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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.


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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.


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Harassment claims continue to dominate the legal news, but the Second Circuit recently reminded us that workplace harassment extends far beyond sex and gender.

The Circuit recently joined several sister circuits recognizing that a plaintiff can pursue a claim for harassment based on disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), clearing up any doubt regarding the Circuit’s position on the matter.  Fox v. Costco Wholesale Corp., No. 17-0936-cv (2nd Cir. March 6, 2019).  The Circuit also made such claim easier to prove, finding that a plaintiff is not required to set forth the exact number of times actionable comments or conduct occur to demonstrate that the alleged harassment was “severe and pervasive.” 
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In a decision that could have wide-ranging implications for all employers, the Fourth Circuit recently held that an employer’s failure to stop a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain a promotion, could give rise to employer liability under Title VII for gender discrimination. Parker v. Reema Consulting Services Inc., No. 18-1206 (4th Cir. Feb. 8, 2019).

So now employers must police the rumor mill? This decision is confusing to say the least, as employers now have dueling obligations—to quash rumors while not infringing upon an employee’s Section 7 rights to discuss the terms and conditions of employment.
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As we enter the 3rd year of the #MeToo movement, all signs point towards another year of heightened legal activities in the area of gender discrimination and gender equality. Sexual harassment claims will continue to garner news headlines, but there are bigger threats for employers. For many employers, 2019 will be less about whether their female employees are being harassed, and more about whether they are being treated fairly and equally.

What’s the difference you ask? The answer is everything else outside of harassment, including pay equity, opportunity equality, and fair treatment for employees who are pregnant and new parents.

There is no greater indication of this heightened focus on equality than the 116th Congress, which has a record number of women serving. Naturally, legislation aimed to combat gender inequality will be at the forefront. In this post, we identify the legislative and legal trends employers should pay attention to in 2019 as we declare it “The Year of the Woman.”
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Article written for Law360, published on February 6, 2019.

In the past few months, we have seen three different cases of religious accommodation claims, with three very different results.

  • In case one, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failure-to-hire case, on very

As we close the books on 2018, New York employers really cannot relax after the bombardment of last year’s employment law changes. Many of these laws will require new levels of compliance in 2019, not to mention the new laws on the horizon.

This post will provide employers with a brief recap of what we saw in 2018, and what we can expect in 2019.

LOOKING BACK ON 2018

As we mentioned in our blog post last January – The New Year Brings New Rules to New York – New York State and City lawmakers were busy in 2018 enacting sweeping employment legislation regarding a variety of topics.

New York State

Paid Family Leave

New York State kicked off 2018 with the implementation of New York’s Paid Family Leave law (“PFL”). We covered the roll-out of this law in November 2017 in our post A New Headache – New York’s Paid Family Leave. The law has now been effect for an entire year, and covered employers should have well-established policies and procedures in place to provide PFL to employees. This includes distributing to employees a written policy regarding PFL, ensuring the employer is covered to provide PFL payments either through an insurance carrier or a self-insured fund, and complying with workplace posting requirements.

Anti-Sexual Harassment Legislation

The #MeToo movement dominated the headlines in 2018, and New York State lawmakers took notice. Throughout the year, the state implemented anti-sexual harassment legislation that touched on everything from employment policies and training, to mandatory arbitration clauses and settlement agreements. We covered these new laws at length in July with our client alert – Fall is Coming! New York’s New Anti-Sexual Harassment Laws Just Around the Corner.

The new State laws are in effect. This means all New York State employers should have already issued a written anti-sexual harassment policy that includes an investigation procedure and complaint form for sexual harassment complaints. Employers should be focused on implementing anti-sexual harassment training that meets all state requirements, which must be completed by October 9, 2019.

Employers should also revise mandatory arbitration agreements to specifically exclude sexual harassment claims. Also, employers cannot require confidentiality in settlement agreements regarding a sexual harassment claim by an employee, unless the employee prefers to have the provision.
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While most of us rarely think about rubella – a largely forgotten disease that should have disappeared with the “MMR” vaccine¹ – it was the focus of a recent Eighth Circuit decision this month. If you are asking yourself how this largely forgotten illness has anything to do with employment, we will tell you: because for Janice Hustvet, it resulted in the termination of her 15-year position with a healthcare employer.

In Janice Hustvet v. Allina Health System, Case No. 17-2963, decided on December 7, 2018, the Eighth Circuit held that the employer had legitimately terminated Ms. Hustvet when she refused the MMR vaccine and failed to complete a respirator evaluation.

Ms. Hustvet was an “Independent Living Skills Specialist” at the Courage Center. In that role, she worked with individual clients, all of whom were treated as having “compromised” or “fragile” immune systems. In 2013, the Courage Center merged with the Allina Health System, a large healthcare system.

Following the merger, in March of 2013, the Courage Center announced to its employees that they would become employees of Allina and would have to undergo pre-employment screening, including a “pre-placement health assessment screen.” That health assessment screen included “tracking for immunity to certain communicable diseases” and a Respirator Medical Evaluation (“RME”).
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New York City employers were given some clarity this week regarding their obligations under the City’s Stop Sexual Harassment Act, as the New York City Commission on Human Rights released new FAQs about the law (found here). These FAQs touch on training and posting requirements that all employers should be aware of.

Training Requirements

The FAQs provide guidance on the types of employees and workers that employers must train. Specifically, the FAQs state that employers must train any employee who works 80 hours or more and works at least 90 days in a calendar year (so the training will cover a large number of part-time and short-term employees). Additionally, employers must also train independent contractors who meet these same working time requirements. However, employers will not have to train independent contractors who have received annual training elsewhere. Regardless, independent contractors will count toward the total number of employees for determining whether the employer has 15 employees, triggering the mandate to provide training.

Beginning in October 2019, New York employers will have to train all covered employees and independent contractors (who do not receive training elsewhere) once every calendar year. The City Commission explained that it is working with the New York State Division of Human Rights to release a training module that will meet the requirements of both the City law and the recently enacted State law. The employer will have to maintain proof of training documents for three years, including employee acknowledgments.
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