EEOC, Some Courts Expanding Sex Discrimination to Include LGBT Discrimination

With marriage equality now the law of the land, prohibiting employment discrimination is the new frontline in the quest for full LGBT equality in the United States.   The concern that LGBT Americans can get married on Saturday and fired on Monday is all too real in a majority of states, including Pennsylvania.

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Spike in EEO Retaliation Claims Prompts EEOC to Update Enforcement Guidance Definition of “Protected Activity” Expanded

Most U.S. employers are familiar with their obligations to comply with federal equal employment opportunity (“EEO”) laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of an individual’s personal characteristics, including sex, age, race, religion, national origin, disability, and genetic information. It is also a form of unlawful discrimination for an employer to punish or “retaliate” against an individual for engaging in “protected activity”, such as complaining to a supervisor about discriminatory treatment or serving as a witness in a discrimination lawsuit. Even if the underlying charge of discrimination lacks merit, employers may still have liability if they engage in retaliation against the individual who makes the complaint.

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Religion at Work Balancing Religious Rights and Civil Rights

In less than two months, the United States Supreme Court issued two decisions that have reignited the debate in this country about the separation of church and state and the role of religion in a secular society.  In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court held that two for-profit corporations were “persons” within the meaning of a federal statute that prohibits the government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.”  1  And in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Court allowed public officials in Greece, New York to open their meetings with Christian prayer. 2 While these cases involve clashes between government and religion, employers in the private sector often face challenges in balancing the needs of their business with the religious rights of their employees.

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Employment Discrimination

In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for an employer with 4 or more employees to refuse to hire, fail to promote, terminate, or otherwise adversely affect an employee’s working conditions because of his or her race, age, sex, religion or national origin. Employers with 15 or more employees are also subject to federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (race, religion, sex, and national origin) the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (individuals over the age of 40), the Americans with Disabilities Act (qualified individuals with disabilities), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Employers who violate these laws may be sued in state or federal court and face substantial civil damages.

Baulig Law can assist employers in defending charges of discrimination and, more importantly, avoiding these claims in the first place. Best practices for employers in this area include having written job descriptions; an employee handbook that accurately reflects the work environment and is uniformly and consistently enforced; well-trained supervisors; and a senior management team that is committed to non-discrimination. We also provide counseling to individuals who may have experienced workplace discrimination and can assist in the negotiation and preparation of severance agreements.