Category Archives: Employment Law

Jennifer Lawrence Brings Attention to Equal Pay

Actress Jennifer Lawrence has been particularly vocal lately, speaking out on the pay disparity between actors and actresses.  Her complaint is nothing new, as there generally is a wage gap between men and women.  If a woman is being paid less than a man in the same position, she has a claim under federal law, pursuant to the Equal Pay Act.  The Equal Pay Act allows a plaintiff to reach back two years to recover the wage differential, and three years if it is willful.  Additionally, an aggrieved party may be able to recover liquidated damages, which is twice the amount of the wage differential.  Liquidated damages are presumed under the law.  Further, a plaintiff may recover attorney's fees if she is successful at trial.

Federal Appellate Court Gives OK To Discrimination Lawsuit Against Cook County

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court's decision to dismiss a Muslim woman's national origin case against Cook County.  Fozyia Huri, a Cook County Circuit Court employee, alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment for years.  Huri worked as a child care attendant until she was transferred to the court reporters' office in 2010.  She claimed that her supervisors screamed at her, accused her of misconduct, ostracized her, and denied her time off for a religious holiday.  She also claims that her employer retaliated against her after she made internal complaints.  The federal district court dismissed the case for failing to state a claim.  The federal appeals court disagreed, ruling that her allegations could be severe and pervasive enough to create an abusive environment.  Huri's case will now head toward trial.  It is possible that her case could be settled in advance, however.  Should Huri prevail, she would be entitled to recover compensatory damages and attorney's fees.

Former Franchisee Can Pursue Discrimination Claim Against Culver’s

A black former franchisee of Culver's may pursue his racial discrimination claim against the fast food restaurant chain, a federal judge has ruled.  Michael Wilbern was one of the first African American franchisees of the chain and claims that Culver's hindered his operation in favor or a white franchisee in a neighboring community.  Specifically, Wilbern alleges that the chain blocked every proposed location which Wilbern had suggested because they were in a predominate African American neighborhood.  Instead, he claims that Culver's persuaded him to open up a restaurant in predominately white Franklin park.  Though he opened the store, it failed due to much higher rent costs.  Culver's denies any liability.  The federal court rejected an opportunity to dismiss the suit.  No trial date has yet been scheduled.

Federal Court Allows Negligence Claim of Unborn Fetus to Proceed Against Mother’s Employer

Sidney Mejia was employed by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago as the Office Manager/Billing Coordinator.  In September, 2012, she informed her supervisor that she was 12 weeks pregnant with her first child.  She also disclosed that she was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy.  Mejia claimed that after disclosing that she was pregnant, she was demoted to the position of Program Assistant.  She also claimed that her employer required her to perform manual labor tasks including moving heavy cabinets, moving heavy paper shredding bins and scrubbing the carpets in the office.  On January 23, 2013, Mejia suffered an anxiety attack, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital to avoid premature labor.  On January 28, Mejia went into premature labor.  Mejia was then terminated on February 15, 2013.  She claims that her son suffers from developmental delays because of the premature birth.  She filed suit in federal court, and among other claims, asserted a negligence claim on behalf of her son against the employer for causing the premature birth.  Catholic Charities sought to dismiss the claim, arguing that it was a novel theory.  District Court Judge Robert Dow denied the Defendant's Motion, and allowed the son's claim to proceed, affirming the right of an unborn child to have a personal injury claim against the party who caused it.  The case will now proceed into the discovery phase.

Supreme Court Rules Against Abercrombie & Fitch In Religious Failure to Hire Claim

Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled against retailer Abercrombie & Fitch in an employment discrimination lawsuit.  Abercrombie has a "look policy" which governs what its employees can wear - specifically, the employer barred its employees from wearing hats.  Samantha Elauf is a practicing Muslim.  In accordance with her faith, she wears a headscarf.  Elauf applied for a job and Heather Cooke, the store's assistant manager, found she was qualified.  Cooke, however, thought that the headscarf would violate the look policy.  She conferred with Randall Johnson, the district manager.  Johnson told Cooke not to hire her as it would violate the look policy, and Cooke followed the instruction.  The EEOC filed suit, alleging that the retailer discriminated against her on the basis of religion.  While the district court found in her favor, the appeals court reversed, reasoning that an employer could not be held liable for failure to accomodate unless the applicant or employee provides the employer with actual need for a religious accomodation.  The United States Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that the plaintiff need only show that the need for a religious accomodation was a motivating factor in the employment decision.  While this was a case decided on fairly narrow facts, it was a very big victory for employees, who in the future, need not specifically voice their request for an accomodation.

Appellate Court Clarifies Whistleblower Act

In a recent decision, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that where a defendant did not act within the scope of his or her employment, there can be no liability under the state whistleblower act.  In August, 2006, Sara Meegan was hired to teach English at George Washington High School in Chicago.  Two years later, in February, 2008, the principal, Florence Gonzalez, told Meegan that the school was going to terminate her employment due to a decrease in enrollment.  In April, 2008, Meegan attended a meeting called by the Chicago Teachers Union.  At the meeting, Meegan stated that the gang activity at the school was caused by "disgruntled teachers instigating the students to violence."  In August, 2008, Carlos Munoz, the principal of Amundsen High School, interviewed Meegan for a job.  Munoz extended a job offer to Meegan, but later rescinded it after Gonzalez described her as "dishonest, habitually tardy, [and] often absent."  Munoz also claimed that Meegan failed to complete her work.  Meegan filed a lawsuit asserting various claims and sought attorneys fees for Gonzalez' alleged defamatory statements at the union meeting.  Though Meegan was successful at trial, the appellate court held since Gonzalez was not acting as Meegan's employer, she could not be held liable under the Whistleblower Act.

Hollander Law Offices Files Pregnancy Case Against John Barleycorn

Jacquelyn Johnson loved her job as a Bartender at John Barleycorn in Schaumburg.  All that changed however, when she learned that she was pregnant, and informed her employer this past New Year's Eve.  Immediately afterward, Ms. Johnson found that she was no longer scheduled to work the very lucrative parties provided by the bar.  Two weeks later, the General Manager sent her a text message, "Hey, I can't have you work while you are pregnant.  It's too much of a liability for the bar...It's from upper management."  Shocked and saddened, Ms. Johnson filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.  On July 17, 2014, The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging pregnancy discrimination.  The story was carried by NBC Chicago.

Madonia Case Attracts International Press

Last Tuesday, we reported that our office filed a new lawsuit, Madonia v. S 37 Management, et. al. The lawsuit alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as a COBRA violation after her employer allegedly fired her within days after learning of her stage III esophogeal cancer diagnosis.  We did not expect the national and international interest in the story.  The story was widely reported in the United States, The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, as well as on websites in Australia, Italy, Estonia and Zimbabwe.  For those who wish to aid Elisa financially to defray medical expense while her case winds through the court system, you can seek to make contributions here: https://www.youcaring.com/keepelisasmiling.

Hollander Law Offices Files New Disability Discrimination Suit

Elisa Madonia was formerly employed by S 37 Management, Inc. as a Customer Service Representative.  During the summer of 2013, her throat began to bother her.  She had taken a few days leave with her employer's permission.  All that changed in mid-October last year.  Madonia, unfortunately, was diagnosed with Stage III esophogeal cancer.  Her oncologist sent a note to her employer regarding the diagnosis.  Six days later, her employer fired her.  They told her that if the health insurance carrier found out that she was working less than full time, then she would be responsible for paying her medical expenses.  In an effort to pressure her to sign a release, which would have waived all of her employment claims, the employer told her that they would pay her COBRA premiums for seven months.  They also demanded an immediate payment for the premium in order to continue her health insurance coverage.  Madonia declined to execute the document, and retained The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander to represent her.  On January 29, 2014, the law firm filed suit on Madonia's behalf, alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and COBRA.  CBS Channel 2 Chicago also covered the story.

Hollander Law Offices Wins Seventh Circuit Decision on FMLA

Beverly Ballard was formerly employed by the Chicago Park District.  In April,, 2006, her mother was diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure and began receiving hospice support.  Beverly lived with her mother, Sarah, and cooked for her, administered insulin and other medication, bathed and dressed her, and got her ready for bed.  In 2007, Sarah said that she always wanted to take a family trip to Las Vegas.  A social worker was able to secure funding through the Fairy Godmother Foundation, a nonprofit organization which facilitated opportunities like these for terminally-ill adults.  Beverly requested unpaid leave through her employer.  The Park District ultimately denied the request.  Beverly took her mother on the trip - they engaged in typical tourist activities, but Beverly also provided care to her mother during the trip.  Several months later, the Park District terminated Beverly's employment for exercising unauthorized absences accumulated during her trip.  Beverly filed suit, claiming that the termination violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, ("FMLA").  Her employer sought dismissal of the case, and a federal district court denied the motion, reasoning that Beverly provided care to her mother during the trip.  In a case of first impression in our Seventh Circuit, the federal appellate court held that it did not matter where Beverly cared for her mother, and thus was protected under the FMLA.  The Court upheld the lower court's decision.  Paul Ryan, who handled the matter at the trial court and appellate levels, said, "This is a great victory for employees.  They should not be afraid to care for a loved one, if it involves travel away from home."  We will keep you posted as the case progresses.