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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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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.

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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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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.


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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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New York State and City have each passed new legislation addressing workplace sexual harassment and employer accommodations, which both have deadlines looming for New York employers.

Just in time – on October 1, the State DOL (finally) clarified – in a good way – a number of employer obligations under the State law. The State DOL also launched a website “Combating Sexual Harassment In the Workplace,” and an “Employer Toolkit,” with sample policies, complaint forms, and training materials. Easing sleepless nights for many employers, the DOL stated that training under the state law does not have to be completed until October 2019.

Because there can never be one without the other, effective October 15, 2018, the New York City Human Rights Law (“CHRL”) will now require covered employers to engage in or seek to engage in a “cooperative dialogue” with individuals who may be entitled to accommodations. This new law provides a separate cause of action against an employer for not engaging in a “cooperative dialogue” – but more on that later.
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While a slew of laws relating to sexual harassment are set to take effect in New York City and New York State this fall, the most imminent provision-applicable to all New York City employers-is set to take effect on September 6, 2018.

The provision requires all employers with employees working in New York City (regardless

Anti-harassment policies are nothing new and we would be shocked to find an employee handbook without one.

But, have they really worked?

In the #MeToo era, it has become clear that these policies have not really been effective and employers are facing increasing scrutiny over why they cannot prevent harassment, and how they handle claims of harassment once they are filed.

Layering onto this is recent federal and state legislation, which makes harassment more expensive and public — like the federal tax law that prohibits companies from deducting harassment settlements if the settlement is subject to a nondisclosure agreement, and New York State’s anti-harassment legislation which will prohibit mandatory arbitration of those claims.

These laws coupled with the increased scrutiny make it essential for employers of all sizes to take a hard look at their anti-harassment program, and determine whether it is doing its job — namely: preventing, disclosing, and dealing with bad behavior in the workplace, before that behavior becomes a lawsuit or explodes on the front page.
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Retail employers beware: New York City’s predictive scheduling law went into effect on November 26, 2017, and now New York State is now getting in the mix. The New York State Department of Labor (“NYSDOL”) recently released draft regulations that would amend the rules for scheduling employees covered by the Minimum Wage Order for Miscellaneous Industries and Occupations. The NYSDOL comment period recently came to a close on January 22, 2018. Likely on the heels of the NYSDOL’s issuance of a final rule, we break down what employers need to know. But before diving into the proposed NYSDOL draft regulations, let’s recap the New York City predictive scheduling law that recently went into effect.

New York City Predictive Scheduling Law
On November 26, 2017, New York City’s “Fair Workweek” legislation went into effect, which is a collective of laws aimed to protect fast food and retail workers. This blog focuses on the provisions for retail workers. The following Q+A provides an overview of the law’s key provisions applicable to retail businesses:

  • Does the new law apply to all retailers? No. The law applies to “retail businesses” which are defined as entities with 20 or more employees engaged primarily in the sale of consumer goods at one or more stores within New York City.
  • Does the new law apply to all employees? Almost all. This law applies to full-time, part-time, and temporary workers. This law does not apply to employees covered under a valid collective bargaining agreement.
  • What kind of notice is required? Employers must provide each individual employee with a final schedule at least 72 hours before the employee’s schedule begins. Employers can provide employees with their schedules in the manner in which they usually contact employees so text or email works. Employers must also post the schedule in-store in an area where all employees can view it.
  • On-call outlawed? Yes. What used to be a standard industry practice is now outlawed; an employer cannot require an employee to call in fewer than 72 hours before a shift beings to determine if he or she should come to work.
  • Can you add a shift? Not with less than 72 hours’ notice. However, this does not prohibit an employer from asking an employee if he or she would be willing to do so. If the employee is willing, the employer must obtain the employee’s written consent.
  • Can you cancel a shift? Not with less than 72 hours’ notice except under limited circumstances including: 1) threats to employees or the employer’s premises; 2) public utility failure; 3) shutdown of public transportation; 4) fire, flood, or other natural disaster; or 5) a government-declared state of emergency.
  • I have to keep what for how long? An employer must retain employee work schedules for at least three years. An employer is also required to provide employees with their work schedules for any previous week worked for the past three years within 14 days of the employee’s request.


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