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Oakland Employment Law Blog

Disability discrimination claims increase in 2016

California residents may understand that discrimination should not occur in the workplace. However, according to the EEOC, discrimination claims rose around the country in 2016, and disability discrimination claims are also on the rise. In 2016, claims based on disability discrimination rose 30 percent despite the fact that disabled workers comprise only a small portion of the overall workforce. Roughly 20 percent of the population as a whole is disabled.

There are many reasons why a disabled person may not be employed. In some cases, individuals prefer not to work or refrain from working to retain their benefits. In other cases, they would like to work but can't find anyone willing to hire them. Those who do find work may be employed in part-time jobs that offer low wages. They may also be subject to retaliation, harassment and denied access to reasonable accommodations to help them do their jobs.

Preventing gender bias in the workplace

California women often experience both gender bias and sexual harassment on the job. The problems that are faced by female employees transcend income levels as women in entry-level and executive positions face gender-based employment discrimination. A poll of female advertising industry employees found that 54 percent of women in that occupation feel vulnerable at work because of their gender.

Employers and supervisors can do a lot to prevent gender bias and sexual harassment in the workplace by setting the tone for a nondiscriminatory workplace. The first step that employers can take to prevent gender bias is to implement a workplace discrimination policy and make sure every staff member understands it. The policy should include ways for employees to report discrimination or harassment when they see it.

Amtrak employee wins settlement and returns to work

California employees who are in fear of losing their jobs after reporting potential risks may be interested to learn that a former Amtrak employee was awarded a nearly $900,000 settlement in that type of a case. The agent had raised concerns in October 2010 about the work an Amtrak contractor was completing as the contractor had been convicted for fraud in New York.

After the employee gave information to Amtrak's Dispute Resolution Office, he received his first negative performance review. In March of the following year, he was told his position was being eliminated. He attempted to apply for other positions that he was well qualified for, but was told that he did not have the proper training. Finally, in June, he was ultimately fired after Amtrak told him that it could not place him in a new position.

Yoga founder ordered to pay lawsuit with income

On Jan. 6, it was reported that a California judge ordered the founder of Bikram yoga to turn over proceeds from his business to his former legal adviser. The adviser won a $6.8 million judgement against him last year after winning a wrongful termination and sexual harassment lawsuit in 2016.

The adviser's attorney stated that the adviser, who worked for the Los Angeles yoga school from 2011 to 2013, was fired when she refused to assist the founder with covering up a rape allegation. The adviser claimed that he also touched her inappropriately. Following the lawsuit, she was awarded $1 million in compensatory damages and approximately $6 million in punitive damages.

California workplaces liable for EEOC compliance

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission works to advocate for employees who have been victimized by discriminatory action in the workplace. In addition to monitoring and investigating 12 distinct classes of discrimination, the agency has been known to sue companies that failed to protect their workers. It is up to businesses to adhere to civil rights laws by cultivating nondiscriminatory professional environments.

There are numerous actions that might be considered discriminatory when they occur in the workplace. Job interviewers who ask potential hires certain questions about their disabilities, age or family structure may be breaking the law. Although many working environments enjoy a certain degree of informality, companies that observe abusive interactions should take steps to let individual offenders know that their behaviors are unacceptable. All the while, employers must document their efforts to comply with the law and create more welcoming employment conditions.

Post-employment Agreements

Can an employer require me to work full-time even though I only agreed to part-time and have been working part-time since my employment began?

In most cases, yes.

Recently, a potential client had this issue. She was working four days a week but her employer wanted her to work five days per week. Legally, the employer can require her to do so.

In any situation in which the employer asks the employee to go from part-time to full-time, the employee is absolutely free to decline. Doing so, however, may jeopardize her employment. The employer would be within their rights to say, "We need someone full-time; unless you can do that, we have to let you go." If the employee refuses, the employer may decide to terminate the employee and there would be no repercussions to the employer for doing so.

Older job seekers face age discrimination

Many older workers in California experience job discrimination when they are looking for work. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown that job seekers over the age of 55 are unemployed for an average of 54.3 weeks. On the other hand, job seekers younger than 55 usually spend about 28.2 weeks looking for work, a full five months less time than it takes older workers to land a new job.

Age discrimination in the workplace does not only affect older workers who are looking for entry-level jobs. Professional workers with great references and a lot of experience in their field can find job searches more difficult once they get to a certain age. Many older workers are forced to take jobs that pay a fraction of their former salaries just so that they can get health and retirement benefits.

New guidance publication from EEOC

An Enforcement Guidance and a fact sheet regarding national origin discrimination were released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Nov. 18, 2016. While it is not legally binding, the Enforcement Guidance gives employers in California and the rest of the country a better understanding of the investigative and enforcement priorities of the EEOC. It also provides instances of workplace behavior that the EEOC may view as violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under Title VII, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an individual because the individual, or his or her ancestor, is from a specific place and has the cultural, physical or linguistic traits of a specific national origin group. It is forbidden throughout each phase of the employment life cycle, including recruitment, interviewing, training, promotion, employee pay and discharge or termination. Almost 11 percent of the private sector claims filed with the EEOC each year are based upon national origin.

Anti-gay discrimination case set to continue

California employees may be interested to learn that an anti-gay workplace discrimination case in Pennsylvania was allowed to proceed on the basis that it violated Title VII's protections. However, the district court judge also noted that the case had an interesting juxtaposition with racial discrimination.

The case was brought against Scott Medical Health Center by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after an employee subjected a subordinate employee to alleged incidents of harassment. This included incidents of using anti-gay slurs. Further, the comments reportedly turned sexual. The EEOC argued that having to hear these types of comments multiple times throughout the week caused the work environment to be hostile. The EEOC also argued that sex stereotyping, whereby an employee is required to make his or her appearance conform to their sex, is also a form of discrimination and violates Title VII.

Workplace sexual harassment and employee safeguards

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment to include verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, requests for sexual favors and unwelcome sexual advances. Incidents of such behavior in California and around the country, though, may be underreported. According to a national survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine, 71 percent of women who said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace also said they did not report it.

Some speculate that underreporting is a consequence of a belief among victims that their complaints will not be properly handled. Of the 29 percent of women surveyed who reported sexual harassment, only 15 percent said they reached a satisfactory outcome.