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Bay Area Employment Law Blog

Is office decor harassment?

Harassment is a very tricky subject because it is not always that overt. You do have cases of a boss saying something discriminatory about women, minorities or something of this nature, clearly singling out a worker or a group of workers. But these events are less common than they used to be, and harassment often takes on a more subtle form in the modern day.

For instance, some have pointed out that even office decorations could constitute harassment. Examples they give include:

  • A worker hanging up a Confederate flag inside their cubicle
  • A man hanging up pictures of women in bikinis
  • A woman setting a Bible on top of her desk to make sure everyone knows what religion she follows, or hanging up cross decorations on the wall

Different types of workplace discrimination

Many workers in California and around the country are the targets of overt or covert discrimination while on the job. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has reported that it fielded more than 72,000 discrimination complaints in fiscal 2019. Many of them were prohibited by such well-known laws as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some other types, however, are not as publicized.

Discrimination based on pregnancy has been prohibited by federal law for more than 40 years. However, it continues to be rampant in many industries, ranging from blue-collar jobs to higher-paying professions in the financial services sector. Many women are wrongfully terminated when it becomes known that they are expecting. In other cases, pregnant women are not provided with the required reasonable accommodations for their condition. As a result, many face the loss of their careers and resulting income stream.

EEOC investigating pregnancy discrimination claim against Google

San Francisco Bay Area readers might be interested to learn that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently began investigating a pregnancy discrimination case filed against Google by a former employee. The plaintiff reportedly lodged a complaint against the California-based company in late 2019. The EEOC transferred the claim to its investigative division on Feb. 19.

According to media reports, the employee, who worked at Google for five years, claims she heard her supervisor make multiple inappropriate comments about pregnant women during her time with the company. She further claims that she reported these comments to the human resources department and was subjected to retaliation as a result. Specifically, when she became pregnant and was preparing to go on maternity leave, her supervisor said her managerial position might not be available when she returned.

AARP report explains economic damages of age discrimination

Putting in many years on the job in California could result in age discrimination instead of rewards for hard work. An AARP report examined the economic consequences of workplace age discrimination. The report predicted that lower pay for older adults could cost the whole economy trillions of dollars by 2050. This will happen because older adults comprise a growing segment of the population. With more people earning less than they should, the overall economy misses out. As things stand now, researchers predict that older workers will contribute $28.2 trillion to the economy by 2050. If they did not face discrimination, then that figure could be $32.1 trillion.

Workers of any age continue to struggle to earn raises or find new jobs at higher salaries despite a robust economy. Older workers experience this problem to an even higher degree. A survey by Bankrate found that half of workers between 55 and 64 received no pay increases in the past 12 months.

Suspended Grammys CEO alleges discrimination, harassment

The entertainment industry in California has been the site of a number of serious sexual harassment allegations in recent years. After all, the #MeToo movement developed out of revelations about alleged harassment and assaults committed by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Many of the harassment victims who have since come forward have included high-profile executives, professionals and actors. Now, the Grammy Awards are also coming under scrutiny after the suspended CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences filed a workplace discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that she was retaliated against for reporting unwanted sexual advances.

The recently suspended CEO, who was removed from her position shortly before the 2020 Grammy Awards, said that her suspension came shortly after she submitted a letter to the Academy's human resources department detailing sexual harassment by a prominent entertainment lawyer. The lawyer serves as general counsel for the Academy as well as founding and heading the entertainment law practice for Greenberg Traurig. She said that the lawyer attempted to kiss her and approached her to spend private time together on multiple occasions during the hiring process for the CEO position. She said that she viewed this behavior as part of an overall "boys' club" attitude.

New legislation could strengthen rights for older workers

Workers in California may be familiar with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The legislation aims to protect workers over 40 from being adversely impacted at work because of their age. However, a recent AARP study found that ageism in the workplace is still a significant problem. The report states that most employers don't emphasize avoiding discrimination based on age because laws protecting older workers are relatively weak.

There are many ways that companies may subtly discriminate against older workers. For instance, they may require that those who are applying for open positions have experience using digital platforms. They might also have mandatory retirement ages or have other policies that favor younger workers over older individuals. Proposed legislation called the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) could make the ADEA stronger. Specifically, it would allow workers pursuing age discrimination cases to use any evidence that they want to bolster their claims.

What does it mean to be a salaried employee?

Workers in the United States can either be labeled as exempt or nonexempt based on the details of their employment. These two statuses signify whether an employee receives hourly pay or if they earn a yearly salary. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) oversees these two employment types and makes many other distinctions between the two.

Millions of American workers affected by sexual harassment

While media attention has shed a light on sexual harassment and abuse in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere, employees continue to suffer from harassment and unwanted sexual attention on the job. According to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, almost 1 out of every 18 women and 1 out of every 40 men has been subjected to sexual harassment in and around their workplaces. These statistics mean that around 10 million Americans could report some form of unwanted sexual contact, harassment or physical sexual assault by a supervisor, client, co-worker or boss, according to researchers.

The study was led by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who highlighted sexual violence as a serious concern for employee safety on the job. The broader term can encompass unwanted sexual experiences like verbal harassment and groping up to rape and sexual assault. The analysis examined data gathered from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence study, which included over 42,000 Americans. Scientists reviewed the research for information about perpetrators and incidents in the workplace as well as the after-effects of workplace harassment and assault.

Airline sued over pregnancy and breastfeeding discrimination

Employers in California and around the country are prohibited from discriminating against pregnant women by the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and protections for breastfeeding mothers were added to the Fair Labor Standards Act in 2010. A lawsuit recently filed by a group of female flight attendants and pilots accuses Frontier Airlines of violating these laws. The women say that they were forced to take unpaid leave while they were pregnant and were denied reasonable breastfeeding accommodations.

A flight attendant alleges in the workplace discrimination lawsuit that she went months without a paycheck before her two children were born, and a pilot says that she was told that she would no longer be able to fly unless she agreed to stop pumping milk during flights. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission reports that it has received similar complaints about the Colorado-based airline in the past. The women are being represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Victims sometimes must work with their harassers

Despite state and federal laws designed to ensure safe working environments and address harassment in the workplace, it is possible that some people in California will have to endure continuing to work with their harassers. In a study that examined 60 arbitration cases where individuals who were accused of harassing behavior challenged the decisions of the employer, the discipline originally ordered was not upheld in 48% of cases. Most of the time, the discipline originally ordered was termination.

This means that the victim of harassment could have been forced to work with a harasser who had been fired and then brought back on. Nearly 28% of those who were accused of harassment and whose original punishment was overturned were fully reinstated. Forty-one percent had termination amended to suspension, and 24% were reinstated to their positions but without back pay.

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