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Employment Discrimination Blog

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.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NBC Settles Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Employment discrimination comes in many forms.  An employer could fire you or refuse to hire you for a number of illegal reasons including your race, religion, gender or age.  One type of discrimination that is rampant across the country, but, that is often overlooked, is age discrimination.  If affects a surprising number of individuals who often do not get the compensation they deserve.  A recent age discrimination case was brought against one of America’s top news networks.

George Hyatt was a cameraman for NBC News for 30 years.  In his latest position, he worked on the Daily Rundown hosted by Chuck Todd.  He was fired in 2011 and claimed that it was due to age discrimination.  Hyatt alleged that right before he was fired his manager stated to other workers that he wanted to hire younger employees.

Hyatt filed a claim with the Office of Human Rights in Washington, D.C.  This agency found for NBC.  After getting approval from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Hyatt filed a federal case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  NBC opposed the suit and alleged that Hyatt was let go due to poor job performance alone.  The company filed a motion to dismiss the suit pointing out that Hyatt’s employment contract barred him from bringing a discrimination action against them.  The judge refused to dismiss the case and mandated that the parties submit to mediation.

This summer, the parties came to an agreement and settled the case.  It is unclear what the terms were included in the settlement.  Hyatt had stated previously that he either wanted monetary damages or his job back.  As he is not currently employed by NBC, it is likely that he received financial compensation.

Employment discrimination can have an effect on your ability to provide for yourself and your family.  If you believe you have been discriminated against it is essential that you contact an experienced employment law attorney.  Contact Pankey & Horlock for a free case evaluation by calling (770)670-6250 today.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Executive Order Expanding Protection of LGBT Individuals

For a long time, there was no Federal law specifically protecting lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers from employment discrimination.  Employment discrimination attorneys have spent years trying to fight these cases by squeezing them into other categories, such as sex discrimination.  Now, in specific situations, those affected by employment discrimination based on their LGBT status will have direct recourse.  President Obama has signed an Executive Order making it illegal for the Federal government and Federal contractors to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation.


The President actually amended an existing Executive Order that protected the employees of Federal contractors from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  The amendment adds sexual orientation and gender identity to this list and makes it illegal for Federal contractors to discriminate against employees for this reason.  President Obama has made it clear that he does not want government contracts to be used to discriminate against Americans in this way.  Although he did not include a new provision relating to religious exemptions, he did leave in a provision allowing Federal contractors that are affiliated with a particular religious group to prioritize who they hire based on religion.  These stipulations go into effect sometime next year.  

Also added to the Executive Order is a mandate making it illegal for the Federal government to discriminate against transgender employees.  While past case law has already outlawed this behavior, supporters of the new provision claim that it was never enforced.  This part of the law goes into effect immediately. 

Private employers are not regulated by the new law and it is not applicable to the states.  Some states have already passed legislation to this affect but approximately 32 states are still without it.

Employment discrimination is a continuing problem across the United States.  The Executive Order may make discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity a less frequent occurrence.  If you believe that you have been discriminated against for any reason, contact Pankey & Horlock for free case evaluation.  Call (770)670-6250 today.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gay Teacher Files Employment Discrimination Claim Based on Same-Sex Marriage

Under both federal and state employment law, Georgia employers are not prevented from hiring or firing on the basis of sexual orientation.  Or are they?

A complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Flint Dollar, a gay former music teacher, may expand the boundaries of recent case law.  Dollar had never concealed his sexual orientation from his employer, Mount de Sales Academy, a Catholic school in Macon, Georgia, and the school had not made an issue of it.  But when he announced his plans to marry his longtime partner, school officials dismissed him.  They cited no problems with his past job performance or complaints from students or parents.  

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex and national origin," it has never specifically prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Attempts to claim that such cases are "sex" discrimination cases have rarely worked, because that prohibition has generally been held to cover only "gender" discrimination."

A recent Washington, D.C. case may have changed that, however.  In a suit against the Library of Congress, a gay plaintiff claimed that he was penalized for having a romantic interest in men, while women in the same office were not.  His lawyers argued that this disparate treatment was a form of gender discrimination.  A federal district court allowed the case to proceed, in spite of the Department of Justice's attempts to have it dismissed.

Now Dollar has filed his complaint with the EEOC alleging that firing him because of his decision to enter into a same-sex marriage is form of gender discrimination.  

While constitutional scholars continue to question whether sexual orientation falls within the scope of "sex" under Title VII, they acknowledge that the argument might work.  If successful, the Dollar case could change the legal landscape for gay victims of employment discrimination.

For over two decades, the attorneys of Pankey & Horlock, LLC have represented employees throughout Atlanta who have faced illegal discrimination in the workplace.  If you were treated unfairly during the hiring or firing process or during the course of your employment, you deserve justice and compensation for your suffering.  Contact our knowledgeable legal team to schedule your confidential free case evaluation.  Call (770)670-6250 today.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How Older Unemployed Individuals Are Dealing With Age Discrimination

Unemployment has been an unfortunate reality in the United States since the recession hit in 2008. We often hear about how difficult it is for young people to find jobs in today’s economy. It is far less likely to hear about older individuals who are struggling to find a job. People that are out of work and over 45 are less likely to be without a job. But, once they are out of work, it becomes much harder for them, as opposed to younger people, to find a job.


It seems that one major reason for the large amount of older individuals who have been unemployed for long periods of time is age discrimination. Older people with years of experience can apply for a multitude of positions and receive no call back. They know they are qualified, the employer knows they are qualified and yet they don’t get interviewed. Potential employers can discover their approximate age by the dates listed on their resumes. Dates for things such as diplomas, job experience and achievements are dead giveaways for a person’s approximate age. This causes the biased employer to pass them over for someone younger. If the person has been out of the workforce for a long time this can be another major obstacle.


Some older unemployed individuals have turned to adjusting their resumes so that they do not reflect their age. They take out dates such as when they received their degree, earlier work experience, achievements and start and end dates at past positions. Some are even lying about dates on their resumes. Instead of stating that they received an award in one year, they choose a later year to make it seem that they are younger. They are not lying about their achievements or abilities, just about the timing. These folks are doing the same tweaking to their online profiles, such as Linkedin.com accounts.


Most of these individuals just want to get an interview. They are sick of being turned down immediately due to their age. Employers engaged in these practices are committing age discrimination even though it would be nearly impossible to prove. As a result, some older individuals are doing what they have to do to make a living. Omitting information is usually not a problem as long as it does not result in false information. The same way people don’t note on their resume’ that they struggled in position, they can omit dates and other age implying information. When this omitting turns into lying these people might run into a problem.


If you or someone you know has been the victim of age discrimination call Pankey & Horlock, LLC at (770)670-6250.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Employers Continue to Discriminate Against Individuals with HIV

More than 1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Despite efforts on the part of lawmakers to prevent discrimination in the workplace for individuals living with this disease, several recent court cases indicate that discrimination in the hiring and firing process remains prevalent across a wide array of industries.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits an employer from discriminating against a qualified candidate due to his HIV status. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal government agency responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, recently filed a lawsuit against Maxim Healthcare Services for refusing to hire a candidate after they learned that he was HIV positive. In the suit, the EEOC claims that the staffing service for healthcare professionals extended an offer to a qualified candidate for a position that involved sitting with patients at a local VA hospital. The offer was contingent upon the individual’s completion of a physical. The candidate underwent the examination and the health certificate clearly stated that the candidate was fit to work but it also did indicate his HIV status. The suit claims that upon reviewing the health certificate, Maxim refused to assign the candidate to the VA hospital. The EEOC is seeking an order that would prohibit Maxim from engaging in any other discriminatory hiring practices. If found to be in violation of federal law, Maxim may also be required to pay lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, amongst other affirmative relief efforts.

Unfortunately, the Maxim case is not an isolated incident. Recent EEOC data obtained and analyzed by RH Reality Check, an online publication devoted to sexual and reproductive health and justice reporting, found that 25 cases have been filed by the EEOC over the past 10 years for discrimination on the basis of HIV and AIDS. Four of these cases are still in litigation. The report further detailed that between 1997 and 2013, the EEOC received almost 4,000 complaints from employees who had suffered discrimination based on one’s HIV or AIDS status.

For over two decades, the attorneys of Pankey & Horlock, LLC have represented employees throughout Atlanta who have faced illegal discrimination in the workplace. If you have a disability and were consequently treated unfairly during the hiring process or throughout the course of employment, you deserve justice and compensation for your suffering. Contact our knowledgeable legal team to schedule your confidential free case evaluation. Call 770-670-6250 today.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Whistleblower in Georgia Receives Compensation for Retaliation

The Georgia Whistleblower Act (O.C.G.A. §45-1-4) was enacted to promote honesty and transparency in local and state government. This law protects any public employee who files a complaint or discloses any activity "constituting fraud, waste, and abuse in or relating to any state programs or operations" from retaliation. Retaliation may include suspension, demotion or a decrease in salary.

A highly publicized case decided earlier this month has placed the spotlight on this important statute and its necessity to protect public employees throughout Georgia. The lawsuit was brought by former Executive Secretary of the Georgia State Ethics Commission, Stacey Kalbermann who claimed she took a salary cut of $35,000 (roughly 1/3 of her annual salary) and had her deputy’s position eliminated after she expressed her plan to issue subpoenas in the investigation of Governor Nathan Deal's 2010 campaign. The defense argued that the Commission was facing major budget issues and the personnel cuts were necessary, and were not made in response to her investigation efforts into the gubernatorial campaign.

After just a few hours of deliberation, a Fulton County jury ruled in Kalbermann’s favor, ordering the state to pay the plaintiff 700,000 in damages for their retaliatory actions which ultimately forced her from her job. It's important to note that the $700,000 judgment does not include back pay or attorney fees which the state will likely be responsible for; the ruling may easily exceed one million dollars. Sherilyn Streicker, Kalbermann’s former deputy, who was relieved of her duties following the subpoena request, has followed a separate wrongful termination suit against the Commission.

The Whistleblower Act was developed to protect public employees who help to identify and expose unethical activities in government. Provided these activities are reported in an appropriate fashion to either a supervisor or governmental agency, these employees are protected by law. While this particular act only applies to public employees in Georgia, there are federal protections under the Occupational Safety and Health Act for employees of certain industries where the health and safety of the public may be at stake.

If you think you have been wrongfully terminated or unfairly retaliated against in your workplace, it’s important that you contact an experienced employment law firm. The attorneys of Pankey & Horlock, LLC have assisted employees in Atlanta and throughout Georgia with complex employment discrimination and wrongful termination matters. Call 770-670-6250 to schedule a consultation and learn more about your options for recovery.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Employment Law Cases on the Rise

Workers in Georgia's greater Atlanta area and beyond are more aware of their rights than ever before due to a variety of reasons. Not only are employees keeping updated on the laws surrounding the hiring, firing and payment of workers, but they are taking action on the perceived wrongdoings of employers by filing an increasing number of wage-and-hour and employment discrimination lawsuits than in previous years. According to the annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, the number of wage and hour lawsuits increased 10-percent in just one year, from 2012 to 2013, and workplace discrimination cases have been on the rise over the last couple of years as well.

Here are some facts and ideas that may account for the increase in employment law-related suits:

  • It's likely that the economic recession and early recuperation period have led employers to divide work up among fewer employees, which could potentially led to increased workplace stress and lower worker morale in general- all of which may be causing employees to second-guess their employer's pay practices. Keeping informed on your employer's wage and hour policies is a smart move, particularly if you suspect that you are not being compensated appropriately.
  • Federal and state wage and hour laws and regulations are complex, so an employer's honest mistake may cause workers to think they're being cheated out of pay. However, the truth behind an unintended pay or discrimination allegation doesn't always come to light before a lawsuit is filed.
  • The US economy is in a better state than before, which could tempt employees and their counsel to sue emerging businesses in good financial standing.
  • A rising number of lawyers are considering taking on employee discrimination and wage and hour claims because of the amplified success of these cases in the favor of the employee as of late.
  • Employees workers have more access to the world around them than ever before through social media, therefore workers have the chance to learn about all of the employment law related cases in the media, which may make them more confident and willing to file a suit.

Back in 2011, the New York Times reported that accusations of workplace discrimination rose to 99,922 in one year, from 93,277 the previous year, which represents an increase of 7.2 percent- the highest level of new discrimination cases ever recorded.

If you have been wrongfully terminated or victimized by unlawful business practices, the employment discrimination and civil rights attorneys of Altanta's Pankey & Horlock, LLC will work with you to ensure that you receive fair compensation. Contact us at 770-670-6250 for guidance, or fill out this form for a free case evaluation.

 


Friday, February 28, 2014

Georgia Government Considers Preservation of Religious Freedom Act

Georgia House Bill 1023 echoes the sentiments of a bill recently passed by Arizona government that allows businesses, individuals and other entities the right to discriminate against gay people.

The bill essentially gives people and businesses the power to act on their own personal prejudices without incurring any consequences. It exempts them from any government action or legal proceeding that "directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by any person or that directly or indirectly pressures any person to engage in any action contrary to that person's exercise of religion."

Due to the broadness of the language therein, the passing of this bill could result in a variety of negative after-effects, as it would permit those who discriminate with a way to escape any legal repercussions for their actions if they can somehow relate the situation to religion.

"The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act," was introduced last week in the Georgia House. Both the house (HB 1023) and Senate version, SB 377, would affirm the “right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious tenet or belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person’s religious tenets or beliefs. Where those beliefs conflict with local, state or federal law, the government would have to prove that the law is meant to pursue a “a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Georgia state law doesn't include a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, the city of Atlanta does have regulations which would be affected by this bill, as LGBT rights activists fear the proposed bill could essentially overwrite the existing ordinances.

The possible consequences the passing of this bill may inflict on the rights of individuals in Georgia and elsewhere scares associations like The Anti-Defamation League. Among their concerns: "it would allow law enforcement to refuse assignments that they find religiously offensive such as assisting or guarding a religious institution of a different faith, a pharmacy that sells prescription contraception, a liquor store, a butcher shop selling pork or beef,  or a casino"

Another concern: "It would allow public hospital employees including physicians, nurses, or administrators to refuse to assist patients, even on an emergency basis, or process any paper work that they find to be religiously offensive such as in-vitro fertilization, blood transfusions or psychiatric care."

Lastly, "It would allow any public employee adhering to an extremist religion, including Nation of Islam, Christian Identity, or Odinism to refuse providing service to an Asian, White, Black, Jewish or Hispanic person."


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