Posts tagged with "Mayalaw.com"

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).

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).

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 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?

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

What’s In a Separation Agreement?

With the economy where it is, the employment lawyers in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. are frequently asked to review and negotiate separation agreements for terminated employees.  These agreements often appear similar in form and content but must be carefully scrutinized, as they can contain hidden “trip wires” that can have a profound and long-lasting effect on the former employee’s job prospects.  Here are some of the things to look out for.

Most separation agreements contain restrictive covenants—confidentiality, non-solicitation, or non-competition clauses.  The first two—confidentiality and non-solicitation—are typically non-controversial, as they often confirm pre-existing obligations owed an employer by a former employee.  The last—non-competition—is usually a point of contention, as it impacts directly the employee’s ability to find a new position.  We have blogged extensively on non-competes, their interpretation and enforceability, etc. and readers are invited to review those prior posts.  But other terms and conditions of a separation agreement deserve your attention, as well.

First of all, do not be surprised by the length of a separation agreement.  A federal statute called the Older Worker’s Benefit and Protection Act requires the inclusion of extensive release language, and such things as a 21 day review and seven day revocation period.  Here are some of the other things you should be on the lookout for:

  • Consideration:  Make sure all of the severance benefits are correct and clearly stated.  This includes severance pay, COBRA coverage, etc.  Do not leave anything to inference or implication.
  • Confirmation that No Claims Exist/Covenant Not to Sue: Notwithstanding the comprehensive release language, some separation agreements will also require the employee to state that he/she is not aware of any factual basis to support any charge or complaint and that the employee will forego suit, even if such a claim exists.
  • Non-disparagement: Both sides often agree that neither will say anything to disparage the other.  Sometimes (particularly in the financial industry), a separation agreement will contain a “carve out” for employer reporting to FINRA or the SEC.  In such a case, it is important to have the agreement state that as of the employee’s separation date, the employer was not aware of any reportable event or information that would warrant comment or notation on a Form U-5.
  • Governing Law:  Employment law does not travel well across state lines.  For example, California law is much different than Connecticut’s.  Large companies will sometimes have their separation agreements governed by the law of the state where it has its headquarters, irrespective of the actual place of work of the departing employee.
  • Acknowledgement of Non-Revocation: An employee has seven days within which to revoke acceptance of a separation agreement.  Some companies adopt a “belt and suspenders” approach and require the employee to acknowledge in writing a negative—that they have not revoked such acceptance.

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.  203-221-3100.

 

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The Best Employment Lawyers in Connecticut and New York

Discrimination
Employment Discrimination Lawyers in New York and Connecticut
State and national laws protect employees from being subjected to discriminatory treatment and termination in the workplace because of the employee’s gender, race, age, national origin, religion, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or disability. If you have reason to believe that you have experienced discrimination on the job, you should contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. right away. Mr. Maya has a national reputation for successfully handling employment discrimination matters. He can be contacted via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com or by dialing (203) 221-3100 in Connecticut or (212) 682-5700 in New York.

Laws Protect Employees from Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
These laws also protect employees from sexual harassment , a hostile work environment, and from being touched in an offensive manner in the workplace by supervisors, coworkers, or even clients. Employees have a right to stop discriminatory conduct in the workplace. If an employee tries to stop that conduct or notifies a supervisor that discriminatory conduct has occurred, that employee also has protection, under state and national laws, from retaliation by the supervisor or employer. In fact, any person who complains to his or her superior or employer has protection from the law against retaliation by his or her employer. If you feel you might be a victim of racial, gender, or sexual discrimination on the job, you should contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at JMaya@Mayalaw.com or by dialing him at (203) 221-3100 or (212) 682-5700. Let our experience guide you and protect your legal rights at work.
Serving Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk and surrounding communities including Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Wilton & Weston; the greater Bridgeport area including Fairfield, Stratford, Monroe & Redding; the greater Danbury area including Ridgefield, Newtown & Bethel; and the communities surrounding Milford and New Haven. We also serve all of Westchester and New York Counties.

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Federal Court Found Form U-4 and FINRA Rules to Constitute a Sufficient Basis for an Arbitration Agreement Between the Parties

Federal Court Found Form U-4 and FINRA Rules to Constitute a Sufficient Basis for an Arbitration Agreement Between the Parties

Lawrence R. Gilmore v. Scott T. Brandt, 2011 WL 5240421 (D. Colo. Oct. 31, 2011).

In a recent case before United States District Court for the District of Colorado, Lawrence Gilmore (“Gilmore”) filed a motion to confirm the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration award in his favor, pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 9. Scott Brandt (“Brandt”) responded by filing a motion to vacate the FINRA award pursuant to the FAA, 9 U.S.C. § 10. The court granted Gilmore’s motion to confirm the award, entered judgment for the award and denied Brandt’s motion to vacate the award.

The dispute underlying the FINRA arbitration began when Brandt, a representative of Lighthouse Capital Corporation, suggested that Gilmore invest $92,000 in Diversified Lending Group, Inc. (“DLG”). Gilmore made the investment, which was quickly decimated. Gilmore alleged that DLG was a Ponzi scheme and filed a Statement of Claim with FINRA. Rather than seek a stay of arbitration, Brandt contested the issue of arbitrability by appending a statement of jurisdictional objection to his FINRA Arbitration Submission Agreement and raising jurisdictional objections throughout the arbitration proceedings. FINRA appointed a panel of arbitrators to hear the matter; however, the arbitration panel did not directly address Brandt’s jurisdictional objection. In December 2010, the panel issued an arbitration award in Gilmore’s favor for compensatory damages of $106,024.68, post-judgment interest, and attorneys’ fees.

In his motion for vacatur, Brandt argued that he never entered into an arbitration agreement with Gilmore; therefore, their dispute should not have been subjected to arbitration. The district court found that Brandt had sufficiently preserved his objection to arbitrability, and that it fell to the court to decide whether the dispute was in fact arbitrable.

Because arbitration is entirely a matter of contract, a party cannot be required to arbitrate a dispute that it has not agreed to submit to arbitration. See Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 57 (1995). When Brandt first sought to be licensed to sell securities, he executed a Uniform Application for Securities Industry Registration or Transfer (“Form U-4”), which contained a section agreeing “to arbitrate any dispute, claim or controversy that may arise between me and my firm, or a customer, or any other person, that is required to be arbitrated under the rules, constitutions, or by-laws of [FINRA].” The court determined that the agreement embodied in Brandt’s Form U-4 would constitute an agreement to arbitrate the dispute with Gilmore only if FINRA rules required this dispute to be arbitrated.

FINRA Rule 12200 is a broad provision that generally applies to any customer dispute arising in connection with the business activities of a FINRA member. Specifically, FINRA Rule 12200 requires that a dispute must be arbitrated under the FINRA Code of Arbitration Procedure if: (1) arbitration is required by written agreement or requested by a customer; (2) the dispute is between a customer and a FINRA member or associated person; and (3) the dispute arises in connection with the business activities of the FINRA member or associated person. By submitting his Statement of Claim to FINRA for arbitration, Gilmore was clearly requesting arbitration of the dispute. The district court found that Gilmore was in a customer relationship with Brandt because Brandt had induced him to invest in DLG. Additionally, the district court found that Gilmore’s claims related to Brandt’s recommendation of an investment in particular securities fell within the class of disputes reasonably regulated by FINRA. Therefore, the district court determined that FINRA Rule 12200 required the dispute between Gilmore and Brandt be submitted to arbitration. Because of this result, Brandt’s U-4 Form was determined to be his agreement to submit to arbitration of the dispute.

Because the arbitration panel had jurisdiction to decide the dispute, the award decision is entitled to deference by the federal court. 9 U.S.C. § 9-11. Because Brandt provided no argument that satisfied the statutory grounds for vacatur of an arbitration award, 9 U.S.C. § 10(a), the court granted Gilmore’s motion for confirmation of the arbitration award of compensatory damages of $106,024.68, with interest, and attorneys’ fees.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA or arbitration issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County, Connecticut at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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Federal Court Found Form U-4 and FINRA Rules to Constitute a Sufficient Basis for an Arbitration Agreement Between the Parties

Federal Court Found Form U-4 and FINRA Rules to Constitute a Sufficient Basis for an Arbitration Agreement Between the Parties

Lawrence R. Gilmore v. Scott T. Brandt, 2011 WL 5240421 (D. Colo. Oct. 31, 2011).

In a recent case before United States District Court for the District of Colorado, Lawrence Gilmore (“Gilmore”) filed a motion to confirm the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration award in his favor, pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 9. Scott Brandt (“Brandt”) responded by filing a motion to vacate the FINRA award pursuant to the FAA, 9 U.S.C. § 10. The court granted Gilmore’s motion to confirm the award, entered judgment for the award and denied Brandt’s motion to vacate the award.

The dispute underlying the FINRA arbitration began when Brandt, a representative of Lighthouse Capital Corporation, suggested that Gilmore invest $92,000 in Diversified Lending Group, Inc. (“DLG”). Gilmore made the investment, which was quickly decimated. Gilmore alleged that DLG was a Ponzi scheme and filed a Statement of Claim with FINRA. Rather than seek a stay of arbitration, Brandt contested the issue of arbitrability by appending a statement of jurisdictional objection to his FINRA Arbitration Submission Agreement and raising jurisdictional objections throughout the arbitration proceedings. FINRA appointed a panel of arbitrators to hear the matter; however, the arbitration panel did not directly address Brandt’s jurisdictional objection. In December 2010, the panel issued an arbitration award in Gilmore’s favor for compensatory damages of $106,024.68, post-judgment interest, and attorneys’ fees.

In his motion for vacatur, Brandt argued that he never entered into an arbitration agreement with Gilmore; therefore, their dispute should not have been subjected to arbitration. The district court found that Brandt had sufficiently preserved his objection to arbitrability, and that it fell to the court to decide whether the dispute was in fact arbitrable.

Because arbitration is entirely a matter of contract, a party cannot be required to arbitrate a dispute that it has not agreed to submit to arbitration. See Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 57 (1995). When Brandt first sought to be licensed to sell securities, he executed a Uniform Application for Securities Industry Registration or Transfer (“Form U-4”), which contained a section agreeing “to arbitrate any dispute, claim or controversy that may arise between me and my firm, or a customer, or any other person, that is required to be arbitrated under the rules, constitutions, or by-laws of [FINRA].” The court determined that the agreement embodied in Brandt’s Form U-4 would constitute an agreement to arbitrate the dispute with Gilmore only if FINRA rules required this dispute to be arbitrated.

FINRA Rule 12200 is a broad provision that generally applies to any customer dispute arising in connection with the business activities of a FINRA member. Specifically, FINRA Rule 12200 requires that a dispute must be arbitrated under the FINRA Code of Arbitration Procedure if: (1) arbitration is required by written agreement or requested by a customer; (2) the dispute is between a customer and a FINRA member or associated person; and (3) the dispute arises in connection with the business activities of the FINRA member or associated person. By submitting his Statement of Claim to FINRA for arbitration, Gilmore was clearly requesting arbitration of the dispute. The district court found that Gilmore was in a customer relationship with Brandt because Brandt had induced him to invest in DLG. Additionally, the district court found that Gilmore’s claims related to Brandt’s recommendation of an investment in particular securities fell within the class of disputes reasonably regulated by FINRA. Therefore, the district court determined that FINRA Rule 12200 required the dispute between Gilmore and Brandt be submitted to arbitration. Because of this result, Brandt’s U-4 Form was determined to be his agreement to submit to arbitration of the dispute.

Because the arbitration panel had jurisdiction to decide the dispute, the award decision is entitled to deference by the federal court. 9 U.S.C. § 9-11. Because Brandt provided no argument that satisfied the statutory grounds for vacatur of an arbitration award, 9 U.S.C. § 10(a), the court granted Gilmore’s motion for confirmation of the arbitration award of compensatory damages of $106,024.68, with interest, and attorneys’ fees.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA or arbitration issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County, Connecticut at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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Mediating a Sexual Harassment Claim

Statistically, the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment cases are resolved prior to trial by “alternate dispute resolution” in the form of mediation or arbitration. These proceedings (mediation in particular) are more informal than a courtroom trial, but you still need a zealous and experienced advocate on your side.

Fairfield County is home to many Fortune 1000 companies. Executives from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Norwalk, Westport, and Fairfield come to Maya Murphy, P.C. for legal counsel and trial advocacy when they have been victims of sexual harassment. Sometimes these cases are adjudicated administratively before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) and tried before the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. More often, however, they gain closure through non-binding mediation before a disinterested third party—frequently a retired federal or state judge.

Maya Murphy recently represented a senior female executive of a large company who had been sexually harassed by her direct report, i.e., her “boss.” A preliminary investigation indicated that the claimant had a solid cause of action and we immediately filed a Complaint with CHRO as a predicate to suing in federal court, if the need arose. As is often the case, however, counsel for the employer suggested mediation. Because mediation can produce an acceptable and quicker result if it is handled properly, our client agreed. The parties proceeded to mediate before a mutually selected retired U.S. District Judge and the case settled for a representative six-figure sum.

The key to successful mediation of a sexual harassment claim is always to be prepared to take your case to trial in federal court. Stated differently, the key to successful mediation is always to be prepared to walk away if the process is not leading toward an acceptable settlement. This takes courage on the part of the claimant and discipline on the part of her attorney. If, however, the attorney has approached the mediation with all the seriousness and intensity of a jury trial, more often than not, a settlement can be achieved on terms approaching a best-case, in-court scenario.

Virtually all mediators require preliminary submission of a confidential “mediation statement” outlining the factual and legal parameters of the underlying claim. For the seasoned trial lawyer, the mediation statement is both his Stradivarius violin and his Louisville Slugger baseball bat. A well-crafted mediation statement can both tug at the mediator’s heart strings and pound incessantly at egregious facts and undisputed points of law. Simply stated, mediation success depends in large measure on the quality of the mediation statement and its ability to persuade the mediator in the first instance that the claimant’s cause is well-founded and the law requires fair and just compensation. Lawyers who submit “pro-forma” mediation statements do so at their client’s risk. Such statements should be as comprehensive and compelling as any trial memorandum or appellate brief submitted to a court of law.

Another key to mediation success is “reasonableness.” In sexual harassment cases, emotions run high and client expectations have to be properly managed. An experienced litigator can evaluate a case and establish for the client a “realm of reason” within which the case should be able to settle. This is often a function of experience and ensures that any agreed upon settlement reflects the true value of the underlying case without “leaving any money on the table” as negotiations unfold. Here, an experienced mediator can be of assistance in managing the expectations of a client and rounding down an unrealistic demand by counsel. At the end of the day, however, attorney and client have to be prepared to walk away from the mediation if the mediator’s “shuttle diplomacy” is not moving the parties toward a reasonable and rational compromise. Litigation always remains as a viable alternative and the lawyer who is prepared for mediation will be prepared for trial, as well.

The employment lawyers at Maya Murphy who handle sexual harassment cases throughout Connecticut are equally adept at mediating or trying such cases. We approach each case with the intention and attention that it deserves. For further information, contact Robert L. Keepnews, Esq. at Maya Murphy, P.C. (203) 221-3100, or rkeepnews@mayalaw.com

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Use of Word “Bitch” Does Not Automatically Imply Gender-Based Hostility

A work environment is considered “hostile” if a reasonable person would have found it so and if the plaintiff subjectively so perceived it.  Outrageous conduct and egregious acts that are severe or pervasive automatically command an inference of gender-based hostility.  In the workplace of today, crude or degrading epithets, while hardly the rule, are certainly not the exception.  One such word—“bitch”—has seemingly found a place of its own in some people’s daily vocabulary.  The question arises as to whether constant use of that word in relation to a female employee is sex-based and reflects hostility toward women.  The short answer is it can, but doesn’t necessarily have to.

In a recent federal court case, a female field technician for a cable company filed suit based upon a veritable litany of gender-based abuse.  She alleged male technicians received better assignments, more overtime, and required tools and equipment.  In addition to disparately harsh working conditions, she also alleged that her foremen continually referred to her as a “bitch.”  An appellate court found based upon the record before it that constant use of the word was sex-based and reflected hostility to women.  The operative language here is “based upon the record before it.”

The plaintiff argued that the word “bitch” is such an intensely degrading sexual epithet that its use should automatically result in a finding that it implies hostility toward women.  The court readily acknowledged that the use of that word in a variety of contexts reflects that hostility.  The court rejected, however, a rule that would automatically command from its use an inference of gender-based hostility.  As in so many employment discrimination cases, the finding of a hostile work environment depends upon the totality of the circumstances.  In this case, when grouped with other acts of disparate treatment, constant use of the word “bitch” could reasonably be found to contribute to a subjectively and objectively hostile work environment.

Viewed in isolation, however, it would appear that even repeated reference to a female employee as a “bitch”, without other evidence of other sufficiently severe or pervasive discriminatory acts, will not support a claim of a hostile work environment.  Each case, however, must be assessed on its own particular facts.

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.

 

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Damage Award in Sexual Harassment case reduced from $500,000 to $50,000

In a case before the Supreme Court of New York, the Court modified a $500,000 damage award for mental anguish from sexual harassment to $50,000.  The Court found the half million dollar damage award by the Commissioner of Human Rights excessive and stated, “In sexual harassment proceedings with the State Division of Human Rights, damage awards for mental anguish and humiliation must be based upon actual pecuniary loss and emotional injury; care must be taken to insure that the award is compensatory and not punitive in nature.”[1]

The petitioner in the case was a female high school student employed by Young Legends, LLC in a franchise sandwich shop in the City of Norwich.  In January 2007 the teenage employee filed a complaint with the State Division of Human Rights alleging that Dale Blackwood, her supervisor and the owner of Young Legends, subjected her to sexual harassment during her employment.  She testified about Blackwood’s “touchy feely” interactions with female employees and offensive sexual remarks.[2]  In particular Blackwood put constant pressure on the petitioner to visit him alone in his apartment and when she eventually did so, he forced her to engage in sexual intercourse.  When Blackwood asked her to return to his apartment, she refused.  In a series of angry, insulting text messages he told her that her refusal meant she was quitting her job.

Following a public hearing the Administrative Law Judge determined that the petitioner had been subjected to quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment and that Blackwood was personally liable.  The Judge recommended a damage award of $1,218.75 for lost wages and $25,000 for mental anguish and humiliation. On administrative review, the Commissioner of Human Rights modified the order by increasing the mental anguish award to $500,000.[3]

On appeal the Supreme Court of New York indicated that in sexual harassment and discrimination proceedings with the State Division of Human Rights, damage awards for mental anguish and humiliation must be based on actual pecuniary loss and emotional injury.  Damage awards are meant to compensate the victim rather than be punitive in nature.  While Blackwood’s conduct was completely reprehensible, the court compared the evidence to similar sexual harassment and discrimination cases to conclude that the Commissioner’s award was excessive and reduced it to $50,000.[4]

 

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 a sexual harassment claim or 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] New York State Div. of Human Rights v. Young Legends, LLC, 90 A.D.3d 1265, 1269-70 (2011)

[2] Id. at 1266.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 1270.

Hostile Work Environment vs. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

As an employment law attorney I can get too accustomed to the legal jargon.  One question frequently asked by prospective clients is “what is the difference between hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment?”  While both types of employment discrimination are illegal and actionable, they can take very different forms.

Perhaps the most succinct explanation of the two causes of action comes from a four-year old Connecticut Appellate Court case: Quid pro quo sexual harassment, as its name suggests, conditions employment on the return of sexual favors; hostile environment sexual harassment is conduct that “has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”

There is a related variant, retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment, that also gives rise to a cause of action but which must be separately pleaded and proven.  That is why a victim of sexual harassment or retaliation should consult with an experienced employment law litigator before framing the particular allegations of a lawsuit.  At trial, you will be held to the allegations of your Complaint and limited to presenting only evidence in support of your claims.  Thus, if you plead quid pro quo, you may not be able to prove hostile work environment, or vice versa.

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.