San Fernando Valley Los Angeles Attorneys
Navigation Two
Phone Number

Entries in hiring and firing (7)

Tuesday
Jul212015

Wacky Employee Claims: What Employers Can Learn From Outlandish Situations

Lawyer for EmployerWage and Hour Defense

 

 

by Nicole Kamm
818.907.3235

 

Think you've heard every cautionary workplace tale? Believe it or not, you probably haven't – the real question is, how prepared are you to handle wildly unusual complaints, extreme accommodation requests, and highly awkward situations?

We compiled some of the most interesting recent, real-life scenarios below. Sometimes, the employer acted reasonably, and in other situations, failed miserably. But each case serves as a reminder to employers: When making employment decisions, proceed with caution and advice from counsel. 

 

#4. Religious Discrimination Reeks

Religious discriminationThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against a New York company that forced employees to participate in a religion called "Onionhead." Employees were made to wear Onionhead buttons, dim the lights, join prayer groups and participate in other Onionhead-related activities. Employee resistance was futile, and in three cases led to humiliating treatment and eventual termination.

Employers: Avoid imposing your religious (or non-religious) beliefs on your employees. 

 

#3. Displeasing Prosthetics

An employee who worked for a snack food maker in Pennsylvania was considering gender reassignment surgery. She told a few coworkers about her potential surgery, and also confided that she was wearing a prosthetic penis at work to help her make a decision. The prosthetic was not visible, but one of her coworkers informed management, and the employee was soon fired.

The employee filed a federal civil rights complaint seeking back pay, compensation for suffering and humiliation, and punitive damages.  She claimed a male coworker who underwent hormone treatments and cross-dressed was treated more fairly, and her complaint alleged disparate and discriminatory treatment for being a female, and for being a female who identified as male.

Employers: The EEOC has determined that discrimination based on gender identity is sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. California also makes it unlawful to discriminate based on gender identity or expression, under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. 

 

#2. Quid Pro Quo Grooming

An employee claimed that her supervisor made several sexual advances to her, and became "biased and angry" when the employee rebuffed those advances. She complained to her supervisor’s supervisor– but during this period the employee herself was written up several times for tardiness and inappropriate dress. Management decided to implement a work performance improvement plan for the employee, and the employee claimed no further discussions regarding her supervisor’s inappropriate behavior took place with upper management.

Then this happened: The supervisor called the employee to his office – the employee assumed it was to have a performance evaluation discussion. However, the supervisor asked the employee to extract an ingrown hair from his chin.  The employee refused. The supervisor then informed the employee that he could have her fired.

Shortly after this incident, the supervisor was instructed to terminate the employee, citing work performance issues observed by members of management.

The employee alleged age discrimination and sexual harassment in her claim brought to a federal court. The district court found that the ingrown hair request was not severe enough to be considered sexual harassment, though an Appellate court disagreed. The case was remanded back to district court.

Employers: Asking employees to perform personal grooming tasks is not appropriate; termination decisions should be based on legitimate business reasons and thoroughly documented. 

 

#1. Popping Positive for GINA Violations

This employer may have flushed over $2M down the sewer.

When management at a grocer's warehouse discovered that someone was defecating in the aisles and on top of canned goods, they immediately became concerned of potential health risks and took drastic action. The company ordered certain employees to submit to cheek swabs so they could identify the DNA of what a district court in Georgia called "The Devious Defecator."

Two employees submitted to the DNA test and were found to not have matching DNA of the defecator.

The employees later filed suit for violations of GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The employer contended the cheek swab testing did not provide medical information about the employees, and filed a motion for summary judgment. After losing on summary judgment, a jury awarded the plaintiffs $2.25M ($1.75M in punitive damages).

Employers: GINA clearly states it is "illegal for an employer to request, require, or purchase genetic information" of an employee, even if obtained for arguably reasonable business reasons.

 

What are the lessons learned from the bizarre claims made above? First, employers must be aware of the myriad laws governing the workplace. But more importantly, when these odd situations do come up, know to spot the issue, take proper action, and consult counsel with any questions. You can read more strange employee situations in a previous blog: Wacky Employee Claims.

 

Nicole Kamm is an Employment Defense Attorney. Contact her via email: nkamm@lewitthackman.com or directly by phone: 818-907-3235.

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.

Monday
Jul152013

Wacky Employee Claims: Reasonable Accommodations for Unreasonable Requests?

Lawyer for EmployerEmployment Defense

 

by Nicole Kamm
818.907.3235

 

 

As an employment defense attorney, I often think I’ve heard it all: every conceivable employee complaint, late-to-work excuse, and “reasonable” accommodation request. Still, from time to time, I come across an employee claim that surprises even me.

Here are some recent ones:

Spa Sued Over Brazilian Wax Training: A woman hired at a spa as a “wax specialist” alleged her recent termination was discriminatory. As part of her training, her employer required her to receive a Brazilian wax – in front of her female colleagues. The employee refused and complained, and claims she was fired in retaliation. 

Hair Color Discrimination: Earlier this year, the NYPD issued an anti-bias message alert warning sergeants and lieutenants about harassment or discrimination against red-haired officers. This alert went mostly unsupported by those who did not feel redheads were a particularly disadvantaged group. However, employers should note, to the extent hair color is associated with race, ethnicity or national origin, it could give rise to a claim for employment discrimination.  

Fired for Irresistable Attraction?: A female employee sued for wrongful termination after her employer fired her based on his concerns that if she continued to work for him, he would have sex with her and it would ruin his marriage. The lower court ruled this did not violate the law. The employee was not fired because she was a woman, but because of her “irresistible attraction.”  The Iowa Supreme Court recently confirmed the lower court decision.  

Vegan’s Religious Accommodation Case to Proceed: A former hospital employee alleged she was fired for refusing to take a flu shot, which is derived from eggs, claiming such discharge violated her religious beliefs because she is a vegan. The court refused to dismiss the case, finding “it plausible that Plaintiff could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views.”

Disabled by Insomnia: A court recently denied an employee’s claim that her insomnia, which prevented her from sleeping more than four hours per night, was an ADA-protected condition. While insomnia may be a disability under the ADA if it substantially limits a major life activity (which includes sleeping), in this case the court found the employee was terminated because she failed to properly keep time sheets and was unable to “communicate accurately and truthfully.” 

Can Height Be a Disability?: An Arizona Department of Agriculture worker recently filed a claim for disability discrimination claiming she was forced into a field work position in which she would not be able to drive vehicles because she was too short (4’10”). The Court held, in some contexts, her short stature could “substantially limit one or more major life activities” (i.e., rise to the level of a disability). 

Time Off to Head-Bang: Though this one comes from overseas (Sweden), it is a good one. A 42-year old dishwasher, who claimed he was addicted to heavy metal, requested his employer reasonably accommodate time off to attend concerts and listen to music while working. 

 

According to EEOC: Disability claims have risen over 66% since 2000; while religious discrimination claims, though still relatively few in number, have nearly doubled.

The bottom line is this: Employers should be prepared for anything. Handling employee complaints and accommodation requests is certainly not an easy job. But staying on top of the ever-changing employment laws and consulting employment counsel when needed will go far to minimize the risk of claims and litigation. 

 

Nicole Kamm is an Employer Defense Attorney at our firm. Contact her via email: nkamm@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.
Page 1 2
LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120