Articles Posted in Employment Law

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 of 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 based on their sex and their work environment was “sexually hostile” because of offensive comments and unwanted touching. When they complained, Big Vanilla fired them (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.

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 cause the exclusion of this evidence, not only in age discrimination cases, but in cases of race and gender discrimination.

In this case, a federal District Court judge in Denver, Colorado refused to allow a 51-year-old woman, who is claiming she lost her job because of 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.

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.

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 at $117,000.

While the categories vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, employment discrimination is when an employer discriminates based on 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 will 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.