Employment Discrimination Blog

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.

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 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.

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