Tag Archives: Employment Discrimination

One Severe Incident is Enough to Prove Racial Harassment at the Workplace

Employees are protected from harassment at the workplace when the underlying reason behind the harassment is protected by the law. For instance, sexual harassment takes place when employees face intentional discrimination based on sex. Racial harassment takes place when an employee is subjected to harassment based on race. A recent Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision makes it clear that even one isolated incident can form the basis of a harassment claim.

In Castleberry v. STI Group; (3rd Cir. no. 16-3131 (July 14, 2017), two African- American males were fired by a staffing-placement agency which employed the employees at Chesapeake Energy an oil and natural company. The employees claimed that the termination was racially motivated, citing discriminatory remarks at the workplace and unfair work treatment. The Third Circuit reversed the trial court’s 

dismissal of the employees’ Complaint finding that the employees sufficiently alleged claims of harassment, disparate treatment discrimination, and retaliation.

In Castleberry, the employees alleged that when they arrived at work, 

on several occasions, someone had anonymously written “don’t be black on the right of way” on sign-in sheets, and when working on a fence-removal project, a supervisor told one of the employees and his coworkers that if they had “nigger-rigged” the fence, they would be fired. Following the last incident, the employees reported the offensive language to a superior and they were fired two weeks later without explanation, they were rehired shortly thereafter, but then terminated again for “lack of work.” The employees filed a lawsuit alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1981 which provides, “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . to the full and equal benefit of all laws . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens . . .” The employees alleged a hostile work environment on the basis of race which requires that an employee show that the employee suffered intentional discrimination because of race, the discrimination was severe or pervasive, the discrimination detrimentally affected the employee, the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person in like circumstances, and the existence of respondeat superior liability (i.e. a basis for the employer being responsible for the conduct- such as a manager making the comments).

In Castleberry, the Third Circuit made it clear that to prevail on a harassment or hostile work environment claim, an employee must establish that . . . the discrimination was severe or pervasive, a standard the Supreme Court has articulated as much on several occasions. Then the Court considered whether a supervisor’s single use of the “n- word” is adequately “severe” and if one isolated incident is sufficient to state a claim or harassment or a hostile work environment. The Third Circuit found that an isolated incident of discrimination if severe can suffice to state a claim for harassment. Applying this standard, in Castleberry the Court held that because the employees alleged that their supervisor used a racially charged slur in front of them and their non-African- American coworkers and within the same breath, and the use of this word was accompanied by threats of termination which ultimately occurred, the single incident was sufficient to show severe conduct that could create a hostile work environment.

The Court also noted that the employee could also satisfy the “pervasive” standard as the employees alleged that on several occasions the sign-in sheets bore racially discriminatory comments and the employees were required to do menial tasks while less experienced white colleagues were instructed to perform more complex work. Thus, the Court held that the employees pled a plausible claim of a hostile work environment under either theory- as the harassment was both “severe” or “pervasive.”

In Castleberry, the Court also held that the employees had a viable retaliation claim based on their claim that they were fired for reporting the racially discriminatory remark made by their supervisor. To establish a retaliation, claim an employee must establish that the employee engaged in protected activity by making a claim of discrimination based on a good faith reasonable belief; the employer took an adverse employment action against the employee; and there was a causal connection between the employee’s participation in the protected activity and the adverse employment action. As the Third Circuit found that a single incident can amount to unlawful activity, the Third Circuit also reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the retaliation claim. The court also reversed the dismissal of the employees’ discrimination claim based on disparate treatment because the employees belong to a racial minority; there was evidence of an intent to discriminate based on race and the termination of employment is a protected activity under §1981.

Andrew Abramson is a Philadelphia area employment discrimination attorney. For more information about race discrimination and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-2130158.html.

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Pennsylvania Employee Laid Off After 33 Years of Service Has Race Discrimination Claim

When an employer has a reduction in force (i.e. layoff), an employee may have an employment discrimination claim if the employee is able to establish the reason that the employee was chosen for a layoff and other similarly situated employees were not laid off is due to a protected criteria such as the employee’s age, race, sex, religion, national origin or a disability. In Johnson v. Verizon Services Corporation, E. D. Pa. no. 16-1023 (DuBois, J,) (April 18, 2017), the court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment and held that an employee, the only African-American employee in his department, who was terminated during a reduction-in-force after a 33 year career at Verizon had sufficient evidence of race discrimination to proceed to a jury trial.

In Johnson, the employee worked on a code review team, responsible for identifying errors and vulnerabilities in computer applications and recoding. The employee had the highest job title ranking available in the IT Department; had received above satisfactory performance ratings, including many positive comments concerning his work performance. Of the 6 employees on the code review team, the Plaintiff, the only African-American was terminated, as part of a reduction-in-force (“RIF”) and the other 5 employees who were retained all had less work experience.

In defending the race discrimination claim, the employer contended that it terminated the Plaintiff during the RIF because he was the least valuable member of the coding team and had performance issues. According to the selecting manager, there was no specific standard used to determine who would be selected for the RIF because the manager “owned the department” so he knew what was required and he “put together a table of pros and cons” on all of the employees. However, the manager testified that he destroyed the list approximately 6 months after the termination and there were no records of any kind available regarding the manager’s selection determination.

Race discrimination cases are analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting test. In order to established a prima facie case of race discrimination where there is a reduction in force, an employee must show that (1) the employee belongs to a protected class, (2) the employee was qualified for the position, (3) the employee was terminated, and (4) other employees outside of the protected class were retained. An employee’s qualifications for purposes of proving a prima facie case are determined by an objective standard. Once an employee establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination. Then an employee must show that the employer’s articulated reason was a pretext for intentional discrimination by pointing to some evidence from which a factfinder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s decision to terminate employment.

In Johnson, there was no dispute that the Plaintiff was the only African-American in his group and the only employee who was terminated. Thus, the only element of the prima facie case at issue was whether he was qualified for his job. The court found that by having 33 years of employment experience at Verizon, 3 years on the coding team and only positive performance written performance appraisals, the Plaintiff was qualified for the job from which he was terminated. The employer’s proffered reason for termination was that the Plaintiff was ranked lowest in the coding group with respect to the coding skills necessary for the code review job and other employees possessed primary expertise, which the court held could be a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for his firing. Then the court analyzed the evidence of pretext and held that positive performance reviews, lack of a disciplinary record, a long work history with Verizon, a ranking of being the most proficient member of the team with commendations for a wealth of knowledge and experiences and no written evidence of negative performance issues created a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the proffered reason for termination. The court noted that its findings were particularly influenced by the fact that the only evidence of deficient work performance presented by the employer was “subjective evaluations” which are more susceptible of abuse and more likely to mask pretext. Thus, the court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment permitting the case to proceed to a jury trial.

Andrew Abramson and Abramson Employment Law represent employees who are terminated and are the victims of race discrimination and all other forms of employment discrimination. For more information on Pennsylvania employment law see our website at http://www.job-discrimination.com.

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Pennsylvania School District Employee Forced to Resign has Age & Disability Discrimination Claims

When an employee “voluntary resigns”, an employee may still prevail in an employment discrimination claim based on age, disability, or other protected criteria. Some employers who have already made a decision to terminate an employee use a tactic where the employer calls an employee to a meeting and the employer states that we are going to terminate if you do not immediately resign. In such instances, when the underlying reason for the termination is protected by the law, courts can find that the “voluntary resignation” is a constructive discharge, which is in effect the same as the termination of employment. In Sorlini v. Wissahickon School District (E., D. Pa. no. 16-1837) (April 5, 2017) (Tucker, C. J.), the court denied the employer’s Motion to Dismiss, found that there was evidence to support a constructive discharge of employment and held that the employee could proceed with his age and disability discrimination claims.

In Sorlini, the employee was a 58-year-old building supervisor for a school district who suffered from heart and knee problems that affected his ability to walk or stand without pain for extended periods of time, which culminated in a heart attack and two knee surgeries. The employee took a significant amount of time off from work. The employee was terminated within 2-3 months after another employee informed him that she overheard the school principal, and a supervisor, discussing the need to terminate his employment due to his illness and numerous sick leaves. The principal met with the employee and expressed concern that he had allowed another employee’s boyfriend on school premises without authorization; the employee denied that he had any knowledge of the boyfriend being present. Prior to the principal’s meeting, the employee had never had his work performance questioned and he had no disciplinary history. The day after the principal’s meeting, the employee was called to a meeting with the employer’s human resources director, chief financial officer, and his supervisor and informed that if he did not resign immediately, he would be terminated for allowing the co-worker’s boyfriend on school premises and that he would not be eligible for disability pension benefits if he was terminated. The employee then signed a resignation letter during the meeting under the threat of immediate termination. The employee was replaced by an employee who was less than 40 years of age. The employee also alleged that there was a liberal practice of allowing individuals who were not school employees on school premises and two custodians, a secretary, and a teacher allowed individuals who were not school employees on the school premises, yet they were not disciplined.

In Sorlini, the employee filed a lawsuit against the school district alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment (ADEA), disability discrimination in violate of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The employee, alleged that the employer constructively discharged him because of his age and disabilities, and subsequently replaced him with a younger employee.

An employer’s Motion to Dismiss will be denied if the employee alleges a prima facie case of discrimination. To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination an employee must show: (1) the employee is older than 40; (2) the employee was qualified for the position; (3) the employee suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the employee was replaced by a sufficiently younger person or some other evidence to support the inference of age discrimination.

In Sorlini, the employee was 58 years old, he was qualified for the job he performed for 7 years and he was subsequently replaced by a substantially younger person. Thus, the question centered around whether he suffered an adverse employment action despite the fact that he voluntarily resigned. When an employee voluntarily resigns, an adverse employment action exists if the employee was constructively discharged. A constructive discharge is established when a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have had no choice but to resign. When considering whether an employee was constructively discharged, courts look for indicia of coercion, such as threats of termination, suggestions to resign or retire, demotions or reductions in pay or benefits, alterations in job responsibilities, unfavorable performance evaluations, and false accusations of stealing or misconduct.

In Sorlini, the court found that the employee was constructively discharged because he alleged that he was subject to false accusations of misconduct and threats of discharge, he was falsely accused of letting unauthorized personnel on school premises and then told that he would be terminated for his misconduct if he did not resign. The court found that given the time constraint, the employee did not have the opportunity for due deliberation before making the decision to sign a resignation letter, thus, there was evidence that would raise a reasonable expectation of constructive discharge and the court found that the employee had sufficiently raised a claim of age discrimination to survive the motion to dismiss.

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual with a disability in regard to termination or the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. To establish a prima facie case under the ADA, an employee must show that he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations and the employ suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination based on a disability. An employee may be qualified to perform the essential functions of a job based on job experience. A discriminatory adverse employment decision due to a disability may be established by a constructive discharge.

In Sorlini, the court found that the employee qualified for protection under the ADA as he alleged several musculoskeletal and cardiovascular physical impairments that limit major life activities, including heart and knee problems that affected his prolonged ability to walk or stand without pain. The court also held that the employee was qualified for the position of bundling supervisor in that he had performed the job for 7 years. Further, as with the age discrimination claim, the court found that there was evidence that could support a constructive discharge of employment which raises the reasonable expectation that Plaintiff suffered a discriminatory adverse employment action due to his disability

Andrew Abramson is a Pennsylvania employment discrimination attorney who represents employees who have been discriminated against based on their age, a disability and other legally protected criteria. For more information on age discrimination see https://www.job-discrimination.com/age-discrimination.html; for more information on disability discrimination see our website at http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.htm.

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Pennsylvania Employee Denied Request to Work From Home Has ADA Disability Discrimination, Reasonable Accommodation & Retaliation Claims

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are unable to perform certain work duties. Determining what constitutes a reasonable accommodation is highly fact intensive and requires consideration of a job’s essential requirements. In Slayton v. Sneaker Villa, Inc., E. D. Pa. no. 15-0074 (Goldberg, J.) (March 20, 2017), an employee filed an action under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), alleging that her employer unlawfully terminated her employment by discriminating based on her disability, failing to provide a reasonable accommodation, and retaliation against the employee for requesting a reasonable accommodation. The court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment and held that the Plaintiff could proceed to a jury trial.

In Slayton, the employee was hired as a Corporate Recruiter; 80 days into her employment, the employee was seriously injured in an accident and hospitalized for 5 days, suffering fractures of multiple vertebrae in her neck and back, and a head injury. The employee was out of work for approximately 2 months and then requested the reasonable accommodation of working full-time from home for 4 weeks or until her physical therapy was complete and she was released back to full-time status without restrictions. The employee’s restrictions included no driving, lifting anything heavier than five pounds, no bending or walking, and no sitting or standing for long periods of time. The employer responded to the reasonable accommodation request by asserting that the restrictions prohibited the employee from meeting the job’s requirements and that the employer could not hold her job any longer. The employee then presented another request, to work part-time in the office 10-15 hours per week and the other 25-30 hours from home, noting that she could perform all of the essential functions of the duties with the exception of the job fairs. A dispute then arose as to whether the employee was told that she was terminated (as the employee contested), or if the employer never stated that the employee was terminated and instead was requested to provide a doctor’s note outlining her restrictions. Ultimately, the employer terminated the employee claiming that the employee needed to be in the office full-time, as the job required face-to-face interviews, traveling, attendance at job fairs and other responsibilities that the employee could not perform the job given her physical condition.

An employee may prove disability discrimination by indirect evidence through the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. First, the employee must establish a prima facie case by showing that the employee is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; the employee is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and the employee suffered an adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Thereafter, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment decision. Then the employee must show that the employer’s reason is pretextual by pointing to evidence from which a factfinder could reasonably either disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reason; or believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s action.

In Slayton, the employer argued that the employee could not meet the essential functions of the job which it alleged required physical presence in the office and the ability to travel. Whether a particular function is essential, is a factual determination that is made on a case by case basis. In assessing whether a given job function is essential, courts look at the employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential; job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job; the amount of time spent on the job performing the function; the consequences of not requiring the employee to perform the function; and the work experience of past and current employees who perform the same or similar jobs. An employer may be required to restructure a job by reallocating or redistributing nonessential, marginal job functions; however, the employer is not required to reallocate essential functions.

In Slayton, the court found that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether physical presence in the office was an essential job function, in part based on the employee’s testimony that despite her requests to do so, she never actually traveled to any job fairs during her employment. The employee’s pretext evidence consisted of the employee contending that she was fired before the employer ever requesting a doctor’s note and someone else being offered the job before the employee was asked for a doctor note. The court held that a jury could find that the employer’s claim that the reason for termination, the inability to travel and/or be physically present in the office, was unworthy of credence because it had already decided to terminate the employee before meaningfully assessing her inability to perform those functions.

The ADA requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an employee, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. To establish that an employer breached its duty to provide a reasonable accommodation, an employee must demonstrate: (1) that the employee was disabled and the employer knew it; (2) the employee requested an accommodation or assistance; (3) the employer did not make a good faith effort to assist; and (4) the employee could have been reasonably accommodated. Once an accommodation is requested, the employer is required to engage in the interactive process during which the employer and employee identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and the potential reasonable accommodations. Employers may meet their obligation in a number of ways, such as meeting with the employee who requests an accommodation, requesting information about the condition and what limitations the employee has, and offering and discuss available alternatives when a request is too burdensome. A failure to communicate, either by way of initiation or response, may be bad faith.

The term reasonable accommodation is expressly defined to include part-time or modified work schedules. In Slayton, the court held that the fact that the employee modified her request for a temporary accommodation to include working part-time in the office once she was denied the initial request to work from home, created a factual dispute as to whether the employer engaged in good faith as an employer cannot merely dismiss such a request out of hand and a factual question existed as to whether the requested accommodations were facially reasonable, particularly given the temporary nature of the accommodation request.

Andrew Abramson is a Pennsylvania employment law attorney who represents employees who have been discriminated against based on a disability and denied requests for reasonable accommodations. For more information on workplace accommodations and disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and he Pennsylvania Human Relations Act see our website at http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.htm.

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Age Discrimination Proven When 50 Year Old+ Employees are Treated Differently than 40 Year Olds

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits an employer from terminating the employment of an employee or otherwise discriminating against any employee with respect to the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of age provided, that an employee is at least 40 years of age. There are two types of age discrimination claims. In a disparate-treatment case, an employee is treated differently at the workplace due to the employee’s age. For instance, a 50-year-old employee with a good performance record is terminated and his replacement is 25 years old and the employee argues that there was intent to discriminate based on age. The other type of age discrimination claim is a disparate-impact claim which addresses an employer’s action that does not require proof of discriminatory intent. In this type of case the employer’s policy at issue may be fair in form, but the impact of the policy as implemented is found to be discriminatory. Disparate-impact claims usually focus on statistical disparities that have an impact on older employees due to their age.

In defending age discrimination claims employers sometimes argue that if other employees who are 40 years of age or older were not subject to discriminatory action that somehow proves that no one in the protected class (anyone who is older than 40) could possibly have been treated differently due to their age. This argument misconstrues age discrimination law and was rejected by the United States Supreme Court over 20 years ago, in O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308 (1996), an ADEA disparate-treatment case, in which the court held that a 56-year-old employee who was fired and replaced with a younger worker who was over age 40 could bring a successful claim under the ADEA.

A recent United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case addressed the issue of whether an employer’s policy that impacts workers over 50 due to the age could be found to violate the ADEA if the same policy did not negatively impact the entire group of employees when the group was defined as all employees over age 40. To state a prima facie case for disparate impact under the ADEA, an employee must identify a specific, facially neutral policy, and (2) proffer statistical evidence that the policy caused a significant age-based disparity. Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, an employer can defend by arguing that the challenged practice was based on reasonable factors other than age. In Karol v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC, no. 15-3435 (3rd Cir. January 10, 2017), the court found that in a reduction in force case where there was a company-wide layoff, a group of employees who are 50 or older could use statistical data that showed that they were treated differently due to their age. In Karlo, the question before the court was whether a disparate-impact claim is cognizable where a “subgroup” of employees at the upper end of that range-in this case, employees aged 50 or older, were alleged to have been disfavored relative to younger employees.

In Karlo, the employer, Pittsburgh Glass Works, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of automotive glass engaged in several reductions in force (“RIFs”), laying off employees due to deteriorating sales. The RIF at issue resulted in the termination of the employment of 100 salaried employees. Directors were provided with broad discretion in selecting whom to terminate and the employer did provide any written guidelines or policies as to how go about selecting which employees to lay off. In Karlo each of the employees that filed the lawsuit were 50 years of age or older and they were all selected for layoff by the same supervisor (other employees later opted into the class action lawsuit). The Third Circuit found that the central question was whether so-called “subgroup” disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the ADEA.

Disparate-impact claims in ADEA cases ordinarily evaluate the effect of a facially neutral policy on all employees who are at least forty years old, that is, all employees covered by the ADEA. In Karlo, the employees argued that they identified a policy that disproportionately impacted a subgroup of that population: only employees that were older than 50. The court held that an ADEA disparate-impact claim may proceed when employees offer evidence that a specific, facially neutral employment practice caused a significantly disproportionate adverse impact based on age with various forms of evidence by using a statistical data group of employees who were 50 years of age or older (a subgroup) rather that all employees who were 40 years of age or older. The court’s holding was premised on the principle that the ADEA prohibits disparate impact based on age, not 40 and-older identity. Thus, the court found that a rule that disallowed subgroups of age brackets over 40 would ignore genuine statistical disparities that could otherwise be actionable through application of the plain text of the ADEA.

In Karlo, relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in O’Connor the court held that a specific, facially neutral policy that significantly disfavors employees over 50 years old supports a claim of disparate impact. Thus, in Pennsylvania, employees who bring age discrimination claims under either age discrimination theory can use evidence that they were treated differently than younger employees even when those “younger” employees are over age 40.

Andrew Abramson represents Pennsylvania employees who have age discrimination claims against their employers. For more information on age discrimination see https://www.job-discrimination.com/age-discrimination.html

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Employee Terminated After Sexual Relationship with a Company Owner on Employer Sponsored Trip Has Viable Sex Discrimination & Hostile Work Environment Claims

In order to motivate sales representatives, in addition to commissions, some employers offer other types of incentives, including paid vacations. When employers reward employees with vacations in which company ownership and management also participate, social interaction outside the workplace may create the potential for significant liability and damages. A recent Pennsylvania federal court decision that denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment shows that it is possible for sex discrimination and sexually hostile work environment claims to arise in such situations.

In Getter v. IA-Works, Inc., E. D. Pa. no. 16-953 (December 19, 2016, Beetlestone, J.), a female sale representative was rewarded with an employer sponsored sailing trip in the Mediterranean Sea. The trip included traveling in sail boats with overnight bedroom accommodations. The Plaintiff employee, a sales representative for a manufacturer of products for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industries, worked remotely from her home in Pennsylvania. Prior to the trip the employee consistently received positive work performance evaluations. Shortly after returning from the trip, the employee was terminated and she filed litigation in federal court in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, alleging that the termination of her employment was discrimination based on her sex; and that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment.

Participants in the sailing included three owners of the employer, the President (father) and two sons, who are also owners of the employer; as well as the father’s romantic partner, the Managing Director who served as the Plaintiff employee’s supervisor. While some of the details were disputed, the Plaintiff employee and one of the sons engaged in a consensual sexual encounter during the trip and the President and Managing Director found about the sexual relationship. On the final day of the trip, the Plaintiff employee apologized to the President for “having sex on a business trip,” but denied making a broader apology about the relationship. The President said, “How can a woman like you, a professional businesswoman, let something like this happen. How can you spread your legs after the second day, after the third day or whenever it happened? I mean if this happened after three months or – what kind of sign is this?” The President then gave the employee an ultimatum, quit working for the company to pursue a relationship with his son or break things off with the son and continue in her sales position. The Plaintiff employee and the son did not see each other after the trip but stayed in touch by texting each other. Three weeks after the trip the Plaintiff employee was fired.

To establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination an employee must show that the employee was a member of a protected class; (2) was qualified for the job, (3) the employee suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) members of the opposite sex were treated more favorably, or that an adverse employment action occurred under circumstances that could give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination. The most straightforward method for demonstrating an inference of discrimination is to show that similarly situated employees who were not in a protected class were treated more favorably (i.e. a man was treated differently than a women). However, if it is not possible to use a specific comparator an employee may provide other evidence to establish a causal nexus between sex and the termination of employment. Once a prima facie case is established, the employer must offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination. Thereafter, the burden shifts back to the employee to offer some evidence, direct or circumstantial, from which a factfinder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reason; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s action.

In Getter, the court held that the President’s statement that Plaintiff employee’s behavior was inappropriate for a “businesswoman” suggests that he viewed female sexual activity as more problematic from an employer’s perspective than similar behavior on the part of a male employee. In addition, the court held that the evidence suggested that the President harbored “traditional stereotypes regarding the relationship between the advancement of women in the workplace and their sexual behavior.” Thus, the court held that a jury could reasonably conclude that the President’s reaction to the employee’s sexual relationship provides evidence that the termination of employment was based on sex.

The court then considered the employer’s proffered reason for the termination, which included reference to the “inappropriate” relationship with the son, continuing the relationship after vowing to end it, and failing to follow-up on sales duties after the trip. The court found that pretext existed as the proffered reason itself is vague and imprecise. Further, initially the Managing Director was enthusiastic and then perhaps neutral in her attitude toward the relationship and the Managing Director cancelled the only scheduled sales call after the trip. Pretext was also found because the Plaintiff had been advised that the relationship would not impact her employment status. Thus, the court found that the inconsistencies, contradictions, and weaknesses in the proffered reason for termination were sufficient to permit a factfinder to disbelieve the employer’s reason and make a reasonable inference that sex discrimination instead motivated the employer’s termination.

As to the hostile work environment claim, the Plaintiff employee contended that the son’s initial proposition of sex, the President’s comments to her on the final day of the trip and several other events, created a sexually hostile work environment. To prevail on a hostile work environment claim arising from sexual harassment, an employee must show that: 1) she suffered intentional discrimination because of her sex; 2) the discrimination was severe or pervasive; 3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff; 4) the discrimination would detrimentally a reasonable person in the employee situation and respond superior (employer liability) exits. A hostile work environment claim can be supported by indirect evidence as the intent to discriminate based on sex in cases involving sexual propositions, innuendo, pornographic materials, or sexual derogatory language is implicit. When a hostile work environment claim is based on alleged harassment by a supervisor, an employer’s liability is established if the harassment culminates in a tangible employment action. (i.e. termination of employment). When the alleged harasser is not a supervisor, the employer is liable only if it was negligent in controlling working conditions that led to the hostile work environment.

In Getter, the court found that the President’s conversation with the Plaintiff on the final day of the trip and the son’s (a part owner of the company) initial sexual advances which the Plaintiff initially rejected before the sexual was eventually consensual, could lead to a jury reasonably concluding that there was discrimination because of sex. The court also found that viewing the overall scenario experienced by the Plaintiff employee on the a 12 day sailing trip less than six months into her employment with a family owned company, a jury could reasonably conclude that the employee was subjected to sexual harassment sufficiently severe enough to alter her conditions of employment as within the first days of that trip, Plaintiff was propositioned for sex by a part-owner of the company (who she had never previously met), and the trip concluded with her being berated for accepting that proposition by his father, which represents an intermingling of sex-based discrimination and employment conditions; and that taken in the context of 12 day company sponsored trip in which Plaintiff had little contact with the outside world, a jury could reasonably conclude that this environment, was sufficiently severe as to constitute a change in the conditions of Plaintiff’s employment. The court also found that the conduct would detrimentally affect a reasonable similarly situated employee for the same reason; and that there was evidence that the employee was severely impacted with great anxiety about the entire situation and how it might impact her future. Lastly, as the alleged harassment culminated in the termination of employment, the employer could be liable.

Andrew Abramson is a Pennsylvania employment law attorney who represents employees who are the victims of sexual harassment and sexually hostile work environments. Abramson Employment Law represents clients in federal and state court in Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. For more information on sexual harassment see http://www.job-discrimination.com/sexual-harassment.html.

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Husband Proceeds with Sex Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Against Employer Based on Wife’s Actions

Many employers have policies that restrict two members of the same family, such as a husband and wife, from working together in order to avoid nepotism, a conflict of interest and other issues that could allow a family related dispute to cause an issue at the workplace. Other employers permit two family members to work at the employer if they are in a different department, or they do not supervise each other. A recent Pennsylvania federal court decision in Reiser v. Concordia Lutheran Health, W. D. Pa. no. 16-959 (December 8, 2016, Bissoon, J.) demonstrates that employers who do not have these types of workplace restrictions may be exposed to liability under laws which protect retaliatory action against employees, such as sexual harassment.

In Reiser, the husband was an employee who worked as a Corporate Director of Rehabilitation at a senior and healthcare services provider with several locations. The employee’s wife, the daughter of the Chief Executive Officer, was employed by the same employer as a manager. When the marital relationship ended, bad feelings erupted, causing substantial problems at the workplace.

The wife confronted her husband in his office and asked him to renew their relationship before their divorce was final; when he refused, the wife stated that she would make his life “a living hell.” The wife then engaged in a series of harassing actions at work, including sending text messages using vulgar terms; telling other employees that the husband was an inadequate lover and a poor father; requiring the husband to use a computer program at work to track his whereabouts and the time that he spent using his mobile phone, while no other salaried, management level employee was required to do the same; falsely alleging that the husband was repeatedly staring at her and not working; using the performance evaluation process to accuse the husband of poor work performance, even though the work performance allegations conflicted with the performance data provided by the other facility managers; and reporting the husband to the police for a violating a protection from abuse order and not advising the police that the husband was an employee required to work at the designated location that day, with the intent of causing difficulty at the workplace as it would be nearly impossible for him to perform his duties and comply with the restrictions. The husband complained to human resources about the wife’s conduct but the employer took no action to address the situation and have the wife cease her actions.

In Reiser, the husband filed litigation against the employer claiming that the employer subjected him to a hostile work environment because of his sex. The employer filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the employee’s hostile work environment claim fails because the actions at issue were not motivated by sex, but rather were the result of a family law dispute.

In order to establish a prima facie of a sexually hostile work environment based on gender, an employee must show that the employee (1) suffered intentional discrimination because of sex; (2) the discrimination was severe or pervasive; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the employee; and (iv) the discrimination would negatively affect a reasonable person in the employer’s position. For the harassment to be actionable, the workplace must be permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the employee’s employment and create an abusive working environment.

In Reiser, the court denied the Motion to Dismiss and found that the husband alleged sufficient facts to support a sexually hostile work environment claim against the employer by showing that the wife’s actions were sufficiently severe and pervasive to have altered the terms and conditions of his employment, as the wife used her position as a management level employee and daughter of the employer’s Chief Executive Officer to harass the husband because of his refusal to renew their intimate relationship. As such, the court found that the husband sufficiently alleged that he was negatively impacted by the alleged harassment in the form of anxiety and depression and that the actions taken against him would negatively affect a reasonable person in the employee’s position.

Andrew Abramson is an experienced Pennsylvania employment law attorney who represents employees who have been subjected to sexual harassment and hostile work environments. Abramson Employment Law represents clients in Philadelphia, Montgomery County and surrounding areas. For more information on sexual harassment and retaliation see http://www.job-discrimination.com/sexual-harassment.html.

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Filed under Employment DIscrimination, Hostile Work Environment, Sex / Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment