San Fernando Valley Los Angeles Attorneys
Navigation Two
Phone Number
Monday
Apr132015

Transgender Rights in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers to Protect Against Harassment & Discrimination

Business LitigationEmployer Attorney

by Hannah Sweiss

818.907.3260

 

Employer Discrimination Defense AttorneyLast week, President Obama signed an executive order banning discrimination against gay or transgender federal employees and contractors. On the same day, the first gender-neutral bathroom became available in the White House. The topic of transgender identity may be news to many. However, beyond the spotlight, transgender identity and the struggles surrounding transgender persons are real, particularly in the workplace. 

On March 16, 2015, the United States Commission on Civil Rights held its first ever hearing on workplace discrimination against those in the LGBT community.

According to NPR, the EEOC has helped more than 1,200 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons bring employment discrimination claims under Title VII since 2013. Some employer defendants have tried to claim Title VII does not protect transgender persons, but both state and federal courts disagreed.

As transgender rights awareness continues to gain momentum, employers need to be prepared to deal with new issues related to gender identity, gender stereotyping, and gender transitioning.

Federal Protections for Transgender Individuals

In 2012, the EEOC issued a landmark decision in Macy v. Holder, which held that discrimination based on transgender status constituted unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. In December 2014, the Department of Justice issued a memo recognizing that transgender people are protected under Title VII.

In a landmark ruling issued on April 1, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that the Department of the Army discriminated against a transgender employee who transitioned from male to female, by barring her from using the same restroom as other female employees, and by her supervisors’ continued intentional use of male names and pronouns in referring to the employee after her transition. The EEOC also determined that some of the most common forms of harassment faced by transgender employees constitute unlawful discrimination under Title VII.

The EEOC also recently adopted a strategic enforcement plan for Fiscal Years 2013-16, which specifically addresses "Emerging and Developing Issues," such as protections for LGBT individuals under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One EEOC initiative under the plan includes forming an LGBT work group to advise EEOC litigators, coordinate internal policies and comment on pending legislation. Another initiative has EEOC litigators filing amicus curiae briefs in lawsuits around the country – briefs filed by someone not a party to the litigation, but who have an interest (usually a social concern) in the outcome. 

Gender Discrimination Law

California Protections for Transgender Individuals

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire or employ a person or to discharge a person from employment or to discriminate in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the person’s gender identity. California Government Code sections 12940(a) and 12926(p).

Last year, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), brought a lawsuit against a California employer alleging it was sex, gender, gender identity and gender expression discrimination to require a transgender employee to use the female locker room and restroom facilities until the employee’s gender transition to male was “complete” after sex reassignment surgery.

The FEHA broadly protects not only gender identity, but also gender expression (regardless of whether an employee self-identifies as a transgender individual). The expanding gender-identity protections safeguard employees who wish to dress like, act like and use the restroom of the gender they identify with, even if they never undergo surgery to alter their appearance. Employees’ gender identity and gender expression (including presenting in a way that does not comport with traditional gender roles) should not be a basis to treat employees differently.

Employer Takeaway

Failing to properly deal with issues of gender identity and gender expression may lead to employee claims. To help ensure a workplace free from discrimination and harassment for all employees:  

  1. Make tolerance part of the workplace culture by having strong anti-discrimination provisions in personnel policies and awareness of gender identity in proactive diversity training.

  2. Ensure employees know harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

  3. Employees should be addressed by their names or preferred title by all persons in the workplace.

  4. Implement reasonable workplace appearance, grooming, and dress standards that allow employees to appear or dress consistently with their gender identity.

  5. Consider assigning a gender-neutral restroom or locker room to accommodate ALL employees, whether male, female or transitioning.

  6. Ensure the privacy of gender-transitioning employees.

  7. If an employee requests help as he or she undergoes a gender transition, engage in a dialogue and ask the employee to share any concerns. Then, figure what accommodations are best and/or possible. A change in wardrobe could occur overnight, but a transition involving hormones and surgery might take several years to complete. 

Although employers and HR staff may be aware employees are protected against discrimination based on gender, gender identity and gender expression under California and Federal law, transgender discrimination or harassment claims may arise from others employed in the workplace. 

To help prevent such claims, employers should educate their workforce not only through policies and procedures, but also through training. If this means having employees participate in diversity training, then employers should consider making that investment.

 

Hannah Sweiss is an Employer Defense Attorney at our firm. Contact her via email: hsweiss@lewitthackman.com or by phone: 818.907.3260.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Wednesday
Apr082015

Commercial Drones: When Tech Flies Faster Than the Speed of Government

Litigation Los AngelesBusiness & Environmental Litigation Attorney 

Stephen T. Holzer
818.907.3299

 

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones as they are more commonly known, are under intense scrutiny by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In fact, the FAA itself is under scrutiny, by big and small businesses alike.

Drones for BusinessIn February, the agency published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend regulations governing drone operators and their craft.

Under the proposed rules for UAS weighing less than 55 pounds, operators must maintain visual contact with the craft at all times, fly drones between sunrise and sunset only, and not over the heads of people who are not directly involved in the drone's operation. Drones can't exceed 100 mph or fly higher than 500 feet, and operators will need to perform a pre-flight check of their craft to ensure safety.

In late March the FAA announced plans to grant Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) which usually applies to research endeavors. Business can also apply for Section 333 Petitions of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 – for certain commercial drone operators flying UAS under 200 feet and specified distances away from airports.

Section 333 petitions allow the Secretary of Transportation to grant on a case by case basis, an operator authorization to fly a drone without the normally required mandates of a registered aircraft, licensed pilot and operational approval.

According to Fortune Magazine, the FAA is not exactly free-flying in this endeavor. First, the agency is undermanned with a crew of 10. Additionally, the FAA feels it must scrutinize each highly complicated exemption individually – they've received over 600 petitions, and approved about 10 percent so far.

The FAA in response to criticism over its original NPRM revealed in February cited the complexity of the issue, and that there are no technology standards for drones established yet.

This week, American International Group (AIG) announced the FAA granted approval for the insurer to use drones when surveying disaster areas. AIG says they will use UAS to better assess risk and help clients rebuild after catastrophic events.

It sounds like the FAA may be more ready to launch forward in allowing commercial drone use, but this still may not be good enough for Amazon.

In a recent congressional hearing, the online retailer's Vice President for Global Public Policy complained the U.S. is falling behind on the flight path:

Nowhere outside of the United States have we been required to wait more than one or two months to begin testing…What the FAA needs is impetus, lest the United States fall further behind.

Additionally, Amazon claims that the drones the FAA has authorized for test flights are already obsolete. Amazon developed newer and better models, which they are now testing overseas.

In Europe, the outlook for commercial drone use has broader horizons. DHL has begun dropping off supplies to an island 12 kilometers from Germany's coast – the first service exceeding visual line of sight delivery, according to The Economist. Some law enforcement agencies in the UK plan to use drones to fight crime, according to engadget.com.

California Drone Laws Address Privacy Concerns

Closer to home, most of the fight for drone flights in commercial use remains at the federal level. California seems to be flying a different legal path.

Drone Law

The drone industry could potentially pump billions into the California economy, according to trade groups. But many in the state are more worried about privacy and safety, e.g., the drone that crashed on White House grounds in January.

Last September, Governor Jerry Brown approved an amendment to Civil Code §1708.8, which should clip the wings of the paparazzi and anyone else intending to use UAS to invade the privacy of an individual in personal or family settings: "…through the use of any device, regardless of whether there is a physical trespass...."

Governor Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 1327 for being too restrictive for police. The proposed bill prohibited the use of UAS by public agencies, except by law enforcement under very specific circumstances (usually requiring a warrant), or to aid first responders in traffic accidents or in natural and environmental disasters.

So far, California has two other assembly bills up for debate this year also focused on law enforcement use and privacy: AB 37 and Ab 56. Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, introduced AB 14 addressing a need for a task force to study the drone industry and regulations.

Except where privacy and business issues overlap as in the paparazzi amendment above, California isn't quite yet on board with tackling the business aspects of drone use.

There's already a Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, initially established in 2012 to study privacy issues. Congressmen Joe Heck (NV) and Daniel Lipinski (IL) have recently announced a "re-launch" to "educate members on commercial applications of unmanned systems, industry trends, and regulatory issues for air, land, sea systems".

Hopefully, the Congressional interest and state legislation such as California's AB 14 can move the regulatory process forward.

Stephen T. Holzer is an Environmental and Business Litigation Attorney. Contact him via email: sholzer@lewitthackman.com, or by phone: 818.907.3299.

 

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Thursday
Apr022015

Unleashed: Dangerous Dogs Directive in Los Angeles

Injury Attorney Los AngelesDog Bite Injury Attorney

by David B. Bobrosky

(818) 907-3254

 

 

Recently, a Los Angeles County woman was charged with three felony counts for failing to control her vicious dog. Her Akita attacked three separate people in less than two years – the last incident occurring in November. One of those victims was an eight year old child.

Dog Attack LawyerEarlier this month, the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services issued a directive to immediately impound dogs that seriously injure people or other dogs and cats. According to NBC, the owner of these impounded dogs must then attend a Dangerous Animal Hearing at which the city will decide if the dog needs to be removed or euthanized.

In the past, criminal charges brought against the owners of attacking dogs have been rare, but we may see that happening more often, especially since the death of Diane Whipple in 2001. A judge sentenced one of the dog owners to 15 years to life in prison, for second degree murder.

A man in Lancaster, California was also convicted of second degree murder and could serve 24 years to life because of four pit bulls that terrorized the neighborhood – engaging in at least seven other attacks in the 18 months before mauling a woman walking through the neighborhood in 2013.

Last year a Michigan couple faced murder charges because their two dogs attacked and killed a passing jogger, after having attacked others in the neighborhood. In this instance, the dog owners previously failed to show for a court hearing when the dogs bit an elderly man. Additionally, animal control may also have been at fault as they merely ordered a 10 day quarantine of the animals after the dogs attacked a passer-by in 2012.

Dog Attacks & Injury Claims

According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all money paid out for homeowners' liabilityclaims in 2013. From 2003 to 2013, the average cost per dog bite claim has risen over 45 percent.

Dog Bite Fatality StatisticsNational Canine Research Council: Co-occurring factors in dog bite-related fatalities over 10 year period.In California alone the value of dog bite injury claims totaled over $64 million – the highest state amounts paid out across the nation – but not the highest average cost per claim, falling well behind New York. The average insurer's cost per claim is just over $43,100 in New York, $33,700 in California, and $31,600 in Wisconsin. These numbers cry out for the need for responsible pet ownership.

Personal injury awards for dog attacks vary case by case – it all depends on how badly an individual was injured by the dog, whether extensive medical treatment or plastic surgery is needed, and how the attack changed the victim's lifestyle in the long-run.

Additionally, a jury may award exemplary damages from the dog owner. In such a  case, a jury wishes to punish the owner for willful conduct or grossly negligent  behavior, i.e. letting a historically dangerous dog roam the neighborhood. Theoretically, exemplary damages could be awarded against the Los Angeles woman with the dangerous Akita mentioned above.

A Los Angeles County ordinance already sets procedures for dealing with dangerous dogs. Owners of vicious canines may be fined, have restrictions imposed, or be forced to give up the dog to someone else. Ultimately though, the County could order to have the dog euthanized.  

Hopefully the new directive from the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services will further help to enforce the ordnance – allowing for the immediate impounding and subsequent evaluation of these dangerous animals.

David B. Bobrosky is an experienced dog bite attorney in our Personal Injury Practice Group. Contact him by phone: (818) 907-3254 or by email: dbobrosky@lewitthackman.com

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Tuesday
Mar172015

Easy to Swallow: New California Beer Legislation Benefits Craft Brewers

 

by Bryan H. Clements

 

 

 

Good news for craft brewers: California law seems to be loosening up a bit when it comes to beer.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr: 2014’s Growler Law Roars Along

Last year the state eased up on growler restrictions to allow California beer lovers to get their growlers refilled at any brewery, no matter which brewery’s label is on the container, as long as the refilling brewery puts on a new label that has been approved by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) and that completely covers the old label.

A growler is a refillable beer jug or container, usually 64 ounces. Allowing Californians the right to get their growlers refilled at any brewery is great for small brewers and it keeps with California’s tradition of encouraging recycling.

This year, we had two new beer laws go into effect that loosen up restrictions on craft brewers even further, and another interesting bill is currently being considered by the legislature.

Farmers' Markets Here We Come!

Under a law that went into effect January 1st (Assembly Bill 2004), licensed craft brewers may now apply to the DABC for permits to sell packaged beer at certified farmers' markets. Vintners have enjoyed this privilege for years.

AB 2004 amended Section 23357  of the Business and Professions Code, and added Section 23399.45, to allow brewers to apply for multiple permits to sell up to 5000 gallons of their beer at multiple venues, including certified farmers’ markets or permitted community events operated adjacent to and in conjunction with the farmers’ market. Buyers must consume their purchases off property, i.e. at home, not at the farmers' markets. The permits are good for one year, but are valid for only one day per week at any single farmers' market or community event.

On February 25, 2015, AB 774 was introduced in the California Legislature. AB 774 aims to further amend the Business and Professions Code (Sections 23399.45, 24045.6 and 25607.5) to rectify another longstanding disparity between the rights of California's winemakers and small brewers—the right to conduct tasting events at farmers’ markets.

If AB 774 is passed, craft brewers could host their own, instructional beer tasting events at certified farmers’ markets – if the permitted brewer or employee of the brewer conducting the tasting is over 21, and if they do not pour more than eight ounces of beer per person per day. There are other restrictions:  i.e. the brewery must be located in the same or adjacent county as the farmers' market; the operator of the market maintains managerial control of the tasting event; the tasting event area must be cordoned off by a wall, ropes, etc.; and only one beer manufacturer may conduct a tasting at any certified farmers’ market per day.

While waiting to see if this bill passes, craft brewers can still take advantage of selling their product at these venues because of AB 2004. Contact the farmers' markets in the appropriate county for information and apply for a DABC permit. If AB 774 does become law, you may need to obtain police department approval while coordinating a tasting.

Sip and Spit: Now Law of the Land

Picture this: A presidential candidate (channeling Bill Clinton?) stands in front of a TV camera during a heated election battle and says: "While in college I sipped, but I did not swallow."

Last summer, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1989, which adds §25668 to the Business and Professions Code. Under Section 25668, students 18-20 years of age working towards Associate's or Bachelor’s degrees in enology or brewing at qualified universities are now permitted to taste, but not consume alcoholic beverages. The law took effect on January 1, 2015. (We're guessing that thousands of undergrads throughout California are now considering switching majors.)

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Friday
Mar132015

Tax Filing During a Divorce: Separate or Joint Returns?

Encino Tarzana Divorce LawyerDivorce Attorney

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
818.907.3274

 

Couples going through a divorce should remember this regarding taxes: You can still file a joint return, so long as you were still married as of December 31st.

Taxes During DivorceEven if you separated from your spouse and moved out of the house on  January 1, 2014 – if you did not receive a divorce decree by December 31st, you're still considered married in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS considers same-sex couples married, if the couple was married in a state where same-sex marriages are legal. So here in California, no distinctions are made in terms of whether a heterosexual or same-sex couple is considered married or divorced – all follow the same rules.

For most couples, filing jointly will result in more tax savings. If your divorce finalized before December 31st, you'll have to file singly, or as head of household – the latter could garner you more tax savings if filing that way. Talk to your accountant to figure out what's best for your situation.

Speaking of accountants, the IRS allows you to deduct some of the fees paid for expert advice regarding tax planning and obtaining or collecting spousal support. Thus, you may want an itemized statement from your attorney.

Separated & Filing Taxes

No matter what the relationship status, couples should always communicate. That holds especially true for separating couples at tax time. Consider these questions: 

  • Are you Married, Filing Jointly; or Married, Filing Singly?

  • Which of you is the custodial parent?

  • Who claims the children as dependent exemptions?

  • Will one of you file as head of household, while the other claims the dependent exemptions? 

Divorce Finance Attorney

If you are legally separated in California, claiming head of household means you have dependents and pay for at least half of the costs of maintaining a home. So if your child(ren) live with your spouse in a home that you mostly pay for – you could file your taxes as head of household, rather than singly.

If you and your spouse each have 50 percent custody of your child(ren), you'll really need to communicate in terms of deciding who gets to claim what on the tax returns. If there is only one child, it might make sense to alternate the tax deduction annually. Alternatively, the tax deduction may benefit one parent more than another. It is important to make sure you are in sync so that you do not get audited.

There are many options to consider when separated and filing taxes. The best thing to do in these situations is to get help from an expert.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis is a Divorce Attorney in our Family Law Practice Group. Contact her via phone:818.907.3274; or by email: vnellis@lewitthackman.com for more information.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120