October 22, 2015

Nursing Mothers’ Rights

Posted in Breastfeeding & Nursing Mothers' Rights, Discrimination, Gender / Sex tagged , , , , , , at 10:21 am by Tom Jacobson

BabyThough it’s been done since the beginning of time, breastfeeding in public made waves this summer when our local paper asked for comments from its readers (see It’s Your Turn: Facebook readers share thoughts on breastfeeding, Echo Press Sept. 4, 2015; A mom’s dilemma, Echo Press Sept. 4, 2015). The waves have calmed, but they exposed misunderstanding about nursing mothers’ rights. Let’s clear the air, in particular with regard to the rights of mothers who need to express breast milk while at work.

First, nursing a child in public is perfectly legal in Minnesota. Breastfeeding is an exception to the state’s prohibition of indecent exposure.

Second, mothers who need to express breast milk while at work have the right to do so in most Minnesota workplaces. This has been the law in Minnesota since 1998, but these rights were expanded in 2014 as a part of the Women’s Economic Security Act. The following will address some of the most common questions about this law.

What basic benefit does the law require employers to provide? Employers must provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child.

 

When must the break be provided? The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee.

 

What space must the employer provide for the break? The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a bathroom or a toilet stall, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public and that includes access to an electrical outlet, where the employee can express her milk in privacy.

 

Are there any exceptions to the law? Yes. An employer is not required to provide break time under this law if doing so would unduly disrupt the employer’s operations.

 

Are all Minnesota employers covered by this law? Yes. The law defines “employer” to include “a person or entity that employs one or more employees and includes the state and its political subdivisions.”

 

What other protections does the law provide to employees? Employers must not retaliate against an employee for asserting rights or remedies the law.

 

What remedies are available to an employee if an employer breaks this law? Employees may bring a civil action to recover monetary damages, plus their court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. They may also seek injunctive and other equitable relief to be determined by a court.

 

Is there a state agency that could get involved in disputes regarding this law? Yes. The Minnesota Department of Labor’s Division of Labor Standards and Apprenticeship has been given the authority to receive complaints of employees against employers relating to this law. The division’s role is to attempt to resolve employee complaints by informing employees and employers of the provisions of the law and directing employers to comply with it. The division is required contact the employer within two business days and investigate the complaint within ten days of receipt of the complaint.

For more information about the rights of nursing mothers or guidance on how to develop or enforce policies and procedures to address these rights, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

October 6, 2015

Jack Link’s Missing Link: Company Pays $50K to Settle Claim of Ongoing Sexual Harassment

Posted in Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Gender / Sex, Harassment, Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 10:28 am by Tom Jacobson

A recently settled Minnesota Department of Human Rights charge against Jack Link’s Beef Jerky emphasizes the importance of follow-through when responding to sexual harassment allegations. According to the Department, Jack Link’s initially took the “right step” in disciplining the alleged harasser but then failed to monitor the situation, which included ongoing harassment.

Specifically, MDHR reports that shortly after being hired by Jack Link’s, a female employee’s supervisor made sexual advances toward her, called her “baby,” said she was beautiful, asked if she was single, chanted “pack baby pack,” and asked if he was too old for her. The Department also reports that although Jack Link’s initially disciplined the supervisor, the company then promoted him to be woman’s direct supervisor, after which he continued to harass the employee. Claiming she could no longer tolerate the work environment, the woman quit.

Thus, based on the MDHR’s findings, the missing link in Jack Link’s response was the lack of follow-through and monitoring. As noted by MDHR Commissioner Kevin Lindsey:

This is an unusual case in that the employer took the right step in originally disciplining the supervisor. The employer however undermined its efforts by not subsequently monitoring the actions of the alleged harasser. Employers need to maintain contact with the employee who has complained of sexual harassment to make sure that the measures that they have undertaken are actually working.

To settle the charge, Jack Link’s agreed to pay the victim $50,000.00 and to provide training on the Minnesota Human Rights Act and how to properly respond to sexual harassment allegations.

Generally speaking, employers must first take steps to prevent unlawful workplace harassment. But if, despite those efforts, an employee claims that harassment has occurred, employers must take prompt action to correct and stop that behavior. As the Jack Link’s case points out, this includes careful monitoring and follow-through to make sure the harassment does not continue or recur.

For more information about this article or about the harassment training, policy development, and related services I can provide, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

August 26, 2015

Target Settlement Sheds Light on Disparate Impact Discrimination

Posted in Application Process, Background Checking, Disability, Discrimination, Disparate Impact, Disparate Treatment, Gender / Sex, Race, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 9:15 am by Tom Jacobson

By now, you’ve probably read or heard about Target Corporation’s agreement to pay $2.8 million to settle an EEOC discrimination charge. Unlike a “disparate treatment” case where the plaintiffs claim that an employer’s actions were motivated by discriminatory intent, this was a “disparate impact” case where the EEOC alleged that screening tests used by Target disproportionately excluded applicants on the basis of race and gender and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. So, what’s the difference between “disparate impact” and “disparate treatment” discrimination?

Disparate impact discrimination cases typically arise out of pre-employment tests, medical exams, background check policies and similar assessments that are used to screen candidates for a job or advancement within a company. The theory was first recognized by the United States Supreme Court in 1971 in the case of Griggs v. Duke Power Co. In that case, the Court noted that:

[Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] proscribes not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation. The touchstone is business necessity. If an employment practice which operates to exclude [a protected class] cannot be shown to be related to job performance, the practice is prohibited.

The Griggs Court also stressed that good intentions do not matter, for “[G]ood intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as ‘built-in headwinds’ for minority groups and are unrelated to measuring job capability.”

Thus, in a disparate impact case, the focus is not on evidence that the employer intended to discriminate.  Rather, the focus is on statistics. If the statistics show that the employer’s screening practice — no matter how innocuous on its face — has a substantial adverse impact on a protected group, the employer must show that the practice is job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity. The employer might still lose the case if there is evidence that the company refused to adopt an alternative employment practice that would have served the employer’s legitimate interests without creating a disparate impact on a protected class.

In contrast, in a disparate treatment case, the focus is on evidence of the employer’s intent. If the evidence shows that the employer intentionally discriminated against an employee or applicant on the basis of a protected classification, the employer will be held liable for unlawful employment discrimination based on the disparate treatment theory.

In addition to paying nearly $3 million to settle the EEOC case, Target also agreed to several non-monetary terms, such as:

  • Not using the assessments again as part of its exempt-level employment selection procedures;
  • Changing its applicant tracking systems to ensure that the collection of data is sufficient to assess adverse impact;
  • Performing a predictive validity study for all exempt assessments currently in use and any new assessments the company expects to use;
  • Monitoring its assessments for exempt-level professional positions for adverse impact based on race, ethnicity and gender; and
  • Annually providing the EEOC with a detailed summary of the studies and the adverse impact analysis conducted.

As the Target case shows, even seemingly innocent employment screening practices can violate Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws. Therefore, employers who use such devices should carefully evaluate their potential adverse impacts before using or continuing them.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

March 26, 2015

Pregnancy Accommodation Claims Revived by US Supreme Court in Young v. UPS

Posted in Discrimination, Gender / Sex, Pregnancy, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Leave, Reasonable Accommodation, Women's Economic Security Act tagged , , , , , at 11:56 pm by Tom Jacobson

pregnancy accommodation

Me, in 1991, wearing the “empathy belly” in Lamaze class the day before our first son was born.

In a 6-3 decision the U.S. Supreme Court this week revived Peggy Young’s pregnancy accommodation claims against UPS. The high court’s decision clarifies how the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is to be applied to pregnant employees who work for employers that accommodate employees with nonpregnancy-related disabilities.

The PDA is a 1978 addition to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law has two main parts. First, it says that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination applies to discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Second, it says that employers must treat “women affected by pregnancy . . . the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

At issue in Young’s case was the fact that after she became pregnant, her doctor imposed a 20 pound lifting restriction. UPS had a 70 pound lifting requirement for drivers like Young, so they told her she could not work while under that restriction. Young, however, presented evidence that UPS accommodated other workers who suffered on-the-job injuries, had ADA-qualifying disabilities, or had lost their Department of Transportation certifications. Thus, Young claimed that UPS violated the PDA by accommodating the other workers but not those who were pregnant.

The District Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals both rejected Young’s claims, but the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts and revived her case. In so doing, the court established the following framework for proving that a woman was subjected to disparate treatment under the pregnancy accommodation requirements of the PDA.

First, the woman must present evidence that: (a) she belongs to the protected class; (b) she sought accommodation; (c) the employer did not accommodate her; and (d) the employer accommodated others “similar in their ability or inability to work.” If the employee proves that much, the employer may then try to justify its failure to accommodate by presenting evidence of “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reasons for denying accommodation. If the employer does so, the employee may then try to rebut that evidence with evidence that the employer’s reason was a pretext (that is, a facade or cover-up of the real discriminatory reason).

The case clarifies that pregnancy accommodation claims can be brought under the PDA, and it establishes what must be proved in order to win such cases. Therefore, it is important for employers and employees to understand their respective rights and obligations under this law. In particular they need to recognize that employers must accommodate pregnant employees if they accommodate nonpregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Finally, here’s a reminder for Minnesota employers and employees. The state’s Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), which was passed in 2014, includes its own pregnancy accommodation requirements. This law only applies to Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees. The PDA, however, applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Consequently, smaller employers (15-20 employees) will only have to comply with the PDA, but larger ones will need to comply with both laws.

My wife and I with said first-born in 2014 at his graduation from the US Air Force Academy (not likely due to the empathy belly).

My wife and I in 2014 with said first-born at his graduation from the US Air Force Academy (not likely due to the empathy belly).

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

January 29, 2015

Hit-men, harassment & the perils of office romance

Posted in Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Gender / Sex, Harassment, Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Office Dating, Office Romance - Dating, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Workplace Romance tagged , , , , , , , at 11:09 am by Tom Jacobson

office romanceWith Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it seems like a good time to remind everyone that office romance is generally a very bad idea. After all, it might lead to murder-for-hire plots, ugly custody fights, and the occasional sexual harassment suit.

Take the recent Stearns County, Minnesota case involving Nomad Pipeline Services CEO Robert Schueller. He was charged with orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot where it’s alleged that he tried to hire a hit man to kill the fiance’ of an employee with whom he had an affair (see MyFox9, Charges: Office affair break-up, murder-for-hire plot). Mr. Schueller ultimately pled guilty to one count of sending threatening communication (See WCCO TV, Company President Pleads Guilty in Plot Involving Employees).

Or, there’s the case that fellow blawger Eric Meyer recently noted where an office affair apparently resulted in pregnancy, a custody battle, and a sexual harassment claim.

Those are extreme examples of love gone bad, but I’ve seen office romance cases that have taken a big toll, albeit without the intrigue. Co-workers perceive favoritism toward the boss’s paramour. Jilted lovers persist in their advances, which are then perceived as hostile. Encounters that were once consensual are suddenly claimed to be unwelcome. Employees struggle to know how to end a personal relationship when they have to continue working with their former significant other. What was once romance becomes harassment that ends up in court.

Of course, there are examples where office dating blossoms into healthy relationships. However, no one can predict where a new romance will lead. To mimimize the risk that it will lead to the courthouse, see my prior article, Big Bang and the Office Dating Game.

Have you taken my poll on President Obama’s mandatory paid sick leave proposal? If not, click here. Poll closes January 30.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

August 1, 2014

Another day, another Executive Order impacting federal contractors

Posted in Age, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Americans with Disabilities Act, Arbitration, Arbitration, Color, Creed, Disability, Discrimination, Fair Labor Standards Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Gender / Sex, Harassment, LGBT, Minnesota Human Rights Act, National Labor Relations Act, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race, Religion, Sexual Harassment tagged , , , at 11:23 am by Tom Jacobson

White HouseIn another attempt to flex his regulatory muscle, President Barack Obama on July 31, 2014 issued yet another Executive Order aimed at federal contractors. This one, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, requires potential federal contractors to disclose past employment and labor law violations before they can secure federal contracts.

Earlier this month, President Obama issued an Executive Order to protect the rights of LGBT employees of federal contractors (see President Issues Order to Protect LGBT Workers).

Yesterday’s Order requires most potential federal contractors to disclose violations in the past three years of thirteen specified federal labor and employment laws. These laws include the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and any state counterparts of these statutes.

The Order also directs employers with contracts of $1 million or more to “agree that the decision to arbitrate claims arising under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment may only be made with the voluntary consent of employees or independent contractors after such disputes arise.” In other words, the Order will severely limit these federal contractors’ rights to enter into pre-dispute arbitration agreements.

The Order appears to be directed at preventing repeat offenders, but it will have a major impact on employers who will need to overcome this new regulatory hurdle before securing federal contracts.

For more information about the President’s Order, see Obama Signs Executive Order Protecting Federal Contractors’ Employees (CBS News, 7/31/14), President Issues Order Requiring Contractors to Disclose Labor Law Violations When Competing for Federal Contracts (SHRM, 7/31/14), the President’s FACT SHEET: Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, or contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

July 22, 2014

President issues order to protect LGBT workers

Posted in Discrimination, Gender / Sex, LGBT, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Sexual Orientation tagged , , at 2:08 pm by Tom Jacobson

White HousePresident Barack Obama on July 21, 2014 issued an executive order intended to protect the employment rights of LGBT employees of federal contractors.

Although some states, including Minnesota, already prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, not all do.  Therefore, President Obama said during the signing ceremony that he issued the order as a way “to address this injustice for every American.”

Unlike some legislation, such as the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”) which was passed in 2013 by the U.S. Senate but which has since stalled in Congress, this executive order does not contain any exemptions based on religious beliefs.

The President also directed the U.S. Department of Labor to prepare regulations to implement the order. It is anticipated that advocates on all sides of the issue will offer significant input as the regulations are developed.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

July 1, 2014

Key provisions of WESA take effect July 1

Posted in Care of Relatives Leave, Discrimination, Domestic violence, Employee Handbooks, Employee Privacy, Equal Pay, Gender / Sex, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Nursing Mothers, Parenting Leave, Pregnancy, Retaliation, Sick Leave, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave, Wage non-disclosure, Women's Economic Security Act tagged , , , , , at 12:56 pm by Tom Jacobson

2014_05_11_WESA_signingAlthough Gov. Mark Dayton signed it into law on May 11, 2014 the following key provisions of the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) go into effect today:

  • Expansion of Minnesota’s parenting and pregnancy leave laws: More employees are now eligible for this leave, and the amount of available leave has been increased from six to twelve weeks. Applies to Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees.
  • Expansion of permissible use of sick leave: Parents-in-law and grandchildren are now included in the list of persons for whom eligible employees may use their sick leave. Employees may also use sick leave for “safety leave,” which is leave for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking. Applies to Minnesota employers with 21 or more employees.
  • Wage disclosure prohibitions; employee handbook notice requirement; remedies: Prohibits employers from, among other things, requiring employees to keep their wages confidential. Requires employers to include in their employee handbooks a notice regarding employees’ rights and remedies under the new law. Allows employers to prohibit wage disclosure to competitors and to otherwise protect trade secrets, proprietary and other privileged information. Applies to all Minnesota employers with one or more employees.
  • Clarifies rights of nursing mothers: Clarifies that when making reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location for expressing breast milk in privacy, that space must: be in close proximity to the work area; be somewhere other than a bathroom or a toilet stall; be shielded from view; be free from intrusion from coworkers and the public; and include access to an electrical outlet.  Applies to all Minnesota employers with one or more employees.

This is only a summary of portions of WESA that take effect today. Other provisions of WESA went into effect on May 12, 2014; more will take effect August 1, 2014. To learn how WESA may impact your workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

May 12, 2014

Seminar to address Women’s Economic Security Act

Posted in Care of Relatives Leave, Discrimination, Domestic violence, Equal Pay, Family and Medical Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Family Leave, Gender / Sex, Leaves of Absence, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Nursing Mothers, Parenting Leave, Pregnancy, Reasonable Accommodation, Sick or Injured Child Care Leave tagged , , , at 8:40 am by Tom Jacobson

Gov. Mark Dayton yesterday signed into law the Women’s Economic Security Act. Among other things, the new law will expand leave rights for many Minnesota employees. The new law will be covered in detail at the Eleventh Annual West Central Minnesota Employment Law Update to be held on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at Alexandria Technical and Community College.

The event has been approved for 6.0 HRCI credits. For complete details on the seminar, go to 2014 Employment Law Update Agenda. To register, go to 2014 Employment Law Update Registration.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

April 24, 2014

Women’s Economic Security Act Passed by MN House

Posted in Care of Relatives Leave, Caregiver Leave, Discrimination, Domestic violence, Employee Handbooks, Equal Pay, Family and Medical Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Gender / Sex, Leaves of Absence, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, Nursing Mothers, Pregnancy, Reasonable Accommodation, Workplace Violence tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:32 am by Tom Jacobson

The Minnesota House of Representatives on April 9, 2014 passed the Women’s Economic Security Act (HF 2536) by a 106-24 vote. The companion Senate bill (SF 2050) awaits action in the Senate.

According to the Senate’s bill summary, the law will:

  • Allow mothers to stay in the workplace by expanding family leave and providing minor, reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees;
  • Decrease the gender pay gap through the participation of women in high-wage, high-demand nontraditional work;
  • Reduce the gender pay gap through increased enforcement of equal pay laws for state contractors and by allowing employees to discuss pay inequities;
  • Address economic consequences of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault;
  • Enhance retirement security by considering a state retirement savings plan for those without an employer-provided option
  • Expand grandparent care-giving options.

The law would also allow employers to reduce the period of leave it may require by the amount of any paid leave or leave required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), so that the total time off does not exceed 12 weeks. The new law would clarify that only 12 weeks of leave are required even if the employee is eligible for both state and federal leave.

What you need to know: If enacted into law, this legislation will require most Minnesota employers to take a close look at their existing policies and procedures and to make any changes necessary to bring them into compliance.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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