Category Archives: Employment Law

Fry’s to Shell Out $2.3 Million in Retaliation Lawsuit

Fry's Electronics, the nationwide retailer, will pay $2.3 million to settle a retaliation lawsuit brought against it by the federal government.  Ka Lam, a supervisor in a store in Washington, claimed that he was retaliated against when he alerted management that an assistant store manager was sending inappropriate text messages to a young sales associate.  Lam was terminated.  The company told him the reason was a decline in performance, though he was frequently recognized for doing a good job.  The size of this settlement for a single plaintiff case is very unusual.  Federal law typically caps punitive damages in most employment cases to $300,000.  Certain states have more favorable laws, allowing a plaintiff to seek more than the federal statutory cap.  Illinois is not one of those states.

Fair Wage Law Debated

Eugene Hollander was quoted on August 9, 2012 on Northwestern University's Medill Reports website concerning a proposed bill which would eliminate an exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act, (FLSA).  Under the FLSA, certain employers are entitled to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage.  The proposed bill would eliminate that exemption, and phase out certificates over the next few years which have been granted by the government.

Six Sales Representatives File Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Rogers Auto Group

Today, The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Rogers Auto Group, Inc., a car dealership located in the Bronzeville area of Chicago. The law firm represents Jermaine Thomas, Fred Redeaux, Abdulaziz Tayeh, Darius Fox, Charles Barnett, and Dion Turner. Tayeh is a Muslim and the other Plaintiffs are African American. The Plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to a racially hostile work environment by management. The Plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to racial slurs such as "boy," "porch monkey," and that Tayeh was subjected to references associating him with Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and labelling him as a terrorist. After The Hollander Law Offices informed the dealership of the claims, the lawsuit alleges that it promptly terminated Thomas and Fox. Redeaux quit because of the way he was treated afterward, and has a claim pending for constructive discharge.  Tayeh also has a claim of religious discrimination which is pending with the EEOC.  Once served, the Defendant will have 21 days to file a response in court.  The story was featured on CBS Channel 2 Chicago.

Former Employee Files Racial Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit Against Al Piemonte Suzuki

The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander filed a civil rights lawsuit against Al Piemonte Suzuki on behalf of former employee Laurence "Lonnie" Phifer yesterday.  Phifer, an African American, had spent two decades working as a car salesman.  He was employed as a sales representative at the car dealership from August 15, 2011 through April 25, 2012.  According to the allegations in the lawsuit, Mr. Phifer was subjected to numerous racial insults by his white managers, who used the "N" word and made offensive racial jokes.  Oftentimes, management used the intercom system at the dealership to broadcast these racial epithets.  One of his managers text messaged racially offensive photos to him.  Mr. Phifer complained about the hostile work environment to management, but the dealership did nothing.  Toward the latter end of his employment, Mr. Phifer saw a racially offensive cartoon posted in the dealership.  On April 25, 2012, Al Piemonte Suzuki unlawfully retaliated against my client by terminating his employment for the purported reason of “low production.”  Mr. Phifer denies that his sales were low; rather, he was the top grossing salesman at the dealership at the time.   Mr. Phifer is presently unemployed.  Once served, the dealership will have 21 days to formally answer the Complaint.  The filing was widely covered in the media, including NBC, ABC and WGN.

Jury Returns $5 Million Verdict in Discrimination Case for Muslim Woman

A jury in Jackson County, Missouri awarded a woman $5 million in a religious discrimination case against AT & T.  The state court jury awarded Susan Bashir $5 million in punitive damages along with $120,000 in lost wages and other damages.  According to the Kansas City Star, the verdict appears to be the largest award in Missouri history.  Bashir claimed that her work environment became hostile after she converted to Islam.  She alleged that her co-workers made harassing comments about her religion.  Bashir worked as a fiber optics network builder for about 10 years before she was fired.  She was earning $70,000 per year.  Bashir contended that she endured discriminatory remarks on a daily basis for the last three years of her employment, including being asked if she was going to blow up the building, being called a "towelhead," and a terrorist.  Bashir will not see the full award, however.  State law limits punitive damage awards to five times the actual damages and attorney's fees.  Under federal law, punitive damages are limited to $300,000 against the largest employers, except in race discrimination cases.  Bashir said that she called an employee hotline in 2005, but nothing happened.  Bashir claimed that she could not return to work after enduring the harassment.  Nine months later, the company fired her.  We counsel our clients to make a record of each complaint to management - whether it be to a hotline or upper management.  If the company fires the employee after the complaint, he or she may have a viable retaliation claim as well, in addition to a substantive discrimination claim.

Federal Judge Allows Class Action Discrimination Claim to Proceed

United States District Court Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois recently ruled that a federal class action case against United Road Towing, Inc. could proceed though the EEOC, the federal agency vested with the authority to investigate discrimination claims against employers, may not have investigated each employee's claim.  The case involves allegations that the company discriminated against its workers with its unpaid medical leave policy, that it denied them reasonable accomodations in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and that it illegally refused to rehire them after they returned from leave.  The case originally involved two plaintiffs.  At that point, the EEOC invited the company to conciliate, or attempt to settle.  The case did not resolve, and the EEOC added 17 more plaintiffs.  The employer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the federal agency did not fulfill its administrative requirements regarding the 17 new plaintiffs before filing a lawsuit.  The court denied the motion.  The case will likely be litigated for some time before a resolution is reached.

EEOC Settles With Law Firm Over Age Discrimination

The EEOC recently settled an age discrimination lawsuit with the law firm of Kelley, Drye & Warren over its policy of demoting equity partners once they turn age 70.  The case specifically involved one of the firm's former partners, Eugene D'Ablemont, who practiced in the labor and employment area.  D'Ablemont claimed that the firm's policy of forcing equity partners to become "life partners" at the age of 70 was illegal and violated the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, (ADEA).  D'Ablemont and the firm battled for ten years as to how much compensation the former partner was owed.  The legal issue at stake was whether D'Ablemont was an employee or a business owner under federal law.  The ADEA protects employees where the company employs more than 20 individuals, but not business owners.  In 2007, the EEOC brought suit against Sidley & Austin over 32 partners who lost their equity stake when they reached a certain age.  In this case, the parties reached a settlement and a consent decree was entered, requiring the law firm to pay D'Ablemont $574,000 for work he completed.  He will also collect 12% in fees from the date of the entry of the consent decree.  The EEOC has indicated that it is interested in this issue, making other large law firms targets if they have similar mandatory retirement policies.

Illinois House Rejects Modification to Eavesdropping Law

On March 21, 2012, the Illinois House voted down a bill which would have allowed citizens to audio record police officers in public places.  Under current state law, performing such an act is a felony.  In the employment law context, our office has handled a number of cases where employees secretly audio record their employers making damaging statements and try to use that in litigating their employment discrimination cases.  While making such an audio recording may violate state law, ironically, the employee generally can admit such statements in their federal lawsuit.  Federal law permits a recording where only one party consents.  Thus, while it is possible that the employee could be prosecuted under state law for making an unlawful recording, he may win his federal lawsuit by using this evidence.

Appellate Court Rejects Retaliation Claim

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected an employee's claim of unlawful retaliation.  Marion Gordon was employed by FedEx as a clerk.  Gordon injured herself on the job and told her employer that she required further medical treatment.  A few hours later, FedEx managers decided to eliminate Gordon's job.  Gordon went on medical leave, and when she returned, she was told that her job was eliminated in a company wide reduction in force (RIF).  Gordon filed a claim known as retaliatory discharge.  Illinois law prohibits an employer from firing an employee because she either filed a worker's compensation claim for on the job injuries, or seeks benefits for the injury under the law.  The employee must prove what is known as a causal connection, that is, that the employer improperly fired an employee within a short time after the employee engages in protected activity.  The federal district court dismissed the case in favor of FedEx.  Gordon appealed.  The reviewing court held that Gordon could not establish that her firing "was primarily in retaliation" for her pursuing her remedies under Illinois state law.  The Seventh Circuit also held that the employer offered a non-retaliatory reason for Gordon's discharge.  Unlike other employment discrimination claims, retaliatory discharge cases can be especially problematic for employers if they are successful as there is no cap on punitive damages.

Employer Background Checks on the Uptick

While it is common for potential employers to perform reference checks, employees are now turning the tables.  A recent Chicago Tribune news story indicates that employees are now hiring companies to see if former employers are making any negative remarks about them.  Traditionally, management attorneys advise their corporate clients to only disclose the position that the employee held, dates of employment and salary.  Some companies, however, cannot hold back, and if employees learn this information, they may use it to advance an employment discrimination lawsuit.  At the other end of the tunnel, when we settle employment discrimination claims, our clients often seek a positive letter of reference.  This request is almost universally rejected by the employer.