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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.


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, 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, January 30, 2013

EEOC Announces Its Enforcement Priorities for 2013-2016

Every four years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approves a Strategic Plan, which in part directs itself to develop a Strategic Enforcement Plan.  On December 17, 2012, the Commission approved the 2013-2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan with bipartisan support and a vote of 3 to 1.

Much of the Strategic Enforcement Plan, frankly, is filled with the kinds of sweeping promises and legal jargon that one might expect from a government planning document.  However, one interesting area of the Strategic Enforcement Plan is the section on “national priorities.”  In this section, the EEOC identifies a handful of legal issues relating to illegal employment discrimination that it is better able to manage and address because the groups of affected individuals are so large or because the legal issues are so unsettled.  

Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring 
The EEOC plans to target recruiting and hiring policies that are either intentionally discriminatory or that appear to be neutral but have a greater adverse impact on protected groups of workers.  The EEOC named the following types of recruiting and hiring practices that it will examine: steering applicants into specific jobs based on race, sex, age, disability, etc.; restrictive application processes; and the use of screening tools like pre-employment tests, background checks, and date-of-birth inquiries.

Protecting the Rights of Immigrant and Migrant Workers
The EEOC stated a commitment to focus enforcement efforts on claims brought by immigrant and migrant workers, who – because of language and cultural barriers – are often unaware of their legal rights or reluctant to exercise their employment rights.

Emerging and Developing Issues
This is the most commented-on section of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan.  The EEOC identified three emerging employment discrimination issues that it will keep a close eye on over the next four years:

  • Enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act, especially issues relating to who is covered, how a worker qualifies for a reasonable accommodation, how a business demonstrates that an accommodation is an undue hardship, and the definition of “direct threat”
  • Whether and how employers are required to respond to pregnancy-related requests for reasonable accommodations
  • Whether and how Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination may apply in certain cases to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered workers

 

Equal Pay for Women in the Workforce
Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, but the EEOC still considers enforcement of equal pay for equal work laws a high priority, especially in the form of compensation systems that appear neutral but have a greatly adverse impact on women.

Enforcing Anti-Retaliation Provisions
The EEOC is always on the lookout for employment policies and practices that discourage or prevent workers from exercising their employment rights.  The EEOC named the following policies as examples of illegal retaliation or obstruction: retaliatory actions against employees, overly broad waivers, settlement provisions that prohibit filing EEOC charges or assisting with an EEOC investigation, and failure to retain records required by EEOC regulations.

Preventing Harassment
According to the Strategic Enforcement Plan, sexual harassment in the workplace has been overtaken by other types of illegal harassment.  “Harassment claims based on race, ethnicity, religion, age and disability combined significantly outnumber even sexual harassment claims in the private and public sectors,” the plan stated.

 
 

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The attorneys of Pankey & Horlock, LLC serve the entire state of Georgia, including Atlanta, Alpharetta, Auburn, Decatur, Doraville, Douglasville, Duluth, Kennesaw, Lawrenceville, Marietta, Stone Mountain, Dekalb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, and Cobb County, GA.



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