Roadmap to Stop Harassment in the Workplace

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Fox CEO Roger Ailes, it is worth reviewing how to handle the problem of  harassment in the workplace.

Ailes, 76,was recently forced out of his position at the television network that he helped found because of complaints of sexual harassment that allegedly dated back for decades.

The EEOC created a select task force in January 2015 to study the general problem of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. The task force, which included experts from around the country, issued a report last month recommending that employers actively promote an organizational culture of respect and civility.

The task force recommended:

  •  Employers should have a comprehensive anti-harassment policy that prohibits harassment based on any protected characteristic, and which includes social media considerations.
  • The anti-harassment policy should include details about how to complain of  and how to report harassment, must be communicated frequently to employees, in a variety of forms and methods.
  • Employers should provide reporting procedures that are multi-faceted, offering a range of methods, multiple points-of-contact, and geographic and organizational diversity where possible, for an employee to report harassment.
  • Employers should be alert for any possibility of retaliation against an employee who reports harassment and should take steps to ensure that such retaliation does not occur.
  • Employers should periodically “test” their reporting system to determine how well the system is working.
  • Employers should devote enough resources to insure that workplace investigations are prompt, objective, and thorough. Investigations should be kept as confidential as possible, recognizing that complete confidentiality or anonymity will not always be attainable.

Specific details about the report are available on the EEOC web site.

Almost a third of the 90,000 charges received by EEOC in fiscal year 2015 included an allegation of workplace harassment, including charges of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), race, disability, age, ethnicity/national origin, color, and religion. And that is the tip of the iceberg. The EEOC reports that three out of four individuals who experienced harassment did not talk to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct because they feared disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.

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 billion 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.

Tipping Point for Age Discrimination in Hiring?

There suddenly are several class action lawsuits pending in federal court that could potentially bring an end to decades of epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring in the United States.

We may be at a key tipping point.

These cases include:

  • In June 2012,  Richard M. Villarreal filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit in federal court in Gainesville, GA, against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., after learning that Reynolds, working with national staffing agencies, used “resume review guidelines” to weed out the applications of older workers. Villarreal was 49 when he filed the first of a half-dozen applications to work as a territory manager for Reynolds from 2007 to 2010.

The resume review guidelines specified that “desired” candidates had “2-3 years out of college” and told recruiters to “stay away from” candidates with eight to 10 years of experience. Villarreal’s resume and the resumes of hundreds of other older job applicants were dumped into a digital trash can without consideration.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta last year split from other federal circuits and ruled  that job applicants can file lawsuits under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) challenging employer policies and practices that discriminate against older job applicants. These are called disparate impact lawsuits. Reynolds appealed that 2-1 decision to the full court, which in February vacated the panel’s decision  and agreed to rehear the case “en banc” (with the full court sitting in judgment). Oral arguments are scheduled for June 21.  The case was originally fled by attorney John J. Almond of Rogers & Hardin, Atlanta.

  • In April 2015, software engineer Robert Heath filed an age discrimination lawsuit  against Google, Inc. in San Jose. Heath was interviewed but not hired for a position at Google in 2011 when he was 60-years-of-age. The lawsuit alleges Google has demonstrated a pattern and practice of violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act )ADEA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

According to the lawsuit, the median age of Google’s 28,000 employees in 2013 was 29 while the median age  for computer programmers in the United States is 42.8 and the median age for software developers is 40.6. The parties are wrangling about whether the case will proceed as a class action under FEHA. The  case was originally filed by attorney Daniel L. Low of  Kotchen & Low, Washington, DC.

  • In April 2016, certified public accountant, Steve Rabin, 53,  filed an age discrimination complaint in federal court in San Francisco against Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC), a global accounting and auditing firm with gross revenues exceeding $35 billion. Rabin was rejected in 2013 for a position at PwC , which allegedly relies almost exclusively upon campus recruiting to fill entry-level positions and does not post vacancies on its public web site. The only way to apply is through PwC’s “Campus track recruitment tool, which requires a college affiliation.”  PwC  also maintains a mandatory early retirement policy that requires partners to retire by age 60 which allegedly discourages the hiring of  experienced older applicants.

The average age of PwC’s workforce in 2011 was 27, while the median age of accountants and auditors in the United States was 43.2 years old. The lawsuit alleges that PwC’s policies have a disparate impact on older applicants, which means . The lawsuit does not involve PwC’s hiring of executives.  This case was filed by attorneys from the New York firm of Outten & Golden, the AARP Foundation Litigation, and the San Francisco firm, The Liu Law Firm, P.C.

The EEOC also has filed a couple of individual cases in recent months involving age discrimination in hiring.

In my groundbreaking book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I show that older workers for years have been disproportionately represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed. Meanwhile, employers and employment agencies post job advertisements that obviously intend to exclude older workers, using code terms like “seeking digital natives” or “only recent graduates.” Until now, the obvious and rampant nature of age discrimination, especially in hiring, has gone virtually unchallenged.

The New Overtime Rule

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a final rule today changing the white collar overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The final rule, which goes into effect on December 16, will:

  • Raise the  salary threshold indicating eligibility from $455/week to $913 ($47,476 per year), ensuring protections to 4.2 million workers; and,
  • The salary threshold will be automatically updated every three years, based on wage growth over time, increasing predictability.

This is a big achievement for the U.S. Department of Labor, which has had a decidedly mixed record under the Obama administration, and will benefit millions of low-paid workers – many of whom are women.

For now, white collar workers who earn more than $47,476 per year can still be subjected to merciless exploitation by their  corporate overlords.

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