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

On June 4, 2018, we blogged about a federal lawsuit concerning whether President Trump’s Twitter account invokes First Amendment concerns. We wrote about a federal District Judge’s decision in the lawsuit which held that the President’s twitter account is a public forum subject to First Amendment protections. Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the District Court’s decision. What did the appeals court rule? Today’s civil rights blog discusses the decision.

In Knight Institute v. Trump, a group of individuals sued President Trump. The individuals criticized the President on Twitter, then they were blocked from the President’s personal Twitter account. The individuals alleged that the President’s actions constituted a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. The Southern District of New York agreed.

On appeal, the Second Circuit considered whether President Trump’s use of Twitter’s blocking function constituted conduct in violation of the First Amendment. The government argued that the Presidents use of his personal Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump), is private conduct. Private conduct is not regulated by the First Amendment whereas government conduct is. Indeed, the government noted that the President established his Twitter account in 2009, long before he became president.

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.

On May 1, 2019, United States District Court Judge Joan M. Azrack issued an ordered in a wage theft case filed by Long Island employment lawyers Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC in the Eastern District of New York. The case alleged that a Long Island food delivery service failed to pay overtime wages to two employees and failed to provide proper and legal wage statements under New York Law.

The lawsuit was served on the defendant corporation and an owner, but the defendants refused to defend themselves. Accordingly, the firm asked the court to enter a default judgment against them. As part of the motion, partner Matt Weinick set forth the applicable laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law concerning overtime pay. Weinick discussed how the affidavits submitted by the two employees established that the employer violated the wage and hour laws.

Next, the firm calculated the damages owed to each employee. Weinick set forth the hours each employee worked and how much each was owed for the overtime worked. Weinick also set forth the statutory damages the employer owed for not providing proper wage statements and the amount of liquidated damages allowed for under the FLSA and NYLL.

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.

As more states enact legislation legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, issues concerning employers’ regulation of employees’ marijuana use are on the rise. Can employers regulate an employee’s lawful use of marijuana outside of work? Like most legal questions, the answer is complicated. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses a recent New Jersey court’s opinion on the question of medical marijuana use relating to a disability.

New Jersey has enacted the Compassionate Use Act. In brief, the Act is intended to prevent the prosecution of patients and caregivers involved in the use of marijuana to alleviate suffering from medical conditions. The portion of the Act relevant to the New Jersey case also notes that employers are not required to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in the workplace.

In the New Jersey case, Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., the plaintiff was diagnosed with cancer and was prescribed marijuana as part of his medical treatment. He continued working as a licensed funeral director.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal law which sets minimum wage and requirements for employers to pay overtime to workers. The law also establishes rules under which employees may be exempt from the overtime requirements.  On March 7, 2019, the United States Department of Labor proposed a rule which would alter the current rules for exempt employees. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the proposal.

Under the FLSA, employers must pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek.  Overtime must be 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay.

But, some employees are exempt from this requirement. To be exempt, the employee must receive a minimum weekly salary and the employee’s job responsibilities must meet the definition of one of the law’s exemptions.  In 2004, the Department of Labor set the salary requirement to $455 per week, and that amount has remained unchanged since then.

Are you facing a hostile work environment? You may think so, but courts may not agree.  Employment law requires employees to show that they faced severe or pervasive abusive conduct in the workplace, to prove a hostile work environment claim.  What is severe or pervasive conduct?  Today’s Long Island employment law blog explains.

Courts have long stated that their role is not to keep workplaces civil.  So, many employees may believe their bosses and/or coworkers are mistreating them, but the law would not regard the conduct as unlawful.  Employment laws only prohibit abusive conduct which is directed at employees based on the employee’s protected characteristics, such as sex, gender, race, or national origin.  Moreover, the conduct must be severe or pervasive.  The legal definition of severe of pervasive has been settled for a while, but because it’s a somewhat of a nebulous definition, courts and lawyers sometimes have trouble discerning when conduct meets that standard.

In Fox v. Costco, decided on March 6, 2019, the Second Circuit provided insight into questions. First, can an employee claim he subjected to a hostile work environment based on a disability?  Second, what kind of conduct can be severe or pervasive.  Let’s take the questions in turn.

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