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Women workers fight discrimination on the job

The definition of sex discrimination has become a significant legal issue in California courts and those across the country. Many federal appeals courts have upheld an understanding of sex discrimination that also prohibits discriminating against LGBT workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the Trump administration's Justice Department and other legal authorities disagree, and the Supreme Court is hearing several cases on the matter. However, traditional sex discrimination cases continue to reflect major problems experienced by women workers across the country.

High-profile sexual harassment cases in entertainment, politics and technology have drawn some attention to the hardships that women continue to face on the job despite decades of civil rights legislation and many significant cases upholding women's rights at work. However, women may face a wide range of issues that are not limited to unwanted sexual advances at work. Many of these claims never even reach a formal complaint, let alone go to court. Workers who are not represented often fear that they will be subject to retaliation if they complain, and their fears are far from unfounded. Those workers who do pursue claims need to confront changes to the legal process in the past 10 years that put more obstacles in front of employees fighting workplace discrimination.

EEOC sides with workers alleging Facebook job ads discriminate

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a groundbreaking decision concerning complaints of discrimination against employers that used Facebook advertising to discriminate against women and older people. Multiple complaints filed by Facebook users against 66 companies prompted the commission to agree that the demographic targeting system within Facebook advertising tools enabled discrimination against job seekers in California and nationwide.

A lawyer representing plaintiffs in seven of the cases praised the decision of the EEOC because it affirmed that civil rights law applied on digital advertising platforms. The discrimination arose from employers setting parameters for job ads that only displayed the messages on Facebook to users who were men under the age of 55. Filtering out specific demographic segments represented violations of the Civil Rights Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The decision from the EEOC could enable the workers who experienced discrimination to win settlements eventually.

Employees claim Google engaged in retaliation

Ideally, employees in California and throughout the country would not hesitate to report instances of harassment and discrimination to their employers. However, this is typically not the case at Google as workers there say that they were retaliated against after filing complaints with HR. Employees said that they were taken off of projects or reassigned elsewhere in the company. A memo said that the company generally chose to hide sexual harassment complaints when they involved members of the management team.

In November 2018, roughly 20,000 employees took part in a walkout to protest its handling of executives accused of sexual assault. Prior to the walkout, it had been revealed that those executives had been paid more than $100 million. In response, Google said that it would make changes to its sexual harassment reporting policies and show greater support for those who reported it.

Study shows harassment not dampened by MeToo

A university study indicates that California workplaces may not have been positively impacted by the MeToo movement. The study included surveys of both men and women at the peak of the MeToo movement in 2018 and then similar surveys in 2019 once the movement had cooled. In the 2019 survey, 27% of men said they were more likely to avoid having one on one meetings with female coworkers, and 21% said they were more reluctant to bring on new female employees for positions where close interaction was required.

Additionally, 19% of the men surveyed said they were more reluctant to hire attractive women. All three of those figures had increased over the 2018 survey, where they were each around 15%. Many of the men surveyed said they had increased difficulty in identifying behavior that qualified as sexual harassment following MeToo. The study, though, by breaking down behaviors, indicated that both men and women largely agree regarding what constitutes harassing behavior.

Age discrimination a problem for older workers

Women in the workplace are far more likely to suffer from sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and other types of gender discrimination in California. However, there are also unique concerns that are particularly important for men in the workplace. Age discrimination is one such concern that has a stronger effect on men. According to one 2019 study of age-related discrimination in the workplace, less than 33% of women believed that their age was a factor in holding them back from finding new jobs or obtaining a promotion. On the other hand, almost 40% of male participants did indicate that age was a barrier for them in the workplace.

In total, around 20% of all workers over 40 said that they had experienced some form of age discrimination on the job. In addition, many reported that there was little or no coverage given to age discrimination in company training about avoiding bias in the workplace. The younger respondents feared that the situation would worsen after the age of 50. However, 67% of the respondents under 65 said that they planned to keep working after they turn 66.

"Criminal Minds" camera operator sues over sexual harassment

Readers who follow California's entertainment industry could be interested to learn that a crew member on the CBS drama series "Criminal Minds" has filed a lawsuit against CBS Corp., ABC Studios, Warner Bros. and others over sexual harassment and battery claims. The suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

According to the court filing, the plaintiff, a camera operator on the series, claims that he has been subjected to a series of sexual harassment and battery incidents by his supervisor, the director of photography, since he began working on the show in 2011. He alleges that his boss inappropriately touched his body in a sexual manner fairly often for years. He also claims that his boss repeatedly screamed at him, threatened to have him fired or demoted on a regular basis and prevented him from being promoted. He further contends that other employees on the series were wrongfully fired after reporting similar incidents by the same individual.

Gender harassment rises as sexual harassment falls

Female workers in California and elsewhere are reporting fewer instances of unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion. This is according to a study conducted by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado. The study involved 500 women who were polled about their experiences with sexual harassment and coercion in September 2016 and in September 2018. The results suggest that sexual harassment is happening less frequently in the workplace.

However, there was an increase in the amount of gender harassment reported between 2016 and 2018. For example, men have increasingly said that they don't want to be alone with women or mentor them because they don't want to be falsely accused of sexual harassment. This is in spite of the fact that false accusations of harassment are rare. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there was a 14% increase in sexual harassment complaints in 2018 compared to 2017.

Large companies back LGBT workers' rights

LGBT workers in California and across the country could be seriously affected by the outcome of three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. On Oct. 8, the high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the cases, which concern whether workplace discrimination against LGBT employees is prohibited under federal civil rights laws. In a striking move from the business community, over 200 large corporations filed a legal brief urging the court to rule that LGBT workers are protected under existing law prohibiting sex discrimination.

The brief, being filed by five LGBT rights organizations, is signed by major corporations including Amazon, American Airlines, Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, Nike and Walt Disney as well as two baseball teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Tampa Bay Rays. The companies say that a uniform rule against workplace discrimination best helps to ensure that their workers face equal circumstances and protections in all 50 states. While some states explicitly include gender identity and sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws, others do not. If there is no clear federal standard, workers in those states face a serious gap in protections.

High Court permits workers to proceed with federal claims

Even if employees in California and other states don't bring allegations of workplace discrimination directly to state agencies or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), they may still be able to move forward with their claim. This is what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision in June, 2019. The verdict applies to federal courts and discrimination claims filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The decision essentially means courts cannot automatically dismiss an employment discrimination case simply because a worker didn't first file a claim with the EEOC or an equivalent agency. However, employers are still able to bring up instances of a plaintiff's failure to first file a claim with the EEOC within a timely manner to seek dismissal of a claim. But this defense may not be permissible if an employer fails to bring it up within a reasonable period of time.

Gay man sues former employer Goldman Sachs for discrimination

Some members of the LGBTQ community in California will recognize the pattern of discrimination allegedly experienced by a former employee of Goldman Sachs. According to his lawsuit, the man worked for eight years at the banking giant. He advanced to a vice president position at the age of only 27. He had been openly gay throughout his career and earned good performance reviews. This abruptly changed after he made formal complaints to the Employee Relations team at the company in 2018. His evaluations suddenly turned critical. According to court filings, the evaluations provided a manufactured reason for his dismissal.

The plaintiff had served as a leader for the company's internal LGBTQ group. His complaints involved his experiences of sexual orientation discrimination at work. He provided evidence of mistreatment. One incident described in his lawsuit resulted in his removal from a conference call because of his gay-sounding voice.

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