Articles Posted in Wrongful Termination

Are firefighters of small municipal fire departments covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)? On November 6, 2018, the United States Supreme Court answered that question the case Mount Lemmon Fire District v. John Guido. Today’s Long Island employment law blog takes a closer look at the decision and also discusses whether the decision offers a glimpse into how the new makeup of the court may affect employment cases.

The Mount Lemmon Fire District is a municipal fire department in Arizona. Purportedly because of a budget shortfall, the District laid off two employees, John Guido and Dennis Ranking, ages 46 and 54, respectively. The firefighters sued alleging their terminations violated the ADEA because the decisions were based on their age. The District moved to dismiss arguing that the ADEA only covers employers who have more than 20 employees, which the District did not. Ultimately, SCOTUS was asked to decide the issue.

Writing for the court, Justice Ginsburg noted that the ADEA was enacted to prevent “arbitrary age discrimination” in employment. She noted further that Congress initially excluded governmental agencies and required that employers employ a threshold number of employees for the law to apply to them.  But, in 1974, Congress amended the ADEA to specifically define employer as including “a State or political subdivision of a State.”

How much is an employment discrimination lawsuit worth? As Long Island employment lawyers, this is a frequent question we hear from victims of unlawful workplace discrimination in New York.  Victims of discrimination may be able to recover several categories of damages which comprise the total amount that an employment discrimination lawsuit may be worth. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the damages available to discrimination victims.

Before even getting to the question of damages, plaintiffs must always first prove liability. This means that an employment discrimination plaintiff must first prove that the employer in fact engaged in unlawful discrimination or retaliation. We often describe this step by analogizing it to baking. In a lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove certain elements. Elements are like ingredients. If, for example, we were baking a cake, we need, for simplicity purposes, four ingredients: (1) flour, (2) sugar, (3) butter, and (4) eggs.  If we did not have one of these ingredients, we may make something resembling a cake, but it would not be a cake.

Similarly, in the world of employment discrimination, a plaintiff must prove four “elements” or “ingredients” to win the liability part of his or her lawsuit.  In short, those elements are: (1) membership in a protected class (such as race, religion, disability, etc.), (2) being qualified for the job; (3) an adverse action (meaning something legally “bad” happened such as being fired); and (4) causation – a showing  that the bad thing happened because the employee belongs to a protected class. If the plaintiff does not prove one of these elements, then the “cake” won’t reason, i.e. the plaintiff cannot prove the case and will not be entitled to any damages whatsoever.

Can an employer fire an employee for activities in which the employee engages outside of work? Like most legal questions, the answer is that it depends. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses whether New York employees are protected for engaging in activities outside of work.

Generally speaking, New York employees are considered at-will, meaning employers can fire employees for any reason or no reason, as long as the reason is not otherwise illegal. This rule gives employers broad discretion in deciding whether to terminate an employee.

New York Labor 201-d, however, identifies several reasons for which an employer may not terminate an employee.  201-d prohibits employers from terminating an employee, refusing to hire or promote an employee, or otherwise discriminate against an employee for an employee engaging certain activities outside the workplace.  Those activities include participating in political activities, an employee’s “legal use” of consumable products, an employee’s “legal” recreational activities, or participating in union activities.

Retaliation in the workplace is illegal. The law protects employees who speak up when they believe the employer discriminated against them because of a protected characteristic such as race, gender, age, disability, religion, or national origin. Employers cannot try to “get back” at the employee by negatively affecting his or her job such as by demoting, firing, or reducing the employee’s hours or pay. Continue reading

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