Articles Posted in Employment Discrimination

October 2019 was a busy time in the world of employment law. Two major developments include (1) New York State sexual harassment training deadline hits; and (2) the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a Title VII case which will decide whether the federal workplace anti-discrimination laws prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses these developments.

1. Sexual Harassment Training in New York

As of October 9, 2019, all employers in New York, regardless of size, must have completed sexual harassment training for all employees. The training must include an explanation of what sexual harassment is, it must provide examples of sexual harassment, it must discuss available remedies for victims of sexual harassment, and it must discuss how victims can bring complaints of sexual harassment.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits, among many other things, employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities. In addition to protecting employees with disabilities, the law also protects employees who associate or have a relationship with another individual who has a disability. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the law concerning associational discrimination under the ADA and a recent appellate court decision related to such claims.

The explicit language of the ADA prohibits employers from denying jobs or benefits to individuals because of a known disability the individual has or because the individual is known to associate or have a relationship with another person who has a disability. In an associational discrimination disability case, plaintiffs must prove, among other elements, that an adverse employment decision was made “under circumstances” which allows an inference that the disability of a relative or associate caused the employer’s decision. One way to show this is by establishing distraction evidence. A plaintiff can show distraction with evidence that the employer was motivated to take action against the employee out of fear that the employee will not pay attention at work because of the disability of a disabled person.

In Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook, Inc., the plaintiff-employee worked as a laborer. Just months after starting work, the employee’s daughter was born with a neurological disorder. Later the next year, the employee told his supervisor about his daughter’s condition and that because of the condition, on occasion he would need to rush home to care for her. The employee alleged that after this disclosure, his work conditions deteriorated. For example, his work location changed and his coworkers were offered assignments at higher wages than he was assigned.

We are proud to announce that Peter J. Famighetti and Matthew Weinick, partners at the Long Island employment law firm, Famighetti & Weinick PLLC, have been selected for inclusion by Super Lawyers New York Metro magazine.  This exclusive list is reserved for no more than five percent of the attorneys in New York State.

According to Super Lawyers, the list is “research driven” and peer influenced.  It is a rating service of lawyers who, according to Super Lawyers, have “attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.”  Super Lawyers uses a patented multi-part evaluation process to select lawyers for inclusion on its list.  The process includes:

  • Peer nominations

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the first Monday of September in each year, being the day celebrated and known as Labor’s Holiday, is hereby made a legal public holiday.”

While mostAmericans lament the end of summer, Labor Day always offers one last long summer weekend before returning to school or the usual grind of work at summer’s end. Workers enjoy many national holidays by taking the day off, but even though days such as Memorial Day and July 4th are associated with barbecues, Americans always take time to remember the meaning behind those important days.

What about Labor Day though? Do Americans stop to really think about the meaning behind the holiday? Or is it just the symbolic end to summer fun and sunshine? Today’s Long Island employment law blog explores the history of Labor Day.

Employees facing discrimination in the workplace must usually rely on statutes to sue their employers. Governments, however, must operate within the boundaries of the Constitution, including when the government acts as an employer. So, employees who work for a government, such as a state, town, city, or special district, may be able to bring legal claims against their employer when the government violates the employees’ Constitutional rights. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses a recent appellate court decision in New York which raises the bar for employment related claims against municipalities.

Elizabeth Naumovski worked for SUNY Binghamton as an assistant basketball coach. Soon after she started working, rumors circulated that Naumovski was having an “inappropriate relationship” with “J.W.,” a gay female-student athlete.  The rumors continued into the next academic year, so the school responded by imposing restrictions on interactions between students and coaches.

Yet, the rumors allegedly continued to persist into the next year. In early February 2010, the defendant head coach and athletic director spoke by phone and agreed to terminate Naumovski, allegedly because Naumovski demonstrated favoritism to some students.

The phrase “sexual harassment” has certainly been in the news lately. But, it may be hard to discern when an individual has been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, at least in the eyes of the law. The United States Supreme Court has established standards for courts to follow when analyzing sexual harassment claims, yet it is still difficult for judges around the country to determine whether an employer has participated in unlawful activity.

The Supreme court has created a high standard under federal law that plaintiff-employees must clear in order to prove that they were victims of sexual harassment. Fortunately for New York employees, on June 19, 2019, the New York State Legislature approved a bill (S.B.6577) that offers more workplace protections for workers. Below are some of the amendments the bill seeks to make to New York State sexual harassment laws.

Elimination of the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating and retaliating against employees. Employers who violate Title VII may be subject to a lawsuit in federal court. Before filing a lawsuit, however, employees who believe their employer has violated the law must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. But, is this rule a jurisdictional requirement or a procedural rule? Courts across the country have debated this, but on June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States settled the question. Today’s Long Island employment law blog explains the difference in the distinctions, SCOTUS’s decision, and the implications.

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Further, Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law. As part of Title VII, Congress included a requirement that aggrieved employees must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or local discrimination enforcement agency, before filing a lawsuit in federal court. Congress, however, did not expressly state whether this rule is a jurisdictional requirement or a procedural requirement. Because of this, federal courts across the country have been split on whether the rule is the latter or the former.

What’s the difference between a jurisdictional requirement and a procedural requirement? It’s not merely an academic point. Jurisdiction is a rule which allows a federal court the authority to hear a case. Jurisdiction can never be waived. In other words, if a court does not have authority to hear the particular kind of case before it, a party can raise the issue at any point during the litigation. In fact, a court may raise the issue on its own and may dismiss a case if it decides, at any point, that it does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Earlier this month, we wrote about the intersection of medical marijuana use and employment discrimination laws.  Based, in part, on this conflict, the New York City Council passed a law which would prohibit New York City employers from testing prospective employees for marijuana as part of the employer’s pre-hiring procedures. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses this new law.

In 2014, New York State passed the Compassionate Care Act which legalized marijuana for medical use. In early April 2014, we blogged about the complications which can arise when an employee lawfully uses medical marijuana, but the employer tests employees for marijuana use. A New Jersey court ruled that an employer may have engaged in disability discrimination when the employer terminated the employee after he tested positive for marijuana, which he used to treat a medical condition.

The New York City Council acknowledged that New York City residents may lawfully use marijuana to treat medical conditions. It further concluded that at least 34 states across the country allow citizens to use marijuana either for recreational and/or medical purposes. The Council determined that it would be unjust to allow New York City employers to test employees for the presence of marijuana, when the employee may have used it legally.

In employment discrimination claims, courts generally apply one of two methods of analyzing the claims. In a mixed-motives analysis, plaintiffs must show the employer was motivated, at least in part, by a discriminatory animus. This is considered a more lenient standard. In but-for causation, the plaintiff must show that discrimination was the but-for cause of the employment action taken against the employee. This is considered a stricter standard. On April 18, 2019, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, New York’s highest federal court, ruled that but-for causation is the appropriate legal standard applicable to disability discrimination claims. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the decision.

In Natofsky v. City of New York, the plaintiff alleged disability discrimination and retaliation against the City of New York. He brought his claims under the Rehabilitation Act. The trial court applied a standard requiring the plaintiff to show that discrimination was the “sole” reason that the employer took a adverse actions against him. Applying this standard, the trial court dismissed the employee’s claims, then the employee appealed.

On appeal, the Second Circuit first looked at whether the employee was required to show that discrimination was the sole reason for the acts taken against him. The court determined that the Rehabilitation Act incorporates the standards from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So, although the Rehabilitation Act indeed uses language indicating discrimination must be the sole reason, subsequent amendments to the Act made clear that courts were to look to the ADA for the appropriate standard.

For federal workplace discrimination claims in New York, employees must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 300 days of the discriminatory act in order to preserve their right to sue the employer. But, oftentimes for hostile work environment claims, the employee doesn’t reach a breaking point until after enduring perhaps months or years of abuse. Does the employee lose the right to sue based on acts which occurred before the 300 day filing period? On April 8, 2019, New York’s federal appellate court answered that question, and clarified several other important points of law concerning employment cases.  Today’s Long Island employment law blog explains.

For an employee to have a hostile work environment claim against an employer, the employee must be able to show the employer’s abusive conduct was either severe or pervasive. When showing pervasive conduct, the employee must show many hostile and abusive acts took place frequently over a period of time. But, employees must file charges of discrimination within 300 days of the discriminator act.

In Davis-Garett v. Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, the plaintiff alleged she was subjected to a hostile work environment at three different store locations and over the course of more than a year, ending in September 2013.  But, the plaintiff did not file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC until December 2013. The trial court ruled that the everything that happened from before 300 days before the EEOC charge was filed, would not be considered.

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