Friday, December 19, 2014

Nursing Mom “Mooed” At Work Settles Case

An Oregon mom recently settled a gender discrimination and harassment case against her former employer, Velocitel, Inc. after she was harassed for nursing at work. The amount and terms are undisclosed.

Monica Van De Pitte asserted that she was “mooed” by colleagues when she pumped breast milk at work. She also alleged that a picture of a cow was taped to the door of the supply room where she and another mother were forced to pump.

When the company hired Ms. Van De Pitte, she told them she would need flexibility because she had two small children and was still nursing a 1-year-old son. She needed a private space to pump during the day. On her first day of work, Ms. Van De Pitte learned from another nursing mother that the “private nursing room” was a supply closet. She was told to keep her breast pump hidden because other employees thought it was “gross.” Employees at Velocitel openly discussed their sex lives; one colleague was nicknamed “The Walking HR Violation” because of his hostile and harassing conduct. He pretended to “honk” at female employees’ breasts. When she approached the man to discuss her discomfort, he just “snickered” at her concerns. When she complained to her supervisors, Ms. Van De Pitte was told she needed to “privately reflect on why sexual conversations made her uncomfortable.” Ms. Van De Pitte quit after her bosses told everyone that she complained about sexual harassment.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New Lawsuit Challenges Medical Marijuana Termination

Christine Callaghan was a graduate student in textiles at the University of Rhode Island. She applied for and was about to receive an internship at Darlington Fabrics Corporation. She had met several times with representatives of the company. She believed the position was hers although no formal offer had yet been made.

Ms. Callaghan had a medical marijuana card because she suffered from severe migraine headaches. During a meeting with the Human Resources department, Ms. Callaghan disclosed her medical condition and the fact that she had a legal medical marijuana card pursuant to Rhode Island state law. According to Ms. Callaghan, the company told her they would not hire her because she was a medical marijuana patient. She was rejected for the internship even though she assured the company that she would not bring the drug to work or come to work after using marijuana.

The ACLU has brought the lawsuit on Ms. Callaghan’s behalf. It is alleged in the suit that state law prevents employers from refusing to hire someone because of his or her status as a medical marijuana holder and that it is disability discrimination. There were no federal violations alleged, as marijuana use is a violation of federal law.  It should be noted that approximately five other states have nondiscrimination laws for medical marijuana similar to Rhode Island’s.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Amazon’s Security Checks Not Compensable Time

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an important decision on whether hourly employees should be compensated at the end of their shifts for time spent going through security.

The plaintiffs in the case were a group of temporary employees working for Integrity Staffing Solutions and placed in Amazon’s shipping centers. Their jobs required them to retrieve products from the shelves of Amazon’s warehouses and package them for shipment. At the end of their shifts, the employees had to undergo a security screening to prevent them from stealing. These workers brought an action because the security checks routinely took up to 25 minutes each day to pass through and were done entirely for the benefit of the employer.

In reviewing the case, the U.S. Supreme Court looked to the Fair Labor and Standards Act, which set certain guidelines for compensating employees. Under the Act, employees are entitled to be compensated for all work performed. When that work begins and ends for compensation purposes was the issue in this case. Certain acts that are preliminary or postliminary to the “principal activity” of the work may be compensable if they are an “integral and indispensable part” of that principal activity. 

The Court held that an activity is “integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.”  At Amazon, the process of going through security was not sufficiently related to the employees’ duties as warehouse workers to make the time compensable. The warehouse workers were not employed to undergo security screenings and in fact, if the screenings were eliminated, it would have no impact on the performance of the employees’ job duties.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sexual Conduct Must Be Based on Sex

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reiterated that sexual conduct is not actionable unless it is based on sex.

In the case before it, Donald Rickard was an employee for Swedish Match North America. He alleged that his boss squeezed his nipple and rubbed a towel on his crotch before giving it to Mr. Rickard. This same supervisor called him an “old man” and told Mr. Rickard that he had “a lot of age on [him].”

Mr. Rickard lost his claims for sex discrimination and age discrimination. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that to prevail on a sexual harassment claim, the conduct must be motivated by sexual desire or a “general hostility” toward males in the workplace. Mr. Rickard could not show either of these elements. The Court acknowledged that the actions of the supervisor were “manifestly inappropriate and obnoxious” but they were insufficient to reflect a general hostility toward men nor was there any evidence than speculation to show any sexual desire. As for the age claim, those comments were not enough to create a hostile work environment based on age.  Ultimately, as with the other claims, Mr. Rickard’s constructive discharge claim failed as well. He retired voluntarily without sufficient evidence to show intolerable working conditions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sexism at Online Real Estate Firm Zillow

Rachel Kremer has filed a sexual harassment suit against Zillow, the country’s largest real estate listings web site. She was a sales consultant in their Irvine office. In her complaint, Ms. Kremer alleges that Zillow had “a pervasive culture of degrading women.”

Specifically, she says that several male supervisors “ranked her according to her breast size, sent pictures of their penis to her, and demanded sexual gratification and obedience” as a condition of her continued employment. Ms. Kremer also asserts that Zillow executives bragged about how much better their office was than Tinder for “hookups,” referring to the employee directory as “Zinder.” The lawsuit refers to Zillow’s Irvine office as comparable to an “adult frat house” where “sexual harassment and misconduct are normalized, condoned, and promoted by male managers.” Ms. Kremer alleges that a supervisor responded to an email request about passwords by asking for a photo of her breasts. Other messages are alleged to have included lewd sexual requests. Ms. Kremer reported the harassment but asserts that the company did not take action to stop it. Ms. Kremer received positive performance evaluations until mid-2014 when she alleges that the atmosphere was too much for her. She was fired without warning. The company stated that she failed to meet her goals. Ms. Kremer claims that she was fired for refusing to participate in the harassment and for reporting it.

A Zillow spokesperson has responded to the lawsuit in the media, stating that they had responded with an investigation once they were aware of the claims, that they took quick action and had terminated a sales employee as a result. They insist that the allegations present an inaccurate picture of their culture and workplace.