EEOC Sues Greyhound Lines, Inc. For Religious Discrimination

Greyhound Lines Inc.

Greyhound Lines Inc.

According to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the EEOC against Dallas-based Greyhound Lines, the company violated federal law when it refused to accommodate the religious beliefs of a bus driver.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, a driver who is a practicing Muslim applied for a driver position at Greyhound's Baltimore facility. During the interview the driver told the supervisor for driver operations and safety that her religious beliefs require her to dress modestly by wearing a headscarf and an abaya, a loose-fitting ankle-length overgarment that conceals the outline of the wearer's body. The supervisor told her during the interview, and later during her training after she was hired, that Greyhound would accommodate her religious beliefs.

However, Greyhound later refused to allow her to wear the abaya, claiming it would be a safety hazard, and proposed she wear a knee-length skirt over pants. The EEOC said that the driver was compelled to quit because the skirt-and-pants uniform proposal conflicted with her religious practice of modest dress by revealing the outline of her body.

According to the suit, prior to applying at Greyhound, the driver had successfully completed her commercial driving license training and had satisfactorily completed all Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration examinations while wearing the abaya. She also was employed for one year as a tractor-trailer driver while wearing the abaya.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an applicant's or employee's sincerely held religious beliefs unless it would pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division (EEOC v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:19-cv-01651). The lawsuit seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

"The driver was able to perform her duties safely while wearing her religious garb, but Greyhound unjustly refused to accommodate her religious beliefs," said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence. "No employee should be forced to choose between practicing her sincerely held religious beliefs and earning a living."

Read more articles about discrimination here.

$334,500 Age Discrimination Verdict Against Time Warner Cable Upheld on Appeal

ADEA - Age Discrimination in Employment Act

ADEA - Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has let stand a $334,500 jury verdict for a 61-year-old employee who the company fired over a single incident of backdating a form.

The Plaintiff, Glenda Westmoreland, had worked for a Time Warner Cable subsidiary for more than 30 years, was fired after instructing a subordinate to backdate a form to reflect the date of a related meeting, rather than the date the form was actually completed. TWC initially told her the infraction wasn't serious but later concluded that she had violated company policy prohibiting false statements and created "trust and integrity" issues. While walking her to her car, a supervisor told the Plaintiff, "You’ll get another job. Just go home and take care of those grandbabies.” Westmoreland sued, alleging age discrimination.

A jury found for Westmoreland and, on appeal, the 4th Circuit upheld the verdict. TWC’s "about face" on the disciplinary matter could give rise to a "suspicion of mendacity" about the company’s rationale for firing her, the court said. It also noted that company representatives had testified that there were lesser forms of discipline available. As a result, the court said, the jury could reasonably find that Westmoreland’s firing for one infraction that did not require termination was "such an extreme overreaction as to be pretextual." In addition, the jury could have found that the "grandbabies" comment was made by a supervisor who harbored age bias, the court said.

Age discrimination in employment is illegal, but two-thirds of older job seekers report encountering it. Employees between the ages of 46 and 65 (especially those nearing retirement age) are the most likely to be targeted. Those employees are often let go by employers who perceive them to be more expensive and less valuable than younger replacements.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) exists to protect individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA's protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment -- including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

You can read the full 4th Circuit opinion here.

New Labor Rule Means Gig Economy Workers In Texas Can't Get Unemployment Benefits

IMG_0016.png

Last month, the state’s labor regulator approved a controversial new rule on gig economy workers – a rule opponents say will have negative implications for these workers going forward.

Approved on a 2-1 vote, the rule from the Texas Workforce Commission exempts app-based companies that hire contractors – like TaskRabbit or DoorDash – from paying state unemployment insurance taxes for those workers. The three-member commission gave initial approval for the rule in December.

Labor unions and workers advocates say the new rules were tailor-made by lobbyists from a firm called Handy. The agency has defended its rule-making process, saying it is well within its legislatively appointed rights to rule on employment matters and that, per state law, it allowed 30 days of public comment before initially adopting the rules. Opponents have said the rules could incentivize companies to abandon brick-and-mortar businesses to avoid paying those state unemployment taxes.

The risk is that the rule would likely reclassify many construction workers as independent contractors, leaving them without those protections for wage theft and discrimination on job-sites.

Read more: KUT Article

Jury awards $3.8M to woman; Employer argued her breastfeeding schedule was 'excessive'

breastfeeding-2730855_1280.png

An Arizona jury has sided with a breastfeeding paramedic, awarding the nursing mother $3.8 million for her lawsuit alleging she wasn't provided a lactation space as required by federal law.

Carrie Ferrara Clark sued the City of Tucson Fire Department, alleging that it violated federal employment laws when it failed to provide her with an appropriate lactation room on a consistent basis and when it retaliated against her for complaining about the issue. Her lawsuit alleged that the fire department's scheduler said he didn't believe she deserved any special accommodations. The HR manager also recommended that she use fire chiefs' and captains' bedrooms for pumping as needed, but Clark explained that waking up her supervisors every 2 to 3 hours seemed unreasonable. HR then told her "your pumping seems excessive to me.” When she tried to explain that such a schedule was normal for a newborn, the HR manager replied "well, it seems to me that you're not fit for duty."

A jury found the employer liable for discrimination and retaliation, awarding her $3.8 million. It found, among other things, that the employer discriminated against her because she was breastfeeding and that it assigned her to fire stations that did not have a space that complied with federal requirements for expressing breast milk.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) states that employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

Employers are not required under the FLSA to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk. However, where employers already provide compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time.

Learn More:

Does the ADA Require Business Websites to be Accessible?

Domino’s Seeks SCOTUS Review

Domino’s Seeks SCOTUS Review

In January the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision allowing a blind plaintiff to proceed with his ADA Title III lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza for having an allegedly inaccessible website and mobile app.  The court determined that allowing the claim to move forward was not a violation of Domino’s due process rights, even though the ADA and its regulations contain no definition of, or technical specifications for, “accessible” public accommodations websites. It now appears that Domino’s is planning to try to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Domino’s recently requested a 60 day extension of time to file a petition with the Supreme Court asking for it to review the case. The request was granted by Justice Kagan. Domino’s Petition for Certiorari is now due on June 14, 2019.

This is an important issue to many. From the business-side of the fence, companies are facing an increasing number of lawsuits relating to the accessibility of their websites while they have not received much guidance from the courts or the Department of Labor as to what they are required to do in order to make their websites properly accessible. For those with certain disabilities, the transition of much or our day-to-day commerce from brick and mortar stores to the online world has increasingly left them out.

It is an important issue that deserves attention from both the courts and the Department of Labor.

Read Domino’s Motion Here.

Employer Extending “Medical Leaves of Absence” Beyond 12 Weeks Creates an FMLA Trap for Unwary Employees

IMG_0009.JPG

An opinion letter issued last week by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) makes clear that neither employers nor employees can decline to designate Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)-qualifying leave as such. DOL also made clear in its letter that while employers are free to adopt leaves policies more generous than the FMLA, they cannot extend the FMLA's protections beyond 12 weeks (or 26 weeks for military caregiver leave). The effect of these interpretations can create a trap for the unwary employee.

 When an employer determines an employee needs leave because of an FMLA-qualifying reason, that leave must count toward his or her FMLA allotment, even if the employee requests otherwise. This means that employees cannot, for example, opt to take employer-provided sick or vacation time first; FMLA leave would have to run concurrently. And even if the employer chooses to grant more leave than the 12 weeks required by law, the employer cannot extend the law’s job protection to those additional weeks.

Here’s an example: An employee is out on FMLA leave due to a surgery or some other serious health condition. Near the end of the 12-week FMLA period, the employee’s doctor indicates that just a couple more weeks of leave would be beneficial medically.  The employee asks his or her employer and the leave extension is granted.  Then at the end of the leave period (now 14 weeks because of the extension) the employer says things have change and the employee had to be replaced or his/her job was eliminated.  Does the employee have protection under the FMLA in this scenario?  Probably not. 

Over the last few years, we have seen many employers building in FMLA extensions into their medical leave policies.  The policies often provide for 15 weeks of “Medical Leave” rather than the 12 weeks mandated by law. And, while more leave seems like a good thing, it can be a trap. This is because only the first 12 weeks of the 15-week medical leave period has job protection enforceable under the FMLA. If the employee stays out beyond 12 weeks, their job is no longer protected by federal law, even though the employer’s own policy granted 15 weeks of medical leave. 

Are extended “Medical Leave” policies an example of companies being generous or are they carefully laid traps for unwary employees?  A little of both perhaps. But the bottom line is that employees must remember that no matter what anyone at the company tells you, you only have FMLA job protection for the 12 weeks mandated by the statute.  

 

Want to learn more about the FMLA?  Start here.