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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wall Street Rocked with "Mommy Tracking" Allegations

“Mommy tracking” is something that few talk about but many still experience in the workplace. Mommy tracking, if you are not familiar with the term, is the polite description for discriminating against women who have full-time careers but also have families. What makes this discrimination especially insidious is the glass ceiling it assists in enforcing on working women. For some, mommy tracking basically says, “We’ll offer you benefits and flexibility up to a certain point, but don’t expect any promotions or new opportunities.”  

The dirty secret of mommy tracking might be blown wide open as one of the biggest of such cases rocked the financial and legal world last week. Legendary global investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street icon since the late 1800s, was hit with a discrimination lawsuit from a former female employee who claims that the company treats working moms like “second-class citizens.”

A former employee of Goldman Sachs University, the company’s in-depth educational and training program, Charlotte Hanna, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan last Wednesday. The lawsuit alleges that Hanna faced discrimination after having her first child in 2005 and was wrongfully terminated during maternity leave after she had her second child in 2009. As a former vice president of GSU, Hanna opted for a part-time schedule to accommodate her family obligations. Goldman Sachs offered part-time tracking to women specifically to address the balance of work and family.

Hanna was naturally surprised when she was fired in 2009 and to find her position was being eliminated. Hanna was shocked even more so when she learned that an alleged 75% of fellow employees whose jobs were terminated at the same time consisted of other women who were fired while on maternity leave. Lawyers for Charlotte Hanna consider this to be a clear message of how Goldman Sachs feels about mothers as employees.

While Goldman Sachs has issued no response to the lawsuit, and no trial date has been set, “mommy tracking” has officially become a water cooler topic and is no longer a corporate secret.

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Kmart Shells Out over $100k in Age Discrimination Settlement

    Imagine working years for a company, dedicating your life to your profession, and then being repeatedly told by your supervisor that your age and experience were actually a disservice to that company. This is exactly what happened to a 7O-year-old woman in Hawaii.

    On Wednesday, it was announced that Kmart Corp. will pay $120,000 to settle an alleged age discrimination case involving one of its pharmacists in Honolulu. The lawsuit, filed last year by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claimed that the woman was subjected to harassment, humiliation, and retaliation over a four-year period. According to the suit, a pharmacy manager at the Honolulu store repeatedly told a 70-year-old female pharmacist that she was "too old," "should just retire," and was "greedy" because she was still working.

    In a notebook expressly used for pharmacy department communication, the manager allegedly wrote about the woman: "The pharmacy is no longer your forte," and, "You need to retire from pharmacy work now." The same manager scheduled her to work on Sundays even though it was common knowledge she attended church and regularly encouraged the woman to quit. But the woman continued to work, eventually complaining to a district manager, a general manager, and also a human resources manager. Sadly, she was offered no support or help from any of those she contacted while the abuse and discrimination continued to take place. The woman soon quit Kmart, filing a suit with the EEOC last June.

    In addition to paying $120,000 in damages, Kmart has agreed to hire an EEOC trainer to review the company's current polices on anti discrimination, provide training on anti discrimination to its employees, and enforce mandatory disciplinary actions on management who violate the polices.

      Wednesday, March 24, 2010

      Pregnancy Discrimination Suit Ends in a $570K Settlement

      Expecting a child is usually a happy and exciting time for new mothers. For LuShonda Smith and Charity Brooks of Kansas City, however, the joys of pregnancy were soured when each was subjected to workplace discrimination that resulted in both women losing their jobs.

      When Imagine Schools, Inc., a nationwide operator of charter schools, decided to close one of its Kansas City middle schools in favor of reopening a combination high school and middle school, Smith, an office manager, and Brooks, an administrative assistant, were both fired. Both women claim that their employment with Imagine Schools, Inc. was terminated not because of poor performance but because LuShonda Smith and Charity Brooks were both pregnant at the time.

      This week, Imagine Schools agreed to pay $570,000 to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of the two women by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The lawsuit, filed in September 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, claimed that Imagine Schools was guilty of pregnancy discrimination when it chose not to rehire Smith and Brooks at the new school. Pregnancy discrimination is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

      The $570,000 will go toward back pay for the two women as well as emotional distress damages and all attorneys' fees. Imagine Schools, Inc. has also agreed to  a court approved decree that requires the national company to disseminate a policy on pregnancy discrimination, report all acts of discrimination to the EEOC, and prominently post an official notice that states employee rights as covered by federal anti discrimination laws.

      The EEOC, while pleased with the outcome of this particular settlement, is quick to note that pregnancy discrimination has slowly and quietly been on the rise. According to a study done by the agency, pregnancy discrimination charges have increased from 4,160 in 2000 to a staggering 6,196 in 2009.

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        Tuesday, March 23, 2010

        Discrimination in Temporary Employment Agencies

        A startling number of discrimination cases are popping up in temporary employment agencies across the country. The reason?  It is hard to say, but the general thought is that even though these agencies operate on a high-turnover basis and tracking cases of discrimination within them can be nearly impossible, some cases have come to light that point to a larger problem.

        Just this week, Melville, a New York-based Olsten temporary agency, settled a lawsuit that started in their Lacrosse, Wisconsin, branch. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that Olsten Staffing Services blatantly denied Zachary Schaefer a temporary position at Main Street Ingredients, a local food manufacturer, because Schaefer is deaf. The EEOC claimed that the ability to hear was not a clear job requirement, thus making Schaefer a viable candidate for the temporary position. The agency has agreed to pay Schaefer $70,000 in damages and $5,000 in lost pay. The company will also offer their employees training on the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

        It seems some cases where people of color, with disabilities, or of a certain age have been denied jobs by temporary agencies are starting to be better reported. Just the same, well-known companies and trusted businesses are also being taken to court for alleged discrimination lawsuits.

        Billion-dollar Internet mega-market eBay is also being sued by a deaf person.  Melissa Earll of Nevada, Montana, claims that due to her disability she is unable to communicate vocally by telephone and therefore is unable to verify her identity with eBay. The federal lawsuit filed this past Tuesday targets eBay’s seller’s registration system that requires would-be sellers to identify themselves via telephone. The lawsuit says that the current system violates the California Disabled Person Act as it excludes deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons from equal opportunities. In addition to damages, the suit is seeking to reform eBay’s current registration system so that people with disabilities can participate as sellers like everyone else.

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          Monday, March 22, 2010

          Atlanta Gay Bar's Lawsuit Against Police Grows

          In a lawsuit against the Atlanta Police Department originally filed in federal court in November, six more employees were added last week who say they were victimized in a police raid of Atlanta's Eagle Bar which occurred the previous September. This brings the total claimants, who include bar employees, contractors, and patrons, to 28.

          The lawsuit is a reaction to a raid that has the local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community outraged. Amid protests and scathing editorials, the Eagle Bar claims that on the night of the police raid several employees and patrons were forced to lie on the floor of the bar which was littered with spilled alcohol and broken glass while police officers spewed homophobic remarks.  

          According to an updated version of the complaint, several officers posed as patrons and allegedly sat at the bar ordering and consuming alcoholic beverages while waiting for the raid to start. Once the rest of the police force arrived, including members of Atlanta's Red Dog drug unit, the undercover officers told all civilians in the establishment to "hit the floor." Employees as well as customers of the bar were frightened and initially believed that the club was being robbed. The suit goes on to say that the police searched cash registers, beer coolers, the manager's office and the adjoining business on the property, Rawhide Leather, without a search warrant. Allegedly the police also broke into a locked storage room without reason or provocation.

          The Atlanta police were tipped off by undercover vice officers early in September that the bar had been the site of public sex as well as a place where drugs were easily bought and sold. There were separate allegations that the club illegally employed all-nude dancers. Earlier this month, however, the Eagle Bar was found not guilty of these charges. Currently, 31 Atlanta police officers have been named in the federal discrimination lawsuit against the police.

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            Wednesday, March 17, 2010

            EEOC Helps Les Schwab with Glass Ceiling

            Over the past two years, the United States has seen women make amazing strides in the effort to break the glass ceiling. The progress has enabled women to earn places and positions never before thought possible. From Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign to Katherine Bigelow's recent Oscar win for best director, we have come a long way… Or have we? A quick Internet search for the word "discrimination" turns up the headlines of hundreds of cases, many of them filed on the grounds of gender bias. Cases such as the one recently settled in Oregon involving Les Schwab Tires may be an indicator that workplace discrimination is still alive and well.

            The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced last week that it had finally resolved its gender-biased hiring class lawsuit against Les Schwab Tires of Washington for $2.0 million. Les Schwab is a giant franchise that not only serves Washington State, but Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California and Utah. The EEOC's case alleged that Les Schwab had failed to hire qualified women to work in the Sales and Service divisions of their outlets. The Sales and Service divisions at Les Schwab are primarily in charge of changing customer tires.  And according to the chain, it is strictly man's work. Les Schwab, according to the EEOC, denied the applications of over 200 women throughout the West for Sales and Service positions since 2004. These women will be eligible for a share of the settlement.

            One charge that Les Schwab was able to have dropped from the suit was that it failed to promote women to managerial positions.  While never admitting guilt, Les Schwab has agreed as part of the settlement to continue to train employees on anti-discrimination, as well as to encourage and promote the hiring of qualified women candidates for all positions that they apply for.

            Meanwhile, the EEOC is thrilled at the result of the settlement and vows to monitor Les Schwab's hiring practices and development. The EEOC also sees the settlement as a fresh start with Les Schwab in a "new era of cooperation.  And really, that is what change and progress are all about—recognizing wrongs, fixing them, and moving forward.

              Friday, March 12, 2010

              Equal Rights Champion Suffered Discrimination

              For 33 years at the Equal Rights Division in Milwaukee, Johnny Kimble devoted his career to helping others facing discrimination. As an employee of the state of Wisconsin, Kimble fought for equality in the workplace for dozens of people. His efforts, however, did not save him from the same kind of discrimination he long fought against. Last month, a federal judge ruled that Kimble, now retired, had been denied raises and promotions because of his race. The judge charged the Department of Workplace Development and the former administrator of the Equal Rights Division with discrimination. Kimble is now awaiting a settlement for back wages in an amount to be determined by the state of Wisconsin.  

              The judge reviewed the case as well as several documents that proved that J. Sheenan Donoghue denied Kimble personal employee reviews and never gave him a single bonus in 12 years, even though he had been part of the Division's management team for nearly 29 years. It was also shown that other employees with less experience who had been there a shorter time received bonuses while Kimble did not. Donoghue has maintained that the reason Kimble did not receive raises, bonuses or promotions was quite simply because she found that he did not perform his job well enough. This explanation did not hold water with the judge who determined Donoghue to be an uncredible witness whose personal feelings about an employee had clouded her opinions about  his performance. The judge also noted that Donoghue's claims of poor job performance were contradicted by other witness testimony and therefore could not be reliable. Instead, the judge found that Donoghue was, in fact, basing her bias on unfair and untrue stereotypes about African American workers and their ability to perform.  

              Thanks to the judgement in his favor, Johnny Kimble can now be a beneficiary of the very system he helped support. Now retired, his pension is considerably less than it would have been had he recieved the raises and bonuses that he deserved. Yet he remains hopeful that through further litigation he will finally see compensation for the invaluable work he did for the state of Wisconsin.

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                Thursday, March 11, 2010

                Bank Pays Settlement in Disability Discrimination Case

                For people with disabilities, the reality of workplace discrimination is an ongoing one. Last week a Winston-Salem bank was ordered to pay $24,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought on by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Branch Banking and Trust was slapped with the settlement after hearing-impaired employee Linda Hewett was denied the reasonable accommodation she was entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hewett was denied a transfer that she was qualified for, and as a result she was forced to resign in 2003. Hewett suffers from severe, progressive hearing loss, and it was making the position she worked in at the bank impossible. After being denied the transfer to other positions in which she could function more successfully because her hearing loss would be less of a factor, Hewett quit Branch Banking and Trust, the country’s 10th largest financial holdings company.   

                The case was scheduled to go to trial earlier this year, but the parties involved reached an agreement during a court-hosted settlement conference. As part of the settlement agreement that includes the payment of $24,000 in compensatory damages to Linda Hewett, Branch Banking and Trust must also take other actions to prevent disability discrimination from happening in the future. The bank will provide antidiscrimination training for the staff of its entire banking network in its Southeast Region as well a strict reporting schedule to the EEOC of any and all incidents of discrimination.  

                Linda Hewett and countless others with disabilities are valued members of the American workforce who must sadly face this sort of discrimination on a regular basis. Treating those with disabilities like they have less to contribute is an unfortunate example of what is considered acceptable by those who hold narrow-minded or intolerant prejudices. Thankfully there are labor laws, legal teams and the EEOC, which are all dedicated to protecting disabled workers.