April 30, 2014

Registration Open for 11th Annual Employment Law Update

Posted in Americans with Disabilities Act, Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Conviction Records, Credit Checks, Criminal History, Discrimination, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Interactive Process, Minnesota Human Rights Act, Reasonable Accommodation, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Stereotyping, Training tagged , , , , , , , at 11:38 am by Tom Jacobson

Registration is now open for the Eleventh Annual West Central Minnesota Employment Law Update to be held on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at Alexandria Technical and Community College. This year’s event will cover:

  • Hot off the Press — Employment Law News You Can Use: presented by yours truly
  • Reasonable Accommodation and Fitness for Duty: A Practical Guidance on Real Work Problems: presented by attorney Penelope J. Phillips
  • Emerging Discrimination Issues in Employment Law: presented by attorney Mike Moberg
  • Ban the Box and Criminal Background Checks: Putting it All Together So That You Get it Right: presented by attorney Penelope J. Phillips
  • Bonus HR Session: Recruit, Motivate and Retain Your Workforce: presented by humorist and corporate trainer, Ted Schick

The event has been approved for 6.0 HRCI credits. Go to 2014 Employment Law Update Agenda for complete details and to 2014 Employment Law Update Registration to register. I look forward to seeing you on June 12!

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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August 15, 2012

Court Rejects Same-sex Harassment Claim

Posted in Discrimination, Gender / Sex, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Orientation, Stereotyping tagged , , at 10:56 am by Tom Jacobson

Last year I wrote about a case where a jury awarded a construction worker nearly half a million dollars in  a same-sex / gender stereotyping case (see Same-sex Harassment Costs Contractor $451K). That verdict has now been overturned.

The case was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Kerry Woods who alleged that his supervisor at Boh Brothers Construction Co., LLC harassed and taunted him.  According to the EEOC, the supervisor engaged in verbal abuse, made taunting gestures of a sexual nature and exposed himself. The EEOC also presented evidence that the supervisor harassed Woods “because he thought he was feminine and did not conform to the supervisor’s gender stereotypes of a typical ‘rough ironworker.'”

Boh Brothers appealed the verdict, and in a July 27, 2012 decision, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment. The appellate court based its decision on a finding that there was “insufficient evidence that [the alleged harasser] ‘acted on the basis of gender’ in his treatment of Woods.”

Importantly, the court stopped short of rejecting all sex-stereotyping cases under Title VII:

There is the question raised in this appeal whether sex stereotyping is a cognizable form of same-sex harassment under Title VII. As the facts allow for resolution on narrower grounds, we leave that question for another day.

What you need to know:  Minnesota employers need to be careful to not assume that the Boh Brothers decision frees them from liability for same-sex harassment or gender stereotyping. The Boh Brothers case was decided by the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but Minnesota is part of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals; therefore, the decision is not binding precedent here. It was also decided based on the specific facts of the case. Moreover, the Minnesota Human Rights Act expressly prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.; therefore, the outcome of the case may certainly have been different under Minnesota law.

For more information about this article, 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 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

May 17, 2011

Same sex harassment costs contractor $451K

Posted in Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Gender / Sex, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Orientation, Stereotyping tagged , , , at 10:53 am by Tom Jacobson

A federal jury has awarded $451,000.00 to a male ironworker who was the victim of male-on-male sexual harassment.

The case was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Kerry Woods who alleged that his supervisor at Boh Brothers Construction Co., LLC harassed and taunted him.  According to the EEOC, the supervisor engaged in verbal abuse, made taunting gestures of a sexual nature and exposed himself. The EEOC also presented evidence that the supervisor harassed Woods “because he thought he was feminine and did not conform to the supervisor’s gender stereotypes of a typical ‘rough ironworker.'”

The EEOC also claimed that Boh Bros. retaliated against Woods after he reported the harassment.  The evidence indicated that Woods was transferred to another location, paid less, and then “laid off.”

Another important aspect of this case was the company’s failure to adopt a sexual harassment policy.  Boh Bros. had no policy defining or specifically prohibiting sexual harassment, and the harassing supervisor testified that prior to the lawsuit, he had never received sexual harassment training.  “The jury’s verdict signals to employers the importance of having robust sexual harassment policies and training in place, including in predominantly male workplaces,” said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez.

Another EEOC attorney, Jim Sacher, noted how “This case demonstrates the failure of this company to prevent and properly respond to a serious matter for the construction industry: male-on-male sexual harassment by a supervisor and under isolated working conditions.”

For additional details of the Boh Bros. lawsuit, see EEOC Obtains $451,000 Jury Verdict Against Boh Brothers Construction Co. For Male-On-male Sexual Harassment, http://1.usa.gov/lxvmre.  For information on related cases, see Ellen DeGeneres & Gender Stereotyping under Title VII, http://bit.ly/kudWku and Tomboy Firing Costs Company $50K, http://bit.ly/jRkzco.

If you would like more information about this topic, 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 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson, PA

November 18, 2010

“Tomboy” firing costs company $50K+

Posted in Discrimination, Gender / Sex, Stereotyping tagged , , , at 2:20 pm by Tom Jacobson

The verdict is now in, and Heartland Inns will have to pay.

In the inaugural post on my Human Resource Legal Resource blog, Ellen DeGeneres & Gender Stereotyping under Title VII (http://bit.ly/cawVSt), I commented on the case of Lewis v. Heartland Inns of America. In that case an Iowa hotel fired a female employee because she had an “Ellen DeGeneres kind of look.”  She was also described as “tomboyish,” while a manager said it was important for women at the hotel’s front desk to be ”pretty” and that Ms. Lewis lacked the “Midwestern girl look.” 

Ms. Lewis sued the hotel under the theory that the hotel’s decision was unlawful gender stereotyping prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The trial court initially dismissed her case, but the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals’ disagreed and sent the case back for a trial.

The case has now been tried, and the verdict is in.  On November 12, 2010 the jury sided in favor of Ms. Lewis and awarded her $30,000.00 in punitive damages, $19,000.00 for emotional distress, and $1,800.00 for lost wages. 

As noted in in my initial post, the case is good reminder of the expansive scope of Title VII and of the importance of making decisions about employees based on performance and not pre-conceived gender stereotypes.  The jury’s verdict, which does not take into account the significant legal fees that the hotel undoubtedly incurred in defending the lawsuit or Ms. Lewis’s attorneys’ fees and court costs which Heartland Inns will likely be ordered to pay,  now stands as a reminder of just how costly Title VII violations can be.

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.

May 18, 2010

Ellen DeGeneres & Gender Stereotyping under Title VII

Posted in Discrimination, Stereotyping tagged , , , , , , at 9:45 am by Tom Jacobson

Ellen DeGeneres has been the face for many things, including CoverGirl.  So, it’s ironic that her appearance would be featured in a federal lawsuit brought by an Iowa woman who claimed she was fired for not being pretty enough and looking too much like Ellen.

According to a recent decision issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Brenna Lewis worked as  a night auditor and in other front desk roles for Heartland Inns of America.  Things went well for Ms. Lewis until a director of operations started characterizing her as having “an Ellen DeGeneres kind of look.”  She was also referred to as being “tomboyish,” and a manager said it was important for women at the front desk to be “pretty”  and that Ms. Lewis lacked the “Midwestern girl look.”

After Heartland fired Ms. Lewis, she sued, claiming that she was dismissed soley because of unlawful sex stereotyping.  Her case was initially dismissed by the trial court, but the appellate court reversed that decision after concluding that there was evidence suggesting that Heartland had improperly considered gender stereotypes when deciding to fire Ms. Lewis.

This is certainly not the first case where sexual stereotyping has been recognized as an unlawful basis for making decisions about an employee.  But, it is good reminder of the expansive scope of Title VII and of the importance of making decisions about employees based on performance and not pre-conceived gender stereotypes.

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.

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