Category Archives: Employment Law

Republican Contender Cain Stirs Sexual Harassment Victims

While the Republican candidates for President debate each other, a more serious undertone has taken place regarding the upcoming presidential contest.  A number of former employees of Herman Cain allege that they were sexually harassed by this Republican contender for the country's highest office.  Many victims of sexual harassment in the workplace feel that their once silent voice should be heard.  What can they do?  In Illinois, depending upon where the alleged acts of sexual harassment took place, there are a number of civil forums where a victim can pursue her claim.  If the claim occurred in the City of Chicago, one may potentially bring such a claim in one of four venues: both the City and Cook County have administrative forums, the Illinois Department of Human Rights administers claim before the state, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reviews charges of discrimination on the federal level.  The decision where to bring a claim is not an easy one, and should be done with counsel.  Certain forums permit punitive damages, and others do not.  Other determining factors are jurisdiction - to bring a sexual harassment claim before the EEOC, the employer must employ 15 or more people.  Additionally, claims before the city, county, and state agencies generally take longer to resolve than those that proceed through the EEOC and ultimately, federal court.  Last, depending when the harassment occurred may very well govern where and if a claimant can bring a claim at all.  Generally, a sexual harassment victim must file a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights within 180 days of the harassment; for the EEOC, such a claim must be filed within 300 days.  Ironically, the number of charges of discrimination alleging sexual harassment has fallen over the past 13 years - in 1997, 15,889 charges were filed nationwide; in 2010, only 11,717 were filed.

Federal Appeals Court Rules That Lawyer Can Sue for Discrimination

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an associate attorney formerly employed by Johnson & Bell may pursue his employment discrimination case while the appeal of the dismissal of his defamation case from state court is pending.  Meanith Huon brought a defamation case against her former employer alleging that the law firm defamed her in performance evaluations.  In the discrimination case, Huon contends that he received unfavorable treatment due to his race and national origin.  A lower federal court originally would not let both cases proceed simultaneously.  Huon may have avoided this problem entirely had he brought all claims in one suit.  He likely believed that his defamation claim would be more valuable if it proceeded in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Tyson Foods Agrees to Pay $2.25 Million in Discrimination Case

Tyson Foods has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit in a failure to hire gender discrimination lawsuit by paying $2.25 million in back wages, interest and other benefits to 1,650 female job applicants involving three comany facilities in Illinois, Nebraska, and Iowa.  The comany also agreed to offer employment to 220 of the female job applicants.  Tyson denied that it discriminated against the women.  Approximately 25% of the women who originally did not get jobs received employment offers from the company before the Department of Labor initiated action.

Price Is Right Model Brings Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

A former model who worked on the TV game show, "The Price Is Right," alleges that she was sexually harassed by producers and later terminated.  In her lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Lanisha Cole contends that during the first six years of her employment until December, 2009.  At that time, one of the producers began treating her differently because he was having a relationship with anohter model employed by the show.  Cole complained about her treatment, and later, after missing a day of work because of a family commitment, she was told that she would not be able to work.  Our office routinely handles sexual harassment lawsuits involving a hostile work enviornment.  In those cases, the Plaintiff must establish that the harassment was objectionable both on an objective and subjective basis.  Thus, not every untoward remark or action will rise to the level of sexual harassment.

Wal-Mart Must Defend Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit

A federal appeals court ruled that Wal-Mart must defend a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit in which the alleged negligence of the initial harassment complaints may have led to the retaliation claim.  According to the decision in the case of Jorge Perez-Cordero v. Wal-Mart Puerto Rico, Inc., the plaintiff had been employed at Wal-Mart's Sam's Club Store in Puerto Rico as a butcher since 1998.  In 2000, Madeline Santiago was assigned as a team leader and had some supervisory authority over him.  Early on, she began sharing details of her private life with him.  Perez-Cordero indicated that he was not interested in a romantic relationship.  According to the opinion, after that, his work conditions began to change.  For example, he was always scheduled to work the closing shift.  The plaintiff also alleged unwanted physical contact by his supervisor.  Perez-Cordero complained to managment, but they took no action.  The plaintiff claimed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the actions.  He filed suit in 2001 allegding violations of Title VII and Puerto Rican law.  While a lower court dismissed the claims, the federal appeals court overturned the decision, and allowed both employment claims to go forward.

3M Agrees to Settle Age Discrimination Case for $3 Million

3M Company agreed to settle an age discrimination case filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC alleged that the company unlawfully laid off hundreds of workers over the age of 45 from July 1, 2003 through December 31, 2006.  Federal law prohibits discrimination against workers over the age of 40.  The federal agency said that the company laid off workers to save money.  Assuming that the federal court approves the settlement, money will be disbursed to about 290 former employees, and 3M will agree to post openings for positions it had not previously made available for older employees.  The company also agreed to establish a process to review termination decisions and to conduct training on how to prevent age bias.  Earlier this year, the company settled another age discrimination case filed in Minnesota for $12 million.  The EEOC's investigation found an e-mail from the company's CEO stating that "we should be developing 30-year-olds with general manager potential."

EEOC Files 15 New Discrimination Lawsuits

In the last 10 days of August, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed 15 discrimination lawsuits targeting major companies including Ford Motor Co., Kohl's Department Stores, air transporter SITA Information Networking Computing USA, Inc., as well as the government of American Samoa, largely addressing disability discrimination. The agency recently finished regulations enforcing 2008 amendments to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) that broadened the definition of who is considered disabled. The amendments overturned several Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed interpreted the definition of 'disability' too narrowly, denying protection for people with impairments like cancer, diabetes or epilepsy. The Ford suit alleges the company refused work accommodations for an employee with irritable bowel syndrome and Kohl's allegedly denied a regular work schedule request from a diabetic employee.

Three Months Employment Not Sufficient Consideration for Post-Employment Restrictive Covenant

Employees are often faced with a dilemna on the job - they work for a new employer and then are thrust with a demand that they sign a non-compete agreement or other restrictive covenant, agreeing either not to solicit employees or clients when they separate their employment.  The question becomes, what is the length of employment after an employee signs such a restrictive covenant that will bind an employee? According to an appellate court decision delivered on June 7, 2011, three months is not enough but two years will suffice.  Earlier this summer, the court decided the case of Diederich Insurance Agency, LLC Smith v. Smith.  In that case, Smith started working as an insurance agent for Diederich in October, 2007.  At that time, he signed a non-compete agreement, agreeing that from the time of his separation of employment, he would not engage in the prohibited activity for a period of two years.  Three months before Smith quit, he signed a confidentiality agreement that reduced the period of non-competition to one year.  Diederich sued Smith claiming that Smith breached the revised agreement.  Smith moved for dismissal of the complaint and the trial court dismissed the claim.  On appeal, the appellate court held that for the revised employment agreement to be valid and enforceable, there needed to be consideration.  The court found that continued substantial employment could be sufficient consideration for the employment agreement, but that three months is not enough. The court also stated, that a minimum, at least two years is required.  Readers should be aware that this ruling was from only one district of Illinois' appellate court, and is not binding on other district, including Chicago.

Jury Acquits Defendant of Eavesdropping

A Cook County jury acquitted a woman of illegally eavesdropping on two police officers on Wednesday, August 24, 2011.  The woman was charged with recording the officers with her Blackberry when she believed that the officers were trying to talk her out of pursuing a sexual harassment claim against a patrol officer.  Illinois law provides that is unlawful to record a conversation unless all parties to the conversation agree.  The penalty for recording a police officer is much more severe than recording a private citizen.  In federal employment discrimination cases, our office occasionally comes across the situation where the employee records his supervisor making discriminatory statements.  While the employee may be committing a crime under state law, generally, the tape is admissible in a federal employment discrimination case as federal law does not require both parties to consent to a taped conversation.  Thus, while the employee may be prosecuted under state law, he may be able to prevail in his employment case with the use of the evidence.

Seventh Circuit Holds That Actionable Racial Discrimination Exists Even If All Not Targeted

On August 8, 2011, a unanimous panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that discrimination against some Hispanic employees violates fedreal anti-discrimination laws even if the company does not discriminate against others in the protected class.  The appeals court reversed a summary judgment ruling by the district court in favor of the employer.  Two plaintiffs were long time employees of Kraft Foods who lost their jobs in November, 2008, following an outsourcing.  The employer pointed to evidence demonstrating that another Hispanic employee did not lose his job.  In the opinion, Judge Diane Wood stated that "Title VII would have little force if an employer could defeat a claim of discrimination by treating a single member of the protected class in accordance with the law."  Our office routinely handles race discrimination claims and cases involving a hostile work environment.