Second Circuit Lowers Bar for FMLA Retaliation Claims

Back on July 19, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit lowered the causation standard that an employee has to meet in order to bring a retaliation claim against an employer under the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act). The Second Circuit explained that FMLA retaliation claims should be analyzed through a “motivating factor” causation standard as opposed to a “but for” causation standard. With the usage of this standard, all an employee has to do in order to bring a viable claim for retaliation against an employer in the Second Circuit is to simply prove that their employer, in correlation with an adverse employment action, viewed an employee’s utilization of the FMLA, in a negative light. The Second Circuit now joins the Third Circuit in using this causation standard.

The Second Circuit expressed its intent to adopt this plaintiff-friendly causation standard going forward in the case, Woods v. START Treatment & Recovery Centers, Inc. This case involved plaintiff Cassandra Woods, who was employed as a substance abuse counselor for START, a nonprofit and one of the largest non-hospital health providers in New York state, from 2007 until she was fired in 2012. Starting in 2011, Woods found herself at the center of much criticism at work as she received multiple warnings regarding her poor performance and was placed on probation eventually because of it. Over the course of this time, Woods was dealing with numerous health problems including severe anemia. Woods alleges that she had requested time off under the FMLA to deal with these detrimental health conditions on multiple occasions over the course of her employment with START but was always denied this requested leave. Woods was eventually hospitalized for a week as a result of her condition in April of 2012; a period that START admitted was protected under the FMLA. Woods was terminated shortly after her return from the hospital due to what START claimed was because of her alleged incompetent work performance.

Going forward, it will be much less burdensome for employees within the Second Circuit, which consists of those in Connecticut, New York and Vermont, to succeed on FMLA retaliation claims. So long as a plaintiff is able to show that the usage of his or her FMLA rights was merely part of the reason their employer took an adverse employment action against them. Additionally, the adoption of this standard by the Second Circuit will also likely result in an uptick in the amount of FMLA retaliation cases that get past summary judgment and proceed to trial. Employers within the Second Circuit will now have to be more careful when terminating employees because although they may have legitimate business reasons for terminating an employee, they still may find themselves in legal trouble if it can be shown that they viewed an employee’s usage of FMLA provided leave as a motivating factor in making the decision to terminate them.

Should you have questions regarding FMLA and/or FMLA retaliation, call Gilbert Law Group today at (631) 630-0100.

Contributed by: Richard (RJ) Cherpak

EEOC: Employers, be Proactive vs. Workplace Harassment

Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson that workplace harassment was an actionable form of discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several examples of common harassment and discrimination that take place in the workplace are sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, racial discrimination, and age discrimination (under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or ADEA). Recently, the EEOC issued a report encouraging employers to be more proactive in preventing workplace harassment.

In January 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace (“Select Task Force”). This Select Task Force spent  18 months examining the myriad and complex issues associated with harassment in the workplace. In June 2016, the Select Task Force  published its findings. The report calls for employers to “reboot” workplace harassment prevention methods. The report also outlines statistics, risks and administrative recommendations.

The study encourages employers to assess their workplaces for the risks associated with harassment, survey employees. Further, the report urges employers to hold accountable managers and supervisors for preventing and reacting to grievances while also actively promoting diversity.

Interestingly, the report also states that employers should be wary of “zero tolerance” anti-harassment policies that are used as a one-size fits all model. Rather, any discipline that might result from such policy violations should be proportionate to the offense.

Additionally, the report finds that employers should also consider including a social media policy that ties into their anti-harassment policies.  The downside to this however is that the National Labor Relations Board has released guidelines on drafting and updating social media policies. Some cases have held that such a policy may violate an employee’s right to engage in protected concerted activity.

In conclusion, the findings state that the name of the game is truly harassment prevention. This may prove challenging as labor and employment laws are not logical and often do not follow common sense. To this end, seeking experienced legal counsel is critical.

Should you have questions, or wish to seek counsel, call Gilbert Law Group today at (631)630-0100.

Teacher Loses Employment Discrimination Case Against School District

What does employment discrimination mean and when is an individual entitled to bring a workplace discrimination claim? How does employment discrimination law apply to Education Law?

 Generally, under Federal and New York State Laws employment discrimination occurs when a person or a group of persons is treated unequally based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status, and political affiliation or beliefs, which has a negative affect on that individual. Therefore, job discrimination is prohibited and several Federal Acts have been enacted to support this objective, such as:

  1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII),
  2. Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA),
  3. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA),
  4. Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),
  5. Civil Rights Act of 1991,
  6. Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and
  7. Title II of the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act of 2008 (GINA);

 In a recently issued verdict that was tried before the U. S. Eastern District of New York Court in Central Islip, a middle school employee lost a racial discrimination case against Malverne public school officials. A middle school mathematics teacher who was denied a promotion or reassignment initiated the suit. The teacher alleged the District discriminated against him due to his race. At the conclusion of the trial, an eight-member jury examined all the evidence and determined that the teacher had failed to establish the school district and/or its administrators had violated federal laws prohibiting discrimination. In reaching this conclusion, there are several requisite factors which must be considered. In light of these requirements, the federal jury unanimously came to the conclusion that the school’s decision in refusing to promote or reassign the teacher an additional class was not racially motivated and as a result there was no basis to grant the teacher damages.

 Where, however, a court finds that a person has been unlawfully discriminated at their workplace, the substantial remedies are available including, but not limited to, hiring, promotion, backpay, reinstatement, front pay, emotional distress damages, and reasonable accommodation.

 If you have questions or concerns regarding employment discrimination, or have any questions relating to workplace law, call Gilbert Law Group at 631.630.0100.

Contributed by Sakine Oezcan, Esq.

Does Perception Equal Reality for Title VII Employment Discrimination?

One major difference between the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is that the ADA explicitly protects employees who are discriminated against because of an employer’s perception that they are disabled, although in reality they may not be. Title VII employment discrimination, on the other hand, does not recognize the concept of an employer discriminating against an employee based on that employer’s perception that an employee is a member of a protected class. Accordingly, a Title VII plaintiff historically has a higher burden of proof in establishing their prima facie case. Traditionally, although the same act of “discrimination” would not be the basis for an employment discrimination cause of action where the worker is not a member of a protected class, recent case law has demonstrated a trend towards expanding protections under Title VII to include an employer’s perception that an employee is a member of a protected class.

Two recent cases in particular are illustrative of this trend in employment discrimination. In Kallabat v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co., a federal judge ordered that a Michigan man’s case on perceived religious discrimination go forward. Mr. Basil Kallabat, a dark-skinned man of Iraqi descent, and a self-proclaimed non-Muslim, suffered an adverse employment action while working as a customer service representative. Even though a Title VII claim based on his color, gender, or national origin would be unimpeachable, Mr. Kallabat’s claim centered on an element of perceived religion. The plaintiff claimed that when he wore a hat backwards and a co-worker said it looked like a “topi” (a skullcap worn by Muslim men for religious reasons) and other workers starting laughing at Plaintiff as a result. Further, on another occasion, there was graffiti etched into the door of a bathroom stall of one of Defendant’s offices depicting two buildings similar to the Twin Towers with a plane hitting one of them and a caption that stated that the plaintiff is learning how to fly. After learning of the graffiti, the Area Manager said that Plaintiff was oversensitive, emotional, and unable to take the joke during a crew meeting. The Court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that a reasonable jury could find that the incidents are evidence of discrimination based on the perception that Plaintiff was a Muslim. Similarly, in Arsham v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, an Iranian engineer’s perceived Title VII claim survived summary judgment on the basis that her supervisor’s mistaken belief that she was Indian, and not Iranian, should not save the employer from Title VII liability.

With this potentially looming expansion of workplace religious employment discrimination protection, it is imperative that both management and employees know their respective rights as they relate to federal, state, and municipal ordinances. The Gilbert Law Group can help you navigate this fast changing legal arena.

 Schedule a consultation by calling (631) 630-0100.

 Contributed by Michael B. Engle

Employers Be On Alert: Employment Retaliation Claims Are At an All-Time High

Employers be on alert: employment retaliation claims are at an all-time high.

The number of discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the past year reached the lowest level since 2007, based on published statistics from the EEOC. Retaliation charges, on the other hand, are at their highest percentage ever of claims filed ever.

The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for fiscal years 2013-2016 lists retaliation issues as one of six areas of priority for the agency. The EEOC describes this priority as “targeting policies and practices which discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under the employment discrimination statutes or that impede EEOC’s enforcement efforts.”

The 2014 statistics, and the priority placed on EEOC retaliation enforcement, are a significant reminder that employers should take the necessary steps to minimize the chance of a retaliation claim even when the underlying discrimination claim is not meritorious. Employers should make sure to consult a knowledgeable employment attorney to ensure their employment policies are up to date. Where there is an active discrimination claim against an employer, there are many acts which if taken, could constitute retaliation. In such circumstances, is important that the that an employer seek counsel before taking action.