Photo of Diana R. Hamar

In a long awaited landmark ruling by Justice M. Gorsuch, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII protects gay and transgender workers. The Opinion provides:

Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear . . . An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.

Justice Gorsuch was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.


Continue Reading The Answer is Clear—Title VII Will Protect Gay and Transgender Workers

Although the U.S. is still in the thick of the COVID-19 crisis, this is exactly when employers who are deemed “non-essential” should be developing a careful, considered plan to bring their workforces back. Employers face a multitude of challenges in the planning process, including: (1) determining when and who comes back; (2) parting ways with employees with whom the business can no longer support or need; (3) sidestepping lawsuits that could otherwise arise after employee terminations; and (4) balancing employees’ legitimate concerns for themselves and their families’ with an increasingly imperative need to get your business up and running again.

This post briefly addresses issues employers should consider when bringing employees back. For a deeper dive of the issues covered in this post and more, check out a recording of Kelley Drye’s Part 1: Getting Back To Work: Preparations and Considerations for Employers webinar, and register for Part 2: Getting Back To Work: When the Rubber Hits the Road. Part 2 is scheduled for April 30, 2020 at 12:30 PM ET, click here to register.


Continue Reading COVID-19 and Returning to Work: For Employers, It’s Not Too Soon to Plan a Comeback

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) is effective today, April 1. In honor of this undoubtedly daunting occasion for employers with less than 500 employees, we analyze the most significant provisions from the Department of Labor’s updated FAQs, which fill in gaping holes in the legislation that left employers (and counsel) puzzled.  For employers with fewer than 50 employees, we also examine recent DOL guidance on the “small business exemption” and identify the ways in which employers can qualify for this exemption.


Continue Reading Updated DOL Guidance – What Employers Need To Know On The First Day Of The FFCRA

Not to be upstaged by the President, and just as the Senate was voting on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 (“FFRCA”), New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law paid sick leave legislation to mandate paid sick leave and provide job protection for ALL New York employees, including those who are quarantined or ordered to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19.

There are two major distinctions between the FFCRA and the New York Sick Leave Law:

  • The NY law applies to ALL employers, not just those with under 500 employees.
  • The NY paid sick leave law for employees with COVID-19 issues is effective immediately. The amendments to New York Labor Law mandating state-wide paid sick leave go into effect in 180 days. This article focuses on the COVID-19 portion of the law.


Continue Reading NYS Enacts COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Legislation—Effective Immediately

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

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

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

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

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.
Continue Reading The Rumor Mill Is Now Your Problem? Yes, According to the Fourth Circuit

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.”
Continue Reading 2019 – “The Year Of the Woman” in Employment Law