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Oakland Employment Law Blog

Federal lawsuit addresses discrimination in tech

A California tech company is facing a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the complaint, discrimination caused black, Asian and female employees at Oracle to lose $400 million in wages over four years. The federal department began investigating the company in 2014 and initially filed its claim in 2017. It says that the software company used two primary mechanisms that enforced discriminatory practices in the workplace. In the first place, it based the pay of workers newly hired on their previous salaries rather than market rates, skills or achievement. This then limited their ability to increase their salaries throughout their careers.

In addition, the Department of Labor accused Oracle of workplace discrimination in its hiring practices from colleges and universities. The federal lawsuit said that of 500 people hired over a three-year period from the recent graduate school, 90 percent were Asian, despite the fact that the hiring pool was only 65 percent Asian. In addition, Oracle's preference was targeted to Asian visa holders, whose authorization to work was dependent on Oracle, rather than Asian Americans. Because these workers had to work for Oracle to remain in the U.S., their salaries and those of other workers could be suppressed.

Nursing mothers face discrimination on the job

Breastfeeding discrimination can have severe health and financial consequences for nursing mothers in California and across the country. One recent study indicates that up to 66 percent of nursing mothers who faced discrimination in the workplace lost their jobs as a result. The health consequences were also often significant, causing serious infections, ongoing pain, lost milk supply and earlier weaning or formula feeding as a result of the workplace environment. Despite legislation designed to provide protection for nursing mothers on the job, many women continue to face a lack of accommodation and other forms of discrimination for breastfeeding at work.

The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, which is designed to protect mothers, excludes a full 25 percent of working women. It can also be difficult for nursing mothers to enforce their rights in court or understand the sections of the law that are being violated at work. Many women may fear further retaliation, especially when they are already being mistreated on the job. This form of workplace discrimination can include denial of access to necessary breaks or failure to provide a clean, private space where mothers can pump breast milk.

Advocacy group to focus on sexual harassment in healthcare

California residents may have followed the allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in late 2017 and the #MeToo movement they gave rise to. In January 2018, a group of entertainment industry figures including prominent writers and actors founded a group called Time's Up to address gender-based workplace discrimination. The organization also funds litigation filed against employers by workers who have been discriminated against or harassed due to their gender.

A substantial number of people who have contacted Time's Up about these matters are healthcare workers, and the organization responded on Feb. 28 by announcing that Time's Up Healthcare had been formed to focus specifically on this issue. In a press release, one of the founders of Time's Up pointed out that women account for only 10 percent of healthcare chief executives despite making up 80 percent of the 13 million-person workforce.

Age discrimination negatively impacts older workers

As medical advances are causing people in California and around the world to live longer, society must find ways to financially support a large segment of the population that is steadily increasing in numbers. While one way for older individuals to support themselves is to continue to work later in life, many individuals begin claiming Social Security benefits at the age of 62.

According to numerous studies, a major reason that many people may not continue working past the popular retirement age may be due to age discrimination at work. For example, a study of individuals over the age of 50 who were employed with the same company for more than five years found that half were mandated to leave their jobs. The reasons were due to layoffs, the closing of a business, dissatisfaction or unexpected retirement. Approximately 9 percent left involuntarily as a result of health or family concerns.

Former Blizzard employee speaks out

For many developers in California and throughout the country, working for a company like Blizzard would seem like a dream come true. However, some Blizzard employees have stepped forward claiming that working there is more like a nightmare. One worker claimed that colleagues considered him to be sexist or a chauvinist simply because he was a male with Mexican heritage. He claimed that the jokes got worse over time and led to depression and thoughts of taking his own life.

While he tried to take action to get the hostile behavior to stop, it only resulted in a backlash against him. He said that the relationship that he had with his team in the eSports division was frosty at best. This was despite the fact that he claimed to have a good relationship with one of the team members at the start of his tenure there.

Lawsuit alleges Mariners fired woman because of discrimination

Many people in California would view an opportunity to work for a professional baseball team as a dream job. The dream was short-lived for a woman who accepted a job with the Mariners on Nov. 1, 2017, because the team officially dismissed her barely a year later on Nov. 15. She has now filed a lawsuit against the team seeking lost pay because of alleged wrongful termination motivated by gender and racial discrimination.

According to her court filings, she felt that the organization impeded her ability to do her job as soon as she started her position as high-performance director. Her job required her to oversee physical and mental training for players. She had originally planned to travel for 60 away games, but the club restricted her to only 12 days of travel. She also stated that she was excluded from meetings with players because of her gender.

At-will employment in California

The concept of at-will employment has grown increasingly prevalent over time because it allows both employer and employee a great amount of freedom in regard to termination and quitting. At-will employment essentially means that a person can be fired from the job at any time without warning, reasoning or explanation. It also means that the worker can quit whenever he or she wants, without reason. In California, the idea of at-will employment is modified by the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

The implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing applies to protect employees from termination for certain reasons. Specifically, employers are not allowed to fire employees in order to avoid legal responsibilities for things like retirement compensation, paying commissions or providing health care.

Forest Service efforts to end sexual harrassment

Many employees in California have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment at work. Such problems have especially plagued the United States Forest Services over the past several decades. However, the federal agency is making efforts to stop workplace harassment and other misconduct.

The newest director of the Forest Service wants to enact a cultural change within the organization. The agency was a target of a class action lawsuit in the 1970s brought by women who claimed that they had been passed over for employment and promotions. In December 2016, a panel addressed widespread complaints within the agency of harassment, discrimination and bullying.

Facebook ends forced arbitration of sexual harassment cases

Discontent among technology workers in California and worldwide has prompted major companies to reform how they handle sexual harassment claims. Facebook, Inc. announced that it will stop requiring employees to address their sexual harassment complaints through arbitration. This decision arose one day after Google made a similar move to end the practice.

A global walkout of employees at Google cast a spotlight on the methods used by the company to handle claims of sexual harassment and assault. As a result, Google chose to stop forcing victims into arbitration as their sole means of resolving their cases. In the announcement from Facebook, a spokesperson said that an amendment to its employee agreements would expand options for employees and leave arbitration as a choice instead of a requirement.

EEOC urges improved training against sexual harassment

Far too many people in Alameda County continue to face sexual harassment on the job despite the rise of the #MeToo movement and the public conversation about unwanted sexual advances at work. The acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, said that this kind of inappropriate workplace behavior continues to be pervasive and persistent, a common topic of complaints received by the commission. She noted that she was appalled by the volume of sexual harassment complaints received by the agency, indicating the scope of the issue.

In response to the complaints received as well as the public conversation about sexual harassment, the EEOC is urging employers to take action to make their workplaces safer places for women workers. One survey of professionals found that 70 percent were either the victims of harassment or witnesses to it. In June 2016, the commission issued a report on workplace harassment, instructing employers on how to better address problems on the job. The commission recommends a focus on how employees behave toward one another as well as supporting bystander interventions and improved education for employees.