Category: Discrimination

Supreme Court Ruling States That ADEA Applies to Public Employers with Less Than 20 Employees

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A new unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido states that all public employers in every state must now comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), regardless of how many or how few individuals the organization employs.

Prior to 1974, the ADEA only applied to private employers, which meant that employees of public entities were not protected by law against age discrimination. In 1974, Congress amended the ADEA to include a wider range of employers. Specifically, Congress modified the definition of “employer” to include public employers that had twenty or more employees. However, since the amendment was made, courts interpreted the definition in ways that prevented certain states and political subdivisions from being subject to the ADEA.

In Mount Lemmon, two seasoned fire fighters from Mount Lemmon, Arizona were terminated after budget cuts. The two firefighters claimed that they were discriminated against due to their age, and that the fire department was in violation of the ADEA.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) agreed, but the federal district court found in favor of the fire department, because it was a public employer with fewer than 20 employees.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, stating that the language of the ADEA created a distinction between a “person” employer, who must have at least twenty employees, and a public employer, to whom the 20 employee threshold does not apply. Other circuit courts likewise found the language ambiguous. The Supreme Court granted a review of the case due to the circuit split.

The key issue in the case had to do with the phrase “also means” in the definition clause, and whether it added new categories of employers, or simply clarified the employees mentioned in the clause. The firefighters argued that the wording added new categories of employees, while the Fire District claimed that the language clarified the term “person” to include any organized group of persons, which includes state and local employers.

The Supreme Court found that the phrase, “also means” is additive in nature. As a result, state and political subdivisions are considered an additional category of employers, and thus do not need to satisfy the 20 employee threshold.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Clients in Age Discrimination Cases

Philadelphia employment lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. protect employees who have been discriminated against due to their age. To set up a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. Our offices are located in Philadelphia, where we represent clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

PA District Court Holds that Employer Had Legitimate Nondiscriminatory Reason for Termination in Age Discrimination Case

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In Terrell v. Main Line Health, Inc., Civil Action No. 17-3102, 2018 WL 2462005 (E.D. Pa. June 1, 2018) Plaintiff, an employee at Defendant’s Hospital for thirty-five years, was terminated from her position as operating room secretary. Plaintiff alleges that her employer terminated her because of her age. Defendant countered and argued that Plaintiff was terminated for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason. Specifically, Defendant alleged that Plaintiff accessed information regarding a co-worker in violation of Defendant’s polices relating to patient privacy and in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”). Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission (“PHRC”). Defendants ultimately moved for summary judgment.

To succeed on an age discrimination claim based on disparate impact, a plaintiff must demonstrate that age “was the ‘but-for’ cause of the employer’s adverse decision.” In age discrimination cases, it is not sufficient to simply show that age was “a motivating factor” in the adverse employment action. Rather, a plaintiff must demonstrate that age was a determinative factor or “the ‘but for’ cause of the employers adverse decision.” Age discrimination may be established by direct or indirect evidence. Regardless of the method of proof, “the plaintiff retains the burden of persuasion to establish that age was the ‘but-for’ cause of the employer’s adverse actions. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination in ADEA cases, the plaintiff must show (1) that the plaintiff was forty years of age or older; (2) that the defendant took an adverse employment action against the plaintiff; (3) that the plaintiff was qualified for the position in question; and (4) that the plaintiff was ultimately replaced by another employee who was sufficiently younger to support an inference of discriminatory animus. Plaintiff successfully established a prima facie case of age discrimination.

Accordingly, the burden shifted to Defendant to produce a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for termination. Defendant then produced the evidence that Plaintiff twice accessed information regarding a co-worker in violation of Defendant’s polices relating to patient privacy and in violation of the HIPAA. Therefore, the burden went back to Plaintiff to establish the proffered reason was merely pretext.

Plaintiff did not challenge the allegation that she accessed information regarding co-workers. Rather, she argued that a factfinder could disbelieve Defendants’ articulated legitimate reason for terminating her because her “two business-related data accesses absolutely do not fall into the categories of conduct required for termination.” The Court ultimately ruled that Plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the proffered reason for her termination were pre-textual and that Defendants were entitled to summary judgment.

For more information, call our employment discrimination lawyers in Philadelphia at the Law Offices of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.

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Third Circuit Splits from Other Circuit Courts in Age Discrimination Suit

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On January 10, 2017, the Third Circuit ruled in favor of a group of fired employees (“Employees”) over age 50 in an age discrimination suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”).  Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC, 849 F.3d 61 (3d Cir. 2017). The Employees sued Pittsburgh Glass Works LLC (“Employer”) claiming that a layoff of 100 workers disproportionately affected employees who were 50 and over. The lower court refused to allow evidence from Employees relating to the disparate impact of a subgroup of those 50 and over because it did not establish any discriminatory effect on the entire class of workers, those 40 and over, and thus was counterproductive to a claim under the ADEA. The Third Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling and found in favor of Employees thus splitting from other circuit courts, which have found that disparate treatment of employees within the protected class is not a viable claim under the ADEA.

The Third Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision because it viewed the practical implications of the case differently, and, more importantly, it had a different interpretation of the text of the ADEA. First, the Court interpreted the ADEA as prohibiting discrimination based on an employee’s age, not on the employee being a member of the protected class of people aged 40 or older. This finding is contrary to the other circuit courts which focused on the ADEA’s protection of a protected class of people aged 40 or older, not the protection of variably aged individuals within that protected class. Second, the Third Circuit found that preventing the protection of individuals within the protected class merely due to policy reasons, such as employer liability, is equivalent to trying to amend the ADEA. Further, the Court asserted that its opinion reflects the desires of Congress as clearly stated in the text of the ADEA to protect those aged 40 and older from age discrimination by employers.

For more information, call our employment discrimination lawyers in Philadelphia at The Law Offices of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.

Eastern District of PA Reinforces Elements of Racial Discrimination Claim against Employer

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The Eastern District of Pennsylvania maintained and emphasized the requisite elements to sustain a claim for racial discrimination by an employee against their former employer. Jordan v. Staffing Plus, Inc., No. CV 17-4020, 2018 WL 3046612, at *1 (E.D. Pa. June 20, 2018). Plaintiff Dominique Jordan (“Jordan”) brought a claim for racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 after he was terminated by his former employer Staffing Plus, Inc. At some point while still an employee of Staffing Plus, Jordan was arrested and faced charges that were later dropped. However after being arrested, several local news media outlets began reporting on the arrest. Jordan alleged that Staffing Plus made no investigation into the veracity of the allegations and proceeded to terminate his employment based on the news coverage. In his statement, Jordan claimed that he would not have been fired under similar circumstances if he were “pale skinned or Caucasi[a]n” and was terminated because he was “black.”

Staffing Plus filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. To sustain a claim for racial discrimination a party must plead facts to support the elements that (1) the plaintiff is a member of a racial minority (2) there was intent to discriminate on the basis of race by the defendant and (3) discrimination concerning one or more of the activities enumerated in the statute, which includes the right to make and enforce contracts. The Court granted Staffing Plus’s Motion for Summary Judgment because Jordan alleged no facts to support the second and third elements of a racial discrimination claim. The Court pointed to the complete lack of factual allegations regarding any pattern of racial derogatory statements or discriminatory comments made by Staffing Plus. Jordan did not allege that any other contractors of different races were treated more favorably after being arrested or being subjected to negative media coverage. The Court found that Jordan relied “solely on his own bare assertions” and courts have consistently held that “such bare assertions of subjective belief are insufficient to establish an inference of discrimination.” In civil rights cases a court is required to give a party an opportunity to amend their claim after dismissal, but because Plaintiff’s claim had already been dismissed and amended, the Court did not grant further leave to amend.

For more information, call our employment discrimination lawyers in Philadelphia at the Law Offices of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.

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Eastern District of PA Upholds Employment Claim Release in Severance Agreement

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On May 9, 2018 the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment against an employee who brought race and age discrimination claims against her former employer after she signed a release of claims in her severance agreement. Warren v. Mastery Charter Sch., No. CV 17-4782, 2018 WL 2129505, at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 9, 2018). Plaintiff was a social worker in her forties with a master’s degree who worked for Mastery Charter Schools from 2011 through 2016. Her contracts with her employer were year to year and were typically renewed at the end of each year. In spite of consistently positive performance reviews over her first several years working for her employer, at the end of the 2016 school year Mastery chose not to renew Plaintiff’s contract based on allegations of poor performance and communication issues. The day before Plaintiff’s final day of work, Mastery offered her a severance agreement which also contained a release and waiver of any and all employment claims for her to review. The agreement offered significant benefits—including four weeks of additional pay—that it would otherwise not have been available to Plaintiff. Further Plaintiff was offered twenty one days to review and consider the offer, as well as the opportunity to revoke the agreement within seven days if she so chose. The agreement suggested in three different locations that Plaintiff consult with an attorney about the terms and frequently used bold lettering to indicate that the agreement should be carefully read.

Plaintiff alleged that her deteriorating relationship with Mastery had caused her significant stress, depression, and anxiety. Plaintiff alleged that her growing emotional distress caused her to fear if she did not accept the agreement that Mastery would seek to interfere and prevent her future employment elsewhere. Plaintiff signed the agreement on the twenty first day, claiming she felt she had no choice but to sign. Plaintiff then filed a complaint against Mastery for employment discrimination based on age and race on October 25, 2017.

The Court relied on the rule that an employee may release employment discrimination claims against an employer so long as the release is made “knowingly and willfully.” Coventry v. U.S. Steel Corp., 856 F.2d 514, 522 (3d Cir. 1988). The Court relied on precedent to establish that although the Plaintiff may have been undergoing stress it did not negate her knowing and willful agreement to the release and waiver. Further the Court found that the agreement itself was written in a manner calculated to be understood and was sufficiently clear for the Plaintiff to understand what she was agreeing to in signing the release. The Court held that the presence of some legal jargon and long sentences was not sufficient basis to claim the release was not in a manner calculated to be understood. The Court therefore granted summary judgment in favor of Mastery and upheld the validity of the release.

For more information, call our Philadelphia employment lawyers at the Law Offices of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.

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Third Circuit Affirms Denial of Injunction Blocking Transgender Bathroom Policy

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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction that would prohibit a school district from continuing its practice of allowing transgender students to use the bathroom and locker rooms of the sex by which they identify. Doe by & through Doe v. Boyertown Area Sch. Dist., No. 17-3113, 2018 WL 2355999, at *1 (3d Cir. May 24, 2018). The claim was brought by parents of several cisgender students who claimed that such policy of the Boyertown Area School District violated their Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy, their right to access to educational opportunities, programs, and benefits, and their Pennsylvania common law right to privacy preventing intrusion while using bathrooms and locker rooms. Doe by & through Doe v. Boyertown Area Sch. Dist., 276 F. Supp. 3d 324 (E.D. Pa. 2017), aff’d, No. 17-3113, 2018 WL 2355999 (3d Cir. May 24, 2018). The policy had been implemented since the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year, the plaintiffs sought the school district return to the prior policy requiring students to use any private facilities associated with their biological sex assigned at birth.

After reviewing the testimony of the students whose parents brought the complaint, testimony from a transgender student at the Boyertown Area Senior High School, and testimony from Dr. Scott Leibowitz, an expert in gender dysphoria and gender identity issues in children and adolescents, the trial court denied the motion for preliminary injunction. The court concluded that the plaintiff students “did not have a constitutional right not to share restrooms or locker rooms with transgender students whose sex assigned at birth is different than theirs.” Much of the emphasis by the court was predicated on the fact that the plaintiffs, if they were uncomfortable sharing private facilities under the policy, could have used private stalls or an alternative facility like the nurse’s office.

The plaintiffs failed to meet the “particularly heavy burden” of showing they were entitled to the preliminary injunction as they did not seek a return to the status quo but a change in a policy that stood for a year.  Further the plaintiffs had not sufficiently shown that they were likely to suffer “irreparable injury” if the injunction was not issued as the policy had been around for almost a year when they filed their complaint. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the preliminary injunction “for the reasons that the Court explained in its exceptionally well reasoned Opinion”. Doe by & through Doe v. Boyertown Area Sch. Dist., No. 17-3113, 2018 WL 2355999, at *1 (3d Cir. May 24, 2018).

For more information, call our employment lawyers in Philadelphia at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or contact us online.

Court Defines Supervisor Under Title VII

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently issued a precedential opinion interpreting what it means to be a supervisor in a hostile work environment case. The Court found that a supervisor is someone who controls a sizeable amount of the hours employees work, and/or someone who determines whether employees will be assigned work.

Moody v. Atlantic City Board of Education

Employee Michelle Moody was hired by the Atlantic City Board of Education (BOE) to serve as a substitute custodian in 2011. Moody alleged that she was unhappy with the unsteady nature of her employment, as she was only gainfully employed when the primary custodian could not work. She wanted to work more hours and raised her concerns with a member of the BOE, who suggested that she speak to the custodial foremen of different districts. The BOE member told her that these foremen were responsible for delegating authority to select which substitute custodian would fill in at schools in their respective districts.

Moody then contacted 10 foremen from different school districts, including one named Maurice Marshall. Marshall allegedly began harassing Moody immediately after she started work. According to the Court’s opinion, he allegedly suggested that he would give her more work if she performed sexual favors for him. After a litany of disturbing incidents, including explicit text messages, unwanted sexual contact, and unwanted visits to her home, Moody succumbed to Marshall’s unwanted advances. Although she never received more work hours, after reporting Marshall, her work hours steadily declined.

Determining the Meaning of Supervisor

Moody filed a claim in the District of New Jersey, which was ultimately dismissed on grounds that Marshall was not her supervisor, and that she suffered no tangible adverse employment action. The Third Circuit reversed that decision after an extensive review of Marshall’s role in assigning work to other employees. The Court examined a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that interpreted the term of supervisor. Ultimately, the Third Circuit determined that Marshall had the power to decide whether Moody worked at all and had authority to set her hours, falling under the Supreme Court’s definition of a supervisor. The court also found that during the times Moody was chosen to fill in at Marshall’s school, he was her immediate supervisor.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Handle All Types of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Employment Claims

If you have suffered adverse employment action due to sexual harassment or discrimination, you may be entitled to compensation. To arrange a consultation with one of our Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C., call us today at 215-574-0600, or contact us online.

Eastern District of Pennsylvania Rules Against Plaintiff’s Claim that Arbitration Clause is Unconscionable

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In Curtis v. Cintas Corporation, Plaintiff was terminated by her employer and she asserted claims for racial discrimination and retaliation.  229 F.Supp.3d 312, 315 (E.D. Pa. 2017).  Although Plaintiff sought to litigate her case in court, Defendant moved to dismiss her claims, and in the alternative, stay proceedings pending arbitration, as Defendant claimed that Plaintiff’s employment agreement contained an arbitration clause. In response, Plaintiff asserted that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and therefore, invalid and unenforceable.

Under Pennsylvania law, to prove a claim of unconscionability, a plaintiff must prove that the contract was both substantively and procedurally unconscionable. Substantive unconscionability occurs when the contractual terms are unreasonable or grossly favorable to one side, which the disfavored party does not assent to.  In this case, Plaintiff asserted that Defendant is inherently favored because the employer pays the costs for arbitration.  However, the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania pointed to case law stating that limiting costs to one party does not support a finding of substantive unconscionability. Procedural unconscionability pertains to the process in which an agreement is reached, but the form of the agreement is unclear.  Here, Plaintiff claimed that the agreement was procedurally unconscionable because she signed only on the last page, and that page did not contain an arbitration clause.  However, the Court explained that there is no requirement in Pennsylvania to affix a signature to each section or page of an agreement to manifest an in intent to be bound by the terms.

For more information, call our employment lawyers in Philadelphia at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or contact us online.

E.D.P.A. Overrules Motion to Dismiss

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Claims Plaintiff Alleged Sufficient Facts Demonstrating Pervasive Sexual Harassment

A claim for sexual harassment can be established by proving a hostile or abusive work environment. To prove such a claim, a plaintiff must establish: “(1) she suffered intentional discrimination because of her sex; (2) the discrimination was pervasive and regular; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff; (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same sex in that position; and (5) the existence of respondeat superior liability[, where an employer is liable for an employee’s negligent actions or omissions that occur during the course of the employee’s employment].” Hawk v. Americold Logistics, LLC, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3445, at *12 (E.D. Pa. 2003).

The trial judge considers the totality of the circumstances when considering a sexual harassment claim. The judge will consider factors such as, the frequency of the harassment, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, whether it unreasonably interferes with employee’s work performance, and its effect on the employee’s psychological well-being. For instance, in Hawk, the judge took into consideration that the harassment occurred every day in the form of unwelcome phone calls to the employee, that the harassment was severe by being physically grabbed and shoved against a wall, the employee was humiliated in the sense that she was followed by the harasser around the workplace and was constantly interrupted when conversing with other men co-workers by the harasser, and the employee was emotionally distraught when discussing her harasser during an interview with her employer. The Pennsylvania Eastern District Court found that a jury could “certainly” find that the employee was harassed and that it would detrimentally affect a reasonable person in the same position, denying a motion to dismiss.

For more information, call our sexual harassment lawyers in Philadelphia at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.

Separate Companies can be Joint Employer

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For Purposes of Title VII and §1981 Claims

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a Motion to Dismiss because Plaintiff had pled sufficient facts to show that Defendant companies could be “joint employer[s]” or a “single employer.” Anderson v. Finley Catering Co., 218 F. Supp. 3d 417, 423 (E.D. PA. 2016).

Plaintiff alleges “race discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims against both Defendants pursuant to Title VII and § 1981.” In Anderson, Plaintiff was the only African American male who worked full time as a cook in Defendants’ catering business. Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that the management at the catering business made racial jokes and remarks about Plaintiff and gave Plaintiff more undesirable work than they did to other employees who were not African American. After Plaintiff complained to the management about the racial discrimination, some people from the management “called Plaintiff a “snitch” and warned him that he needed to watch what he said.” Following Plaintiff’s complaint, management cut Plaintiff’s hours from 40 to 3 hours per week. After Plaintiff filed for unemployment compensation benefits, management demoted Plaintiff from his position as a cook to dishwasher. Further, following this demotion, management failed to place Plaintiff on a work schedule.

The Court denied dismissal of the case. Defendants argued that the case should be dismissed because Plaintiff’s employer was Union Trust and there was not “sufficient facts” to make the claim that Finely Catering was “liable under either a “joint employer” or “single employer” theory.”  The Court held that the Plaintiff has pled “sufficient facts” at this step in proceedings that “Finley Catering and Union Trust are both owned by Steve Finley, share common management and operations, and have centralized control of labor relations and common financial controls.” Therefore, the Court can “reasonabl[y] infer” that the companies are “either joint employers or a single employer.”

For more information, call our Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.