Articles Posted in Discrimination

Austin Campbell

Austin Campbell

Many employees may be unsure what to do if they discover they have been treated unlawfully by their employer.  Going straight into a lawsuit can be a scary step, and is not always the right one.  If you thought “there must be some government agency that can investigate and fix what happened,” often you would be right.  However, that is not always the case, and sometimes the existence of that agency can complicate things.  This article gives a basic overview of the “exhaustion of administrative remedies,” so that if you find yourself in that situation, you might know to avoid some pitfalls in the law and take advantage of opportunities to right how you were wronged.  

Not all employment laws are created equal.  Some, like the laws that prohibit things like sex, race, or age discrimination, are “administered” by agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Texas Workforce Commission—Civil Rights Division (for equivalent Texas laws).  That means that you can file a complaint with those agencies to be investigated and (ideally) resolved before any lawsuit needs to be filed.  Similarly, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration administers OSH Act retaliation claims, the Department of Labor administers unpaid overtime claims, and the National Labor Relations Board administers claims (like for anti-union activities) under the National Labor Relations Act.  There are lots of agencies like those.    

Top10Blog-PostMost Federal employees enjoy an entire administrative regime dedicated to vindicating their unique rights. Out of this regime there are three big enforcement mechanisms that come to mind: Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) offices, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). These three agencies are often entangled together, but each of them is dedicated in some way to addressing PPPs or prohibited personnel practices. A PPP is exactly what the name implies: certain practices in a Federal workplace that are unallowed under the law. The law lists out about 14 things which qualify as “prohibited.” It is important to note, however, that not all Federal employees can find relief through reporting these practices. Employees of local or state governments, uniformed military members, people who work in Congress or for the courts, United States Postal Service employees (except in specific situations), and finally employees of the FBI and CIA are not covered. The list of who is not covered is more expansive, than what is listed above, but those are the ones that may be the most relevant to the general body of Federal employees. To get a better idea of what the different PPPs are and how they would function, below are brief illustrations of the main PPPs using Official, an agency official in a supervisory capacity, C a favored employee, and D a non-favored employee.

First, there is a PPP that prohibits discrimination based on protected characteristics under federal law. This PPP tracks Title VII for the most part, but also adds in marital status and political affiliation to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability. Discrimination PPPs are handled primarily through a Federal agency’s EEO office, but the Office of Special Counsel may step in if the discrimination is based on marital status or political affiliation. Adversity based on political affiliation is also covered in a different PPP. For example, if Official attempted to influence D to hand out flyers for a specific political candidate or decided not to promote D because she refused to hand out flyers, it would be considered a separate PPP from discrimination based on political affiliation. 

There are also four PPPs that have to do with violations of the merit systems that civil service is based off of. Things like considering a recommendation that was made by someone else outside of the agency. For example, if Official heard from Friend that C would be a good fit for the job and hires C based off of what Friend told him and not through his personal assessment – it is considered a PPP. Likewise if Official decided to give D an artificially low rating so that she would not be eligible for promotion, the Official would be considered to be “obstructing competition.” Official would also commit a PPP if he approached D and told her she should not apply for the promotion to remove her from competition because Official knew C was applying for the same job. In that same vein, Official could also not change the requirements for that promotion to give C an unauthorized advantage. Finally, if Official’s daughter were to apply to a position in his agency, Official could not hire her because she’s his daughter. This would also apply if Official called up his friend at another agency and attempted to influence the other agency to hire his daughter. 

rasha-zeyadehSexual harassment in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. It has always been an issue. In light of the #Metoo movement, employees nationwide are more willing to publicly condemn their harassers and hold employers accountable for their inaction. As Valentine’s Day approaches, this blog will highlight various examples of sexual harassment in the workplace, and explore behaviors that, while inappropriate, do not rise to the level of sexual harassment.  

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC guidelines define sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • • Submission to such conduct is a term or condition of an individual’s employment. 
  • • Submission or rejection of the conduct is a basis for employment decisions.
  • • Conduct of a sexual nature has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with work performance.
  • • Conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. 

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deontae-wherryBy all accounts, we can agree that the year 2020 was unconventional in every way. We were forced to live our lives in ways that many of us never imagined. And when we thought things were going to get better, it seems things only got worse. As we enter into the new year, it is our hope that our best days are ahead of us with the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine (“vaccine”). 

No one knows how long it will be before everyone is vaccinated or even if the rushed vaccine will work. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, while Americans’ confidence in the vaccine is increasing, many groups remain hesitant about getting vaccinated. It is becoming clear that whether we want the vaccine or not, employers are going to have a critical role in the administration of the vaccine.  This article discusses employees’ rights as it relates to employer-mandate vaccinations. 

On December 16, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) published its guidance related to workplaces requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. This guidance helps us better understand what we can expect in the days and months ahead. Nevertheless, employers must not violate employment laws in mandating or administrating the vaccine. 

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deontae-wherryOne of the greatest benefits of our nation’s growth is the diversity that comes with growth. It is undisputable that more and more individuals are calling America home. As a result, the workplace is becoming more diverse and more employees are speaking other languages than English. According to the Center for Immigration Studies (“CIS”), more than 67.3 million residents in the United States now speak a language other English at home. CIS found that this number more than doubled since the 1990s. Texas ranks among the leading states that has a large share of residents speaking a foreign language at home. I expect these numbers to continue to increase exponentially in the decades to come. 

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Most of the time, if an employee decides to talk to an employment attorney it is because they have been fired.  And even if reinstatement to the employee’s old job is a possibility, often when they were fired for an illegal reason they are understandably afraid of returning to the lion’s den to face retaliation.  But if you are an employee who was fired for an illegal reason and do not feel safe returning to that same employer (or your employer just refuses to take you back), it is critically important that you keep in mind your “duty to mitigate.”  This article explores some key points of that means, why it is important, and what you can do to fulfill that dutyaustin-campbell

The point of any employment lawsuit is ultimately “restorative,” to put the employee in the same place they would have been but for the illegal actions of their employer.  If feasible, that includes reinstating them to the position they lost.  But reinstatement is not always feasible, and it alone does not always fully compensate an employee for what they lost.  So, one major thing that most employment lawsuits usually ask for is compensation for lost wages (“backpay”) through the time of trial.  However, courts will not allow an employee to artificially increase what they can get out of a lawsuit by tactically increasing what the employee has lost.  Instead, courts impose a “duty to mitigate,” which means a fired employee who is asking for backpay in a lawsuit must make reasonable efforts to find and keep comparable employment.

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deontae-wherryHave you ever wondered about what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) actually does? You are not alone. Every week, I speak to my clients or potential clients about the EEOC’s role in employment disputes. This article briefly explains the EEOC process, common questions, and why you may want to hire an employment attorney to assist you through the EEOC process.

What is the EEOC?

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Like many, I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss following the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Not only did she establish herself as a champion of equal rights for all, but she lived the fight herself. Smart, accomplished, and determined, she chose law school at a time when women were not welcome. During law school, she found herself often demeaned and unappreciated, being asked by the dean himself how she justified taking a seat that could have gone to a man. She would ultimately rise to the highest level of American law, the United States Supreme Court. Among its nine members, there are few who have served with so much distinction.

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rasha-zeyadehIf the events of the past few months have shown us anything, it’s that Black Lives Matter, words matter, and actions must have consequences. Both spoken and in writing, the language we use has the power to inspire, unite, offend, and divide. Sometimes, the use of seemingly harmless words, or the absence of words altogether, can have an everlasting impact.

This week, I gave an hour-long presentation to HR personnel about the negative impacts of implicit bias in the workplace and how to spot and eliminate such bias. Even so, I’d be remiss to believe that implicit bias will no longer exist simply because I spoke to a group of folks for about an hour.

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deontae-wherryThe biggest step is usually the first step. I am glad that you have taken the first step by scheduling an initial consultation to discuss your employment case. If you have not scheduled an initial consultation, I hope you do it soon.

Many of my clients have never had to meet with an employment attorney, so my goal is to make each client feel as comfortable as possible when meeting with me. You should not be scared about having to meet with an employment attorney. I can assure you, you have likely made the right decision.

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