A former maintenance mechanic for East Penn Manufacturing Co. filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that he was wrongfully terminated after allegedly damaging a laptop computer that belonged to the company. The employee attempted to establish a connection between his termination and a previous work-related injury, suggesting that he was discriminated against for the disabling injury. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, there was insufficient evidence to establish a link between his termination and the injury.
After injuring his left knee in a work-related injury in 2012, the plaintiff underwent surgery to fix the problem. He was out of work and on disability leave for approximately eight months. He received Workers’ Compensation benefits during this time. He started to experience pain in the same knee in 2013, and submitted a claim for Workers’ Compensation benefits, but his claim was denied. After undergoing a second surgery in 2014, he was out of work again for several months. When he recovered, he was able to return to his position and collect the same salary.
According to the plaintiff, when he returned to work, he was disciplined for taking too much time off after the second surgery. A personnel director at East Penn scheduled a disciplinary meeting and explained the company’s policy regarding sick days and absences. Several months later, he was accused of throwing an object, which damaged a company-owned laptop. A personnel director confronted him about the incident, but he denied it. He was suspended pending an investigation, and ultimately fired.
The District Court ruled that no reasonable jury would find a link between the plaintiff’s firing and his workplace injury. However, the plaintiff argued that he presented enough evidence to support the claim that he was fired because of his injury, and that the district court set too high a standard for proving a prima facie case.
Earlier this month, the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment. According to the Third Circuit, East Penn had a legitimate reason for terminating the plaintiff, who failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his claim. The company had a written statement from another East Penn employee who witnessed the plaintiff throw the object that damaged the laptop computer. The Court ruled that summary judgment, based on the lack of causal link, was appropriate.
Philadelphia Business Lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Clients in Wrongful Termination Cases
An executive at Teva Pharmaceuticals was recently awarded $6 million by a federal jury in a discrimination lawsuit. The plaintiff was a senior director for the Israeli-based company and had worked for the company since 2001. He was fired from the company in 2016, when he was 58 years old. He alleged that he was wrongfully terminated because of his age and national origin.
Details of the lawsuit allege that the plaintiff’s supervisor had a history of making anti-American comments. For example, he stated that the United States did a poor job of providing adequate military support to Israel in the conflict with the Middle East. According to the plaintiff, the Israeli supervisors did not provide American employees with information when it was requested, and they told him that hiring decisions were made based on employees’ ages. In addition, the Israeli supervisors regularly requested additional data about American employees.
In response to the perceived unfair treatment, a group of American employees filed a report alleging cultural bias. The plaintiff also stated that the Israeli supervisors micromanaged the American employees. After reviewing the report, the higher-ups at the company terminated the plaintiff for deficient performance, even though he had never received a negative performance review in his tenure with the company.
The company made a request for a summary judgment, but the request was denied as the Pennsylvania federal trial court found that there was enough evidence to send the case to trial. Employers can claim reverse discrimination or prevent a discrimination claim if they can provide accurate reasons for the employment decisions that they made, including detailed documentation for their decision-making process.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Employees in Discrimination Cases
If your employee rights have been violated or you have been discriminated against by another employee, you are urged to contact the Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. We will review the details of your case and recommend the best legal course of action. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. Our offices are conveniently located in Philadelphia, where we serve clients throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority made a ruling that will likely have a considerable impact on employee rights in this country. In the case of Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, the court’s 5-4 decision brings attention to the issue of whether a company can require its employees to settle employment disputes through individual arbitration, rather than allowing them to combine their collective efforts to protest complaints including job discrimination, wage and hour disputes, and sexual harassment. The decision, which ruled in favor of employer, Epic Systems Corp., expands on a previous Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to avoid class-action lawsuits by enforcing contracts that require individual arbitration.
In making its decision, the Court had to interpret the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). According to the FAA, federal courts must enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms, including those that provide for individualized proceedings. The NLRA states that it is illegal for any contract to deny an employee the right to form or participate in labor organizations, to bargain collectively, or to engage in certain activities for the purpose of collective bargaining, or “mutual aid and protection.” The court had to decide whether the no-group-arbitration clause provides adequate grounds to prohibit employees from pursuing individual arbitration.
The Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, ignited a debate among the liberal and conservative Justices, particularly Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who described the decision as destructive to employee rights because it would prevent employees from unionizing. In his majority opinion, Gorsuch wrote that federal courts were instructed by Congress to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms. Gorsuch also commented that Ginsberg’s objections are to policy, and those decisions are made by policymakers in those political branches. Gorsuch acknowledged that the FAA had a saving clause that urged courts to refrain from enforcing arbitration agreements that were illegal. However, the Court ruled that the FAA makes individual arbitration agreements enforceable and that the saving clause does not override the outcome.
Impact of Court’s Decision
There are millions of Americans whose employee contracts require individual arbitration over collective actions. Some argue this decision may allow employers to be less accountable to their employees. They also say it will make employees less likely to voice their concerns due to the high cost and significant amount of time and effort associated with individual arbitration. In her dissenting decision, Justice Ginsburg opined that a Congressional correction was needed in order to overturn the majority decision and protect employees. In addition to wage-related issues, this would also impact how sexual harassment in the workplace would be handled. Others believe that the decision will benefit employees because there will be an added incentive to ensure that there are fair arbitration agreements. In addition, arbitration is typically less costly than pursuing a case in court.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Guide Clients in Employment-Related Disputes
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission recently released new guidelines for handling discrimination complaints based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The Commission expanded its legal definition of “sex” to include not only the individual’s biological sex, but also his or her sexual orientation, gender expression, gender transition, and gender identity. As a result, LGBTQ Pennsylvanians may now file civil complaints with the Commission if they believe that they have been denied employment, education, housing opportunities, or public accommodations on the basis that identify as LGBTQ.
More Comprehensive Legislation Needed
While this change is an important step for LGBTQ rights, it does not take the place of comprehensive, state-wide legislation, according to the advocacy group, Equality PA. Since the 1990s when the laws were updated, the General Assembly declined to change the laws on several occasions. Local municipalities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have passed ordinances that help to add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes. However, a proposal in Harrisburg may jeopardize those laws.
Many people already assumed that protections were in place, so the updated guidelines bring the law in line with protections that people thought already existed. Prior to the updated guidelines, Pennsylvanians who wanted to pursue legal action against an employer for discrimination had to file a Title VII lawsuit against their employer. However, unlike those listed in the Human Relations Act, anti-discrimination protections under Title VII do not apply to retail stores, restaurants, and other public accommodations.
The Commission received thousands of comments from Pennsylvania residents, ranging from concerns over religious liberty to claiming that the proposal would expose women and children to sexual assaults in public restrooms. The Commission stated that the Religious Freedom Protection Act prohibits governments from placing a significant burden on the “free exercise of religion,” and the law does not apply to private businesses. Burden is defined as a government action that results in the following:
Constrains or inhibits conduct or expression mandated by a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs
Curtails a person’s ability to express adherence to that person’s religious faith
Denies a person a reasonable opportunity to engage in those activities that are fundamental to that person’s religion
Compels conduct or expression that violates a mandatory tenet of a person’s religious faith
Philadelphia Business Lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Handle Claims Involving LGBTQ Discrimination
In an age discrimination case against the defendants, Abbott Laboratories and Abbot Laboratories Supervisor Kim Perez, a jury found in favor of the plaintiff, Luz Gonzalez-Bermudez, a former national sales manager who worked out of the company’s Puerto Rico office. The employee claimed she had been demoted, and her pay later cut, after a corporate reorganization in 2010.
Based on the evidence presented in court, the jury found that the defendants discriminated against the employee based on her age. As a result, the plaintiff was awarded $8 million in damages.
In 2016, the jury awarded the plaintiff $3 million from Abbott and $1 million from her supervisor in retaliation for age bias. However, under the applicable provisions of federal and local age bias laws, the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico doubled the awards, bringing the total awards to $6 million against Abbott Laboratories and $2 million against the plaintiff’s supervisor.
Other Employee Demotions and Abbott’s Willful Conduct
According to the Court, the defendants waived their right to challenge the finding that Abbott’s conduct was willful, because they failed to raise the issue earlier in the case. If the defendants had done so, they may have been able to convince the jury that other employees were also demoted during the same time period, two of whom were younger than the plaintiff.
However, while the plaintiff and two other employees were bumped to lower pay grades, the plaintiff was the only one whose pay was reduced a third time. This brought her salary lower than what she agreed to accept as part of the reorganization.
The two other employees, who were 12 and 9 years younger than her, continued to be paid within the level that they accepted.
The Court also found that the plaintiff’s new position involved a great deal of responsibilities without help from any of the 28 employees who she managed in her previous position. She also had a track record of positive performance reviews before the reorganization.
In her new position, the plaintiff received a poor performance rating, which was orchestrated by her supervisor. Additional evidence suggested that the plaintiff was demoted, denied promotions, and given unfairly negative reviews as retaliation after complaining about age discrimination.
As a result, the Court declined to overrule the jury. The jury also awarded the plaintiff $250,000 in back pay.
The defendants subsequently filed motions for a new trial, reduced damages, or to alter or amend the judgment are still pending.
Philadelphia Employment Discrimination Lawyers at the Law office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Victims of Age Discrimination
If you or someone you know has been discriminated against due to your age, it is in your best interest to contact the Philadelphia employment discrimination lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. We will protect your rights and secure that maximum financial compensation you deserve. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. Our offices are conveniently located in Philadelphia, where we serve clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.
Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that wrongfully terminated whistleblowers can recover non-economic damages. Bailets v. Pa. Tpk. Comm’n., 2018 Pa. LEXIS 1498 (2018). Bailets centered around a whistleblower claim made by a manager of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) alleging that they fired him in retaliation for reporting wrongdoings and waste to his supervisors. The lower court found in Plaintiff’s favor and awarded economic and noneconomic damages totaling over $3 million. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision and award of economic and non-economic damages.
This issue centered on whether the term “actual damages” in Section 125 of the Whistleblower Law should be narrowly or broadly interpreted to include non-economic damages. PTC argued that actual damages refer solely to economic damages because allowance of non-economic damages would be analogous to punitive damages. PTC also argued that exceptions to the Commonwealth’s immunity should be narrowly interpreted and thus non-economic damages should not be read into “actual damages.” The employee argued that actual damages include non-economic damages because the law’s purpose is remedial and serves to compel government compliance to the law. In addition, the employee argued that there is a long precedent in Pennsylvania that actual damages are equivalent to economic and non-economic damages. Furthermore, the employee argues that not awarding non-economic damages “would undermine the very purpose of the law to protect and encourage employee reporters of waste and wrongdoing.”
The Court approached this as an issue of statutory interpretation and held that the law must be liberally construed to allow non-economic damages, thus fulfilling the remedial purpose of the Whistleblower Law. Furthermore, the Court found that reading “actual damages” as solely economic damages would be superfluous considering the statute’s inclusion of different types of economic damages under the allowed types of recovery. The Court agreed with the employee that Pennsylvania’s precedence historically supports the finding that actual damages includes non-economic damages. The Court stressed that the state must allow recovery for non-economic harms such as humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish in order to make Plaintiff whole.. Going forward, Bailets is significant in that it will open the door for more claims under the Whistleblower Law and allow for a greater recovery for successful claimants.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Ferraro v. Temple University held that Plaintiff failed to show that the legitimate reasons for employee’s termination were pretext for any discriminatory motive. 185 A.3d 396 (Pa. Super. 2018). Plaintiff worked as a manager of patient accounting and was fired at the age of sixty-two for violating another, much younger, employee’s FMLA rights and issuing the same employee an improper citation.
In order to succeed under a claim for age discrimination, Plaintiff had to establish: (1) she belonged to a protected class (at least 40 years old); (2) was qualified for the position; (3) was dismissed despite being qualified; and (4) suffered dismissal under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Plaintiff argues that the younger employee was given preferential treatment and that she was terminated because of her age. The Court agreed that Plaintiff had established the four elements for age discrimination, but nonetheless ruled in favor of Temple because Plaintiff failed to establish that Temple had terminated her due to her age and not for any other legitimate reason such as her leaving work early to care for her young child. Plaintiff, although the trial court did not find Temple’s reasons credible, did not prove the termination was done in a discriminatory manner.
On March 20, 2018, Plaintiff Haabiyl Mims filed a Complaint alleging retaliatory discharge under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA § 15 (a)(3)), Defamation and Defamation Per Se, and Wrongful Termination by Defendants New Age Protection Inc. and Tamisha Thorogood Haabiyl Mims v. New Age Protection, Inc., Civ. Action No. 18-CV-1185, 2018 WL 5829340 (E.D. Pa. 2018). After 5 years working at his former employer, Defendant New Age Protection, Inc., a security corporation, Mims was terminated in March 2017. The given reason was that it appeared as if Mims falsified his timesheet to get paid for time he did not work. This termination was made 8 months after Mims received thousands of dollars in back taxes when New Age was investigated by the Department of Labor. Mims then brought suit, alleging retaliation by his former company.
The Court reviewed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to see if Mim’s termination was lawful. In Pennsylvania, courts looks at three necessary elements to establish a prima facie case of retaliation under the FLSA, “(1) the plaintiff engaged in protected activity, (2) the employer took an adverse employment action against him, and (3) there was a causal link between the plaintiff’s protected action and the employer’s adverse action.” Scholly v. JMK Plastering, Inc., No. 07–4998, 2008 WL 2579729, at *3 (E.D. Pa. June 25, 2008) (citing Preobrazhenskaya v. Mercy Hall Infirmary, 2003 WL 21877711 (3d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted)). Mims insisted that his former manager and employer knew of his participation in the DOL investigation and fired him because of it. The Court looked at the Mims’ Complaint and saw that he had no proof that his company or manager knew he took part in the investigation. The Court pointed out that even if his employer knew the eight month gap is too far between to establish a clear connection timewise. The Court also focused on the two promotions that Mims received during his time at the company so they concluded there was no animosity at all. Thus, the Court found that Mims termination did not violate the FLSA.
The Court then moved onto Mims’ allegation of defamation. In Pennsylvania, a A plaintiff must establish: (1) The defamatory character of the communication. (2) Its publication by the defendant. (3) Its application to the plaintiff. (4) The understanding by the recipient of its defamatory meaning. (5) The understanding by the recipient of it as intended to be applied to the plaintiff. A statement is defamatory “if it tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from association or dealing with him.”
The Court looked at one of the emails that seemed to impute that Mims engaged in criminal and/or improper conduct punishable by either imprisonment or judicial sanction to all employees of the company. The company tried to defend itself by asserting that the email was sent out to only certain privileged people at the company who needed to know that Mims was terminated and why. The Court ruled that the issue was too contentious to decide without further evidence and allowed Mims to amend his Complaint regarding the defamation claim.
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
More than 200 Google employees have filed a class action lawsuit against the tech giant. They claim the company violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by hiring younger candidates over older, equally qualified individuals. Each of the plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit is 40 years of age or older, which they claim was the reason why they were not hired. Google agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to each of the plaintiffs, but the parties have not yet settled on the non-monetary component of the settlement.
The lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2015, alleged that if an older worker applied for the same position as a similarly qualified younger worker, Google was less likely to hire the older worker based on age. In fact, one plaintiff claimed that she was told to include her graduation date on her resume so that the Google recruiter could determine her approximate age. This is a violation of federal law. According to Google employees, there is also a widely known internal code word, known as “Googleyness,” that is used to describe young employees. Google agreed that the term exists, but that it refers to other factors, like the ability to accept constructive feedback and the ability to be a team player.
Google went on to defend itself by saying that its company handbook addresses age discrimination and the fact that it is against the law to withhold employment to an individual based on age. However, the Court case was more interested in the company’s employment track record than what is written in Google’s handbook.
In addition, the Department of Labor found incidences of “extreme” age discrimination at Google after it conducted its own investigation. This may have been a factor in Google’s decision to settle.
Any employee who feels that he or she has been discriminated against based on age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or any other protected class is urged to contact a reputable employment lawyer. The law protects victims of age discrimination and all other forms of employment discrimination.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Clients in Age Discrimination Cases