Posts tagged with "abuse"

Labor & Employment Law – What to consider after losing your job

So you’ve lost your job.  Now what?  Depending on the circumstances, there are several legal issues to explore before moving on with your career.  Here is a basic summary of five issues to consider:

First:

File for unemployment as soon as possible so you don’t miss any deadlines.  There is no guarantee that you will be eligible for unemployment benefits but it doesn’t hurt to try.  You may be eligible for unemployment benefits depending upon the circumstances surrounding your job loss and whether you receive any compensation as severance on the way out the door.

Second:

Consider whether you have a contract with your former employer, either individually or through a union.  Today, at will employment is very common.  Generally, employers and employees each have the option to terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason or for no reason at all.  However, an employee may have the right to enforce a contract if his or her employer failed to uphold the agreed upon terms of employment.  The provisions of a written contract are more likely to be enforceable but even an oral promise may have legal ramifications.

Third:

Make sure you are fully paid by your employer.  It is not unusual for an employer to fail to pay wages or to withhold a commission payment to a former employee.  Employers may face stiff penalties for neglecting to make these payments.  An employee may have several options to pursue a claim through the state or the court system.

Fourth:

Check to see if your former employer has any written policies or an employment handbook that may apply to you.  While the terms of a policy or handbook provision may not be legally enforceable against your employer, it doesn’t hurt to bring the relevant provision to the attention of your employer to see if they will honor it.  An example of a relevant provision would be a severance policy guaranteeing separation pay based upon years of service.

Fifth:

Verify what happens to your employment benefits now that you’ve lost your job.  Health insurance is the most common benefit to consider here.  Make sure to confirm when your employer will stop providing benefits.  Also, consider whether you want to continue any benefits through an individual plan.  You may be eligible for continued medical and dental benefits through The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”) as well.

This five-point list is not meant to cover all the possible issues that may arise when you lose your job but it is a starting point.  Under some circumstances, more complicated matters concerning deferred compensation, employment discrimination and whistleblower claims must be considered.  If you have any questions about your rights, please consult with an attorney.

 

U.S. Supreme Court Decides on Restrictive Interpretation of Required Causation for Title VII Employer Retaliation, Circumventing Congressional Amendment

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. ___ (2013)

The United States Supreme Court decided two very closely watched employment law cases interpreting employer discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  This second case, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, like the former was decided 5-4 in favor of the employer’s interpretation.[1]  In Nassar, the Court held that the appropriate standard of causation for proving retaliation in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was “but-for-causation,” rather than the more lenient “motivating factor” burden of Congress’s 1991 Civil Right Act amendment.

Case Details

The petitioner and employer was a University of Texas medical center specializing in medical education. The university had an affiliation agreement with Parkland Memorial Hospital, which requires the Hospital to offer vacant staff physician posts to University faculty members. The respondent, Mr. Nassar, a physician of Middle Eastern descent, was a University faculty member and a Hospital staff physician.  Nassar claimed that Dr. Levine, one of his supervisors at the University, was biased against him on account of his religion and ethnic heritage.[2] 

On different occasions Nassar complained to Dr. Fitz, Levine’s supervisor about alleged ethnic and religious harassment.  Nassar arranged to continue working at the Hospital without also being on the University’s faculty.[3]  When Nassar resigned his teaching post, he sent a letter to Fitz and others, stating that his reason for leaving was because of Levine’s harassment, “religious, racial and cultural bias against Arabs and Muslims.[4]

Upset at Levine’s public humiliation and wanting public exoneration for her, Fitz objected to the hospital’s job offer to Nassar, which the hospital then withdrew.  Nassar claimed that Fitz’s efforts to prevent the Hospital from hiring him were in retaliation for complaining about Levine’s harassment, in violation of §2000e–3(a), which prohibits employer retaliation “because [an employee] has opposed . . . an unlawful employment practice . . . or . . . made a [Title VII] charge.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U. S. C. §2000e et seq., manifests the federal policy to prohibit unlawful employment discrimination and retaliation by employers, providing remedies to employees for injuries related to discriminatory conduct by employers.  Title VII prohibits multiple categories of wrongful employer conduct, the most common being status-based discrimination, which is employer discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, in hiring, firing, salary structure, promotion and the like.[5] 

To ensure the effective enforcement of the statute, Title VII also prohibits an employer from retaliating against a worker for complaining about employment discrimination (for example, by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces Title VII).[6]

In general, when the law grants persons the right to compensation for injury from wrongful conduct, there must be some demonstrated connection or linkage, between the injury sustained and the wrong alleged.[7] The requisite relation between prohibited conduct and compensable injury is governed by the principles of causation. At issue in Nassar was the proper standard of causation the Court should apply in the context of an employee’s Title VII claim of employer retaliation.

Motivating Factor Burden

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act has been characterized by a back-and-forth between the Court and Congress, with Congress overruling a number of the Court’s restrictive interpretations of the statute in the past.  In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U. S. 228, the Supreme Court construed Title VII to require employees to prove that the status-based discrimination was the “but for” cause of the employee’s termination, failure to be hired, etc.  As a result, even if the employer admitted that race was one of the reasons for refusing to hire the worker, the worker could still lose if the jury believed that the employer would not have hired the worker anyway.

In response to this onerous standard, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1991, amending Title VII by replacing this standard with the motivating factor burden.  Congress added a new subsection to §2000e–2, providing that “an unlawful employment practice is established when the complaining party demonstrates that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice.”[8] 

Therefore, to prove employer discrimination, the employee is only required to show that the motive to discriminate was one of the employer’s motives, even if the employer also had other, lawful motives for the decision.

The question before the Court in Nassar was whether the more lenient motivating factor burden also applies to claims of employer retaliation under §2000e–3(a), rather than the more onerous “but-for-causation” standard.

But-For-Causation Standard

A Court ruling for the university imposing a “but-for-causation” standard for Title VII retaliation claims would likely make it more difficult for victims of retaliation under Title VII to sue their employers, whereas a “motivating factor” standard could raise the number of frivolous claims filed, increasing the costs borne by employers in defending against potentially meritless litigation and contra the Court’s interest in preserving judicial economy.

The Supreme Court held that employee Title VII retaliation claims must be proved according to traditional principles of but-for causation, not the lessened causation test stated in §2000e–2(m).[9]

The decision was based on a close parsing of the statutory text and structure.  Writing for a five-Justice majority, Justice Kennedy explained that the “motivating factor” provision only applies to claims of “discrimination” under Title VII, meaning discrimination based on race, sex, and religion, rather than retaliation.

Anti-Retaliation Provision

Instead, Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision, §2000e–3(a), appears in a different section and uses considerably similar language to a related statute, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).[10] §2000e–3(a) makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse employment action against an employee “because of” certain criteria. In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U. S. 167 (2009), the Court, interpreting similar language, concluded that the ADEA requires proof that the prohibited criterion was the but-for cause of the prohibited conduct.

Justice Kennedy determined, “Given the lack of any meaningful textual difference between §2000e–3(a) and §623(a)(1), the proper conclusion is that Title VII retaliation claims require proof that the desire to retaliate was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action.”[11]

Justice Ginsburg, joined by the other three liberal Justices, strongly dissented. Justice Ginsburg took the unusual step of reading a summary of her dissent from the bench.  She argued that the Court had previously considered retaliation as a form of “discrimination,” and that the majority was ignoring the reasonable interpretation of the EEOC and the underlying purposes of the “motivating factor” amendment.  As she did in Vance, Justice Ginsburg ended her dissent calling for Congress to overturn the decision.

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about Title VII and workplace discrimination or any other employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. ___ (2013).

[2] Id. at ­­­­­__.

[3] Id. at ­­­­­__.

[4] 42 U. S. C. §2000e-3(a)

[5] 42 U. S. C. §2000e-2(a)

[6] 42 U. S. C. §2000e-3(a)

[7] University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. ___ (2013).

[8] 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(m)

[9] University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. ___ (2013).

[10] 29 U. S. C. §623.

[11] University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. ___ (2013).

US Supreme Court Establishes Employer Friendly Definition of “Supervisor” for Employer Liability for Title VII Employment Discrimination

Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

The United States Supreme Court decided two very closely watched employment law cases interpreting harassment and discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  The first case decided 5-4 in favor of the employer, Vane v. Ball State University [1], addressed a question left open by two previous Supreme Court cases[2], who qualifies as a “supervisor” so as to hold an employer vicariously liability under Title VII for an employee’s unlawful harassment or discrimination?

Case #1

In this case, Maetta Vance, an African-American woman, was employed as a full-time catering assistant with Ball State University.  She initially filed internal complaints with BSU and charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging racial harassment and discrimination by a fellow employee, Davis, a white woman and catering specialist employed in the same division as Vance.

The situation persisted causing Vance to file a lawsuit in 2006 claiming that she had been subjected to a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.  While the parties agreed that Davis did not have the authority to fire, hire, promote, or transfer Vance, in her capacity as a lead caterer, Davis controlled the day to day duties of Vance.  In her complaint, she alleged that Davis was her supervisor and that BSU was liable for Davis’ creation of a racially hostile work environment.

The plaintiff, Vance, argued that argued that a person is a “supervisor” if she has authority to control someone else’s daily activities and evaluate performance.  The employer argued that a “supervisor” must have more power, such as the ability to take a tangible actions including: “hiring, firing, demoting, promoting, transferring or disciplining” the employee.[3]

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an employer’s liability for harassment and discrimination depends on the status of the harasser. If the harassing employee is the victim’s co-worker, the employer is liable only if it was negligent in controlling working conditions.[4]  However, if the harassing employee is the victim’s supervisor different rules apply.

Case #2

In two companion case from 1998, Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. Boca Raton, the Supreme Court held that an employer is strictly liable under Title VII for discrimination or harassment by an employee who is a “supervisor” where the harassment amounts to tangible employment actions.

Where there is no adverse employment action, the employer is still vicariously liable for the supervisor’s hostile work environment unless the employer can establish as an affirmative defense that (1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassing behavior and (2) that the plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of the preventive or corrective opportunities that the employer provided.[5]  Under this framework, therefore, it matters whether the harasser is a “supervisor” or simply a co-worker.

Writing for a five-to-four majority, Justice Alito’s opinion adopted the rule proposed by the employer, holding that for purposes of this Title VII rule, to be a “supervisor,” a person must have the power to take a “tangible employment action” against the victim.[6]

That is, he must be able to “effect a ‘significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”[7]  The employer was entitled to win the case because Vance had not adequately shown that the person who discriminated against her was a supervisor under the Court’s definition.

Takeaway 

Thus, for the purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, “an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment only when the employer has empowered that employee to take tangible employment actions against the victim,” such as significant change in employment status, responsibilities, or changes in benefits.[8]

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about Title VII and workplace discrimination or any other employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

[2] Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth 524 U. S. 742 (1998), Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U. S. 775 (1998),

[3] 2008 WL 4247836, *12 (quoting Hall v. Bodine Elect. Co., 276 F. 3d 345, 355 (CA7 2002)

[4] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

[5] Faragher, at 807; Ellerth, at 765.

[6] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

[7] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013); Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 761

[8] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

Firing to Prevent Pension Vesting, Without More, Does Not Violate ADEA

In this economy, companies are terminating employees in an effort to increase share value or simply improve the bottom line.  Often it is the older, more senior, and more costly employees that are the first to go.  The question sometimes arises: “Can my employer fire me to prevent my pension from vesting (thereby saving itself money) without violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act?”  The short and surprising answer is “yes,” assuming the absence of other critical allegations necessary to sustain an ADEA claim.

A Relevant Case

In a case out of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, a Connecticut employee alleged in his Complaint only that “he was fired by defendants because he was nearing the age of retirement.”  The lower court dismissed this claim and the appellate court affirmed because this was the only fact alleged in the Complaint as evidence of age discrimination.  The United States Supreme Court has held that the firing of an employee to prevent his pension benefits from vesting does not, without more, violate the ADEA.

What essential allegations were missing?  In order to prevail, the plaintiff had to allege facts evincing that his employer was using pension status as a proxy for age, in order to discriminate on the basis of age.  How could he do that?  One way would be to plead and prove that his pension vested due to age and not years of service.  While age and years of service are empirically connected, the Supreme Court has said that they are “analytically distinct.”  What the Complaint lacked were additional allegations supporting a claim of age discrimination, for a successful ADEA plaintiff must prove that age actually motivated the employer’s decision.

The take-away from this case is that victims of age discrimination should consult with an experienced employment law litigator to ensure that an actionable claim is properly alleged in a Complaint.  In the case referred to above, it is impossible to say whether the plaintiff would have prevailed with a more artfully crafted Complaint.  What we do know is that his bare-bones Complaint was dismissed as insufficient without ever being heard on its merits.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues. Please contact our Westport office at 203-221-3100.

Did Basketball Powerhouse Force Coach to Resign Due to Her Disability?

Most people who have lived for some period of time here in Connecticut are amply familiar with the Lady Huskies and Lady Vols fierce decade-long rivalry. Before regular season matches were discontinued five years ago, these games were the highlight of the season. Thus, fans have come to form a love-hate relationship with Pat Summitt, Head Coach of the Lady Vols who has the most wins of any (both male and female) NCAA basketball coach.

It came as a shock to hear on April 18, 2012, after thirty-eight years of coaching, Summitt would be retiring from her post after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia-Alzheimer’s disease just before the start of the 2011-2012 season.[1] “I’ve loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role,” explained Summitt.[2]

As it turns out, the decision may not have been entirely that of Summitt.

In a recently released affidavit,[3] Summitt revealed that on March 14, 2012, she met with the University of Tennessee (UT) Athletics Director David Hart, who informed her that she would no longer be the coaching the Lady Vols. Summitt further explained:

This was very surprising to me and very hurtful as that was a decision I would have liked to have made on my own at the end of the season after consulting with my family, doctors, colleagues, and friends and not be told this by Mr. Hart. I felt this was wrong.[4]

UT spokeswoman Margie Nichols denied allegations that Summitt was forced out of her position. “It’s absolutely not true… It was Pat’s idea to become the head coach emeritus. I think she made that really clear at her press conference earlier this year.”[5] Regardless, this leaves many asking: was Summitt forced to resign because of her disability?

Discrimination in the Workplace

Under Connecticut law, employees enjoy a very comprehensive statutory scheme (found here) prohibiting discriminatory practices in the workplace. Unless the employer and its agents (such as administration or management) have a “bona fide occupational qualification or need,” it is a violation of the General Statutes:

To refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment any individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual’s race, color, religious creed, age, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, mental retardation, learning disability or physical disability, including, but not limited to, blindness.[6]

In addition, employees enjoy federal protection of their rights through such legislation as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act, to name just a few.

Discrimination on the basis of disability or another protected class is unfortunately a common occurrence in the workplace, but its prevalence in no way makes it lawful. If you are a teacher, coach, or any employee and you find yourself being the target of adverse employment action on any of the above bases, it is imperative that you consult an experienced and knowledgeable school or employment law practitioner.

Should you have any questions regarding employment discrimination or other education law or employment law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] “Pat Summitt’s Early-Onset Dementia: Lady Vols Coach Resigns Less Than A Year After Diagnosis.” Published April 18, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/pat-summitt-dementia-early-onset-alzheimers-memory_n_1435380.html

[2] Id.

[3] “Affidavit of Coach Pat Head Summitt.” Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/452632-pat-summitts-affidavit.html

[4] Id.

[5] “Pat Summitt Affidavit: Ex-Tennessee Coach Initially Felt Forced Out Of Job Over Early-Onset Dementia,” by Steve Megargee. Published October 3, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/pat-summitt-affidavit-tennessee-coach-job_n_1937730.html

[6] Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-60(a). Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap814c.htm#Sec46a-60.htm

Hurdles Employees Must Jump in Filing a Claim for Unlawful Discrimination

Here in Connecticut and across the nation, employees from all walks of life routinely face unlawful discriminatory practices and treatment in the workplace. Depending on the nature of the claim, he or she may file civil lawsuits under Title VII (which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin) or the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA).

However, employees need to keep in mind that before they seek recourse with the courts, they must first exhaust all of their administrative remedies. “The exhaustion requirement exists to afford the administrative agency the opportunity to investigate, mediate, and take remedial action.”[1] Failure to do so will result in dismissal of the case (see, for example, this previously-discussed case).

CFEPA Title VII

Furthermore, employees must pay attention to statutory time restrictions for filing administrative charges under Title VII and CFEPA:

To sustain a claim for unlawful discrimination under Title VII in a deferral state such as Connecticut, a plaintiff must file administrative charges with the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunities Commission] within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory acts.[2] … CFEPA requires that a complainant file the administrative charge with the CCHRO [Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities] within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act.[3]

Courts are particularly cognizant of these requirements and endorse “strict adherence… [as] the best guarantee of the evenhanded administration of the law.”[4] As a result, the time bar will begin running for each individual adverse employment action against the employee on the date it occurred. Failure to timely file a claim may prevent it from being reviewed by the EEOC or CCHRO.

However, employees often endure discriminatory practices over a prolonged period of time, so even if alleged conduct falls outside of the charging period, it may be reviewable. An important exception to strict adherence is the continuing violation exception, which involves incidents occurring both within and outside the time bar. A continuing violation occurs “where there is proof of specific ongoing discriminatory policies or practices, or where specific and related instances of discrimination are permitted by the employer to continue unremedied for so long as to amount to a discriminatory policy or practice.”[5]

As an employee, it is imperative that you understand Connecticut’s statutory scheme surrounding hiring, evaluation, and termination processes, as well as the requirements for filing a lawsuit under State and federal anti-discrimination law. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport.

If you have any questions regarding any employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Stewart v. United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, 762 F.2d 193, 198 (2d. Cir. 1985).

[2] Flaherty v. Metromail Corp., 235 F.3d 133, 136 n.1 (2d Cir. 2000).

[3] Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-82e.

[4] Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807, 826 (1980).

[5] Cornwell v. Robinson, 23 F.3d 694, 704 (2d Cir. 1994).

Deliberate Indifference Required for School to be Liable under Title IX for Student-Student Harassment

In a New York District decision, a student’s cause of action under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act against the Monroe-Woodbury School District was denied because it did not show deliberate indifference in response to the student’s claim of student-to-student sexual harassment.[1]

Parents on behalf of their fifteen-year-old daughter brought suit against Monroe–Woodbury Central School District pursuant to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was deprived of an educational environment free from sexual harassment as required by federal law.

Case Background

Beginning in January 2010, when she was in the eighth grade, the student was subjected to teasing, taunting, and physical bullying by other students, which she reported to her guidance counselor.  She was sexually assaulted by a male classmate who requested a handjob and subsequently ran her hands over the genital area of his pants and attempted to shove her hands down his pants.[2] As a result of the incident, the student alleges that she was subjected to more taunting and name-calling by other students and in response began to engage in self- injurious behavior by cutting herself.

When she began attending Monroe–Woodbury High School in September, another student and friend of the first continued to harass her and in November sexually assaulted her by pinning her against a locker and pushing his hands down her pants and blouse, touching her genital area and breast.[3]  The student began missing school frequently to avoid continued harassment.  At some point she confided in her guidance counselor that her absenteeism and self-injurious behavior was the result of the persistent teasing and the two incidents of sexual assault by her classmates.[4]

The School District recommended that she attend the GO Program, an out-of-district academic program, to which her parents agreed. After her first day there, CF reported to her parents that she was uncomfortable with this placement because the students there were “in many cases, not attending their regular high schools due to serious disciplinary records and incidents.”[5] When her parents again met with the principal, they requested that their daughter be transferred to another public school to continue her high school education.  The principal refused saying there were no other options besides the GO program.[6]

The Allegations

The parent brought suit alleging the school failed to: (1) initiate an investigation upon the parents’ verbal complaint; (2) conduct a prompt, equitable, and thorough investigation of the charges; (3) ensure that immediate corrective action be taken, including subjecting the offending individuals to appropriate disciplinary measures; and (4) inform CF of her right to pursue legal remedies.

Title IX

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)[7]. Title IX contains an implied private right of action for plaintiffs who bring suit against educational institutions that receive federal funding, and liability may be imposed upon a school district if it is found to be in violation of this law.

Title IX funding recipients may be held liable for student-on-student harassment if the plaintiff can establish damages only where the school district: (1) was deliberately indifferent; (2) to sexual harassment; (3) of which it had actual knowledge; (4) that was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it deprived the victim of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.[8] 

A showing of deliberate indifference requires that the school had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment and either responded in a “clearly unreasonable manner in light of the known circumstances,”[9] or responded with remedial action only after a “lengthy and unjustified delay.”[10]

The Court’s Decision

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s assertions that the GO Program was an “inappropriate” placement for her because it did not provide her with a “regular high school environment.” Saying even if it was inappropriate, “Title IX simply does not require recipient school districts to provide students with a ‘regular high school environment.’ Title IX does not prescribe any particular educational experience at all.

Rather, Title IX merely prohibits schools from excluding anyone, on the basis of sex, from participating in an educational program that receives federal assistance; or denying the benefits of such programs on the basis of sex; or subjecting anyone in such programs to discrimination on the basis of sex.”[11]  Finding that the school did not cause the discrimination and the School District took some remedial action (not clearly unreasonable under the circumstances) in response to the student’s complaints, the Court dismissed the action.

Bullying and harassment in school should never be tolerated.  The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable education law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about bullying, student harassment, school liability or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] KF ex rel. CF v. Monroe Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist., 12 CIV. 2200 ER, 2013 WL 177911 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 16, 2013)

[2] Compl.¶¶ 10-11

[3] Compl.¶¶ 12-13

[4] Id.

[5] Compl.¶¶ 14

[6] Id.

[7] Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)

[8] Williams v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 477 F.3d 1282, 1293 (11th Cir.2007)

[10] Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y., 352 F.3d 733, 751 (2d Cir.2003)

[11] KF ex rel. CF v. Monroe Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist.

“I Have Nobody… I Need Someone”: A Teenager’s Haunting Legacy

I’m struggling to stay in this world, because everything just touches me so deeply. I’m not doing this for attention. I’m doing this to be an inspiration and to show that I can be strong. I did things to myself to make pain go away, because I’d rather hurt myself then someone else. Haters are haters but please don’t hate, although im sure I’ll get them. I hope I can show you guys that everyone has a story, and everyones future will be bright one day, you just gotta pull through. I’m still here aren’t I ?

-AmandaTodd

In a heart-wrenching video[1] posted to YouTube five weeks ago, 15-year-old Amanda Todd revealed to the world the bullying, abuse, teasing, and ridicule she endured on a daily basis by her peers at school and on the Internet. At the end of her nearly 9-minute index card confession, she simply wrote: “I have nobody… I need someone… My name is Amanda Todd…” On October 10, 2012, Amanda took her own life.[2]

Prevalence of Bullying and Effectiveness of Anti-Bullying Legislation

Over the past couple of weeks, a colleague and I have gone into fourth gear posting articles regarding bullying and, as I’ve described it before, its technological brother, cyberbullying. Nearly three out of every four students face some form of bullying, with 5-15 percent characterized as “chronic victims.”[3] 

Though nearly every State has some form of anti-bullying legislation, many have questioned its effectiveness and sources: to quote Jennifer Livingston of CBS WKBT, “this behavior is learned… We need to teach our children to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example.”[4] A Canadian social psychologist described Amanda’s death as the consequence of “a generation [raised to be] passive bystanders,” indicating the problem as one of community rather than institution.[5] Thus, despite the laws on the books, bullying tactics will undoubtedly remain pervasive and claim more victims.

Bullying and its impact on children and young adults is no joke, and both the short- and long-term effects can be devastating. We need only remember Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince, Megan Meier, and now Amanda Todd as harsh, stark reminders of this lesson. As a parent, it is imperative that your child understands that he or she ought not view their self-worth through the eyes of their tormentors.[6]

By Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school bullying or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] “My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm,” by Amanda Todd. September 7, 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOHXGNx-E7E

[2] “Bullied teen Amanda Todd took her own life, B.C. Coroners Service confirms,” by Tiffany Crawford. October 12, 2012: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Bullied+teen+Amanda+Todd+took+life+Coroners+Service+confirms/7381793/story.html

[3] “Bullying: A Module for Teachers,” by Sandra Graham, PhD, of the American Psychological Association. Accessed September 24, 2012: www.apa.org/education/k12/bullying.aspx

[4] “Star brother Ron Livingston defends ‘fat’ anchor sister, Jennifer,” by News Limited Network. October 5, 2012: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/tv-anchor-jennifer-livingston-takes-on-bully-who-criticised-her-weight/story-e6frfmqi-1226488835303

[5] “Bullying victim Amanda Todd’s death a consequence of ‘passive bystanders,’ says expert,” by Misty Harris. October 12, 2012: http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/national/Bullying+victim+Amanda+Todd+death+consequence+passive/7382674/story.html

[6] See Footnote 4.

Employee Handbook Alert: Seemingly Neutral Work Rule May Violate NLRA

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) gives private-sector employees the unqualified right to engage in “protected concerted activity” which includes discussing among themselves such things as wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.  An employer cannot promulgate a work rule that tends reasonably to chill employees’ exercise of that statutory right.

Karl Knauz Motors, Inc. owned and operated a BMW dealership.  Its employee handbook contained the following (apparently common sense) rule:

(b) Courtesy: Courtesy is the responsibility of every employee.  Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite, and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers, as well as to their fellow employees.  No one should be disrespectful or use profanity or any other language which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership.

The Board’s Decision

In a September 28, 2012 decision, the National Labor Relations Board for two reasons found the rule unlawful “because employees would reasonably construe its broad prohibition against ‘disrespectful’ conduct and ‘language which injures the image or the reputation of the Dealership’” as including employees’ protected statements objecting to and seeking improvement of terms and conditions of employment.

First, there was nothing in the rule that would reasonably suggest to employees that such protected communications were beyond the rule’s broad reach.  Second, an employee would reasonably assume that the employer would “regard statements of protest or criticism as ‘disrespectful’ or ‘injur[ious] [to] the image or reputation of the Dealership.’”

The Board took particular offense to the second section of the rule as specifically proscribing certain types of conduct and statements.  The Board construed these as workplace “lines” that a Karl Knauz Motors’ employee may not safely cross.  In the Board’s estimation, the second section of the rule prohibits not merely a manner of speaking, but rather the actual content of employee speech—content that would damage the employer’s reputation.

Consequently, a reasonable employee would conclude that protected communications about the employer’s allegedly unlawful terms and conditions of employment would expose the employee to employer sanctions for violation of its handbook rule.  Stated differently, the Board felt that compliance with the first section of the rule offered no assurance against sanctions under the second section of the rule.

Final Takeaway

Historically, NLRB decisions have ebbed and flowed depending upon the current occupant of the White House, who appoints the Board’s members.  Lately, the pendulum has continued to swing in the direction of further limiting employer rights to regulate threatening or offensive employee speech, leading one commentator to question whether at-will employment will be relegated to an historical artifact.

The takeaway from the Board’s decision vector is for employers to examine employee handbooks to compare and contrast their language with that found by the NLRB to be unlawful.  The cost of an amendment pales in comparison with the cost of an NLRB investigation and proceeding.  Remember that the NLRA protects  all private sector employees, irrespective of whether or not they belong to a union.

The employment and labor law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the counseling, negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related issues and assist employers from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in ensuring compliance with the applicable law. 203-221-3100.

To Be Qualified for a Position, an Employee Must Also Be Eligible

Most employees are familiar with the proposition that for them to prevail in a discrimination case they must prove several things, including that they were “qualified” for the position sought (and denied).  Most people equate being “qualified” with “possessing the qualifications to perform the job” and this is correct.  But there is more.  In addition to being technically competent, the employee must also be eligible to apply for the position.

Case Background

In a decision, a Physician’s Assistant (“PA”) voluntarily chose to transfer from a hospital’s Department of Surgery to its Department of Medicine in order to avoid impending “on-call” obligations.  When a Lead PA position was posted in the Department of Surgery it was hospital policy to offer it first to PA’s within the Department (of which there was one) and absent interest, to open the position to other Departments.  When the Lead PA position was offered to and accepted by the lone PA in the Department of Surgery the former Department PA sued on a variety of grounds, including race and gender discrimination.

The Court’s Decision

After a jury initially found for the disappointed PA, a reviewing court found that the jury’s determination that he was qualified for the position found no support in the record.  The court framed the relevant inquiry as “whether he would have been eligible to apply as a non-departmental candidate when there was an internal candidate willing to take the . . . position.”  The court answered this question in the negative and judgment was entered in favor of the defendant hospital.

Parenthetically, the court also found that the plaintiff PA did not suffer any adverse employment action and that the circumstances of the case did not give rise to an inference of gender discrimination.  Noteworthy, too, was the court’s observation that “unfairness is not the equivalent of gender discrimination.”  The court’s sole concern is “whether unlawful discriminatory animus motivates a challenged employment decision.”  Thus, a successful plaintiff must produce evidence from which such motivation can reasonably be inferred.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues. Please contact our Westport office at 203-221-3100.