual Harassment?

Ah, the smells of the holiday season: fresh-cut evergreen trees, just-baked cookies and other goodies, bowls of tasty fruit punch.  Take a deep whiff wherever you are.  Breathe it in deep. 

But be careful about sniffing those smells, though. 

That is the apparent lesson from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Tonia Royal’s retaliation lawsuit against her employer, an apartment management company named CCC&R Tres Arboles.  The appellate court held that the trial court incorrectly gave the apartment company summary judgment, because too many material facts about the basis for Ms. Royal’s firing were in dispute.  And many of those facts relate to the behavior of other CCC&R employees, who Ms. Royal alleged sexually harassed her by sniffing her in a rather curious and uncomfortable manner.   Read More ›

Sleeping With The Enemy Executive

Coke and PepsiA Baltimore police officer claimed she was fired because she got married.  The police department agreed.  The problem was that the officer married Carlito Cabana, an incarcerated murderer and the “supreme commander” of a prison gang called Dead Man, Inc.  The question presented was whether the police department’s action violated the officer’s “constitutional right to marry and to engage in intimate association.”  The Maryland courts didn’t think much of that claim, see Cross v. Baltimore City Police Dep’t, and it does seem as though the police department had a point. 

But what about Mr. Cabana?  Surely Cabana’s “employer,” nominally a private corporation, could not have been pleased with his choice of spouse, either.  (Let’s ignore Dead Man’s failure to register to do business in Maryland.)  Could the Dead Man board have fired Cabana for marrying a cop?  Could a legitimate private employer (like the Coca-Cola Co.) have fired an executive for marrying an employee of its mortal adversary (like PepsiCo)?  Read More ›

Fifth Circuit Sends Dispute Over Free Parking Back to Trial Court

Free ParkingThose of us who live in or near big cities know the value of a good parking space.  Two years ago, New Yorkers paid an average of $540 a month to park in midtown Manhattan.  And here in Washington, D.C., a permanent space can go for as much as $100,000.

A good parking spot was also important to Pauline Feist, an assistant attorney general with the Louisiana Department of Justice.  Feist, citing a disability (osteoarthritis of the knee), asked the Department for a free space in her building rather than in the garage across the street, but her employer turned down her request.  She filed a complaint with the EEOC, and five months later, she was out of a job.  Feist sued the Department in federal court, alleging that it had discriminated against her by denying her a parking space and then by retaliating against her for filing the EEOC complaint.

The federal trial judge slammed the door on Feist, granting summary judgment on both of her claims.  However, in a ruling last week, the Fifth Circuit reversed the summary judgment ruling on Feist’s discrimination claim, sending the case back to the trial court for a second try.  Feist v. State of Louisiana, No. 12-31065 (5th Cir. Sept. 16, 2013). Read More ›

The Inbox

St. Basi'sWe thought about getting a Putin op-ed to cap off this week at Suits by Suits.  But instead, we decided to stick with our tried-and-true formula of canvassing the week’s headlines in employer-executive disputes:

  • Bloomberg Law reported on a recent ruling by the Delaware Chancery Court that a company officer and trustee could not invoke the attorney-client privilege for communications with their personal attorneys and advisors sent from their work e-mail accounts.  The court wrote that the company could access the e-mails because it had reserved the right to do so in its employee manual, and therefore the officer and trustee did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the e-mails.
  • Pete Brush of Law360 (subscription required) covered the hearing in the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, on claims by a former Intesa SanPaolo executive, Giuseppe Romanella.  Romanella alleges that the company illegally fired him after he complained of depression.  The company argues that it was allowed to fire him because he refused to provide any reasonable time frame for his return from leave.
  • A federal judge tossed a number of claims against Bloomberg LP in an EEOC case alleging that the company discriminated against employees who returned from maternity leave, reported Jonathan Stempel and Jennifer Saba of Reuters.  The court found that the EEOC could not pursue a class action because it failed to show that discrimination was Bloomberg’s standard operating practice.  Further, the judge said that the EEOC had failed to investigate its individual plaintiffs’ claims and unfairly rebuffed Bloomberg’s attempts to settle.  The Wall Street Journal characterized this as a “sue first, investigate later” approach.
Read More ›

You’re “Not That Pretty,” Part 2 – You’re Old, Too

In the previous part, we looked at Elke Tober-Purze’s lawsuit against her employer, the City of Evanston.  The federal court hearing the case ruled in Tober-Purze’s favor on Evanston’s motion to dismiss her claim that it had discriminated against her by paying her male colleagues more and ultimately terminating her from her job as an assistant city attorney. 

In the same opinion, the court also denied Evanston’s motion to dismiss Tober-Purze’s claim for age discrimination based on federal law.  That law – the Age Discrimination in Employment Act – requires an aggrieved employee to demonstrate that he or she: 1) is over forty; 2) otherwise meets the employer’s expectations; 3) suffered an adverse employment action – such as being terminated or passed over for promotion; and 4) was treated less favorably than others who are not over forty.   Read More ›

You’re “Not That Pretty”, Part 1‎

The toughest part of this post, for me, is how to categorize this one: does this go in my file of “Things Not To Do At Work?”  Or is this one another example of “Lawyers Behaving Badly?” Or maybe “Generally Unacceptable Management Styles?” 

Well, I’ll let you decide.  But here is the takeaway: however you categorize it, it’s likely a bad idea to tell a woman that works for you that she’s “not that pretty,” that prior female employees were “smart…good-looking…just gorgeous” and used to wear tight sweaters, and that “it’s all been downhill since women got the vote.” 

Statements like that can give rise to allegations of gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that can survive a motion to dismiss.  That’s what the City of Evanston, Illinois learned last week, in Elke Tober-Purze v. Evanston, pending in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois.   Read More ›

Paula Deen Ruling Also Reminds Us: Title VII Protects Employees Who Are Discriminated Against for Their Association with People of Other Races Outside of the Workplace

Basketball On Tuesday, we examined the dismissal by a Georgia federal court of Lisa T. Jackson’s race-based discrimination claim against Paula Deen and others, and noted that, under Title VII, an employer may not discriminate against an employee for associating with employees of another race.  But we don’t want you to be left with the impression that the association has to be between co-workers.  Courts also have recognized “interracial association” Title VII claims for associations occurring outside of the workplace.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is one such court. Read More ›

Paula Deen Ruling Reminds Us: Title VII Protects White Employees Who Are Discriminated Against for Their Association with Black Employees

Whirlpool WasherLast week, a federal court in Georgia dismissed Lisa T. Jackson’s race-based discrimination claim against Paula Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Heirs, and their restaurant businesses.  Earlier events in the Jackson v. Deen case – including Deen’s deposition testimony and what it may mean for alter ego liability – caught our attention at Suits by Suits.  This recent ruling interests us as a reminder that it is not always the case that a white employee who works in an environment that is hostile to blacks has no claim for damages against her employer for race-based discrimination. Read More ›