May 20, 2013

Black Police Officers Sue Annapolis

Four former and current black police officers in Annapolis have filed suit in federal court against the city. The officers claiming they were discriminated against because they are black and, as a result, were turned down for promotions and opportunities to advance.

These kinds of cases are so hard to prove even when they are true. Two of the officers argue disparate treatment which means while the City of Annapolis might be using facially neutral employment practices, they have had a unjustified adverse impact on these black officers. In other words, maybe it was not intentional discrimination but it is.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the city has 26 black officers on its 117-member force which sounds reasonable. But that does not mean there was not discrimination. You just can't read a story like this and know what happened.

April 18, 2013

Ripken Baseball Gender Discrimination Lawsuit to Continue

A federal judge in Baltimore ruled that a gender discrimination lawsuit against Ripken Professional Baseball will continue, rejecting Ripken's argument that the case should be dismissed or that arbitration should be compelled.

Interesting facts. Woman takes a job with Ripken Baseball in 2006 as an Account Representative. She gets promoted to Assistant General Manager of Ticket Sales in 2010. In 2011, she started dating a subordinate employee which she claims happened all the time at Ripken (like it does in the rest of the world) in spite of the fact that the employee handbook says it is a no-no. Ripken - not Cal, I'm referring to the organization - fires her, citing the relationship and, perhaps more importantly, that they told others to lie about the affair. Woman alleges that she was treated differently from her male colleagues who engaged in similar behavior with subordinates.

If true, maybe she was discriminated against? But that does not answer the question. Maybe she was discriminated against because she was not as good an employee as the others. The question in this case is whether she would have been fired if she was a man. Boy, that is a tough question for a judge or jury to figure out.

Anyway, the issue for now is in much closer grasp: can Ripken compel arbitration? The court says no for two reasons. First, there was no consideration for the arbitration clause. But, more interestingly, at least to me because it might relate to nursing home cases, is that two defects in the arbitration agreement make it unfair and unconscionable because it denies the woman access to a neutral forum.

In this case, Ripken PSP’s arbitration's provision gives them exclusive control over the list of arbitrators that may be used. In other words, the deck is stacked against the Plaintiff. We see this with the insurance companies all of the time. They want to use the same arbitrators that have never seen a case they can't undervalue. It is just, the court concludes, not fair.

The arbitration clause Ripken wanted to invoke also failed to provide sufficient rules by which arbitration would proceed, giving the plaintiff no assurance of procedural due process.

Boy, the local media has steered clear of this story. I mean, Cal may not of even met the woman. I can't image he is remotely involved in these issues. But the fact that it is "Ripken baseball" does make it news. I think it is fair to say - and maybe he has earned it - that Cal Ripken would get at least one free murder in Baltimore without consequences.

(If you are reading this post, please keep in mind my firm does not handle gender discrimination or any other types of employment claims. We handle only serious personal injury cases. That's it!)

September 19, 2012

Summary Judgment Denied in Unpaid But Working Lunch Break Case

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake shot down a hospital's effort to dismiss a nurse's class suit last week in a Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law case.

The nurse's claim is that Maryland General Hospital automatically deducts a scheduled meal break from employees' pay while also requiring employees to work during that unpaid break. So the hospital's policy is, allegedly, an automatic 30-minute deduction in their daily time records for a scheduled meal break, whether or not they are able to receive the break. Oh, the inhumanity!

I'm not a huge fan of these types of cases. I think these laws are needed to manage some oppressive working conditions. Think West Virginia coal mine worker. But these are health care workers who are in great demand. Sure, the hospital was screwing over the employee on this lousy lunch break deal. But I bet they did a thousand other things for her that they were not required to do. Now she is cherry picking the one thing she didn't like. Ultimately, it is the employer's job to make the employee happy enough that they want to stay. If she does not like it there, she should leave - which is what she did.

My other problem with these cases is that they seem so lawyer driven. No lawyer would take just this woman's case. The damages - her occasional lost half hour - are not significant enough to attract anyone's interest. The plaintiff will get little out of this even on her best day (even with a lead plaintiff "bonus"). But the hospital has a lot of employees and lawyers see the value in the numbers. The sought class action would include all people employed at Maryland General Hospital (“MGH”) within the three years prior to filing this action whose pay was subject to an automatic 30-minute meal period deduction.

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April 11, 2012

Maryland Facebook Password Law

The Maryland General Assembly has approved a bill that would prohibit employers from seeking Facebook and other social media passwords from either job applicants or existing employees. The bill was passed by a wide margin in the House of Delegates and unanimously by the state Senate, and now awaits Governor Martin O'Malley's signature which it will most certainly get.

Here is what you need to know about the Maryland Chamber of Commerce: they opposed the bill. Why? The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is informed only by what it thinks will help Maryland businesses. If a bill was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that all employees have to work a weekend shift of 8 hours for no compensation, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce would immediately jump behind the bill.

January 17, 2011

Verdict Against Merck in Baltimore

The Maryland Daily Record reports that a Baltimore jury awarded 555,000 to a former Merck & Co. saleswoman who had filed a lawsuit alleging she was fired in retaliation for reporting her supervisor’s violations of corporate policies. The jury awarded both past and future wages.

The Plaintiff had asked for five years of lost wages claiming she has not been able to find a job in the last two years and won't be able to for the next three. Plaintiff was making $120,000 a year. I know it is a tough job market. But it seems a bit unlikely to me that someone who could command such a wage could not find any job over a five year period.

July 29, 2010

Lawsuit for Every Injustice Week

Fired but possibly rehired Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod says she will pursue a lawsuit against conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.

What happened was incredibly unfair to Sherrod and Breitbart should be publicly excoriated for what he did. But I don't understand why a lawsuit should come from this. Her reputation is fully intact and then some. She was offered her job back. She is going to write a book and make a fortune (you know it is coming). Things are great. The only way to blow it is to come off looking petty by filing a lawsuit.

The CNN story is here.

May 24, 2010

Wrongful Termination Verdicts

A recent study, Employment Practice Liability: Jury Award Trends and Statistics, examines wrongful termination claims. This review of federal jury awards found the median verdict in wrongful termination lawsuits is $182,333.

October 2, 2009

New CSA Opinion

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued its opinion in Giant v. Taylor, a race and sex discrimination case about a female truck driver for Giant whose problems with her employer began because she was late to work due to gynecological problems. The jury bought her case, awarding her $644,750 after a trial that took over a week.

It is a case worth reading for Maryland employment lawyers but I did not see much of interest for personal injury lawyers.

June 29, 2009

New Haven Firefighters Win

The Supreme Court ruled in a 504 decision today that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a lower court decision in which Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

New Haven should not have dropped promotion exam, according to the court, because black and only two Latinos were likely to be promoted, based on the results. New Haven went with the "blame it on the lawyers" defense, saying that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

My opinion? I really don't have one. I have not spent the time to get up to speed employment law issues. At a glance, I can certainly see both arguments. My favorite Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote the dissent. Gun to my head, I go with her. But I have an open mind.

March 18, 2009

Big Vanilla Sexual Harassment Settlement

Big Vanilla has agreed to pay $161,000 to settle a lawsuit the government filed against Big Vanilla for sexual harassment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to EEOC’s suit, the Big Vanilla violated federal law by sexually harassing several female employees at Big Vanilla in Pasadena and Arnold, Maryland, the two locations the health club has in Anne Arundel County. The EEOC said four women were subjected to repeated and unwanted sexually offensive remarks and sexual advances and that three of the women were fired in retaliation for their complaints about the discrimination.

The EEOC also announced that in addition to the money Big Vanilla agreed to pay in the settlement, Big Vanilla Pasadena and Big Vanilla Athletic Club also agree to refrain from engaging in harassment on the basis of sex and from retaliating against employees who complain about it.

This is no big deal, this is obvious a requirement already imposed by federal law. But Big Vanilla also agreed to monitoring by the EEOC, to train its current and future managers on anti-discrimination laws, and to post notices stating its commitment to maintaining an environment free of sexual harassment and retaliation. In other words, the EEOC is going to babysit Big Vanilla to make sure it does not sexually harass women in the future.

Related Post:

Big Vanilla Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

February 2, 2009

Employment Lawsuits

According to the ABA Journal, there is no recession in the land of employment law. In 2007, the median employment discrimination verdict rose 70 percent to $252,000 from 2006. Employers won only 38 percent of discrimination cases in 2007, prevailing most often in race discrimination cases (43 percent) and losing most frequently in sex discrimination cases (30 percent).

Of course, it is worth nothing that this does not include the number of cases in which summary judgment is granted for the defendant which changes the numbers good bit.

February 29, 2008

Big Vanilla in Pasadena and Arnold Faces EEOC Lawsuit

Big Vanilla in Pasadena and Severna Park is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of four women for the sexual harassment of all four women and the firing three of them in retaliation for complaining, according to the Maryland Daily Record and the Baltimore Examiner.

Dawn Wooden, Joella Hopkins, Melissa Mendez, and Michelle Cabral said they had been subjected to “repeated, unwanted, sexually offensive remarks and sexual advances” by co-workers and supervisors since December 2006. The commission said the women were discriminated against by Big Vanilla on the basis of their sex and their work environment was “sexually hostile” due to offensive comments and unwanted touching. When they complained, they were fired by Big Vanilla (with the apparent exception of Ms. Mendez).

The EEOC said it is seeking monetary and injunctive relief against Big Vanilla, including back wages and compensatory damages, for the employees, and changes in Big Vanilla's employment policies.

Debra Lawrence, the EEOC supervisory trial attorney said that while the lawsuit against Big Vanilla currently involves four women "there are more in the works."

December 7, 2007

Proving Discrimination Claims

It is difficult to prove age discrimination in the workplace. Because it is hard to prove the exact factors motivating a supervisor to fire one of his or her employees, many victims of age discrimination hope to illustrate a discriminatory culture in the workplace by offering the testimony of other employees who suffered the same treatment. A recent case now on appeal to the Supreme Court may result in the exclusion of this type of evidence, not only in age discrimination cases, but in cases of race and gender discrimination as well.

In this case, a federal District Court judge in Denver, Colorado refused to allow a 51 year-old woman, who is claming she lost her job due to age discrimination, to present the testimony of five other co-workers she claims were let go for the same reason. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, stating that this type of evidence is always admissible when other employees under the protection of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act have also lost their jobs. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal filed by Sprint/United Management Company, Ms. Mendelsohn’s former employer, and will decide if this “me too” evidence is admissible. The New York Times reported that the justices in oral arguments on Monday seemed skeptical of this kind of evidence.

If the Supreme Court overturns the 10th Circuit and delineates a rule that does not allow such evidence, its position will be even more extreme than…drum roll please… the Bush administration, which has taken the position- through the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission- that evidence of this type, consistent with the Federal Rules of Evidence, should be admissible when relevant and when it would not confuse or prejudice the jury. If the Supreme Court disagrees, it means that the Supreme Court is becoming more pro-business and anti-plaintiff than the Bush administration. I find this scary.

Whichever way the Court decides, their decision will have a major impact on how future discrimination cases can and will be tried.

October 1, 2007

Arbitration/Settlement of Employment Discrimination Cases

I read a 2003 ABA Journal article last night looking at a 1995 study that compared settled, litigated and arbitrated employment discrimination case outcomes. I found another article that makes the same claim (click here). That study found that both median and average jury verdicts in discrimination cases were at least three times higher than the comparable mean and median arbitration awards. I am not surprised to see a difference but three times higher is pretty stunning. These private arbitral systems seem to be structurally biased, as the EEOC called it, in favor of employers.

Today, Jury Verdict Research reports on its study examining trends in settlements involving discrimination claims from 2000 through 2006. The overall settlement median for employment discrimination claims was $70,000. Plaintiffs' settlements for disability and race discrimination claims were similar with a median settlement of $75,000.

There is one thing I find interesting about labor and employment litigation lawyers. If you are looking for a labor and employment lawyer in Maryland who defends management, you can find a million and one. Yet it seems like there are 1/100 the number of plaintiffs' employment lawyers in Maryland. If it takes two to tango and we are talking about litigation, don't the numbers of labor and employment lawyers on the defense and plaintiffs' side have to equally balanced? Even if you allow for the "it takes 5 defense lawyers to defend a deposition" phenomenon, I still cannot figure out the extent of the asymmetry.

(And, yes, if you are wondering, this is the day for quick short posts on the Maryland Lawyer Blog. I have some backlog of thoughts from the weekend.)

October 1, 2007

Employment Law Developments in Maryland

Four lawyers at Kollman & Saucier, whose practice focuses on labor and employment law, will be giving a seminar for Lorman Education Services at Inner Harbor Holiday Inn on December 5, 2007. I would imagine one of the topics will be Maryland's new law, that is effective today, that allows for suit by Maryland employers in state court for discrimination. Maryland's law is more expansive than federal law because it allows claims for discrimination claims based on sexual orientation, family status, and marital status.

September 14, 2007

Employment Discrimination in Maryland

Digging through my miscellaneous files today (an incredible hodgepodge), I found a Metro Verdicts Monthly reporting on median settlements and verdicts in employment discrimination cases in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. Washington D.C. leads this pack at $206,000. Virginia's median is $150,000 while Maryland lags behind at $117,000.

While the categories vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, employment discrimination is essentially when an employer discriminates on the basis of gender, religion, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

With the baby boomers coming of age, the next hot area for employment lawyers in Maryland is going to be age discrimination. Between 1997 and 2003, age discrimination plaintiffs recovered $262,405 from juries, more than did any other protected group, according to Employment Practices Liability: Jury Trends and Statistics, a study conducted by Jury Verdict Research.