Articles Posted in Discrimination

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An executive order recently signed by President Barack Obama bars the federal government from accepting bids from contractors found liable for age discrimination. The order also bars companies with federal contracts from binding workers to arbitration agreements in age discrimination claims. olderworker.jpg

The idea, Obama later said, is not to penalize companies so much as emphasize the opportunity to follow good workplace practices and legal compliance.

While the order won’t affect every company, it’s worth noting 1 in 5 American workers are employed at a firm with a federal government contract. What’s more, a 2010 Government Accountability Office report indicated contractors responsible for two-thirds of the biggest labor law violations went on to score federal contracts.This order serves to press companies to more carefully craft internal policies and also heightens awareness of the growing problem of age discrimination in the workplace.
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A food service worker, blind in one eye, says he was ridiculed by managers for being a “Cyclops.” Another, who suffers from cerebral palsy and a rare condition that makes his nose abnormally large, was routinely mocked, his voice and mannerisms mimicked by higher-ups. These and several others claim evidence their high-profile New York City employer made sure they worked in less desirable, “back of the house” positions due to their disabilities, to ensure customers wouldn’t see them. Another says he was transferred to another assignment when he complained of his co-workers’ poor treatment.
These kinds of actions in the workplace are not only cruel – they’re illegal.

Disability discrimination is barred under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 2008 ADA Amendment Act (which strengthened protections for disabled workers after years of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that narrowed them significantly), the Rehabilitation Act, and the New York State Human Rights Law, codified in N.Y. Exec. L. 290, which has definitions of disability that are even more inclusive.
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A great deal of progress was made in the women’s movement for equality in the workplace during the 1970s and 1980s.

However, it seems since the mid-1990s, that progress has sputtered, given that, among full-time employees, women earn 77 percent the salaries of their male counterparts. This is true even when we account for the fact that women tend to work in differing occupations, which pay less on the whole. womenworkers.jpg

When women who are as equally qualified as their male counterparts are systematically paid less, overlooked for promotions or given less desirable job assignments, this is unquestionably a form of gender discrimination, barred under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, there are many other manifestations of gender discrimination that may be more subtle and tougher to recognize. For example, the EEOC defines sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination. Also, adverse actions taken on the basis of pregnancy and related conditions (i.e., childbirth recovery, nursing, etc.) are considered a form of gender discrimination, barred under provisions of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the Americans with Disabilities Act and portions of the Family Medical Leave Act. In some cases, targeting workers on the basis of weight or appearance could also be a form of gender discrimination if such action focuses solely on the female employees.
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In 2013, it’s unfortunate – and sometimes maddening – that we must continue to face down issues of workplace discrimination.
But while litigation for many protected classes often serve to make the rules clear-cut, it’s not as much the case for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. That’s because the federal protections for those who who identify as LGBT are limited, and only a handful of states have strong protections for these workers.

This leaves many of the estimated 5.4 million LGBT workers at risk for an inability to provide for themselves and their families.

New York fares better than most states, but we still have far to go.

A 2012 ruling by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission extends Title VII prohibitions on sex discrimination to include those who are transgender and gender non-conforming.

In New York, employment discrimination law covers only sexual orientation, according to the Movement Advancement Project. The same non-profit research firm reports that about 50 to 59 percent of the state population is protected from employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity through local ordinance. Only 16 states have 100 percent, statewide gender identity protection.

Some 20 states protect workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. MAP recently compiled a report indicating that on the whole, LGBT workers face more discrimination, receive fewer benefits and pay more taxes than their straight counterparts.

What this means is that in more than half of the states in the U.S., one can still be fired simply for being gay or transgendered. For example, one man featured recently in The New York Times was laid off after working nearly 10 years as an adjunct professor of communications at a small community college in Missouri – simply and expressly because his boss disliked his sexuality.

A federal bill called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would bar on-the-job discrimination against anyone on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Similar measures have failed to gain steam numerous times since the 1990s. However, both houses of Congress have their own version of the legislation now and the measure seems to have gained substantial support. Committee discussion is expected early next month.

The primary forms of LGBT discrimination, as outlined by MAP’s research, are:

  • Bias and discrimination in hiring;
  • On-the-job unfairness and inequality;
  • Wage penalties and gaps;
  • Lack of legal protections;
  • Unequal access to health insurance benefits;
  • Denial of Family and Medical Leave Act;
  • Denial of spousal retirement benefits;
  • Higher tax burdens.

But even with laws to address these aspects of unfairness, some believe that it has to start from within the agency. If discrimination is part of the culture of an organization, it’s going to be pervasive no matter what laws are enacted.
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On the surface, it may appear that the “no fatties” New York City employment lawsuit filed against a local sports bar was about weight. tailormeasure.jpg

But New York City discrimination lawyers recognize that it’s actually about sexual discrimination and sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

According to various media reports, two women who worked as waitresses and bartenders for a New York City restaurant and bar claim that the company had a policy of “no fatties.” The female employees were reported singled out and forced to step on a scale to be weighed. One of the women who refused was reportedly forcibly picked up by a male staffer and placed on the scale against her will.

Another staffer says that the night manager reportedly groped her breasts and buttocks and made vulgar and inappropriate sexual comments to her and about her weight.

This had gone on from between 2004 to 2006. Then in the summer of 2006, members of the management team reportedly charted the female staffers’ weight and posted it on the internet.

When the women complained, they said, they were fired.

Of course, as New York City employment lawyers recognize, you can’t legally be fired for reporting or complaining about discriminatory behavior – which it certainly appears this was. If their account is true, this is an issue of clear-cut employment retaliation.

The issue is not so much about the issue of weight or size. The women were not reportedly fired for being overweight. While that is certainly illegal, it can be more subjective and difficult to prove. (If you find yourself in a similar situation, an experienced attorney can help you explore all your options.)

However in this case, the women were singled out because they were women. They were subjected to poor treatment and sexual harassment because they were women. And they were fired because they complained about it.

Of course, the company has a very different take on this. According to attorneys for the restaurant and managers, the women were fired for unrelated reasons. They say the women frequently showed up late to work and ate on the job.

Those things may be true, but the timing appears awfully suspicious.

Sexual discrimination is one of those things that is severely under-reported, and sometimes the reasoning for that is employees don’t often recognize it outright.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlines that sex discrimination essentially involves a person being treated unfavorably because of his or her sex. The law expressly forbids discrimination in terms of pay, job assignments, hiring, firing, promotions, fringe benefits, layoffs, training or any other condition of employment.

And with regard to sexual harassment, it can include unwelcome sexual advances or asking for sexual favors or physical or verbal harassment. What’s more, the harassment doesn’t even have to be particularly sexual. It can simply mean one person making offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s sex. An example might be making offense comments about women in general.

The law doesn’t cover teasing or isolated incidents or offhand remarks. But there can be a fine line here. It becomes illegal when it gets to a point that the work environment has become hostile or offensive.

The case involving the waitresses appears to meet that criteria. The case will be decided by a jury.
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New York City discrimination attorneys have been watching the case involving a New Jersey woman who claims religious and sex discrimination with regard to her employer’s dress code. lips.jpg

New York City discrimination lawyers understand that while many employee dress codes are totally legal, there is a fine line between enforcing somewhat Draconian dress codes and employment discrimination.

Before we explain more fully, here’s what we know of this case, according to Good Morning America:

A woman from New Jersey was hired to work as a data entry clerk at a lingerie wholesale company, headquartered in Manhattan.

She had worked there only two days, she said, when she was first counseled by her superior. Her supervisor had informed her that the store owners, who are reportedly Orthodox Jews, were unhappy with the woman’s outfit, deeming it, “distracting.”

When she asked what the dress code was, she was told to look around and take stock of what the other female employees were wearing. She said she observed that attire to be basically a range from “very” casual athletic wear to formal business attire.

The woman says she came to work the next day fully covered in a gray t-shirt, black jean leggings and boots. Her employers, however, found this unsatisfactory. At that point, she alleges she was instructed to tape down her breasts. When she asked if the supervisor was kidding, he responded that she was simply to cover up more.

The supervisor then reportedly gave her a hideous bath robe and instructed her to wear it. The worker said she was humiliated, and was taunted by co-workers. She was eventually given the option to go purchase a sweater, which she then left to do. However, while shopping for a sweater, she received a call telling her not to return.

Now, here’s the thing: Existing law regarding sex discrimination prohibits policies that impose discriminatory burdens or that are sexually demeaning. However, dress codes in and of themselves aren’t illegal.

So even if a company wants to demand that female workers wear skirts and make-up, it’s not considered discriminatory, unless maybe the male employees in the same position are allowed to walk around in jeans and t-shirts.

A lot of companies have dress codes, particularly for people who work with the public.

What this woman may have going for her in this case is that it does not appear that dress code was ever properly and clearly communicated to her.

This is not the first local case in which a woman has sued her former employer, claiming dress code discrimination. A woman in Queens sued Citibank two years ago after her bosses there reportedly banned her from wearing “heels and sexy outfits.” Other female employees, she noted, were wearing the same attire as her and were not penalized. She, on the other hand, was fired. She claims it was because her bosses felt she was “too hot.”

It is not so much the banning of certain clothing, but the disparity between this employee and others that determines whether this individual’s case may be solid.

In the case of Citibank, the bank ended up settling with her for an undisclosed amount.
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A weatherman in Los Angeles is suing CBS broadcasting for discrimination, saying the station only aims to hire young, attractive women to report on the weather.

laweather.jpgNew York City, like Los Angeles, has one of the largest media markets in the country, and as such, this case could have implications for future New York discrimination lawsuits involving similar circumstances.

Our New York City discrimination attorneys believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity to pursue the career path they choose. Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against someone on the basis of sex, age, race, religion and other factors.

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Racial discrimination in New York among the firefighting ranks could cost the city upwards of $130 million.

Our New York City labor and employment lawyers understand that this entire affair has impacted a fine institution, lauded for its many sacrifices and accomplishments. But discrimination in any form is unacceptable, and it’s especially disheartening when it is allowed to persist at any level of an organization.

For decades, there had been whispers and knowing nods that there was racial discrimination at the New York Fire Department. A simple look at the demographics reveals the startling truth: The department is more than 90 percent white, 6 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black – hardly reflective of the diverse makeup of New York City.

However, the situation didn’t come to a head until 2007, when the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit, claiming that the entrance exam discriminated against racial minorities.

In 2009, a federal judge in Brooklyn agreed with that take, ruling that whites scored consistently higher on the tests than minorities. He ruled the oversight wasn’t intentional, but rather the result of a test structure that was inherently more favorable to whites. Test scores were based on reading and comprehension skills, rather than actual firefighting skills. What’s more, there was a culture of nepotism within the department. Because the department had been made up largely of white firefighters to begin with, their family and friends were consistently recommended and supported throughout the application process, further perpetuating the lack of diversity.

It was ordered that a new exam would have to be developed, with the help of a third-party, equal opportunity consultant.

Now, the courts are taking this message a step further. The city is going to have to shell out almost $130 million in back wages to minority applicants who weren’t hired after taking the department’s entrance exam. That payout is going to be split up among some 2,200 applicants who were turned down between 1999 and 2002. The applicants’ salary between when they applied and now is going to be factored into the settlement. So someone who made less is going to get more.

Plus, the department needs to hire nearly 300 black and Latino applicants.

A spokesman for the Vulcan Society, which is a fraternity of black firefighters, said that the decision marked a great victory for both the department – which will benefit from the diversity – and those who had previously been excluded – who will benefit from the renewed opportunity.

At this point, nearly 62,000 individuals have registered to take the new exam this week. That is three times the amount of any year of previous applicants.

While the city has defended its hiring practices, saying that the number of minorities has tripled in the last decade, clearly, it hasn’t been enough.

This case just goes to show that discrimination in the workplace is costly – not only in terms of possible financial penalties, but in terms of the human toll as well.
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The political season is heating up. As the Republicans attempt to figure out who will challenge President Barack Obama for his position, the rhetoric will be flowing big time throughout the rest of the year.

But what happens when office talk becomes political talk? Workers’ opinions can fly and they may dismiss some candidates perhaps based on their race, gender or age. That can lead to hurt feelings and a possible discrimination lawsuit in Long Island.
So, what should be done? For employers, they must create well-worded policies that lay out the proper workplace behavior without trouncing First Amendment rights of their workers. On the flip side, workers who feel words of discrimination are being flung around the office must report this to their supervisors in order to fix the behavior.

The Associated Press recently wrote an article on the topic and spoke with some experts who advise companies to take steps to ensure that their workers are able to voice their opinions in the office, but at the same time make sure other employees don’t feel uncomfortable in a hostile environment.

Politics, along with religion, may be the most controversial topics people can discuss in our country. Especially in 2012, where Congress is divided and all sides seem opposed to each other, this is sure to be a big water-cooler conversation piece.

The article provides a few suggestions for this situation:

Don’t be overbearing
The key for a boss is not to make the work environment oppressed or overbearing. If the staff typically is hard-working, but gets sidetracked, go easy, unless there is an upcoming deadline for a project. Or, politely suggest they continue their conversation later. Allowing workers to talk during work is a morale builder and shutting it down can end up hurting productivity.

Political talk
The First Amendment doesn’t allow employees at a small business to say whatever they want, but some states do allow employees to talk about politics. But these discussions can be problematic when workers get heated.

As mentioned earlier, when people talk about a particular candidate and disparage that candidate based on their race, gender or age, an employee may deem the workplace a hostile environment, which could lead to a discrimination lawsuit in New York.

The first step should be to approach the staffer who made the comments and tell him or her they were inappropriate, whether there was an issue raised by others or not. Expressing opinions is one thing, but demeaning someone is a different thing altogether. As most people know, these conversations can turn to arguments quickly. This can also be problematic.

Employees should be careful using valuable work time to get into these arguments or discussions. This can give companies legitimate reasons to fire or punish someone, even if the conversation started at break or lunch time. If it takes up work time or if company equipment is used to do it, such as e-mail, this can get the worker in trouble.
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According to the New York State Department of Labor, New York’s unemployment rate went unchanged from August to September, staying at 8 percent.

New York City’s unemployment is slightly higher at 8.7 percent, but lower than the 9.1 national rate. While it’s better to be in a position stronger than the rest of the nation, New York isn’t exactly rolling out extra jobs these days.
That’s why it’s more important than ever that issues such as unemployment discrimination in New York become things of the past. There have been struggles for years about discrimination in the workplace that have left workers bitter and corporations hammered with lawsuits.

Whether it be hiring and firing based on gender, race, disability or sexual orientation, these issues have been handled by courts nationwide that have ended in them being added to protected classes that can get businesses in big trouble if they violate the law.

Unemployment may soon be added to that class. In June, a law went into effect in New Jersey that banned employers from putting out advertisements for jobs that required applicants to already be employed in order to apply for the new job. The unemployed, people who really needed a job, were left out in the cold.

A New York City bureau president, the New York Daily News reports, has pushed city council members as well as state legislators to introduce bills to ban discrimination in hiring based on unemployment. He said he’s found nearly two dozen examples of advertisements recently where employers sought only job seekers who already had a job.

President Barack Obama has taken the issue a step further. According to Bloomberg, the President’s new jobs bill would allow companies to be sued for discrimination if they exclude unemployed applicants from trying to get a job.

But Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone said the bill could actually be more damaging to job seekers than the good it could do. He believes businesses would simply avoid unemployed applicants for fear they could come under fire for a lawsuit.

Rather than interviewing applicants who are unemployed and opening themselves up to a potential lawsuit under the proposed bill, they would simply elect not to call them back. For that reason, it’s possible the bill would actually make it tougher for the unemployed to get job interviews in the first place.

Unemployment discrimination is certainly a problem, but the best way to address it may not be promoting lawsuits against businesses. As usual, Democrats who support the president’s bill and Republicans, like Langone, have come out against it. Supporters say the bill goes a long way in ensuring all Americans have equal access to jobs and slam Langone, saying his comments are overblown.

It’s certainly true that all New Yorkers should have an equal shot at a job, and their current job status should have nothing to do with whether they get an interview. But it’s also true that companies can be selective, and sometimes discriminatory, in hiring and promotions. Whether through legislation or eye-opening jury verdicts, businesses must learn their lesson that they can’t discriminate.
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