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Oakland Employment Law Blog

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.

ADA protects workers from discrimination over mental health

Workers in California who have mental health difficulties could gain protection from workplace discrimination under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mental illnesses, such as PTSD, anxiety or depression, could develop in almost any person at some point. The death of a loved one, divorce or trauma resulting from military service often impact people's mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 18.5 percent of adults cope with mental illness every year.

The stigma of mental health problems increases the likelihood of harassment occurring at work, which is why the ADA included mental illness as a protected category. Employers with 15 or more employees must comply with the ADA or expose their organizations to claims of disability discrimination if they withhold jobs from qualified applicants or fire people undergoing mental health treatment. Other forms of discrimination could include passing people over for promotion, lower pay or screening for mental illness during hiring.

More than a third of employees experience workplace harassment

According to a new study, 35 percent of employees in California and across the U.S. have experienced some form of workplace harassment. Of those who have experienced harassment, approximately 50 percent report that the discrimination was linked to their gender. The study was conducted by Hiscox, a specialty insurer.

For the study, researchers surveyed 500 U.S. adults with full-time jobs. The participants of the study were 50 percent male and 50 percent female. Of those who reported experiencing sexual harassment, 78 percent said the perpetrator was a male while 73 percent said the perpetrator was a work superior. Overall, 41 percent of all female participants reported experiencing workplace harassment.

ACLU says Facebook uses gender discrimination in job ads

Facebook has become a mainstream source for information for many people in California. The popular social media platform attracts many job advertisers, and the American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the social network's ad targeting system that allowed companies to prevent women from seeing ads for open positions. The ACLU has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of three woman and their union.

The complaint names 10 companies that actively excluded women from seeing their job ads. Employers that allegedly discriminated against women in hiring included a police department, a software developer and a construction company. The ACLU wants to hold Facebook accountable for breaking laws that prohibit targeting job ads by sex. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans gender discrimination in the workplace, including the hiring process, and other state and local regulations also make gender-targeted job ads unlawful.

Ageism is still common in the workplace

In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). It protects older workers in California and throughout the country from being denied a job or other employment opportunities strictly on age alone. However, it is still relatively common for employees to experience age discrimination in the workplace. According to an AARP survey, 60 percent of respondents over the age of 45 said that they have been discriminated against based on age or saw it happen to someone else.

One of the reasons why companies may engage in ageism is that it can be hard to prove. The Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that plaintiffs in age discrimination cases must show that age was the primary factor in an employment decision. While it can be hard to prove that age discrimination took place in a given case, there are ways to change the methods older employees are treated.

Discrimination lawsuit alleges workplace discrimination at Nike

Nike presents its athletic apparel as empowering to female athletes in California. However, a new gender discrimination lawsuit alleges that women at the company faced a discriminatory work environment. Two former female employees are the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit that could become a class action. Court filings detail the women's complaints about lower salaries, smaller bonuses and limited stock options.

The lawsuit alleges that human resources brushed aside complaints about harassment, discrimination and even sexual assault. One female plaintiff described a hostile workplace where women were the object of demeaning language. She informed human resources about the problems on four occasions and was ignored. The inaction and poor treatment prompted her eventual resignation.

Age discrimination still common, according to AARP study

A recent survey of Americans over the age of 45 conducted by the AARP reveals that age-based discrimination remains commonplace in workplaces throughout California and around the country. More than a third of the respondents said age discrimination at work is very common while 61 percent reported either witnessing such discrimination or being a victim themselves.

Older workers are also far more likely to be coping with long-term unemployment. While only 18 percent of workers between the ages of 16 and 54 are considered long-term unemployed, this figure leaps to 61 percent among workers over the age of 45. This is a concern for both lawmakers and advocacy groups like the AARP because 35 percent of all American workers will be 50 years old or older by 2022.

Waiving rights as condition of employment could be retaliation

If an employer in California attempts to head off discrimination complaints by insisting that an employee sign away the right to file a complaint, then the courts might view the act as anticipatory retaliation. The recent case of a former employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs illustrates the legal theory that describes the adverse action of an employer meant to prevent people from engaging in legal activities.

The man's employer had disciplined him multiple times for allegedly poor performance and conduct with suspensions and written reprimands. He lodged complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission each time because he believed racial discrimination motivated the actions. The employer eventually confronted him with an ultimatum. He would lose his job unless he signed a waiver promising to dismiss his existing complaints and never file another.

Hotel housekeepers at high risk of sexual harassment from guests

Hotel housekeepers in California usually enter rooms alone as they perform their cleaning duties. Unfortunately, this private environment often exposes them to assaults by guests. A survey conducted by the labor union Unite Here found that 53 percent of its members in Chicago and Seattle had experienced sexual harassment on the job.

Harassment took various forms, including physical intimidation, cornering, groping, solicitations for sex and guests walking around naked. A handful of major cities have passed laws that require employers to supply hotel workers with panic buttons so that they can summon security when threatened. A union for hotel workers in one city has included panic buttons in union contracts since 2013.