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Employment Discrimination Blog

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Employment Rights of Union vs Nonunion Employees

Why does Tom Brady, the football player, have more employment rights than the average American?

The ongoing "deflategate" investigation  has resulted in an as yet unresolved four-game suspension of Tom Brady by the National Football League Commissioner, Roger Goodell.  Many people question why he has the right to challenge his employer's decision when most of us, under parallel circumstances,  do not. The reason is that the vast majority of workers in the United States are not union members, whereas as Tom Brady  belongs to a powerful union.

The gap between the employment rights of union and nonunion workers in this country is a wide one. Where employers of union members must have a good reason ("just cause") to punish or fire their workers, employers of nonunion workers are permitted by law to fire "at-will," meaning on a whim, for no reason at all.

Nonetheless, there are major exceptions to the concept of "at will" penalties or termination . Primary among these is discrimination, which is strictly forbidden in a number of areas. Employees cannot be penalized or fired because of:

  • Race
  • Nationality or ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Disability status

It should be noted, however, that, although gay marriage has recently been legalized in this county, in more than half the states employers are free to fire employees for sexual orientation. Laws supporting such discrimination, however, are  gradually changing as they are being vigorously challenged.

Other limitations on at-will dismissals include the following: employers may not fire workers for union organizing, whistleblowing, jury duty or filing for workers' compensation.

In spite of these restrictions, strange as it seems, it is perfectly legal for an employer to fire a worker for being insubordinate, obsequious, aloof or even overly friendly,  for wearing particular clothing or for sporting a particular hairstyle.

Is "at will" firing policy accepted in other parts of the world?

No, among the industrialized nations, the United States is the only one to have at-will employment laws. In most of the developed world, businesses must have valid reasons for firing an employee. The one state in this country that has dropped the at-will standard is Montana, bringing Montana more in line with typical international policies.

In spite of the relative rigidity of employment laws for nonunion workers in this country, knowledgeable and experienced attorneys can help you  challenge unfair disciplinary actions and firings at the workplace.  The dedicated attorneys at Pankey  & Horlock have a high rate of success in fighting for the  their clients in cases involving discrimination, withholding of overtime pay and other employment violations. If you are facing mistreatment in the workplace anywhere in the state of Georgia,  please get in touch us at 770-670-6250.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Catholic School Being Sued by Homosexual Teacher

Is firing someone due to his or her intention to enter into a same-sex marriage the same as discriminating against him or her for sexual orientation?

An openly gay band teacher at a Catholic school in Georgia was fired from his position in 2014 after announcing that he would enter into a same-sex marriage.  The teacher is claiming that he was discriminated against due to his sexual orientation based on the recent landmark United States Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.  He has brought a civil action against the school in Federal court.

Flint Dollar was hired as a band teacher at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia in April of 2011.  Dollar claims that during the hiring process he revealed to school officials that he was gay and living with his partner.  In May of 2014, Dollar announced to officials that he planned to marry his long-time partner later that year.  Dollar also made this announcement via Facebook.  Several weeks later, he was fired, even though he had just signed a contract for the 2014-2015 school year.

The school based the firing of Dollar on the fact that he intended to enter into a same-sex marriage, which violated the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Dollar claims that he was never aware that he could be fired for a behavior that violated church teaching and that other employees, such as those that are heterosexual and live with their partners prior to marriage, and those that are divorced, had not been fired, even though both activities clearly violate the teachings of the church.

Dollar alleges in his lawsuit that he was discriminated against due to his sexual orientation.  The school maintains that he was fired not due to his sexual orientation, but due to his intention to enter into a same-sex marriage in clear violation of church teaching.  The school cites to its goal of providing an education that is based on church doctrine and the local Diocese and other organizations, such as the Cardinal Newman Society and the Catholic University of America, have come out in support of the schools decision.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against due to your sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic, please contact Pankey & Horlock today.  Our team of Georgia employment discrimination lawyers can be reached at (770)670-6250.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Employee of Georgia Organization Claims Race and Gender Discrimination

As a black female, can I sue my former employer for undermining my work and passing me over to promote a white male?

A Georgia woman who worked for a teacher's advocacy group has filed an employment discrimination lawsuit over her failure to receive a promotion.

Tracey-Ann Nelson, a former lobbyist with the Georgia Association of Educators, alleges that she was a victim of both race and gender discrimination when her then-employer selected a while male, instead of her, to serve as executive director of the organization. 

In her lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Atlanta, Ms. Nelson, who is African-American, says the organization not only passed her over for promotion but also undermined her advocacy efforts on behalf of teachers in the Georgia House of Representatives. She alleges that her ex-employer's president and the new executive director questioned the Georgia House Minority Leader about Nelson’s performance. She believes their conduct adversely affected her effectiveness as a lobbyist.

Nelson left the Georgia Association of Educators and is now Executive Director of the Arkansas Education Association. In her lawsuit, she is seeking back pay, financial damages, and other remuneration.

Without addressing specific allegations, the General Counsel of the Georgia Association of Educators denied Nelson's race and gender discrimination claims. He stated that a racially diverse board of women and men turned down Nelson's application to be executive director. He also said the organization would vigorously defend against the claims made in the employment discrimination lawsuit.

Suing a former employer can be a battle, but the skilled attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC have effectively represented the interests of employees throughout Georgia in all types of employment and workplace discrimination claims. For a free confidential case evaluation, call the experienced legal team at 770-670-6250 today or schedule a consultation online.  


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Can Telecommuting be a Reasonable Accommodation to a Disability?

More and more, companies are allowing employees to work from home. Proponents of telecommuting (employers and employees alike) argue that telecommuting can cut costs, reduce turnover and actually increase productivity. Many opponents of the popular telecommuting movement insist that a team with members scattered about can't collaborate as effectively and efficiently when they're not physically located in the same office environment. In some cases, however, regardless of management’s general preferences, telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation to a disability depending on the facts of the situation and the job’s requirements.

If an employee has a disability, as defined by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the employer needs to make reasonable accommodations to the employee so that person can perform the essential functions of the position.

To be qualified for the job, the employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. An employer need not provide an accommodation that imposes an undue hardship on running the operation.

Reasonable accommodation disputes are driven by the facts of the particular case. Telecommuting may be a reasonable accommodation to one person holding a particular job working for one employer, but it might not be reasonable for a different job for another employer.

In a recent case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, EEOC v. Ford, the appeals court ruled in favor of the employer and stated that for Jane Harris, an employee seeking an accommodation due to her irritable bowel syndrome, telecommuting was not a reasonable accommodation. The court agreed with the trial court and dismissed the case.

Harris worked as a resale buyer for Ford (she was an intermediary between suppliers and her company) and the court found that the work not only consisted of communications by phone and email, but personal interactions through meetings with suppliers at their sites and Ford employees at Ford sites. This personal interaction was found to be an essential function of the job, one she could not perform if she only worked at home.

If you are unsure as to your own situation, take time to consider whether others performing the same job can telecommute as that would strengthen a claim that telecommuting should be permitted as an accommodation to your disability as well. If an employer allows non-disabled employees to telecommute, but does not allow that for disabled employees, in addition to this being accommodation issue it is also disability discrimination based on the fact that a disabled employee is being prevented from enjoying equal terms and conditions of employment.

If you live in Georgia and believe that you need an accommodation at work because of your disability, the disability discrimination attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC, can answer your questions and advise you of your legal rights and your employer’s responsibilities. Call today at (770) 670-6250 for a free case evaluation.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Georgia’s New Medicinal Marijuana Laws Leave Employees High and Dry

I am subject to random drug screening at my job. How will Georgia’s new medicinal marijuana law impact my employment? 


In April, 2015, the state of Georgia joined the leagues of other jurisdictions allowing the use of medicinal marijuana by citizens with a documented medical condition. While this will come as a welcome opportunity for the millions suffering from cancer-related pain, glaucoma, and other afflictions, the law has failed to address the plight of those lawful users who are “caught” with a positive drug test by their employer. However, with the help of a dedicated and progressive Atlanta employment law attorney, there may be ways to combat this delicate intersection of medical autonomy and employer rights. 

Under the new law, known as Haleigh’s Hope Act, applicants with a valid underlying medical condition will be able to obtain a permit from their physician for the use of low-potency medicinal marijuana – generally available in the form of cannabis oil. More specifically, the Act allows for the use of marijuana by patients suffering from any of the following conditions: 

• Cancer being treated by chemotherapy, or that has reached end-stage
• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
• Epilepsy
• Trauma-related head injuries
• Multiple sclerosis, severe or end-stage
• Parkinson’s disease, severe or end-stage
• Chrohn’s disease
• Mitochondrial disease
• Sickle Cell disease, severe or end-stage

However, despite the seemingly high thresholds imposed by the General Assembly for obtaining a lawful medicinal marijuana card, the Act fails to mention or address the duties of employers in honoring the use of medicinal marijuana, especially if doing so does not impact job performance in any way. This omission creates a distinction between the Georgia law and others, as most other states have artfully drafted their medical marijuana statutes to protect employees from workplace discrimination. 

If you are facing a difficult situation and would like to discuss your options, you may be able to circumvent workplace discrimination under Georgia’s disability protections. More specifically, employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers or engaging in adverse treatment (e.g., termination or demotion) based solely on that employee’s status as a disabled individual. Chances are, an employee meeting the definition of “medical condition” listed above may also meet the ADA definition of “disability,” which is any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.”

If you have questions about Georgia’s new medicinal marijuana laws, or are facing backlash from your employer over the issue, please contact Pankey & Horlock today.  Our team of reputed Georgia employment lawyers can be reached at (770)670-6250.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Georgia to Ban State Employment Criminal Background Checks

Can I find a job even though I have a criminal record?

For job applicants seeking state employment, the applicant pool can be fiercely competitive. That fact, coupled with the existence of a criminal background, can preclude many otherwise-qualified applicants from pursuing and obtaining lucrative job positions. However, the state of Georgia – along with 13 other states – recently enacted legislation banning the practice of discriminating against potential employees based on their criminal background, which will significantly increase the number of eligible applicants for many of the state’s most sought-after jobs.

Under Georgia’s new “Ban the Box” policy, state agencies may no longer disqualify an employee with a criminal conviction on his or her record. While the prohibition only applies to public jobs, as opposed to the private sector, it is expected to allow otherwise ineligible candidates the opportunity to seek positive career advancements despite the presence of a criminal infraction. For many jobseekers, mistakes made during their youth and young adulthood have remained a critical roadblock to success, one which the Ban the Box bill hopes to eliminate.

Other states have enacted similar laws with much success. For instance, Hawaii began prohibiting criminal background discrimination in 1998 – and has since seen a dramatic reduction in recidivism rates among first-time offenders. Other states, such as California, Minnesota, and New Jersey have expanded anti-discrimination policy to private employers as well as hiring officials in the public sector. Moreover, nearly 100 cities and municipalities nationwide have enacted similar ordinances.

Applicants for special high-clearance jobs, such as those in law enforcement, corrections, or security positions are still subject to a criminal background review. However, the vast majority of Georgia state agencies now operate without the guise of criminal background discrimination – a welcome change for the thousands of former offenders hoping to reintegrate into society, which begins with a secure and stable employment position.

If you are experiencing employment discrimination and would like to discuss your rights with a knowledgeable attorney, please contact Pankey & Horlock, LLC right away by calling 770-670-6250. 


Friday, March 6, 2015

SEC Investigating Corporate Treatment of Whistleblower Employees

Can my employer retaliate against me for being a whistleblower?

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating whether companies are trying to silence and retaliate against whistleblowers. A whistleblower is an employee who complains of illegal or unethical activities either internally or to a government agency. Whistleblowers play an important role in keeping employers honest, and there are state and federal laws protecting their rights.

Authorized by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, the SEC started a whistleblower program which rewards people reporting possible securities law violations if their tip leads to more than $1 million in sanctions. Awards can range between 10 and 30 percent of money collected by the agency. The SEC Office of the Whistleblower received more than 3,500 tips last year. This is the highest number since the program started.

Concerned about corporate backlash against whistleblowers, the SEC issued letters to several companies seeking years of documents such as nondisclosure agreements and employment contracts. It is unknown how many letters were sent or to whom. The documents being sought by the SEC might reveal employers discouraging whistleblowers. Sometimes these kinds of documents contain clauses that require employees to forfeit any awards, even though such clauses are prohibited by federal regulations.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called on Congress for action last year, stating that Wall Street companies often shielded their leaders from responsibility for misconduct. Holder suggested increasing rewards for whistleblowers and requested funding for more FBI agents with forensic accounting expertise.

If you live in Georgia and believe your employer is involved in illegal activities but fear speaking up, contact the attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC. We have decades of experience representing clients and aggressively protecting their rights. Call (770)670-6250 today to schedule a consultation and learn more about state and federal legal protections for whistleblowers.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Former Atlanta Fire Chief Claims Religious Discrimination Led to His Termination

Can I be fired for expressing my religious beliefs at work?

In a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran claims that the city discriminated against him because of his religion. The EEOC complaint could be an indication that Cochran plans to file a federal lawsuit against the city.

In November 2014, Cochran was suspended without pay in connection with a bible study book he wrote; the book contained controversial statements about homosexuality. According to Cochran's EEOC complaint, he was informed by city officials that his publication of the book violated unspecified city policies and that an investigation would be conducted.

When Cochran returned from his suspension, he was allegedly told that every city employee interviewed in the investigation reported that Cochran's faith influenced his leadership style. However, no employee reported specific examples of discrimination or being treated unfairly because of Cochran's religious beliefs.

Mayor Kasim Reed terminated Cochran earlier this month, stating that Cochran's "judgment and management skills were the subject of the inquiry" and that "Cochran's personal religious beliefs are not the issue." One issue raised is that Cochran distributed his book at work. Mayor Reed's decision to fire Cochran was reportedly supported by the Atlanta Professional Firefighters union.

Cochran asserts that he obtained authorization from the City's Ethics Department to publish the book, which expresses his "deeply held religious convictions on many subjects." He is claiming that the city violated his federal civil rights by discriminating against him because of his Christian religion. A rally in support of Cochran was held at the Georgia Capitol earlier this month, apparently organized by evangelical groups and leaders.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work, the experienced employment discrimination and civil rights attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC, can advise you. We serve the entire state of Georgia. Contact us today at (770)670-6250 for a free case evaluation.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Teacher's Employment Claim Moves Forward With Court's Rejection of School Immunity Argument

Are Georgia School Districts Immune from Federal Lawsuits?


A Georgia school district cannot claim immunity from federal lawsuits under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to a federal circuit court in Atlanta.  The court's decision finally addresses an issue that had gone unresolved for decades.

Zaneta Lightfoot taught English and drama at Woodland High School in Georgia's Henry County School District. Because she suffered from sickle cell anemia and occasionally experienced extreme pain, she applied for, and received, leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.  After a year of taking days off sporadically when she could not work, she received a disciplinary letter and a poor performance evaluation from the school.  She sued the school district for violating the FMLA and other laws and was terminated the following year.

Initially, a federal district court dismissed her FMLA claim on the grounds that the school district was entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.  The Eleventh Amendment generally protects states from federal lawsuits if the states have not consented to being sued under the circumstances involved.  This immunity does not shield counties or cities, but it can protect state officials and entities acting as an "arm of the state."  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had never ruled on whether this immunity protected Georgia schools from federal lawsuits.

Lightfoot appealed the dismissal of her case, and a panel of judges reversed the lower court's ruling, allowing the action to proceed.  The reversal hinged on whether the school district was an "arm of the state."  The Circuit Court panel said that it was, based on how state law defined the school district, the amount of state control over it, how it was funded, and who would be responsible for satisfying court judgments against it.  The court rejected the school district's argument that, because school districts enjoy sovereign immunity, they are also entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. 

The decision clears the way for a variety of federal employment law claims to be brought against Georgia school districts.

Employment rights cases are often fraught with obstacles, from constitutional questions to technical issues.  If you have been mistreated by an employer, experienced counsel can help you overcome these challenges and receive compensation for your suffering.  The skilled attorneys of Pankey & Horlock have handled cases in the Atlanta area involving discrimination, wrongful termination, and other workplace abuses for decades.  Contact our knowledgeable litigation team to schedule your confidential free case evaluation.  Call (770)670-6250 today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Georgia Regents University Sued for Employment Discrimination

Although many of us would like to believe that it is, employment discrimination is not a thing of the past.  Every day, employers make decisions about hiring, firing, promotions, demotions and other matters.  While prohibited from considering sex, race, age or disability, when making these decisions, some employers ignore these rules.  Georgia Regents University has recently been accused of just this type of misconduct.

Anthony W. Duva worked for the university for almost a decade and in 2013 was acting as a Senior Director of Development for Gift Planning in the Advancement Department.  He was allegedly told by his superior, the Senior Vice President for Advancement and Chief Development Officer, Susan Barcus, that he would soon be receiving a raise as a result of the high quality of his work.  A short while later he was fired from his position via a letter of termination.   The university was instituting a workplace reduction plan and Duva’s position was outsourced.  Duva claims that after he received the letter and brought it Barcus’ attention that she told him that she was honoring his termination request and outsourcing the position as he had asked. Duva denies that he ever made such a request.

Duva is claiming age discrimination and has brought a lawsuit against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and several officials including the university’s president.  Duva asserts that university President Ricardo Azziz complained that many of the university’s workers were too old.  Duva also accuses Barcus of inquiring about his retirement on various occasions.  He also claims that younger individuals were hired or kept on at the same time that he was fired.  If these allegations are true and it can be proven that Duva was terminated due to his age, he may be entitled to significant compensation.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work due to your age, sex, race or disability, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced employment law attorney.  The lawyers at Pankey & Horlock can help.  Call (770)670-6250  for a consultation today.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Supreme Court Declines to Consider Former Pharmacist's Discrimination Claim

Establishing a clear factual basis for a claim is essential to success in court.  Appellate courts are loathed to alter findings of fact and generally will only rule on errors in the application of law.  For a CVS Pharmacist, a key finding may have torpedoed his case and subsequent appeals.

CVS had terminated pharmacy staff member Weldon Williams, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes.  He brought a class action suit claiming that CVS' failure to accommodate his disability violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  He also accused them of age discrimination because a younger employer earned more, and alleged a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, because CVS would not permit him to return from work after a medical leave.

CVS had argued that the plaintiff's foot pain prevented him from standing for the long periods and prevented him from performing his essential job functions. This made him ineligible for protection under the ADA.  A federal district court in Savannah, Georgia agreed and granted CVS a summary judgment. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court's decision.

A key issue in the case was how much "accommodation" Williams had requested.  CVS said he had asked for a full-time technician to be assigned to assist him, a fact the Court of Appeals noted and relied on. 

In his petition to the United States Supreme Court, Williams said that he had never asked for a full-time technician.  The "reasonable accommodation" he sought could have meant simply transferring him to a CVS Pharmacy with more staff, he argued.  But the Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Had Williams been able to establish early on in the case that his needs could have been easily accommodated his claim of an ADA violation might have been stronger.  

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination on the job based on disability, race, or any other reason, expert counsel can advise you on whether you have a claim and how to make the strongest case for it.

The skilled attorneys at Pankey & Horlock, LLC have effectively represented employees throughout Georgia in workplace discrimination cases.  For a free confidential case evaluation call our experienced team at (770)670-6250 today.


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