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New Lawsuit Alleges Racial Discrimination at the University of Illinois

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New Lawsuit Alleges Racial Discrimination at the University of Illinois

Employees and employers alike in the Chicago area should know about a recent class action lawsuit filed against the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (UIUC).

The case, Brown v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, alleges employment discrimination on the basis of race under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law, and the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, a state law. The plaintiffs in the case specifically allege that racial discrimination and harassment are part of the University of Illinois’s “standard operating procedure. The case is likely to highlight the harms of racial discrimination in employment.  And also underscore the steps that employers must take in drafting and enforcing a non-discrimination policy.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs cite overt and pervasive incidents of racial discrimination and harassment on the basis of race.

For example, the complaint describes threats of racial violence. Including the appearance of nooses, KKK paraphernalia, confederate flags, racist graffiti, and swastikas. Other overt acts of racism, according to the complaint, include racial slurs. Which the plaintiffs allege other employees used against them. Moreover, the complaint also alleges that racial discrimination persisted in more subtle forms. Such as black employees subjected to disrespect from supervisors and coworkers. As well as, being subject to excessive monitoring and scrutinizing from supervisors.

The University has a written non-discrimination policy.

However, as the recent lawsuit alleges, the policy only prohibits racial harassment if it is “sufficiently severe or pervasive”. Is “objectively offensive,” and “unreasonably interferes with, denies. Or if it limits a person’s ability to participate or benefit from employment opportunities, assessment or status at the University.” Accordingly, the plaintiffs argue that the non-discrimination policy permits a hostile work environment that violates both federal and state law.

According to Arthur Ehrlich and Jonathan C. Goldman, Chicago employment discrimination lawyers, “harassment can be a form of employment discrimination under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003; when it creates a hostile work environment. An employee has a right to file a claim when facing discrimination on the basis of race.”

It is important to note that this lawsuit comes at a point in which Illinois legislators recently amended the Equal Pay Act of 2003. Which prohibits employers from discrimination against African American employees by paying African American employees lower wages for substantially similar work. This recent change to the law; along with the recent lawsuit against UIUC; should make clear that employment discrimination, on the basis of race, is taken very seriously in Illinois.

EEOC And UPS Resolve Religious Discrimination Matter Through Settlement

Just as the partial government shutdown shuttered the doors at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency announced a $4.9 million settlement in a religious discrimination case.

According to the agency, the shipping company refused to hire persons with long hair or beards, even if their appearance had a religious reason. Furthermore, UPS delayed religious accommodation requests or denied them outright, according to court documents. The company did not admit liability and characterized the settlement as a business decision. We want “to focus our energy on our hiring and promotion process, rather than lengthy and costly court proceedings,” UPS said in a statement.

The settlement is just the latest in a series of employment discrimination claims against UPS.

The company settled a multimillion-dollar disability discrimination action in 2017, and another religious discrimination action in 2013. “Failure to make a reasonable accommodation is the most common type of religious discrimination in Illinois,” commented Chicago employment law attorney Jonathan Goldman. “But this term confuses many workers. As a result, they give in too quickly and give up too much.”

Most people assume that a phrase like reasonable accommodation means give and take, he explained. But in this context, and as far as the employee is concerned, this process is basically all taking and no giving. If the worker requests a religious accommodation, the employer must grant it unless the request would cause an undue hardship.

For example, assume David works in retail. He is a Christian and he wants Sundays off. His boss is also a Christian, but he feels that the religion does not specifically prohibit working on Sundays. Nevertheless, David’s boss offers to let him off every other Sunday. David might be tempted to take that offer.

But the “not officially recognized” bit is irrelevant. If David’s religious beliefs about Sundays are sincere, the law protects him. In fact, even if David started his own church and embraced certain beliefs, the law would still protect him. It does not matter if the belief was dogmatic or not.

Second, in the “reasonable accommodation” department, David and other workers meet their initial burden by demonstrating their religious beliefs and needs. They do not have to negotiate further unless the employer establishes an undue hardship. Assuming there are other employees who are available to work on Sunday, that defense probably does not apply. That’s true even if the other workers are not as qualified as David. A marginal loss is not the same thing as an undue hardship.

The second form of religious discrimination is decisions that are based, at least in part, on religion.

Typically, these decisions include hiring/firing and promotions/demotions. One would think that employers know the law and would not engage in this activity, but it happens often. For example, an employer could refuse to hire a woman who wears a hijab or give a woman a promotion on the condition that she begin attending church.

A few religious discrimination cases involve employee harassment. If that happens, the employer has a duty to promptly and thoroughly investigate the matter, and then take appropriate action based on the investigation’s results. A breakdown in any phase could give rise to a legal claim.

Contact us today at 312.332.6733 to schedule a free consultation.

Federal Judge Shuts Down Chicago Employment Agency

Chicago employment law

Chinatown’s Xing Ying Employment Agency promised workers good wages and pleasant employment conditions.

But instead, according to court documents, the company “essentially acted as central a supply house for a buffet restaurant industry seeking to profit from illegal and exploitative wages and conditions of employment.”

Again according to court documents, the Agency ran advertisements in Chinese-language newspapers targeting immigrant workers. Once these individuals enrolled with the company, the promised lavish wages never appeared. Neither did the promised housing. Many Xing Ying workers lived under an 18th Street bridge. According to a media investigation, Xing Ying was part of a much wider ring of similar exploitative employment services.

These issues are widespread, as “our Civil Rights bureau and workplace rights bureau are always taking complaints,” remarked an Illinois Attorney General spokesperson.

Types of Illegal Discrimination

Like most other jurisdictions, Illinois is an at-will employment state. For the most part, employers may hire and fire employees at any time for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. However, even in this environment, workers have legal rights.

“Workers cannot be fired for an illegal reason, and they must be treated fairly at work,” said Chicago employment law attorney Jonathan Goldman. Fair treatment means minimum wage, no unauthorized paycheck deductions, and no illegal conduct. The types of illegal discrimination include:

  • National origin,
  • Gender,
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Age,
  • Pregnancy
  • Race

 

Some forms of discrimination are in a grey area.

For example, the Supreme Court has yet to rule whether transgender discrimination falls into the “sexual orientation” discrimination category under federal law. However, several courts, including the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, have found that “gender stereotyping”, expecting a female or male to conform to their gender identities and expected gender character, are illegal. Illinois state law also prohibits transgender discrimination.

To establish an employment discrimination case, the victim must present enough evidence to suggest that the adverse action against the employee was based on discrimination.

Replacing an older employee with a younger employee is often sufficient. The employer must then provide a nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action. That burden is often easy to meet. Most cases are then fought on the issue of whether the employer’s claimed reason was just a pretext or an excuse for discrimination.

Remedies Available

Damages in most employment law cases include both monetary and injunctive relief.

Back wages are often the biggest category of monetary damages. Usually, the parties do not resolve their dispute for many months. Other types of economic damages may be available as well, such as lost health insurance benefits. Additional noneconomic damages may be available as well, such as compensatory damages for the stress and anxiety that a victim of discrimination may suffer.

Injunctive relief is available as well. Sometimes, that could mean reinstatement. Other injunctive relief includes antidiscrimination programs on the job, so other employees are not victimized in the same way.

Contact us today to discuss your case.

Second Chicago-Area EEOC Sexual Harassment Settlement In A Month

Many EEOC cases involve sexual harassment claims. The EEOC is anxious to resolve these cases, and that attitude sometimes works in the defendant’s favor.

On June 25, 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that Anchor Staffing would pay $30,000 to settle sexual harassment and retaliation allegations. Court documents state that the temporary agency refused to give Ana Magdana more work after she complained about sexual harassment. In addition to paying money, Anchor Staffing must abide by a two-year consent decree.

About a month earlier, the EEOC announced a similar settlement with a Downers Grove Burger King franchise. Heartland Food LLC agreed to pay $55,000 and furnish similar non-monetary relief to resolve sexual harassment claims. The agency said little about that case, besides the fact that a female employee complained about a male manager.

“These two cases are significant for two reasons,” offered Chicago employment attorney Jonathan Goldman. “First, these settlements are not big dollar amounts for big companies. But for regional businesses and small franchisees, $50,000 may be almost a year’s profits. Second, the government is very aggressive in sexual harassment cases, largely because they are easy to prove.”

The Anchor Staffing settlement did not even involve sexual harassment, Mr. Goldman noted. Instead, the EEOC pursued a retaliation claim. As a result, the agency does not need to prove sexual harassment, age discrimination, or anything else. It simply must establish that the defendant took some action against the employee because of the complaint.

Generally, the EEOC need only establish a temporal relationship. If the complaint was on June 1 and the action was on June 15, an employer will be hard-pressed to defeat a retaliation claim. So, we take a very proactive approach and try to resolve these cases as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Details were so sketchy with regard to the Burger King settlement because the employer probably included a confidentiality clause in the settlement, Mr. Goldman speculated. In many cases, the EEOC insists on a slightly larger monetary settlement before it agrees to such a clause. But in many cases, such language is worth a little extra money.

A confidentiality clause makes the EEOC’s evidence appear weak. The bellicose quote in the press release, which is something like “that company got what it deserved,” then seems rather empty. Furthermore, it is easier for the defendant to characterize the settlement as a business decision. That’s normally the case, because it would cost a lot more than $30,000 or $50,000 to litigate such a claim. Furthermore, if anyone presses the company for details, the spokesperson simply cites the confidentiality clause and drops the matter. Contact us today at 312.332.6733 to discuss your case.

Common Issues with Employment Contracts

When joining a new company, employees often have the power to negotiate over their contract to produce an agreement more favorable to their economic interests, and one that is fair to both sides. Employees may be in a particularly good bargaining position if they are experts or highly skilled in a particular employment field.

While navigating through the various clauses of an employment contract, prospective workers should take note of some of the most common issues with these agreements as they can have long term repercussions on the candidates’ earnings and prospects for advancement. As with most contracts, speaking to an experienced Chicago area employment contract attorney about the situation can greatly benefit the employee.

Compensation

How much one gets paid is almost always the most pressing matter for the individual. However, there are many nuances to compensation, including:

  • Frequency of pay increases;
  • Possibility of signing bonuses for coming aboard a new company;
  • If bonuses will be available; and
  • If a base salary before bonus and commission can be reduced in certain circumstances.

Benefits

Employers often attempt to sweeten an employment offer with benefits. In circumstances where employees are not offered the rate of compensation they expect, they may be able to bargain for certain benefits like:

  • Medical insurance;
  • Disability coverage;
  • Life insurance;
  • Pensions; and/or
  • Stock options.

Scope of employment

The scope of one’s employment can include much more than simply a job title and responsibilities. Included in the scope of employment portion of an employment contract the employer may be able to designate:

  • The place of employment and whether the employee can be relocated;
  • If the employee can be demoted or have their responsibilities reduced or modified; and
  • If the employee will have influence over other facets of the company’s operations.

Grounds for termination and length of contract

How long a contract lasts and under what circumstances it may be prematurely terminated is among the most important of considerations. Employees should take the time to understand whether they are under “at will” employment or if they can only be terminated “with cause” for actions like:

  • Breach of contract;
  • Criminal charges; or
  • Refusal to perform reasonable duties.

Also, the contract may include arbitration and dispute resolution clauses for employee grievances.

Chicago area employment contract attorneys

Before you sign an employment contract, contact the Chicago area employment contract attorneys of Goldman & Ehrlich for a consultation. Our office has years of experience serving clients throughout Cook County, Lake County, DuPage County, Will County, Kane County, and McHenry County.

What Should I Do If I Am Considered To Be Insubordinate At Work For Opposing Discrimination?

All of us expect to be treated with dignity and respect at our place of employment and state and federal laws protect us from discriminatory action by our employers. Employment laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information.

Workplace Discrimination

Furthermore, employees may not be retaliated against for making good faith claims against these forms of discrimination or refusing to participate in activities that promote them. Unfortunately, some employees face retaliation for standing up for their legal rights and opposing workplace discrimination.

If you believe you were retaliated against for standing up for your rights, you will need to prove that you took part in a protected activity, suffered a negative action, and there was causation between the two. Speaking to a qualified Chicago employment attorney from the onset of your case can help give you the best chance

Engaging in protected activities

Standing up to discrimination is a protected activity under federal law. Employees may do this by either communicating the opposition to their employer or filing a claim with a state or federal employment agency. Your communication should make clear that you feel the employer’s actions or requests are discriminatory.

To prove you engaged in a protected activity, you will want to save any communications between you and your employer about the event. Many times, employers may assert the employee took part in an activity not covered by state or federal law but having this communication can demonstrate the contrary.

Negative activity

If you received a negative performance review, write up, or other written disciplinary action around the time of your protected activity, you will need to save this documentation. While this documentation may not specifically say you were reprimanded for making a complaint, you may be able to show a link between the two.

Save any other communications like emails, memos, or electronic communications you believe show your employer. Take notes to document daily engagements you believe may show a pattern of retaliatory behavior so your attorney can help investigate these claims. The notes should include all relevant “who, what, where and when” information, and possible witnesses.

Chicago employment attorneys

If you believe you were retaliated against by your employer for opposing or standing up to discrimination in your workplace, contact the experienced employment law attorneys of Goldman & Ehrlich for a consultation about your case. For over 25 years, our dedicated attorneys have helped employees in their times of need and hold wrongdoers accountable.

 

 

 

 

New 2017 Illinois Employment Law Gives Ex-Offenders Opportunities

New legislation recently took effect allowing certain ex-offenders to work in state institutions like schools and park districts a certain amount of years after their conviction and jail terms. Like many other laws taking effect this year, the law is a significant and progressive move designed at strengthening the power workers have to help provide for themselves and their families during difficult economic times.

Furthermore, allowing certain types of ex-offenders into the state workforce can help to break up the cycle of poverty and recidivism plaguing men and women who have otherwise served their debt to society. Ex-offenders are especially at risk for many of the pitfalls any person can be susceptible of in a volatile economy and should be given an opportunity to re-enter society and be able to provide for themselves and their families.

Other new laws taking effect this year also allow ex-felons to apply for state licensing to work in various industries their criminal record would otherwise have denied. Some of the 118 occupations for which ex-felons can now apply for licensure include cosmetology, hair and nail care, roofing, and funeral services.

Can my employer check my criminal background in Illinois?

While allowing ex-offenders to apply for state jobs and licensures is a huge step towards rebuilding lives and communities, Illinois also bars private employers from looking into the criminal backgrounds of applicants deemed qualified to perform the job. Under the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act (JOQAA), employers and employment agencies cannot ask qualified applicants about their criminal background until a conditional offer is extended.

Individuals should also know there are exceptions to the JOQAA, which can still bar felons from gaining employment with certain organizations. The three categories of job applicants which can still be denied employment due to criminal backgrounds include:

  • State and federal jobs requiring background checks by law;
  • Companies employing workers under the Illinois Emergency Medical Systems Act; and
  • Jobs needing a standard fidelity bond or an equivalent bond.

To help protect workers, the Illinois Department of Labor enforces the law and may impose penalties on organizations violating the law. Furthermore, employees who feel they may have been illegally discriminated against due to their criminal background may also discuss their case with an experienced Illinois employment lawyer to recover compensation, if available, under various state laws.

Reach out to us today for help

Contact our office to speak to one of the qualified Illinois employment lawyers of Goldman & Ehrlich. Our office serves clients throughout Chicago, Cook County, Lake County, DuPage County, Will County, Kane County, and McHenry County.

Orland Park Man Sues Chick-Fil-A After Restaurant Denies Employment

An Orland Park man recently filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against an area Chick-Fil-A restaurant alleging the fast food company denied him employment due to his disability despite references vouching for his capabilities. The claim, filed on December 23, 2016, claims the plaintiff’s work coach spoke with the restaurant about hiring the man but was told the eatery was not interested in hiring a person with the plaintiff’s disability.

According to the complaint, “The branch manager responded that Chick-Fil-A was not interested in hiring people with disabilities. When the job coach reiterated that she thought (the plaintiff) would do a good job, the branch manager stated that people with disabilities would not be able to succeed at Chick-Fil-A.”

The allegations, if true, could possibly constitute a violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and carry substantial penalties, including paying restitution to the plaintiff. While the plaintiff’s autistic condition may prevent him from doing certain things, he and his life coach believe if an employer makes certain reasonable accommodations, as required under federal labor laws, the plaintiff could perform his duties adequately.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act “prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.” Under the ADA, employers must make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities and make facilities like bathrooms and entrances accessible to differently abled persons.

Employers who are sued by the government for not complying with the ADA may be subject to substantial civil penalties, even for first-time violations if egregious enough. Maximum penalties for first-time violations may be as high as $55,000 to $75,000 and subsequent violations may be as high as $150,000. Individuals who sue the employer can recover all lost wages and benefits, be reinstated with appropriate accommodations, compensatory damages, and be reimbursed for their legal fees.

One of the most common myths associated with the ADA is that compliance can cost businesses too much, either leading to loss of productivity or refusal to consider otherwise qualified applicants. The truth is that only three percent of accommodations cost businesses more than $1,000 and the overwhelming majority cost substantially less to help workers thrive in the workplace.

Contact our Chicago employment discrimination lawyers for help

If you believe your rights were violated under the ADA or another state or federal labor law, contact our office to discuss your case. For over 25 years, the dedicated Chicago employment discrimination lawyers of Goldman & Ehrlich have helped employees in their times of need and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Temp Workers Bring Class Action Lawsuit Against Staffing Agency Alleging Racial Discrimination

Six former temp workers for the Chicago office of a nationwide staffing agency recently filed an employment discrimination lawsuit alleging the defendant routinely passed over African American workers in favor of Hispanic workers. The suit, filed in a Chicago federal District Court, alleges many of the same labor law violations as another recent suit against another large staffing agency in Illinois.

In their claim, the plaintiffs make several shocking allegations about the defendant’s business practices, going as far as to assign code words to black and Latino workers to signal the kinds of laborers the companies wanted. The suit named several other area businesses as defendants for their role in the alleged discrimination as it was at these parties’ behest the behavior became part of the staffing agency’s practice.

According to the lawsuit, the staffing company would go into Latino neighborhoods to find prospective workers and bus them to job sites but did nothing similar in African American neighborhoods. The plaintiffs claim this practice is a prime example of the overt racism some companies demonstrate to discriminate against workers of color.

Thousands could join racial discrimination lawsuit

While the suit is still in its early stages, the plaintiffs hope the court certifies the claim as a class action so that similarly affected workers could also recover for their damages. If so, potentially thousands of African American workers employed by the staffing agency could join the claim and recover for their damages.

The suit seeks back pay for jobs lost, attorneys’ fees to cover the cost of litigation, and other damages the court may seem fit to award. Additionally, the plaintiffs hope the federal court imposes an injunction on the defendant to terminate the company’s discriminatory business practices so that all workers get a fair shake moving forward.

Under state and federal labor laws, employers cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of their race, religion, or country of origin. Violators can be subject to civil penalties, including paying restitution to affected workers.

Chicago employment discrimination lawyers

If you believe you were passed over for a job, promotion, or otherwise subjected to racial discrimination at your place of employment, contact our office to discuss your case. Our dedicated team of Chicago employment discrimination lawyers have years of experience bringing claims under state and federal employment laws and can help you get justice.

Former Chicago Walmart Employee Gets $75,000 In Discrimination Lawsuit

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. settled an employment discrimination case with a former store clerk for $75,000 over allegations the company failed to accommodate a protected class. The plaintiff, a worker in the Hodgkins, Illinois store, battled cancer and needed simple, modest accommodations to allow her to perform her job but the defendant subsequently rescinded compliance.

To perform her job effectively, the plaintiff merely needed a stool at her work station and to work on a modified schedule to cope with her health condition. Wal-Mart made the accommodations for a while but the situation eventually became quite difficult for the plaintiff when the defendant removed the chair, telling the employee she needed to haul a chair from the store’s furniture department herself at the start and end of each shift.

While lugging a chair across the sales floor may seem like a minor and clumsy inconvenience, the act took its toll on the plaintiff due to her weakened state from surviving her fight with cancer, an accomplishment which should be celebrated and not punished. Furthermore, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for their employees, something Wal-Mart demonstrated it could easily do but eventually backtracked.

Even worse, the plaintiff claimed her coworkers subjected her to relentless name calling, using words like “cripple” and “chemo brain.” To curb future bad acts by the employees Wal-Mart employs and supervises at the Hodgkins location, the federal judge overseeing the case imposed an injunction requiring two years of employee retraining and oversight.

Often times, employees are not properly educated by their employers about federal discrimination laws and innocent victims pay the price for the employer’s inability to properly train and supervise other workers.

Chicago employment discrimination lawyers

If you believe you were discriminated against at work, contact our office to speak to one of our dedicated Chicago employment discrimination lawyers about your case. Our office has years of experience ensuring workers are protected under state and federal labor laws and can determine if you have grounds to file a suit.