The EEOC’s Surprising New Fan – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

After years of criticism, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  is now applauding the EEOC for focusing on “compliance assistance” rather than enforcement and litigation.

Randel K. Johnson, a senior vice president of the Chamber, “commends” the EEOC for “identifying efforts to focus resources on compliance assistance” in a letter submitted to the EEOC in connection with a draft of the EEOC’s proposed new strategic plan for 2018-2022. The Chamber is a conservative, profit-making group that lobbies the legislature and federal courts on behalf of business interests. It consistently opposes pro-labor measures.

The EEOC  is seeking comment on a draft of its proposed strategic plan until 5 p.m .ET on January 8, 2018.  To weigh in, go here or to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EEOC-2017-0005-0001.

In the letter, Johnson refers to the Chamber’s 2014 report to Congress in which the Chamber criticized the EEOC for  “enforcement and litigation abuses.” The Chamber’s report came at a time when the EEOC was litigating the fewest number of cases in modern history and had completely ignored a major increase in age discrimination cases during and since the Great Recession.  In 2013, the EEOC had  filed 147 lawsuits, compared to 416 in 2005.  But the Chamber’s report was an effective public relations ploy and seems to have had a big impact on the EEOC, which reduced its litigation efforts even further.  The EEOC filed only 114 lawsuits in 2016 (of which only TWO contained age discrimination claims). Continue reading “The EEOC’s Surprising New Fan – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce”

Solutions Exist to End Workplace Bullying; What is Lacking is the Will to Act

What to do about workplace bullying?

The Boston Globe published an article on the problem of workplace bullying recently that focused on a proposed state-by-state solution that has been touted since 2001 by Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute and Suffolk University Professor David R. Yamada, author of the proposed  Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB).  Originally introduced in California in 2002, the HWB  has been considered in some form by more than two dozen states. If Massachusetts eventually passes the HWP, that only leaves workers in 49 states,  five territories and the District of Columbia without protection from workplace bullying.

Is this really where all the din and struggle of the past decade has gotten us? The United States is falling even farther behind other western democracies, some of which acted decades ago to protect workers from bullying.

The Globe article also perpetuates the common misconception that all workplace bullies are sadistic bosses and mean-spirited co-workers. In fact, much of the problem can be attributed to unscrupulous employers that use bullying tactics strategically to expel older workers and workers who  demand  better working conditions or a legal right (i.e., overtime pay). The absence of anti-bullying laws and regulations in the United States leave these bottom-of-the-barrel employers free to cut corners and evade their legal responsibilities. Taxpayers are left to pick up the tab in the form of higher social welfare costs.

The Globe article, like so many others, fails to note that there are many possible approaches to the problem of workplace bullying in addition to the HWB. Continue reading “Solutions Exist to End Workplace Bullying; What is Lacking is the Will to Act”

Senate Aging Committee Pledges to Fight Age Discrimination in Employment

At a hearing on Wednesday, leaders of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging vowed to “fix” a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes it very difficult for older workers to fight age discrimination in federal court.

Committee Chairperson Susan Collins, R-ME, and Ranking Leader Bob Casey, D-PA,  also acknowledged the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on December 15, 1967.

Collins and Casey addressed the Supreme Court’s catastrophic 2009 decision, in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, which raised the burden of proof in ADEA cases far above that of race or sex discrimination cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Since Gross, older workers have been required prove that age discrimination was not just a motivating factor but the decisive factor in an adverse employment action. The Gross decision legalized a broad swath of  discrimination that is illegal under Title VII and sent a signal to employers that age discrimination will be tolerated.

 “For the life of me,” said Collins, “I don’t understand why there is a higher burden for proving that age discrimination was the reason for the adverse employment action … compared to gender, religion, race.”

The legislators expressed strong support for a bill they are sponsoring, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA), which would essentially restore the status quo with respect to the plaintiff’s evidentiary burden prior to the Gross decision. The bill  has been introduced several times since 2009 but has never made it out of committee to a vote. Sen. Casey, who worked on age discrimination cases as an attorney, said it was always hard for workers to fight back against insidious age discrimination but that it is even harder today “because the Supreme Court weakened the ADEA and we’ve got to fix that.”

A witness at the hearing, Laurie McCann, a senior attorney for the AARP, urged the Committee to hold a series of hearings to learn what changes are needed to update and strengthen the ADEA to adequately protect older workers. “The AARP believes that it is well past time to update and strengthen the ADEA so that it can respond to the challenges facing today’s older workers in today’s workplace,” she said.

As I demonstrated in my 2013 book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, the ADEA was far weaker than Title VII when it was adopted 50 years ago and it has since been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the book, I proposed repealing the ADEA and making age a protected class under Title VII, as was originally proposed when the passage of Title VII was being debated by Congress.

According to McCann, three in ten near-retiree-age (55-64) households have no retirement savings at all and the median retirement savings of all near-retiree households was only $14,500 in 2013. McCann said financial need is by far the most important reason that workers aged 45-74 work. She blamed age discrimination on persistent negative stereotypes and discriminatory employer recruitment practices, including advertising for “digital natives,” specifying a maximum number of years of experience or limiting recruitment to entry-level positions on college campuses.

Financial need is by far the most important reason that workers aged 45-74 work – AARP.

The committee also issued a report on Wednesday examining the nation’s aging workforce, “America’s Aging Workforce: Opportunities and Challenges.”  The report states the number of Americans over age 55 in the labor force is projected to increase from 35.7 million in 2016 to 42.1 million in 2026, and, by 2026, aging workers will make up nearly one quarter of the labor force.  The business case for hiring, retaining, and supporting older workers is strong, according to the report, but challenges exist – including age discrimination, inadequate training opportunities, working while managing health conditions and disabilities, balancing caregiving responsibilities with work, and preparing financially for retirement.

Collins said U.S. employers are going to need older workers in the years ahead and can’t afford to “discard skills and experience that older workers bring to workplace.”

Another witness, Lisa Motta, 54, from Pittsburgh, Pa., testified about re-entering the workforce in her 50s  after having lost her sight. A former teacher, she now works as a recruiting administrator at PNC Bank. “As America’s workforce grows older, more and more workers will face challenges like these and will need additional supports and accommodations,” Motta said. “They will also need laws in place that ensure that when they walk into an interview they do not face any form of discrimination. When we make it easier for these workers to succeed, everyone benefits.”

Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, the Senate aging committee was criticized for failing to act in the face of the epidemic of age discrimination in the workplace that occurred during and since the Great Recession.

Absent from Wednesday’s hearing was a representative from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has ignored a major spike in age discrimination complaints dsince 2008 and rampant age discrimination in the federal government, and has issued administrative decisions that reflect a higher standard in age discrimination cases than in race or sex discrimination case.

Ratchet Up the Consequences for Employers that Ignore Sexual Harassment

A perusal of recent headlines shows that companies will place their heads firmly in the sand to keep harassers on the payroll if the company is focused on short term profits.

Despite potential ruinous risk to reputation, costly turnover, lost work time and higher health care costs (among other things) the fact of the matter is that many employers  tolerate sexual harassment when the harasser is valuable to the organization. In some ways, the on-going wave of public sexual harassment incidents is similar to the problem with unsafe cars manufactured in the United States in the 1960s. It was cheaper for car makers to settle lawsuits out of court than to manufacturer safer cars.

In February, 21st Century Fox renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract  knowing that he was in the process of settling a sexual harassment complaint by a news analyst, who eventually received a $32 million settlement.  O’Reilly, then  the most-watched figure on cable TV, had earlier settled several other sexual harassment claims out of court.

Producer Harvey Weinstein had several Oscars to his credit but he was a notorious bully for years, not to mention sexual predator (or worse). He also was known to engage in physical violence at the office on occasion.

TMZ says  Weinstein’s 2015 employment contract states that if the Weinstein Company had to pay settlements for his sexual or other misconduct, he must reimburse the company and pay an escalating set of fines: $1 million for the fourth and any subsequent instance.

Congress must insure employers that ignore evidence of sexual harassment face consequences that make it more expensive for them to do nothing than to act.

The complacency of Fox and the Weinstein Company demonstrates how little employers today fear the American legal system, which they count on to  work on their benefit. Typically, employers retain  human resource officers and legal staff who are trained to protect the company from sexual harassment complaints. Courts permit employers to make the legal process as long and difficult as possible for the victims, who often have few resources because they were driven out of their jobs by the employer and the harasser.

A recent development has made it even easier for employers. When the EEOC finds there is reasonable cause to believe the employer is guilty of sexual harassment, it offers a free and confidential mediation program whereby the employer can settle the matter – usually for peanuts – without even having to go to court. And it’s all secret!

Both Fox and The Weinstein Company knew or should have known of their employee’s abusive behavior but apparently they concluded the benefit of retaining the abuser outweighed the cost of paying the occasional out-of-court settlement.  What is needed is serious consequence for employers who ignore evidence of sexual harassment. And by that I mean serious.  A company that is making a profit of X billion should be ordered by a court to pay a percentage of its profit in damages. In that way, society will insure that employers take sexual harassment seriously.

Federal Courts Criticized for Dismissive Treatment of Employment Discrimination Victims

There is overwhelming evidence that federal courts for years have ignored and marginalized plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases.

Judge Richard A. Posner, one of the nation’s leading appellate judges, recently resigned from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals citing his disgust for the dismissive treatment that his fellow jurists accorded to pro se litigants. The vast majority of pro se litigants are victims of a justice system that is too expensive for all but a privileged few. Most Americans cannot afford to hire an attorney and either must proceed on their own or passively suffer gross injustice. Posner told abovethelaw.com that pro se litigants “deserve a better shake.”

Posner says judges divert the cases of pro se litigants to staff attorneys and then routinely dismiss the case after the employer files a motion for summary judgment.

In addition to Posner, attorneys for the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University School of Law are questioning the high rate of dismissals in lawsuits involving employment discrimination. They filed an amicus brief last month that points to research showing that from 1979 to 2006, the plaintiff win-rate in federal employment cases was only 15%, compared to the 51% success for plaintiffs (a.k.a. businesses) in the non-employment context.

The win rate for victims of employment discrimination was 15% compared to 51% for plaintiffs in the non-employment context.

Continue reading “Federal Courts Criticized for Dismissive Treatment of Employment Discrimination Victims”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce No “Friend of the Court”

Nice to see someone calling out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which frequently inserts itself into national litigation as a “friend of the court.”

In reality, the Chamber is almost always an advocate for a dues paying corporate member and espouses a position that is anti-employee and anti-consumer. In 2014, I argued the Chamber was a federal court lobbyist.

According to Reuters, the firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein has opposed  the Chamber’s request to file an amicus or “friend of the court” brief in a case involving a challenge by Direct TV to the certification of a class action by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.  Lieff’s brief argues the Chamber, the Chamber’s lawyers, DirectTV and Direct TV’s lawyers are bound so closely together that even under a liberal reading of the definition of an amicus curiae, the Chamber cannot legitimately be regarded as a friend of the court.

“The Chamber is not merely a friend of the party, but essentially the party itself.” – Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein

Continue reading “U.S. Chamber of Commerce No “Friend of the Court””

More Self-Inflicted Wounds? Fox Hit With Race Discrimination Lawsuits

It was humming along, the major cable news network in America, raking in billions in profits.

Now Fox News  has lost (forced out) its visionary chief executive officer, Roger Ailes, and its top star,  Bill OReilly, both accused of sexual harassing female subordinates for decades.  Fox  paid  Ailes and OReilly tens of millions in severance to leave, not to mention millions in damages to their alleged victims.

And now Fox is reeling from a second wave of discrimination complaints – this time involving race discrimination. A Fox News spokesperson has denied the claims and said the network will “vigorously defend these cases.”

Two black women who worked in the Fox News payroll department, Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright, filed a race discrimination lawsuit   in New York state court on March 28 alleging  that Fox Controller Judith Slater, who was fired by Fox on Feb. 28, subjected “dark-skinned employees” to racial animus.

Eleven past and present Fox workers joined the lawsuit Tuesday, complaining that they were  humiliated, paid less than white coworkers and passed over for promotions. Continue reading “More Self-Inflicted Wounds? Fox Hit With Race Discrimination Lawsuits”

Twitter To Tackle Abusive Tweets

Twitter is wading into waters that many employers continue to avoid –  the problem of abuse and harassment on its platform.

Twitter’s vice-president of engineering, Ed Ho, stated in a  blog post  Tuesday that Twitter’s primary focus in the weeks ahead will be “making Twitter a safer place.”

Specifically,  Twitter plans to:

  • Identify people who have been permanently suspended and stop them from creating new accounts.
  • Establish a “safe search” protocol that removes Tweets that contain potentially sensitive content and Tweets from blocked and muted accounts.
  • Collapse potentially abusive or low-quality tweets so the most relevant conversations are brought forward. Users will still have the option to  see the “less relevant” Tweets.

If Twitter can address the problem of abusive conduct on its massive international social media platform, shouldn’t employers address the problem in their workplaces?

Twitter already has expanded its Mute tool, which lets people  block  keywords, phrases and  conversations they do not want to see.  Last year, Twitter updated its block button so users could avoid tweets from blocked users altogether.

“We stand for freedom of expression and people being able to see all sides of any topic. That’s put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices.We won’t tolerate it, and we’re launching new efforts to stop it,” writes Ho.

 

Penalty for Sexual Harassment Rarely Fits The ‘Crime’

Note: News outlets reported July 21, 2016 that Ailes will receive a $40 million buyout from Fox and a new job as an “advisor” to the network.

What should the penalty be for a manager who allegedly abused his power for decades by sexually harassing female subordinates?

Disgrace? Dismissal? Banishment?

Well, that does not appear to be what is happening in the case of Roger Ailes, the chief executive officer of Fox News who allegedly sexually harassed female subordinates since the 1960s.

According to the Drudge Report, 21st Century Fox, the corporate parent of Fox News, is negotiating an exit package with Ailes that includes a $40 million buyout. Other outlets report Fox wants to keep Ailes on the payroll as a consultant. In other words, the consequences of Ailes’ allegedly abusive behavior may consist of a fat check and a change of job title.

One reason that sexual harassment remains epidemic in the American workplace is the lack of any serious consequences for the abuser.  Victims of sexual harassment lose their dignity, sense of trust and  peace of mind. Many lose their jobs and financial security. In the rare instance that a sexual harasser is held to account, the consequences range from a pat on the hand to a quiet suggestion that it is time to move on.

Women in the workplace are well aware they lack any real protection from sexual harassment and this knowledge understandably deters them from reporting the problem.

Ailes woes began a few weeks ago when Gretchen Carlson, a former news anchor, filed a lawsuit claiming that Ailes fired her because she refused to have a sexual relationship with him. Ailes, 76, vigorously denied the accusation. Some observers (including former co-workers) dismissed Carlson’s complaint as a parting shot by an aging beauty queen whose afternoon TV show suffered from poor ratings.  (Fox is presently trying to move Carlson’s lawsuit out of federal court and the public eye into a closed-door arbitration proceedings.)

The problem for Ailes arose because other women began complaining about his allegedly abusive behavior.  Carlson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, said that at least a dozen women contacted her firm after Carlson’s lawsuit was filed complaining of similar harassment by Ailes. The final blow appears to be a story by New York Magazine stating that Fox News star Megyn Kelly told a law firm hired to investigate Carlson’s complaint that Ailes had sexually harassed her a decade ago.

Fox had no choice but to do something.  When an employer receives a complaint that a manager is sexually harassing a subordinate, the employer is on notice and must act to prevent future harm (including retaliation) or it will risk serious damages.  However, the law does not require the employer to actually penalize the harasser.  So Fox’s game plan appears to be this – remove Ailes from his supervisory position, while keeping him happy and on the job.

Discrimination Victims Deserve REAL Justice

The EEOC has asked for public input so here goes:

Why is the EEOC operating the equivalent of a “get out of jail free card” for employers that engage in employment discrimination and retaliation?

When the EEOC determines there is reasonable cause for a charge of discrimination, the agency offers the employer (and the victim) the opportunity to participate in its free mediation program, where a neutral mediator assists the parties in reaching an early and confidential  resolution to a charge of discrimination.

In its 2014 performance report, the EEOC contends the mediation program is a “win for both Employees and Employers” but in the final analysis it is a much bigger win for employers.

The EEOC says its mediation program for private sector complainants  achieved a resolution in 7,846 out of a total of 10,221 mediations conducted for all types of discrimination.  The effort yielded $144.6 million in monetary benefits for complainants. Simple division indicates the EEOC’s mediation effort yielded $18,430 per mediation for private sector workers in 2014.

A payout of less than $20,000 per mediation is a bona fide windfall for employers, who might otherwise be forced to spend a hundred thousands dollars or more to defend a lawsuit, plus a potentially staggering damages award.

But $20,000 is a pittance at best for many – if not most – victims of employment discrimination – especially those who lost their jobs or who were not hired because of illegal discrimination.

There’s the rub

The EEOC is not supposed to be in the business of protecting discriminatory employers from the reasonable consequences of their harmful actions. Continue reading “Discrimination Victims Deserve REAL Justice”