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Thursday
Dec102015

Wrongful Termination & Disability Discrimination: Sarkisian Goes Head to Head With USC

Wage and Hour DefenseEmployment Litigation Defense

 

 

by Sue M. Bendavid

818.907.3220

 

Employment Discrimination Defesne

 

After a much publicized struggle with alcoholism and public firing by the University of Southern California, former head coach for the football team, Steve Sarkisian, has filed a lawsuit against the university.

According to several media outlets, one of the incidents that led to Sarkisian’s termination was the coach’s inability to speak properly at a USC pep rally in August.

The coach was slurring, and used an expletive while speaking onstage. In contrast, Sarkisian claims he had a few beers and took some anti-anxiety medication before the event. Allegedly, USC’s athletic director, Pat Haden, demanded Sarkisian sign a letter requiring the coach apologize to the team and the media, and to obtain counseling with a school therapist.

Sarkisian’s lawsuit against USC asserts claims for, among other things, breach of contract, disability discrimination, medical confidentiality violations, and wrongful termination. Sarkisian is seeking $12.6 million in contract damages as well as additional sums for “extreme mental anguish as a result of not only his wrongful termination, but also the manner in which he was terminated and the statements made about that termination by USC.”

The complaint also states that:

“Instead of supporting its Head Coach, Steve Sarkisian, when he needed its help the most, USC kicked him to the curb. Instead of honoring the contract it made with Steve Sarkisian, USC kicked him to the curb.”

Sarkisian and his attorneys further allege that Haden repeatedly and derisively said “Unbelievable” during a phone call in which Sarkisian asked for time off to get help for alcohol addiction, placed the coach on indefinite leave, and subsequently wrongfully terminated him.

Both state and federal law provide protections for disabled employees. California’s law is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  The federal law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Both FEHA and the ADA recognize that alcoholism is a form of disability. As noted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers must make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees if the accommodation will not result in an undue hardship on the employer.

Also, under California Labor Code Sections 1025-1028, certain employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who ask for time off to enter rehab. And, the employer must maintain the employees’ privacy.

What Should Employers Do To Keep Workplaces Running Safely and Efficiently?

Lawyer for EmployerEmployers should remember that alcoholism is a disease recognized by the American Medical Association, and that this disease may entitle an employee to take time off from work. Not only may employees have leave rights under the ADA and FEHA, but also under other leave laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act (for employers with more than 50 employees).

Employers who must terminate an alcoholic should do so with caution. They should consider all of the circumstances of the employee, including work history, performance records and other factors. Documentation of misconduct is key to helping prove that the termination was due to performance and not to a disability.

Employers should also establish policies and ensure all employees are aware of such policies prohibiting the use of alcohol or controlled substances while working.

 

Sue M. Bendavid is the Chair of the Employment Practice Group at our firm. Contact her by phone: 818.907.3220, or by email: sbendavid@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.

Monday
Sep282015

Yes We CAN (talk about politics in the workplace)

Lawyer for EmployersEmployment Defense

 

by Tal Burnovski Yeyni

818-907-3224

 

As election times draw near, news about debates, political faux pas, and myriad guarantees are becoming more and more entrenched in our lives. Which, coincidentally, brings about the oh so common political discussions among friends, families and even co-workers.

As an avid political junkie I enjoy the occasional, lively debate. I have also witnessed several political discussions gone sour. While disagreement over politics can generate a healthy exchange of thoughts and ideas it can also cause a great deal of frustration and anger.

Which begs the question: Can employers limit their employees' political speech in furtherance of a drama-free work environment?  

The short answer is no. Political discussions can be problematic at times, but prohibiting them altogether is against California's public policy. California Labor Code prohibits employers from making, adopting or enforcing any rule, regulation or policy that:

(a) forbids or prevents employees from engaging or participating in politics or from becoming candidates for public office, and

(b) controls or directs, or tends to control or direct the political activates or affiliation of employees. (Labor Code §1101).

There’s more. Labor Code §1102 provides:

No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.

Meaning, Labor Code §§ 1101-1102 reinforce the substantial public interest in protecting the “fundamental right” of employees to engage in political activity without interference or threat of retaliation from employers. (Ali v. L.A. Focus Publication (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 1477, 1487). 

Therefore, in California, employers should be very careful in prohibiting political discussion and even more so dismissing an employee for voicing his or her political opinions.

However, employers are not left to navigate through the rough seas of politics without an anchor. There are a few steps employers can take to promote a pleasant work environment during the upcoming election season: 

  • Employers may draft or revise their employee conduct policies to direct employees to observe professional behavior at work and avoid using rude and abusive language or outbursts toward management, employees or others.

  • Employers are further encouraged to remind employees about acceptable conduct in the workplace. 

  • If you are struggling with a similar issue, please consult a legal advisor  

In the meanwhile, don't get upset about politics. Take the example of Will Rogers, who once famously said: I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.

Tal Burnovski Yeyni is an Employer Defense Attorney at our firm. Contact her via email: tyeyni@lewitthackman.com; or by phone: 818-907-3224.

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.

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