Great Policy; No Follow-Through

The best policy in the world won’t protect you without follow-through.

That’s the lesson of a decision by the Seventh Circuit  Court of Appeals  in a Wisconsin sexual harassment case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Management Hospitality of Racine, Inc., et al., No. 10-3247 (Jan. 9, 2012,).

The defendant, a company owned by Salauddin Janmohammed  which operates 21 International House of Pancakes restaurants, had a “zero-tolerance”  anti-harassment policy in place, anti-harassment training, and a policy of investigations of complaints.

What it didn’t have was follow-through. Or, in the words of the Court, “the policy and complaint mechanism were not reasonably effective in practice.”

According to the Court:  “the presence of a sexual harassment policy is encouraged by Title VII [but] the mere creation of a sexual harassment policy will not shield a company from its responsibility to actively prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.”

The Court upheld an award of $105,000 to two teenage servers at an IHOP operated by the defendant in Racine.  Katrina Shisler and Michelle Powell said they were sexually harassed in 2004 and 2005 by an IHOP assistant manager in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.

Normally, an employer can advance the so-called Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense in a Title VII case sexual harassment claim involving a hostile work environment. This allows the employer to escape liability for damages if:

 (a) it “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior,” and

 (b) “the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any protective or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.”

The Court said the  Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense was not available to the Management Hospitality because both teens had complained to managers about sexual harassment  and the managers did nothing.  The company did not begin investigating until a private investigator hired by an attorney for one of the teenager began asking questions.

The Court said a rational jury could have found that the sexual harassment occurred “every shift,”  was “highly offensive,” and included “physical touching.”

The Court said a rational jury also could conclude that the employer failed to follow its own policies by discouraging  employees from reporting complaints, providing inadequate anti-harassment training to supervisors, and failing to “promptly” investigate the complaints.

The EEOC filed suit on behalf of the two teenaged servers. A jury awarded one of the servers $1,000 in compensatory damages and the other $4,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

New Record for Discrimination Claims

Employment discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reached an all-time high in 2011.

A total of 99,947 charges of employment discrimination were filed with the EEOC in Fiscal 2011, compared to  99,922 in Fiscal 2010. This sets a new record for discrimination claims.

Once again, charges alleging retaliation under all the statutes the EEOC enforces were the most numerous at 37,334 charges received, or 37.4 percent of all charges, followed by charges of race discrimination ( 35,395) and sex discrimination (28,534).

Other allegations include:

  • Disability discrimination–25,742
  • Age discrimination—23,465
  • National Origin  discrimination – 11,833
  • Religious discrimination – 4,151
  • Color discrimination – 2,832
  • Equal Pay Act – 919
  • Genetic Discrimination Act – 245

The EEOC filed 300 lawsuits in 2011, which resulted in $91 million of relief.  Twenty-three of the lawsuits involved systemic allegations involving large numbers of people.

Through its combined litigation, enforcement, mediation programs, the EEOC obtained  $455.6 million in relief for private sector, state, and local employees and applicants,  an increase of more than $51 million from the 2010 fiscal year and a new record for the agency.

Of possible interest to workplace anti-bully advocates, the EEOC’s enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) produced the highest increase in monetary relief among all of the statutes the EEOC enforces: the administrative relief obtained for disability discrimination charges increased by almost 35.9 percent to $103.4 million.  Back impairments were the most frequently cited impairment under the ADA, followed by other orthopedic impairments, depression, anxiety disorder and diabetes. Many of these ADA claims could be stress related – targets of workplace bullying suffer high levels of stress that are blamed for short-and long-term physical impairment.

The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The fiscal year 2011 enforcement and litigation statistics, which include trend data, are available on the EEOC’s website at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm

The Veil over the U.S. Supreme Court

In Cleveland, puppets are being used by a TV station to reenact excerpts from a political corruption trial that is closed to the public … Why not have puppets reenact  U.S. Supreme Court hearings?  Big Bird could play Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Abbie Cadabby could play Elena Kagen. PGB

 

Our society is increasingly divided between the “haves” and the “have nots,” with the vast majority of Americans now strongly disapproving of the way that government is operating.

The President and the U.S. Congress receive much of the blame because they are seen fumbling in prime-time under glare of the television spotlight. But there is another equally or even more powerful branch of government that manages to stay out of the spotlight – the judiciary, led by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you think that corporations have disproportionate influence in American government, you need only look to the Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), holding that corporate funding of “independent” political broadcasts in elections is protected speech under the First Amendment. That ruling alone has spurred a tsunami of money into partisan election politics from corporations seeking to advance their interests.

Most people today “watch” their news on television or the Internet. Refusing to be televised is akin to insisting in 1440 that the bible be penned in ink by monks, longhand, rather than printed on the newfangled Gutenberg printing press. However, federal judges are elected for life and if they don’t want to be televised then who’s going to make them?

Now the Court is getting another opportunity to affect the balance of interests between corporate America and the average American. The Court has agreed to review the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law, which is being challenged by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business.

A recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that 72% of the people surveyed think the Court should allow cameras to televise oral arguments on the health care law, which are scheduled to be held in March.

Courts in the United States generally are unsympathetic to issues surrounding workplace abuse and unfair dismissal,  especially when compared to courts in many other industrialized societies.  Last summer, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to certify a class action involving 1.5 million workers at Walmart who allege sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. The Court’s ruling will have an enormous  impact upon the ability of workers to secure fair treatment in the workplace.

Unfortunately, most non-union workers are clueless about how few  protections they really have until  they are escorted from the building with their possessions in a cardboard box.  Televising the proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court is important to the goal of having an informed and educated public. Or is that what the Court is afraid of?

Employment Discrimination: What’s with Indiana?

 

The number of  employment discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission  is at an all time high, and its expected to rise.

But there are indications that discrimination is more prevalent in certain states, which apparently have laws and a regulatory schemes that favor business. For example, Texas is an employment-at-will state, which means that employees can be terminated for any reason as long as it doesn’t violate the law (i.e. discrimination) or an important public policy.

Conversely, some high population states appear to have a lower incidence of employment discrimination, possibly indicating a more favorable climate for employer-employee relations.

Businessweek recently did an analysis based on the number of EEOC “merit resolutions” in 2010. These are cases resolved without litigation by the EEOC with private employers and state and local government employers (not federal government). The EEOC filed 250 lawsuits in 2010, resolved 285 lawsuits, and resolved 104,999 private sector charges.  Note: The EEOC “prosecutes” only a fraction of the complaints that are filed with the EEOC.

Businessweek’s analysis shows that Texas was the state with the highest number of merit resolutions in 2010. However, this is not particularly surprising given that Texas has the second highest population of any state, after California, which ranked 2nd.

But what’s with Indiana? It’s the 15th largest state but ranks 5th state in terms of EEOC merit resolutions. Indiana touts itself as America’s heartland, a family friendly place.  Apparently it is even friendlier to business.  If you’re looking for a job, you might want to take this into account. And if you have a job in states like Indiana, Alabama or Mississippi, well … good luck!

On the other hand, New York is the 3rd largest state but ranks 15th in merit resolutions. Go New York!

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says private sector workplace discrimination charge filings with the federal agency nationwide hit an unprecedented level of 99,922 during the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, 2010. All major categories of charge filings in the private sector (which include charges filed against state and local governments) increased. These include charges alleging discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; the Equal Pay Act; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

For the first time ever, retaliation under all statutes (36,258) surpassed race (35,890) as the most frequently filed charge, while allegations based on religion (3,790), disability (25,165) and age (23,264) increased.

Here’s the Businessweek ranking of states with EEOC merit resolutions:

1. Texas, 2nd largest state, population 25,145,561; merit resolutions,  1,780.

2. California, largest state, pop. 37,253,956; merit resolutions, 1,600.

3. Florida, 4th largest state,pop.  18,801,310; merit resolutions, 1,409.

4. Georgia, 9th largest state, pop. 9,687,653; merit resolutions, 1,288.

5. Indiana, 15th largest state, pop. 6,483,802; merit resolutions, 1,063.

6. Illinois, 5th largest state,pop.  12,830,632; merit resolutions, 1,001.

7. Pennsylvania, 6th largest state, pop. 12,702,379; merit resolutions, 860,

8. North Carolina, 10th largest state, pop. 9,535,483; merit resolutions, 823.

9. Tennessee, 17th largest state, pop.  6,346,105; merit resolutions, 800.

10. Ohio, 7th largest state, pop. 11,536,504; merit resolutions, 680.

11. Alabama, 23rd largest state, pop.4,779,736; merit resolutions, 650.

12. New York, 3rd largest state, pop. 19,378,102′ merit resolutions, 609.

13. Michigan, 8th largest state,  pop. 9,883,640; merit resolutions, 559.

14. Colorado, 22nd largest state, pop. 5,029,196; merit resolutions, 509.

15. Virginia, 12th largest state, pop. 8,001,024; merit resolutions, 499.

16. Arizona, 16th largest state, pop.,  6,392,017; merit resolutions, 496.

17. Missouri, 18th largest state, pop., 5,988,927; merit resolutions, 463.

18. Mississippi, 31st largest state, pop., 2,967,297; merit resolutions, 392.

19.  Arkansas, 32nd largest state, pop. 2,915,918; merit resolutions, 376.

20. Washington, 13th largest state, pop. 6,724,540;  merit resolutions, 353.