A Los Angeles jury awarded a black former UCLA phlebotomist nearly $1.6 million in damages for being subjected to racial harassment by co-workers. Birden v. The Regents of the University of California, No. BC6681389 (Los Angeles Superior Court May 30, 2017).

Birden, who worked at UCLA as a per diem phlebotomist for approximately one year, alleged that she was subjected to racial slurs and disparaging remarks by Latino co-workers who referred to her as “lazy,” a “dark woman,” and used the “N” word in her presence. Birden claims that she reported the harassment to her supervisors but the school did not take action.

In his opening statement at trial, the attorney for the UC Board of Regents described one of Birden’s co-workers as a “good guy,” claimed “[h]e wasn’t doing it to try to offend somebody” with the use of the “N” word and argued that Birden was fired because of a clear pattern of performance issues. Birden’s counsel argued that Birden had no disciplinary history and offered testimony of Birden’s strong work ethic.

Ultimately, the jury agreed that Birden was subjected to severe and pervasive harassment by her co-workers due to her race and awarded Birden (1) $500,000 for past emotional distress and mental harm, (2) $800,000 for future emotional distress and mental harm, (3) more than $190,000 for past economic loss and (4) more than $86,000 for future economic loss. However, the jury did reject Birden’s claim that she was terminated because of her race.

Continue Reading Employers’ Non-Action Resulted in $1.6 Million Awarded in Harassment Claim

The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Treasury recently issued joint final regulations expanding the availability of health reimbursement arrangements (“HRAs”) by introducing two new types of HRAs – Individual Coverage HRAs and Excepted Benefit HRAs. The following is a brief overview of the requirements employers must satisfy in order to offer HRA coverage to their employees, and employees’ dependents, under one of these new arrangements.

Background

HRAs constitute group health plans that are subject to various Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) rules. The ACA rules include prohibitions on capping or requiring cost-sharing for certain benefits (the “Market Reforms”).

Under prior guidance, in order to comply with or avoid the Market Reforms, HRAs generally had to be integrated with other qualifying group health plan coverage or limit the scope of reimbursable expenses to benefits excepted from compliance (e.g., limited scope dental or vision coverage). The new regulations make it easier for employers to offer HRA coverage by providing two new options that do not require integration with a group health plan or limiting the scope of reimbursable expenses.

Continue Reading Employers Have New Ways to Offer Health Reimbursement Arrangements

In the first post-Epic Systems decision regarding arbitration agreements, the NLRB has underscored just how pro-arbitration courts and regulators have become. In Cordúa Restaurants, the Board put its stamp of approval on employers revising arbitration provisions even after employees file a claim. In doing so, employers can exercise more control as to how employees must bring their claims and—particularly, as in the case of Cordúa Restaurants, by limiting class and collective actions.

FACTS

In Cordúa Restaurants, employees, as a condition of their employment, had to sign arbitration agreements waiving “their right to file, participate or proceed in class or collective actions.” Despite this agreement, some employees still filed collective wage and hour actions in federal court. Additional employees began “opting-in” to these collective actions.

In response, the employer revised its arbitration agreement so that employees waived their right to opt-in to a collective action. The agreement was revised to say “I agree that I cannot file or opt-in to a collective action under this Agreement, unless agreed upon by me and the Company in writing.” Employees had to sign this new arbitration agreement as a condition of employment.

Continue Reading NLRB: Employers Win When Their Employees Can’t “Opt-In”

Governor Cuomo signed the groundbreaking harassment legislation that we previously covered here on August 12, 2019. The law profoundly alters the landscape of harassment claims in New York and how employers should be prepared to handle them. Key provisions include eliminating the “severe or pervasive” standard for discriminatory and retaliatory harassment cases, prohibiting mandatory arbitration for all discrimination claims (not just sexual harassment), and banning non-disclosure agreements for all discrimination claims.

Continue Reading BREAKING NEWS: Governor Cuomo Signs Off On Groundbreaking Harassment Legislation

Last week, the Chicago City Council passed the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance (“the Ordinance”), which requires employers to give workers early notice of their schedules or face penalties if they change shifts without sufficient notice.  For employers, this may present an administrative challenge, but employers should be prepared to address this national trend.  New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have already enacted laws to protect worker schedules and limit employer discretion in adjusting employee schedules. Mayor Lightfoot is expected to formally sign the bill and it will subsequently be effective July 1, 2020. The highlights follow:

Who’s Covered?

  • The Ordinance requires employers in any “Covered Industry,” which includes building services, healthcare, hotels, manufacturing, retail, or warehouse services with more than 100 employees globally (250 in the case of non-profits) with at least 50 covered employees, to provide certain protection around the scheduling of an employee’s shifts.
  • For restaurants, the law is applicable for businesses with 30 locations globally and at least 250 employees.
  • The Ordinance applies to all employees, within Covered Industries, who make less than $26 per hour or receive an annual salary of under $50,000.

Continue Reading Predictive Scheduling for Chicago Too.

With the crowd’s chant of “equal pay” echoing at the Women’s World Cup soccer match and again as the champions float down the Canyon of Heroes, the issue of pay equality continues to be in the spotlight, and the New York legislature has jumped onto this moving train.

In addition to passing a powerhouse bill that strengthens protections for workers who claim workplace harassment, New York recently passed two pay equity bills that expand protections for current employees and job applicants.

Now, more than ever, employers in New York State should pay close attention to this rapidly changing legal landscape.

Continue Reading They Work Hard for Their Money, So You Better Pay Them Right– Governor Cuomo Signs Historic Pay Equity Legislation

Please join Kelley Drye’s Labor and Employment team for a virtual WORKing Lunch, a webinar series focused on bringing you the latest trends and developments in workplace law. If you or a colleague are interested in receiving an invitation to any of the webinars, please contact marketing@kelleydrye.com.

This webinar series is designed to provide in-house counsel, management and HR professionals with trends and developments related to workplace law. We can provide CLE, SHRM and HRCI credit if desired.

The “Year of the Woman” – Pay Equity and Gender Equality Legislation and Litigation
Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Time: 12:30 pm ET | 11:30 am CT

With agency and legislative support, female employees are demanding pay equity, opportunity equality, and fair treatment for pregnant workers and new parents. New York is just the latest state to pass new pay equity legislation, and this trend will continue. We will discuss compliance with ever-changing legal requirements, as well as how to audit your business to identify and eliminate risk.

Continue Reading WORKing Lunch: Kelley Dyre’s L&E Webinar Series

On June 25, 2019, Governor Jay B. Pritzker signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (HR1438) (“Cannabis Act”) into law. When the law goes into effect on January 1, 2020, Illinois will be the second largest state (after California) to allow the use and possession of recreational cannabis for all citizens over age 21. Notably, Illinois is the first state to legalize recreational cannabis use through legislative action, rather than ballot initiative.
Businesses in Illinois should have one simple question in mind: what can we do about drug testing now that employees have the right to use cannabis under state law? Can these employers still prohibit their employees from using cannabis when they are at work? Can these employers still prohibit their employees from partaking in cannabis when they are not at work?
The answer is, of course, it depends. Unfortunately, the Cannabis Act provides conflicting language on precisely what employers can do in terms of drug testing for employees.

Continue Reading Legalized Marijuana in Illinois: The Basics for Employers

As we reported on June 21, New York blew the lid off 30 years of sexual harassment and discrimination law by passing legislation that, among other things, bars mandatory arbitration of all claims of discrimination. That earthquake was followed by a substantial aftershock: according to a federal court, that provision of the state law doesn’t square with federal law, which specifically permits arbitration of these claims.

This latest monkey-wrench was thrown into the gears just last week by federal district court Judge Denise Cote when she held that New York’s arbitration law prohibiting arbitration of sexual harassment claims (effective as of July 2018 and reported on by this blog last year) is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), and is therefore invalid. This is the first case deciding the merits of this arbitration exclusion. And although Judge Cote didn’t formally rule on the more general, brand-new bar on arbitration of all discrimination claims (harassment or not), she observed in a footnote that the more general bar suffers from the same problem and is probably preempted by federal law, too.

This decision will likely result in a failure-to-launch of the arbitration prohibitions in this latest round of legislation. But for now, here’s the unsettling message for employers navigating the ever-shifting landscape of discrimination law obligations: the new provisions of New York law barring mandatory arbitration of all employment discrimination claims will be struck down, but for the time being, you can’t count on it.

Continue Reading Not So Fast: Southern District of New York Holds Federal Law Pre-Empts State Sexual Harassment Arbitration Law

Clichés like “seismic shift” and “paradigm change” do not begin to describe just how profoundly the New York legislature changed the standards for harassment claims in a bill passed June 19. HR professionals and employers beware: the sexual harassment foundation you have known for 30 years—and upon which all your in-house training, HR policies, and legal and HR instincts are built—has just been neatly demolished. Here’s why:

A Critical Bit of History

Boring history lesson now ensues (but will make you sound smart when you tell your HR and management colleagues about it):

Everybody knows that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—the basic model for all state employment discrimination statutes—makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees on the basis of a number of protected characteristics, including “sex.” In 1964, and for a couple of decades after that, “discrimination” meant the big employment decisions: you couldn’t refuse to hire, fail to promote, or fire somebody because she was, say, a woman, or black, or a Baptist. Under the original conception of Title VII, those were the tangible, serious “adverse employment actions” that violated the law—that is, anything that involved getting a job, losing a job, getting promoted or paid on that job, etc. The big stuff only.

Continue Reading Read This Now: New York’s Groundbreaking Sexual Harassment Legislation