Emergence of Transgender Status Issues in Workplace Raises Compliance Questions for Employers

Transgender issues have been grabbing headlines in recent months—perhaps most notably with Bruce Jenner’s televised announcement about his gender transition.  Beyond the bright lights of pop culture, a wave of litigation and legislation is causing employers to pay closer attention to transgender discrimination and related issues.  As we noted in August of last year, there is an increasing trend toward protecting gender identity and transgender status.  This post provides an update and a high-level overview of the landscape in this emerging area and offers some tips for employers to minimize risk.

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Whistle While You Work: SEC Announces First Retaliation Whistleblower Award

On June 16, 2014, the SEC issued its first-ever charge of whistleblower retaliation under section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Act, charging a hedge fund advisor and its owner with “engaging in prohibited principal transactions and then retaliating against the employee who reported the trading activity to the SEC.”

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Are Your California Leave Policies Up to Date? New California Family Rights Act Regulations Take Effect July 1, 2015

The California Fair Employment and Housing Council recently issued new California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) regulations that take effect July 1, 2015. The new revisions are intended to clarify confusing rules and align the regulations more closely with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) regulations (where the statutes are consistent), though differences still remain between CFRA and FMLA.

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Is the EEOC Rushing Your Company to Court? SCOTUS Says Not So Fast

The U. S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on April 29 that courts can review whether the EEOC has satisfied its obligation under Title VII to conciliate before running to court.  Title VII dictates that when the EEOC believes that an employer has discriminated against its employees, it must attempt to “eliminate such alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion.”  However, if the EEOC cannot obtain a conciliation agreement that “is acceptable to the Commission,” the EEOC may then bring a lawsuit.  Up to now, there has been some debate as to what the EEOC needs to do to prove that it has cleared the conciliation hurdle before sprinting into litigation.  In one of the most important labor and employment decisions of this term, the Court held that courts have limited authority to review the EEOC’s conciliation efforts, adopting a middle-ground position that “respects the expansive discretion that Title VII gives to the EEOC over the conciliation process, while still ensuring that the Commission follows the lead.” Mach Mining LLC v. EEOC, U.S., No. 13-1019, 4/29/15.

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A Win for Employers: Court Denies Class Certification of Rest Break Claim Where Plaintiff Alleged Employer Did Not Have a Rest Break Policy

A recent federal district court decision denying a motion for class certification of wage-and-hour claims reflects continuing disagreement among courts in California regarding the suitability for class treatment of meal and rest break claims when an employer has no written break policy.

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Say What You Will About Employment Law in the UK but It Is Never Boring

Imagine that you have a senior employee who you have decided (for whatever reason) that you do not want anymore but you do not want to pay out his 12-month notice period.  As an ingenious attempt to get around that, you instruct forensic investigators to carry out a ‘fishing expedition’ to try and find some dirt on him that will justify you summarily dismissing him, rather than paying out what he is owed under his contract.  Imagine that your luck is in and you do indeed find some dirt but that the dirt you find is five year old dirt.  Would you think that the High Court is going to accept this approach and agree that you don’t have to pay the notice period?

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$6 Million Verdict for SOX Whistleblower Leads to Malpractice Suit Against Defense Counsel

Playboy Enterprises is suing its former defense counsel Sheppard Mullin after being hit with a $6 million jury verdict in a SOX whistleblower case, the highest jury award in a SOX case to date.  In Zulfer v. Playboy Enterprises, Inc., Playboy’s former Controller Catherine Zulfer claimed her employment was terminated in part because she objected to an improper instruction by Playboy’s CFO to accrue $1 million in discretionary bonuses for executives when those bonuses had not been approved by Playboy’s Board.  A jury agreed and found that Playboy unlawfully retaliated against Zulfer by firing her for her protected reports under SOX and also terminated her employment in violation of public policy under California law.  The jury awarded $6 million in unspecified damages with no allocation between the SOX claim and the California wrongful termination claim.

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Is Your Wellness Program Healthy? EEOC Provides Much Needed Guidance in Proposed Rule

On April 16, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a proposed rule addressing how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to wellness programs that are part of group health plans and that include medical examinations or questions about employees’ health. Although not final and still open for public comment, this proposed rule provides important guidelines for employers in administering wellness programs.

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New York City Council Passes Ground-Breaking Legislation Limiting the Use of Credit Checks in Employment

On April 16, 2015, the New York City Council, by a vote of 47-3, approved legislation that would prohibit the use of credit checks in employment decisions except in limited circumstances.  The bill, which is expected to be signed by Mayor Bill De Blasio, would amend the New York City Human Rights Law to make use of credit history in employment decisions an unlawful discriminatory practice.  In passing this law, New York City joins the growing number of states and municipalities that have enacted legislation to restrict the ability of employers to request or use the credit history of applicants and employees.  These state and local initiatives stem from the increased use of credit history as an employment screening tool and from concerns that credit history is not relevant to the performance of many jobs, and moreover, may adversely affect certain groups, including minorities and low-income individuals.  The New York City bill is noteworthy in that it is one of the most restrictive laws to date, even after certain exceptions were added to the proposed legislation.

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Airline Tragedy Prompts Renewed Discussion on Employment Inquiries into Mental Health

As the world reels in the wake of last month’s shocking crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in France, many are questioning what, if anything, the airline should—or could—have done to prevent the tragedy. These questions necessarily touch on important issues about what an employer is permitted to address in pre- and post-employment medical screenings concerning an employee’s mental health.

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