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.

N.Y. Mets Deny Pregnancy and Marital Status Discrimination

N.Y. Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon has denied discriminating against and eventually firing a former female senior executive based on her pregnancy and marital status, specifically, for having a baby out of wedlock. In a lawsuit filed in Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, Wilpon is quoted as saying during a discussion of e-cigarette ads, “I am as morally opposed to putting an e-cigarette sign in my ballpark as I am to Leigh [Castergine] having this baby without being married.” Wilpon is also alleged to have made fun of Castergine by pretending to look for an engagement ring on her finger at meetings, and trashed her to colleagues by saying that “people would respect her more if she was married.” The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy and marital status. A Major League Baseball source said the league was aware of the suit and considered it a team matter.

The suit alleged Wilpon told Castergine, who earned a six figure salary, to tell her boyfriend “that when she gets a ring she will make more money and get a bigger bonus.” Castergine gave birth in March 2014 and returned to work in June 2014, but was allegedly urged by other executives to quit.

In August 2014, she claimed that the Mets raised issues about her job performance but offered a severance package if she would agree to not sue or say negative things about the team and Wilpon. Castergine also claims that she was fired August 26, 2014, three minutes after her lawyer sent an email to the team claiming that she was subjected to work-related discrimination. In court papers, however, the Mets asserted that she was fired before they received the email and that it “was based on legitimate business reasons” unrelated to Castergine’s “gender, marital status, pregnancy, or leave.” They pointed to “business issues and conflicts” between Castergine and her supervisor and other executives which began prior to learning that she was pregnant. They also asserted that Wilpon was a longstanding supporter of her.

It remains to be seen if the case goes to trial whether a jury will believe Castergine’s discrimination claims or the Mets’ and Wilpon’s defense that there were independent business reasons unrelated to the plaintiff’s gender, pregnancy and marital status, or leave, all of which comprise categories of discrimination protected by federal and state law.

For workplace issues concerning pregnancy, marital status, leaves, work performance, and gender discrimination or harassment contact the Gilbert Law Group at 631.630.0100.