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Oakland Employment Law Blog

Minorities may still face discrimination by employers

Many California residents believe that hard work and education are the keys to success. While this may be part of the equation, societal tendencies may also play a role in whether an individual has success as a professional. Research has shown that black and Latino individuals have faced bias when it comes to being hired by companies. A study that included researchers from Harvard and Northwestern found that hiring discrimination against black workers hasn't changed in 25 years.

Hiring discrimination against Latinos has only fell slightly in that same time period. To come to their findings, the researchers analyzed data from 28 studies beginning in 1989, and the data set included 55,842 applicants who were competing for 26,326 jobs. Among the findings was that white workers were called back 36 percent more often than black workers. They were also called back 24 percent more often than Latino workers.

Physical therapists face sexual harassment from patients

Someone receiving care from a California physical therapist might not realize how often that professional might endure unwanted sexual advances from patients. A study that surveyed 892 physical therapists reported that 84 percent of them experienced everything from lewd remarks to sexual assault. A portion of victims expressed to researchers the indifference of their employers toward the harassment. Management in some cases considered the harassment to be part of the job and did nothing to protect employees.

Health care professionals as a whole have a risk of nonfatal violence that is 16 times higher than other occupations, according to the research study. The researchers determined that therapists, especially females, experienced harassment at four times the rate of normal when they served predominantly male patients. Providing therapy to people with brain impairments also increased the chance of inappropriate patient behavior.

Google accused of tolerating sexual and racial harassment

The technology giant Google became mired in a controversy in August after one of its engineers claimed that women were unsuited to work in the technology sector because of their biological characteristics. Google subsequently fired him, but the ensuing media storm has prompted several other women formerly employed by Google to step forward with accounts of sexual and racial discrimination and harassment at the company's California headquarters.

The women claim that Google generally promoted men even when qualified women were vying for the same position, and they say that the barriers to advancement were particularly pronounced for women of color. They also claim that Google's failure to enforce its own workplace rules and policies nurtured racism and misogyny within the company and allowed a hostile work environment to develop. The reports suggest that the problems at Google were institutional with accounts of security guards demanding identification from black employees while allowing their Caucasian colleagues to continue without hindrance.

Activists push for Title VII protection of sexual orientation

The lawsuit against the employer of a skydiving instructor should pique the interest of people in California concerned about workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to court filings, the employer stands accused of firing the man because of his sexual orientation. The case has gained national attention now that the Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief insisting that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect people from discrimination because of sexual orientation.

The brief stated that sex discrimination only occurred when employees of one sex were treated poorly in comparison to similar employees of the opposite sex. A statement from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights described the actions of the DOJ as a direct contradiction to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that interprets Title VII as applying to sexual orientation. The director of the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT & HIV Project added that the current administration wanted to promote discrimination.

Age discrimination in the tech industry

As many California workers are aware, tech startups and other companies within the technology industry are known for their youthful, hip work culture. While this free-spirited energy can make these types of places fun to work for recent college graduates, it creates a serious age discrimination issue as workers who are 55 years old and above tend to get relegated to jobs that are considered to be "old people" work.

According to a study of 18 large, well-known tech companies, the median employee age was 37 while the U.S. average is 42. However, when the ages of employees from various tech companies were analyzed, the businesses that have been well established for decades had median employee ages that were older than those that are new to tech scene. For example, HP and IBM had median employee ages of 36 to 37 while Amazon, Google and Facebook had median employee ages of 29 to 30.

Wage discrimination includes more groups than women

A review of filings at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that discriminatory pay practices by employers in California and nationwide do not emerge solely from discrimination against women. Race, age, national origin, disability and religion also inspire many wage discrimination claims.

Charge filings at the EEOC from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2016 show that the percentage of cases of racial wage discrimination for each of those years was nearly equivalent to gender wage discrimination cases or exceeded their percentage by a small margin. Although the bulk of gender wage discrimination claims were filed by women, an average of 15 percent of allegations came from men over that period.

Workplace discrimination claims under Title VII or Section 1981

A California employee who is filing a workplace racial discrimination lawsuit may do so under a federal statute commonly referred to as Section 1981 or under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is important to understand the difference between the two. For example, to file a claim under Title VII, it is necessary to first go through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Once administrative remedies through the EEOC have been exhausted, a lawsuit can be filed. Under Section 1981, it is not necessary to file a claim with the EEOC first.

The statute of limitations under Section 1981 is also longer. A person has four years to file a lawsuit under Section 1981 while under Title VII, a person has up to 300 days to file with the EEOC.

Quitting a job raises legal bar for winning discrimination claim

California employees who are contemplating leaving their jobs due to harassment or discrimination should understand the different views that courts take of hostile work environments and constructive discharge claims. In general, a hostile work environment arises when an employee in a protected class experiences discrimination or harassment. A constructive discharge describes an employee leaving a job because the unfair treatment has become unbearable. The Supreme Court of the United States defines it as an act that a reasonable person would consider necessary to escape an unendurable situation.

Evidence of discriminatory treatment could suffice to win a hostile work environment claim against an employer, but a claim of constructive discharge faces a higher legal standard. In a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, the ruling specified that discrimination such as unequal pay did not justify leaving a job because additional aggravating circumstances were necessary to assign liability to the employer for lost wages after the employee chose to quit.

How men can help combat workplace harassment against women

According to a 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, around one-third of women experience sexual harassment at work. However, women in California and throughout the country may be hesitant to report harassment for a number of reasons including concerns about how it will affect their careers or that they will not be believed. Three-fourths of women who suffered sexual harassment did not discuss it with a union representative or supervisor. Gender discrimination is also an issue, and women report that men are often paid more and promoted more frequently.

Men can help reduce the incidence of harassment and discrimination against women in the workplace by refusing to participate in conversations that include offensive sexual comments. Holding other men accountable is important. Senior management must hold people accountable as well. It is necessary to demonstrate that sexual harassment allegations will be dealt with promptly and that the perpetrators will be terminated if necessary.

Discrimination against female doctors common

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that physicians who were also mothers faced discrimination at work. The study was inspired by comments made by female doctors on an online forum called Physicians Moms Group. Researchers created a series of questions that asked respondents to discuss their working conditions and whether they had experienced burnout or had been discriminated against.

Of the nearly 6,000 women who had responded to the survey, more than three-quarters said that they had been discriminated against at work. Of those who had experienced discrimination, 66 percent said that they experienced gender discrimination while 35 percent said that they have been the victim of maternal discrimination. The most common forms of maternal discrimination according to the survey were related to being pregnant or taking maternity leave. Breast feeding was another common source of discrimination, which surprised researchers because it is a generally accepted fact in the medical community that breast milk is good for babies.