Articles Posted in Employment Discrimination

As a business owner, partner, or shareholder, complex disputes may arise that require efficient legal resolution. Choosing the right court to file suit can be more complex than one might initially think, especially in cases involving breach of fiduciary duty claims. A recent case from the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Bare v. Al. Ringling Brewing Co., Inc., 21-CV-642-JDP, 2022 WL 2315594 (W.D. Wis. June 28, 2022), demonstrates that complex issues of federal court jurisdiction may preclude bringing certain claims in federal court, even though that may be a more appealing jurisdiction than state court.

First, it is important to understand the choice you may face in deciding which venue to pursue a potential claim. In cases where there are multiple claims or causes of action, a plaintiff may have the option to file suit in federal court. Federal jurisdiction typically arises when the case involves a federal question, such as a claim arising under federal law, or when there is diversity jurisdiction – meaning that the parties are residents of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. However, when there are also state law claims that arise from the same set of facts, the plaintiff must consider whether to litigate these claims in state court or to consolidate them with the federal claims.

One advantage of bringing all claims, both federal and state, in federal court is the possibility of greater efficiency in the litigation process. This is because federal courts often have more resources and can handle cases more quickly than their state court counterparts. Additionally, federal court judges tend to have more experience dealing with complex legal issues, which may be particularly beneficial in cases that involve intricate federal questions. Consolidating claims in federal court also allows for the resolution of all claims in a single forum, which can save time and resources for all parties involved.

On the other hand, there are potential disadvantages to bringing state law claims in federal court. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning that they can only hear certain types of cases. If a federal court decides it does not have jurisdiction over the state law claims, the plaintiff may have to litigate these claims in state court, essentially splitting the case into two separate lawsuits. This can be both time-consuming and costly. Furthermore, federal courts will apply state law to state law claims, and there is a risk that a federal court may misinterpret or misapply the relevant state law, leading to an unfavorable outcome for the plaintiff. Continue reading ›

Pay equity has become a hot topic of discussion and legislative focus across the United States in the last few years as states seek to adopt stricter pay equity laws and to increase enforcement efforts combating pay inequities for members of protected classes. At the federal level, Congress has introduced legislation aimed at securing pay equity. The Biden administration has also indicated its support for plans to strengthen pay equity between men and women. At the state level, Illinois is one of many states, including California and New York, to have passed or amended pay equity and related laws.

In June 2021, Illinois updated its equal pay reporting and compliance requirements. This amendment followed on the heels of another amendment to the same law passed in March 2021. Illinois Senate Bill 1847 amended the Illinois Equal Pay Act (IEPA) by expanding certain reporting requirements and by accelerating deadlines to certify compliance by potentially up to two years. The June 2021 amendments sought to clarify certain ambiguities in reporting requirements that had been previously identified and to revise the IEPA’s controversial penalty provision. Importantly for Illinois employers, some Illinois employers will be subject to reporting and certification obligations under the IEPA beginning in 2022 instead of in 2024.

The June 2021 amendments to the IEPA apply to private employers with more than 100 employees in Illinois and requires these employers to:

  • Apply for an “equal pay registration certificate” from the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL).
  • Pay a $150 filing fee and an equal pay compliance statement to the IDOL.
  • Submit their most recent Employer Information Report EEO-1.
  • Compile and submit demographic data and wage records.

Continue reading ›

Michael Papandrea, the owner of three restaurants in the Chicago suburbs, is being sued for allegedly sexually harassing and secretly recording at least eight female employees in his restaurants, although investigators think Papandrea’s misconduct extends far beyond the eight plaintiffs in the existing lawsuit.

Papandrea is the owner of Parmesans Wood Stone Pizza in Frankfort, Tinley Park, and Matteson, and according to the lawsuit, he regularly instructed his female employees to wear skirts and dresses to work, and routinely touched them, including rubbing and poking their backs, arms, and shoulders. His habit of touching them was allegedly an excuse to get close enough to them to film up their skirts using a camera he kept in the toe of his shoe and controlled with an app on his phone.

The employees (all of whom were teenagers at the time of the alleged misconduct), reported the harassment to their supervisor, but as the owner of the restaurants, Papandrea outranked her. The supervisor has also joined the sexual harassment lawsuit as a plaintiff, so the fact that she was also being harassed by Papandrea most likely contributed to her feeling she could do nothing to help her subordinates.

Of the eight named plaintiffs alleging sexual harassment, most of them were underage at the time – five of them were 16, one was only 14, and one was 18. Continue reading ›

Pinterest is far from the first tech company to face allegations of gender discrimination, but it is the first to publicly announce that it will be paying more than $20 million to settle those allegations in a recent lawsuit involving a single plaintiff.

Françoise Brougher, the company’s former chief operations officer, sued the company in San Francisco Superior Court back in August, claiming she was paid less than her male peers, received feedback that was gender-biased, and was left out of meetings – all this despite the fact that she played a key role in driving revenue for the company.

Pinterest has reached a settlement agreement with Brougher and her attorneys in which Pinterest will pay them $20 million, and Pinterest and Brougher together will donate a total of $2.5 million to organizations that work to advance women and other minorities in tech. According to reports, the money is to be paid before the end of 2020.

The settlement did not include Pinterest admitting to having done anything wrong, and in fact, the company continues to insist it values diversity, equity, and inclusion in its workplace. Brougher even released a joint statement with Pinterest to that effect, claiming she’s encouraged by the company’s commitment to building a workplace culture that includes and supports all its employees. Continue reading ›

Amazon claims it fired Chris Smalls, a management associate, in March for violating safety procedures by continuing to come to work after having been exposed to COVID-19, despite the fact that the company says it offered to pay him to stay home for 14 days after the exposure. Smalls, who is suing his former employer in the Eastern District of New York for discrimination and retaliation, tells a different story.

According to Smalls, Amazon failed to take several safety precautions related to the pandemic, including taking employees’ temperatures before allowing them on the premises; providing hand sanitizer or personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves; enforcing social distancing; or making sure the facility was properly cleaned and sanitized between shifts.

In the complaint, Smalls said he felt a responsibility to bring his concerns to management. He alleges management did not care about the health or welfare of the employees working under him because they were largely Black, Latino, and/or immigrants whose recent entry into the country made them unlikely to speak up on their own behalf. When Smalls again met with Amazon management, this time with a group of workers that included white employees, he alleges management was significantly more receptive to their complaints. Continue reading ›

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees with disabilities. The key phrase in that sentence that is so often the subject of litigation is “reasonable accommodation.” In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit considered whether a two-pound lifting limit and a restriction on repetitive grasping and lifting arms more than 5% above the shoulder were reasonable accommodations for an employee of a regional sporting goods retailer. In affirming an order of summary judgment in favor of the sporting goods store, the Seventh Circuit found that such accommodations were unreasonable and left the employee unable to perform her essential job functions.

The plaintiff in the case, Angela Tonyan, was employed as a store manager at a Dunham’s Sports store in Wisconsin. During her employment, Tonyan sustained a series of injuries to both shoulders and left arm. After multiple surgeries and various temporary restrictions failed to remedy her condition, her doctor imposed several permanent restrictions including a two-pound lifting limit and restricting her from having to raise her arms above her head.

In response to these restrictions, Dunham’s fired Tonyan. The sporting goods retailer contended that its “lean” staffing model made physical work such as unloading and shelving merchandise essential job functions of its store managers like Tonyan. Following her termination, Tonyan sued claiming that the company violated her rights to reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The District Court found that the store did not violate her rights under the ADA and granted summary judgment to her former employer. Continue reading ›

A collection of car dealerships operated through independent LLCs but received management services from the same company. The management services company was owned by the same person who owned the majority interest in each of the dealership LLCs. Each dealership had fewer than fifteen employees individually. A salesman with one of the dealership was fired, and later sued the dealership for racial discrimination. The salesman claimed that the dealerships were subject to Title VII because, in aggregate, they employed more than 15 people. The salesman argued that the corporate veil should be pierced because the dealerships were not actually independent entities. The district court rejected these arguments, and the appellate court affirmed. The appellate court found that the management company and the dealerships observed proper corporate formalities and did not demonstrate the degree of integration that would justify piercing the corporate veil for employee aggregation purposes.

Shannon Prince worked as a salesman with Applecars, LLC for several months in 2017 until he was fired. Applecars claimed that Prince was fired for performance issues, while Prince maintained that the defendants discriminated against him because of his race.

Applecars operated a used car dealership in Appleton, Wisconsin. The dealership was affiliated with four other dealerships throughout Wisconsin: in Wausau, Antigo, Green Bay, and La Crosse. Each of the dealerships was independently owned by a separate Wisconsin limited liability company. Robert McCormick owned a majority or outright share in each of the LLCs. Each of the dealerships also received management services from Capital M, Inc., which McCormick also owned. Applecars had fewer than fifteen employees, but in aggregate the dealerships employed more.

The overlap between the dealerships was substantial, as Capital M provided many services to each dealership, and also tracked dealership inventory, held personal employee records, and issued identical employee handbooks for each dealership. Capital M’s operations manager hired, fired, and promoted each dealership’s general manager. The employees for each dealership gathered as one for events and parties several times per year. Each dealership and LLC, however, properly maintained corporate formalities and records. Capital M billed each dealership separately and each paid Capital M individually for services and for the use of the single website and its associated trademark. Each dealership also filed and paid their own taxes, paid their own employees, and entered into their own contracts for business purposes. Continue reading ›

The restaurant industry has long been a notorious boys’ club, full of misogyny and sexual harassment. With men maintaining most of the power in the industry, women didn’t feel like they had a choice other than to put up with the constant groping and harassment from both male staff and patrons, but a new settlement in a New York sexual harassment case might change all that – or at least move the needle in the right direction.

At the end of 2017, the New York Times reported on multiple allegations made by 11 women working at the Spotted Pig in Manhattan that the owner of the restaurant, Ken Friedman, had repeatedly groped and sexually harassed them. The plaintiffs also allege that Friedman fostered a sexist environment in which they constantly felt unsafe and unwelcome and that he retaliated against them when they tried to speak out against the mistreatment.

The New York State attorney general’s office investigated the matter and recently ordered Friedman to pay the 11 plaintiffs a combination of $240,000, to be split among them and paid out over the next two years, as well as 20% of all his profits from the restaurant over the next ten years, including any money he makes off the sale of the restaurant (of which he currently owns 75-80%) if he decides to sell it. The women are unlikely to see any money from his profits since the restaurant has been in the red for a while, but the almost quarter-million-dollar settlement is nothing to sneeze at. Continue reading ›

The government enforces a separation of church and state, but what about a separation of church and employer?

Joel Dahl, who founded and runs Dahled Up Construction, requires all his workers to attend Christian Bible Study as a condition of continued employment.

Ryan Coleman, a convicted felon, said attending Bible study was not a condition of employment for the first month that he worked as a painter for Dahl. When it became mandatory, he attended for almost six months, afraid his felony conviction would prevent him from getting another job. When he finally said he wouldn’t attend the Bible study anymore, he was fired.

Coleman was disappointed, having just received a pay raise two weeks beforehand. He also loved his job, claiming he was excited to get up and go to work in the morning, and realizing how lucky he was to be one of the few people who could say that.

Coleman, who is half Native American, told Fox News that Christianity just wasn’t for him. Continue reading ›

Chicgo-non-compete-agreement-and-Chicago-trade-secret-lawyers-300x115A doctor who owned her own practice, billed her patients directly, and filed taxes as a self-employed physician was not an employee of the hospital she had privileges at, and therefore was not entitled to sue the hospital for discrimination after it revoked her practice privileges.

For almost 13 years, Dr. Yelena Levitin performed surgeries at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Levitin is a female, Jewish surgeon of Russian descent. She owns and operates Chicago Surgical Clinic, Ltd., a private medical practice. From 2000 until 2013, most of her revenue came from the work she performed at Northwest.

In 2008, Levitin complained to Northwest that Dr. Daniel Conway, another surgeon, was harassing her. Levitin alleged that Conway repeatedly criticized her medical decisions, undermined her in front of her patients, and interrupted one of her surgeries. Northwest reprimanded Conway, and the harassment stopped in January 2009. After that, at least four doctors filed complaints concerning Levitin’s professional judgment. Another refused to work with Levitin entirely. The head of pathology complained that Levitin habitually requested inappropriate tests from his department. In response to the complaints, Dr. William Soper, then the chair of Northwest’s surgery department, informed Levitin that he would begin proactively reviewing the surgeries she scheduled for potential issues.

Soper also reviewed Levitin’s prior surgeries. He referred 31 cases to the Medical Executive Committee, which oversees physician credentialing at Northwest. The committee found that Levitin deviated from the appropriate standard of care in four of the cases. The committee initially determined that Levitin should receive quarterly reviews, but it reconvened after Levitin operated on a patient without proper sedation. At this meeting, the committee decided to revoke Levitin’s practice privileges. Levitin appealed the committee’s decision but was unsuccessful in getting her privileges reinstated. Continue reading ›

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