Articles Posted in Employment Discrimination

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Per a recent Kentucky Court of Appeals decision, morbid obesity is considered a protected disability and employers are precluded from discriminating against employees on such a basis.
The determination comes in an opinion regarding a lawsuit filed by a Kentucky woman claiming she was discriminated against and wrongfully fired due to her morbid obesity, in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. The Kentucky Civil Rights Act mandates that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, or disability.
Melissa Pennington, a 5’4 tall, 425-pound woman who worked for Wagner’s Pharmacy for over 10 years specifically claimed that she was fired by an office manager because she was “overweight and dirty.” Pennington claimed her condition of morbid obesity constituted a protected disability and despite an unfavorable ruling at the trial court level, Pennington appealed the decision and the Kentucky Court of Appeals agreed with her. The court based its decision on expert testimony which concluded that morbid obesity was a metabolic disease and a physical condition.

This case demonstrates that Kentucky courts appear to be broadening the medical conditions which can be considered a protected disability under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

The Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed its previous decision upholding the firing of a dental assistant who was fired because her boss found her too attractive.

The court held that the dental assistant was fired not because of her status as a woman, but because her boss, Dr. James Knight, was concerned that his relationship with his wife was endangered. Nelson did not claim there was sexual harassment, but rather it was due to her status as a woman.

The court’s opinion can be found here.

A Florida man has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Cracker Barrel in federal court in Tampa, Florida. John Bostick was hired by Cracker Barrel in 2008 as a manager trainee at a restaurant in Bradenton. The suit alleges that Bostick was repeatedly discriminated and harassed due to his sexual orientation, including a specific instance when an associate manager told other employees that a customer might be “afraid he’ll catch AIDS” from Bostick. Bostick claims that he reported the behavior to his supervisors, but they refused to take action. Cracker Barrel denied the allegations and refused to comment on the current litigation.

A female who had filed a federal gender discrimination lawsuit against Georgia Sheriff Don Peacock will receive $17,650 as a settlement. A copy of the confidential settlement agreement was obtained through various media outlets through an Open Records Act request
Cynthia D. Smith, a former jailer, filed the lawsuit in March, alleging she wasn’t allowed to apply for a road deputy position because of her gender. She argued Peacock hasn’t employed a female patrol deputy in more than a decade.
Attorneys for Smith and Peacock, who was sued in his official capacity, agreed to dismiss the lawsuit last week.

As part of the settlement, Smith agreed not to seek employment at the sheriff’s office and she will be awarded lawyer’s fees.

A Los Angeles jury has awarded a former model, Brandi Cochran, of the well-known game show “The Price is Right” $7.7 million in punitive damages after she was not allowed to return to work following her pregnancy. The jury found that the show’s producers acted with malice by refusing to take her back.

Cochran testified that the producers began discriminating against her from the time she announced her pregnancy with twins in December 2008. They made derogatory comments about her weight and eating habits and removed her from the show’s website.

Cochran started on the show in 2002 and worked until January 2009. Her son was stillborn in February 2009 and her daughter was born prematurely the next month. In February 2010, Cochran asked to return to the show, but the producers refused to allow her back.

The producers announced that they plan to appeal the jury’s verdict.

Sparks Steak House has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle claims that a male manager sexually harassed and abused twenty-two male waiters over an eight-year period. In its lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged that the manager repeatedly groped the male waiters’ buttocks, made lewd sexual comments to them and tried to touch their genitals. The suit claimed that Sparks was liable for failing to stop the abuse even after the victims reported the harassment to other managers. Moreover, some of those who complained were retaliated against and assigned more difficult work or even suspended. Steve Cetta, vice president of the restaurant, commented that the steakhouse was not admitting any wrongdoing and merely settled the case to avoid further legal costs and bad publicity. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Sparks must set up a hotline for its employees to report harassment, maintain an updated sexual harassment policy and distribute it to its employees, and provide anti-discrimination training for employers.

While typically sexual harassment complaints are made by female employees, the EEOC reported that, over the past few years, the percentage of charges filed by males has risen to 16%. The EEOC takes these charges very seriously and has been filing more lawsuits on behalf of males in order to send a message that all forms of harassment are both unacceptable and unlawful.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Kentucky Revised Statutes, Chapter 344. These laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, and other physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Many people mistakenly assume that victims of sexual harassment can only be women. However, a greater number of men are filing charges of sexual harassment in the workplace, against both female and same-sex perpetrators.

If you or someone you know would like more information about how to file a charge of sexual harassment or a sexually hostile work environment, the attorneys at Bahe Cook Cantley & Nefzger are available to assist you.

Under federal and state law, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. The laws forbid discrimination in every aspect of employment.

But what about a dress code in the workplace? In general, an employer may establish a dress code which applies to all employees or employees within certain job categories. There are a few possible exceptions.

A dress code must not treat some employees less favorably because of their national origin. For example, a dress code that prohibits certain kinds of ethnic dress, such as traditional African or East Indian attire, but otherwise permits casual dress would treat some employees less favorably because of their national origin.

An employer may require all workers to follow a uniform dress code even if the dress code conflicts with some workers’ ethnic beliefs or practices.

If the dress code conflicts with an employee’s religious practices and the employee requests an accommodation, the employer must modify the dress code or permit an exception to the dress code unless doing so would result in undue hardship. Similarly, if an employee requests an accommodation to the dress code because of his disability, the employer must modify the dress code or permit an exception to the dress code, unless doing so would result in undue hardship.

If an employee needs to modify a dress requirement because of a disability, the employer may need to grant that employee a reasonable accommodation.

In a unique story to make headlines an employee at a Macy’s in San Antonio was fired for not allowing a transgendered shopper to use the store’s women’s fitting room, saying doing so would violate her Christian beliefs.

A few days after Thanksgiving, Natalie Johnson refused to let a transgender woman, who she described as a man in makeup and woman’s clothes use the woman’s fitting rooms.
The Liberty Counsel is an organization representing the fired employee and who usually represents people like Johnson who believe they’ve been wrongfully terminated for their religious convictions.

“Macy’s does not comment on personnel matters,” said Melissa Goff, regional spokeswoman, about the incident at its San Antonio Rivercenter store involving Johnson. “At Macy’s we recognize and appreciate the diversity of our customers and associates.”
A conservative Christian organization, Liberty Counsel defines marriage as between a (biological) man and woman. They have characterized the rise of GLBT rights as “a radical agenda… seriously out of touch with mainstream American values.”
“Macy’s has essentially opened women’s dressing rooms to every man,” said Liberty Counsel spokesman.

It is worth noting that according to polling data the Liberty Counsel’s position on transgender rights diverges from most Americans’ and even most Christians’ opinions

Ever feel like you were unjustly stopped by the police for speeding? Ever heard of particular “speed traps” where cops hand out to meet their monthly “quota” for issuing speeding tickets? Well, apparently in Los Angeles this is not fantasy. The Los Angeles Times reports that recently 10 police officers filed suit against their employer, the LAPD, claiming that they were retaliated against for refusing to meet so-called traffic ticket quotas. These quotas, as you might suspect involved a certain number of traffic tickets that each officer had to write each month. The suit claims that in return for their refusal to meet the quotas that the officers were denied overtime and other benefits as punishment. The officers also claim that they were given negative performance reviews for refusing to meet the ticket quotas.

As it turns out, the ticket quotas set by LAPD are illegal under state law. This seems like it would be obvious because the quotas might encourage or force officers to write tickets that were otherwise not warranted or unnecessary in order to meet the quota. The suit might be successful as two prior claims by police officers for the very same thing against the LAPD were tried to a jury verdict of $2 million. Unfortunately, it is not just these police officers who are suffering because of the illegal quota system that the LAPD has put in place. Part of the allegation in the suit is that officers were drawn from routine traffic patrols to specific spots to try and “nab” speeders. This practice might very well increase crime rates by pulling already scarce resources from the streets to focus their energy on the relatively minor offense of speeding.

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