November 11, 2012

Do Workplace Discrimination Laws Cover Overweight Workers?

It is no secret that more Americans are overweight than ever before. Whether it’s due to busier lives that lead to less healthy cooking and exercise, or the abundance of more unhealthy foods available, our waistlines are growing. Unfortunately, our tolerance for overweight people has not grown. One place that this is very evident is at work. People who are overweight often feel they are treated unfairly at work, and they appear to be right.

If a worker is discriminated against because of their size, are they protected by any of the federal or state discrimination laws? Not exactly. Several federal discrimination laws exist, but none of them specifically include obese or overweight workers. Only the state of Michigan and a few cities in the United States have any type of laws that prohibit discrimination based on weight or physical appearance. However, obese and overweight workers have taken legal action against employers who have discriminated against them and received monetary damages either through trial or settlement.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a person who is morbidly obese can be considered disabled, which would make a morbidly obese employee protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People who suffer from other conditions because of their weight, such as diabetes or heart disease, may also be protected by the ADA if they are treated unfairly because of their conditions or are denied special accommodations that would allow them to perform certain types of work. Some discrimination lawsuits have been filed on behalf of employees who were allegedly discriminated against because their employer considered them disabled simply because of their weight. One such lawsuit claims that a woman’s employer thought she was unable to perform certain job duties because she was obese, when in fact she was able to do everything required of her for the position. The case is still pending.

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May 29, 2012

New Bill Introduced to Prohibit Kentucky Employers from Requesting Social Networking Passwords

As with all new technology, social networking sites are creating legal questions in all sorts of subjects, including employment law. One question being asked is whether or not a potential or current employer can ask an employee for their social media login and password information.

Employers take the stance that this information is valuable to them in getting a feeling for an employee’s character and may alert them to any unsavory or illegal activity an employee may be involved in. While this seems logical, there are many reasons why employers should not be given personal passwords to social networking sites.

First, login information to any site other than ones used for work purposes is personal and no one should be required to share it with anyone for any reason. Even though we are supposed to keep different passwords for all of our online accounts for security reasons, many of us still use the same or similar passwords for multiple accounts. So giving out a password to a Facebook account may also provide a prospective employer access to other online accounts such as a bank account.

Second, much of the information contained on someone’s Facebook page or other social media website could provide information to potential employers that they are not allowed to request. Ethnicity, age, marital status, religion, and medical conditions are all topics that are not to be discussed during an interview or requested on a job application because use of this information during hiring could be discriminatory. These are the very same topics that Facebook users share with their friends and family on a daily basis.

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April 27, 2012

Lawyers Have to File Age Discrimination Lawsuits for Themselves Sometimes

People have differing views on attorneys. Some consider them money-hungry and willing to do anything for a dollar. Others look at them as champions of justice, protecting those who need it. But people seldom think of them as plaintiffs or defendants. In a New York case that was recently settled, attorneys were both plaintiffs and defendants. A collections attorney at Kelley Drye & Warren turned 70 in 2008. The firm's policy at the time was to "de-equitize" any partner who decided to work after age 70. That means the attorney would lose all ownership in the firm and would only be paid a yearly bonus for any work done.

The attorney did not think this was fair, so he filed an age discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC protects various groups from discrimination based on religion, gender, race, origin and age. The attorney then filed a retaliation claim because his annual bonus dropped by two-thirds after he had contacted the EEOC. A lawsuit was filed by the EEOC on his behalf in January 2010. The lawsuit sought both compensatory and punitive damages for the attorney and also asked that the firm be prohibited from "engaging in any employment practices which discriminate on the basis of age."

In April 2012, Kelley Drye & Warren settled the lawsuit against them for over $500,000. Additionally, they will provide training sessions on age discrimination for those involved in making employment decisions and they will inform the EEOC of any complaints of age discrimination they receive. When the law firm said they had voluntarily dropped the discriminatory policy after the lawsuit was filed in 2010, the EEOC defended their pursuit of the claim, saying many law firms still have these policies and ""We don't think attorneys should be forced to leave their chosen profession simply because they reach some arbitrary age if they have the skill and the energy."

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