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Long Island Employment Law Blog

Tech startup had awful environment, lawsuit alleges

"Rampant" sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and wrongful termination have all been alleged by a former Director of Digital and Social Media at UploadVR, a virtual reality startup company. The lawsuit lays out quite the picture of this company's day-to-day environment. The former employee says she witnessed a "boys club," one that was fostered by the founders in numerous ways.

They would openly talk about female employees in front of them, and in sexually-charged ways. They also had a room in one of their offices that was called the "kink room." It had a bed in it and was designed so they could have sex with their employees at work. If that wasn't bad enough, the company would also host parties and gatherings frequently, and the founders would discuss with each other the prospect of having sex with many women from the office.

Study finds cancer discrimination continues at workplaces

It can be devastating for New Yorkers when they discover that they have cancer. In addition to dealing with the treatments and their disease, some cancer patients are also discriminated against by their employers because of their conditions.

A new study that was published in the "Journal of Oncology Practice" indicates that workplace discrimination against workers who have cancer is a pervasive problem. The Americans with Disabilities Act was originally passed in 1990, and the Amendments Act was passed in 2008. That act included impairments that are caused by chronic illnesses, including cancer.

Company sued for sexual harassment

New York farm workers may want to know about a lawsuit filed in federal court pertaining to sexual harassment. The attorney general of the state of Washington has accused an agricultural company of allowing its female workers to be subjected to extreme and illegal sexual harassment.

During an investigation, authorities found that the harassment included forcing women to engage in sexual relations with a supervisor in order to keep their jobs, asking the female workers for intimate photographs and grabbing and rubbing against female workers against their will. According to the complaint, the company was aware of or should have known that one of its supervisors had committed these acts, which were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, for years.

A single slur could create a hostile work environment

New York employees might be able to file a lawsuit on the grounds that they are facing a hostile work environment on the basis of a single comment if that slur is particularly offensive. A federal appellate court disagreed with a lower court ruling that a single slur could not constitute a hostile environment.

The case involved a man who said he had faced discrimination at work on the basis of both his race and sex. In addition to calling him by a racial slur, the man's employer harassed him based on what the employer believed to be his sexual orientation. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed an amicus curiae on the man's behalf, he represented himself in federal district court. After that court granted the employer summary judgment, the man appealed. The 2nd Circuit declined to rule on whether the slur constituted a hostile work environment but said that the lower court could not dismiss it because it happened only once. The court also ruled that actions that might not otherwise appear hostile out of context could support a claim of discrimination.

Trump seeks more time on new rule

New York residents may have heard about a new overtime rule that was set to take effect in December 2016. However, the rule was delayed because of legal challenges, and the Trump administration has asked to push back the deadline to file a legal brief to June 30. If the rule were to take effect, it would raise the salary threshold for exempt workers to $47,476 a year from $23,660.

The original legal challenge to the new rule came from 21 states and was upheld in Nov. 2016 by a Texas judge. The governor of Maine also joined the lawsuit individually as a plaintiff. Before Barack Obama left office, the Department of Labor appealed the Texas ruling, and the case is now pending before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the Trump administration wants more time to prepare its case as their choice for Labor Secretary has yet to be confirmed.

Workplace harassment takes many forms

Some people may believe that sexual misconduct is the only type of harassment in the workplace. However, there are many ways in which New York employees can be harassed regardless of their status within the company. For instance, they could be verbally berated by their superiors in front of others within the company. Such actions are generally intended to normalize the behavior to warn others what could happen if they speak out against it.

If workers are unable to get colleague to engage in a sexual relationship, they may imply that doing so is in theirbest interest. If that fails, they may try to exert whatever power over them as they can. This may be especially true if the person engaging in the harassing behavior is the victim's supervisor or otherwise holds power within the company.

The subtle forms of workplace discrimination

According to a study released on March 21, workplace discrimination in New York and throughout the country may sometimes take subtle forms or may not be immediately recognizable until incidents begin to form a pattern. However, this degree of bias may still be enough to lead to a lawsuit. Researchers identified several different ways in which people were discriminated against at work because of factors such as disability, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and pregnancy, among others.

Some employees were criticized for qualities or behaviors that would have been desirable in other employees who were young, male or white. Employees also reported managers who seemed intent on finding fault with them. Others said that due to their age, race or other characteristics, they were not considered credible. In some workplaces, coworkers or managers made discriminatory comments about people who were not employees. Some workers tried to claim that discriminatory comments were a joke. Employees were sometimes excluded from social gatherings and meetings or from receiving necessary information.

Google accused of wage gap by DOL

New York residents may be aware of recent allegations of sexism and wage disparity in the tech sector. According to the Department of Labor, women who work at Google face systemic issues when it comes to how they are compensated compared to male employees. According to the DOL, the company has violated federal law by discriminating against female employees when it comes to pay.

According to a representative from the DOL, the pay disparities are present throughout the entire company. Another representative from the DOL said that while the investigation into the allegations against Google is not yet finished, there is compelling evidence to verify these accusations. In fact, it was noted that Google's actions were egregious even for a technology company. Since Google receives federal contracts, it is required to share data and information to ensure that it stays compliant with equal opportunity laws.

Supreme Court hears arguments on church-affiliated pensions

New York employees who work for church-affiliated organizations might be interested to know that a lawsuit has reached the Supreme Court about whether or not these organizations' pension plans qualify for a religious exemption. This would mean that the plans are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Lower courts have already unanimously ruled that they are not church plans and thus not exempt because a church does not maintain and did not establish them. Furthermore, employees say that due to the ERISA exemption, the plans are underfunded.

Around 1 million employees at three hospitals will be affected by the decision. If the ruling is not in the hospitals' favor, they may owe employee billions of dollars in penalties.

Minimum wage to increase in New York and elsewhere

Minimum wage workers in New York will see a rise in pay of up to $4,000 per year as a $15 minimum wage is phased in. It is one of a number of states throughout the country that have approved minimum wages increases, and the movement appears to be growing. Currently, more than 40 percent of employees in the country make less than $15 per hour.

Some states and communities have seen pushback against the increase. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a minimum wage increase in New Jersey, but the leading gubernatorial candidate in that state supports the increase. In Flagstaff, Arizona, voters approved the increase while business owners fought against it. However, the minimum wage there is now set to increase to $15.50 per hour. In a number of states including Illinois, Vermont and Massachusetts, there are also calls to raise the hourly wage.

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