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Washington, DC Employment Law Blog

Court protects employee who was harassed by another company's employee

In today's economy, the "workplace" includes not only co-workers but also a wide range of independent contractors, consultants, and other individuals who are not fellow employees but who work for themselves or for another company. If an employee alleges that he or she was harassed in the workplace by someone else who is not a fellow employee, can the employee hold her employer liable for not preventing or addressing the harassment by the non-employee?U.S. District Judge DuBois of the district court in Philadelphia, in Hewitt v. BS Transportation, et al. (E.D. Pa. Jan. 15, 2019) http://www.paed.uscourts.gov/documents/opinions/19D0026P.pdf, recently held that an employee could bring sexual harassment claims against his employer, a transportation company, where the employer knew that he was being harassed in the workplace but took ineffective steps to address it. Hewitt (the plaintiff) was a fuel truck driver for BS Transportation, and one of his routes was to transport fuel from a Sunoco refinery. A Sunoco employee repeatedly made sexual comments and sexual advances towards Mr. Hewitt, which Mr. Hewitt unsuccessfully protested. The Sunoco employee's supervisor knew of the harassment, but did nothing to stop it. Mr. Hewitt protested to his own supervisor at BS Transportation, who initially said he had talked to the harasser, but the BS Transportation supervisor did nothing further to investigate the complaints, and the harassment soon resumed. 

Supreme Court Refuses Employer's Demand to Compel Arbitration of Truck Driver's Wage Claims

Today, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous 8-0 opinion by Justice Gorsuch (Justice Kavanaugh was not on the ruling as it was argued before he joined), holding that the employee, a truck driver, fell into an exception to the Federal Arbitration Act (it does not cover "contracts of employment" for certain transportation workers), so that the lower courts correctly ruled he did not have to arbitrate his dispute involving failure to pay minimum wages.

Here, the truck company paid its drivers zero wages during their "training" period (10,000 miles of driving), and less-than-minimum wages during the "apprentice" period (30,000 miles of driving), and even after passing those thresholds, the truck company deducted "lease payments" from the truck driver's wages. The truck company also required the drivers to lease equipment from the company's own stores, and attempted to treat the drivers as independent contractors, even though the truck company controlled all aspects of the driver's work. When the driver brought a suit under the minimum wage statutes, the truck company tried to compel arbitration, but all three courts - district court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court - ruled in favor of the truck driver. 

Supreme Court to address Employment Discrimination issue

The Supreme Court granted cert on January 11 in a Title VII employment discrimination case. The Fifth Circuit held that an employee's failure to exhaust Title VII was a defense subject to waiver (thus ruling against the employer), and the Supreme Court will now address that question.

Since the Fourth Circuit was the first to address this issue (in the employer's favor), if the Supreme Court agrees with the Fourth Circuit's approach, that will reverse D.C. Circuit precedent which has adopted the employee-favorable approach.

Addressing religious discrimination at work

People may be subjected to a number of examples of unfair treatment on the basis of their faith. Unfortunately, this is a reality that many people have had to accept. However, this mistreatment is unacceptable in a workplace environment when it violates the rights of an employee or even a job applicant. People are discriminated against because of their religious beliefs in all sorts of ways and it is pivotal for victims of this mistreatment to look into their legal options and hold responsible those who violated their rights.

When someone believes in a certain religion or converts to a religion, they may have to overcome numerous obstacles at work. for example, they may be treated differently because they wear a particular clothing item which draws attention to their faith. A worker may be fired because of what they believe in, or they may never be hired in the first place even though they are the most qualified candidate. This happens all too often and some employers allow this behavior to occur in the workplace, which can be problematic for staff members and the company as a whole.

Putting an end to sexual harassment

Every day, people are sexually harassed in workspaces all over the country. Unfortunately, even though many people realize that this behavior cannot be tolerated, it continues to take place far too frequently. If you have experienced sexual harassment at your place of work, you should immediately take steps to hold the offender accountable. Moreover, if you are a business owner or manager who worries about the prevalence of sexual harassment within your company, it is pivotal to do what you can to immediately put an end to this behavior and prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the months and years ahead.

There are various ways that employers can work to prevent sexual harassment, such as implementing a training program and ensuring that those who sexually harass others in the workplace are held responsible. Sadly, some employers fail to take action even after they become aware of sexual harassment within their company and it keeps occurring. Sometimes, sexual harassment is denied and victims feel helpless, which is very unfortunate. If you have observed this in the workplace, it is crucial to realize that many people who are sexually harassed refuse to stay silent and this problem could be incredibly damaging for your company.

Age discrimination, a serious problem in the workplace

Workplace discrimination can happen in a number of ways. Many people hear about racial discrimination or an employee being subjected to discrimination based on their gender or religion. It is also crucial to point out that discrimination can affect all types of people once they reach a certain age. Sadly, age discrimination is rampant in workplaces across the country and it has virtually destroyed the lives of many people who are fully qualified to perform various roles. If you have experienced age discrimination or some other type of unlawful discrimination while working (or applying for a job), do not stand by and ignore the violation.

Age discrimination can do more than leave a qualified employee out of work after they were fired for being too old, it can create serious financial burdens and it can even damage the morale of a worker beyond repair. For example, someone may simply give up in a particular field because they believe they are too old, even if they are more qualified and capable than other workers who are younger than them. Worse, some people do not understand the different ways that age discrimination manifests in workspaces across the U.S. and they may not take action.

Who is eligible for FMLA leave?

One of the very important employment laws in the U.S. is the Family and Medical Leave Act. This federal law, and its equivalents in many states and Washington, D.C., gives qualifying workers the right to certain amounts of unpaid leave from their job to attend to certain medical or family needs.

Not all workers have FMLA rights. There are eligibility requirements employees have to meet to have leave rights under this act. For one, they have to work for an employer that is covered under the act. Generally, the act covers the following employers:

Employers Still Don't Take Sexual Harassment Seriously

Even in the #MeToo era, sexual harassment is not always taken seriously. Some employers continue to believe that if it's not a violent crime, it doesn't need as much attention.  

For example, Naomi Churchill Earp, the nominee to lead the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) civil rights office, told the Senate Agriculture Committee in her confirmation hearing that she wants the Forest Service to separate sexual assault allegations from the "silliness" of sexual harassment allegations.

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