• Thank you for all your help on [AW's] case. Without you, nothing would have come from it. We will be sending people your way. We hope that we will not need your help again, but if we do you will be hearing from us.”

    - J.W., East Machias.
  • We appreciate everything you have done for us. You made this whole process much easier on [P.C.] and me. Words cannot express our gratitude.”

    - K.C., Sanford.
  • Thank you for your efforts and hard work in resolving my case. Your leadership and initiatives were outstanding. I felt truly represented, respected and was treated with honesty and integrity. We are grateful for a positive result and grateful for the excellent teamwork!”

    - L.D., Portland.
  • I want to thank you and your staff for all you and they did. The professional and compassionate way my case was handled is greatly appreciated. It was a pleasure to do business with your firm and if the need ever arises I will be back in touch. Thank you again.”

    - M.H., Bangor.
Published on:

A tech entrepreneur recently took a novel approach to ensure that members of her company’s board of directors cannot engage in sexual harassment and keep their positions. The entrepreneur, Kristina Bergman, is the CEO of Integris Software. Bergman added a clause to stockholders’ voting agreements that requires them to vote out a director if there is a “reasonable probability” that they sexually harassed someone.

Typically, directors are only removable for cause, such as if they embezzle money from the company or engage in fraud. Bergman’s approach is novel but it is smart given how rampant sexual harassment is in the tech industry. Hot startup companies, like Uber, and some of the venture capital firms that fund them, like Binary Capital, have come under fire for sexual harassment. Bergman wanted to try to prevent the problem that has dogged these companies from infecting hers.

Notably, the standard of “reasonable probability” is intended to be lower than the standard of proof required to hold someone responsible for sexual harassment in court. Bergman and the lawyer who helped her draft the stockholder voting agreement wanted to avoid protracted legal fights.

Published on:

pregnant-woman-300x200This month, Connecticut enacted new protections for pregnant workers that address some of the more common abusive employment practices that women face when they are pregnant. The new protections include the following:

  • Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers to enable them to work unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship;
  • Employers cannot refuse to hire a pregnant worker because she needs a reasonable accommodation due to her pregnancy;
Published on:

Earlier this month, in a landmark decision for proponents of marijuana legalization, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that an employer who fired an employee because she used medical marijuana to treat her Crohn’s disease may have violated the state’s disability discrimination law. The employee in the case, Cristina Barbuto, was up front with her employer, Advantage Sales and Marketing (“Advantage”), and disclosed that her doctor had prescribed medical marijuana which she used a few times per week at home; she never came to work intoxicated. Some managers with Advantage were allegedly accepting of Barbuto’s marijuana use but a human resources representative ultimately fired Barbuto because marijuana use violates federal law.

Advantage’s attorney argued that allowing an employee to use marijuana cannot be a reasonable accommodation because marijuana use violates federal law. The court rejected this argument. It determined that, even though marijuana use violates federal law, allowing someone with a disability to use it for medicinal purposes could be a required reasonable accommodation because Massachusetts state law permits medical marijuana use.

In reaching its decision, the court noted that the vast majority of states permit medical marijuana use and that fact weighed on its decision. The court stressed that “to declare an accommodation for medical marijuana to be per se unreasonable out of respect for Federal law would not be respectful of the recognition of Massachusetts voters, shared by the legislatures of voters in the vast majority of States, that marijuana has accepted medical use for some patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions.”

Published on:

Earlier this week a new Maine law went into effect that will allow employers to employ more 14- and 15-year old kids. According to a press release from the Maine Department of Labor, the new law “amends laws relating to minors 14 and 15 years of age to allow them to work in bowling alleys, movie theaters and permanent amusement parks, and to clarify their employment in bakeries, hotels and rooming houses—opening more occupations and broadening the things they can do.”

While a job can certainly benefit a teenager, employing children can create problems with workplace harassment. It has been well documented that workplaces with a lot of younger workers are more likely to experience problems with workplace harassment.   Last year the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a report from a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The EEOC’s Task Force studied, among other things, factors that increase the risk that workplace harassment will occur—one of those risk factors is the presence of many young workers.

According to the EEOC’s Task Force, “workplaces with many teenagers and young adults may raise the risk for harassment. Workers in their first or second jobs may be less aware of laws and workplace norms – i.e., what is and is not appropriate behavior in the workplace. Young workers who engage in harassment may lack the maturity to understand or care about consequences. Young workers who are the targets of harassment may lack the self-confidence to resist unwelcome overtures or challenge conduct that makes them uncomfortable. Finally, young workers who are in unskilled or precarious jobs may be more susceptible to being taken advantage of by coworkers or superiors, particularly those who may be older and more established in their positions.”

Published on:

We previously reported on a bill that the Maine legislature was considering which would help address the gender pay gap.  That bill passed the legislature but Governor LePage has vetoed it.  As our previous post explained, this new law would help prevent victims of pay discrimination from continuing to suffer the effects of that discrimination when they move from one job to another.  It would also help victims of pay discrimination to discover their employers’ discriminatory practices.

“Workers should be paid a market-based salary that reflects their education, experience, qualifications, credentials and work ethic, regardless of whether a previous job underpaid them because of their gender — or any other reason,” Senator Cathy Breen (D-Falmouth) said. “If this bill becomes law, it will be a victory not only for the hundreds of thousands of Maine women who are underpaid, but for all workers that deserve fair compensation.”

Governor LePage’s veto statement focused on the part of the bill that would have prohibited employers from asking prospective employees to disclose their pay history during negotiations over their starting salary.  Governor LePage said, among other things, that “Maine’s employers are often their own HR departments.  Adding another law restricting a legitimate business practice places yet another burden on our employers.  If an employer cannot ask, they may end up making even lower offers than they normally would, resulting in lower wages.”

Published on:

After Maine recently passed an increase to the minimum wage, many Maine restaurant workers who depend on tips voiced serious concerns. They believed that the increased minimum wage would actually cause them to make less money. They feared that restaurant owners would raise prices and cut workers’ shifts. Some said that customers had begun to tip less because the customers assumed that the increased minimum wage made tips less important to servers. Due to these concerns, the Maine legislature recently passed a bill that reversed the increase in minimum wage that employers must pay to tipped workers and the Governor has signed that bill.

If the minimum wage increase for tipped workers had not been reversed, employers of tipped workers would have went from paying tipped workers a minimum wage of $3.75/hour in 2016 to $12/hour by 2024.  Employers of tipped workers will have to pay workers a minimum of $5/hour this year but in future years they will only have to pay them half of the minimum wage that non-tipped workers must receive.  What will not change is that if tips do not result in a tipped worker making at least the same minimum wage as a non-tipped worker, the employer of the tipped worker will have to make up the difference.

One of the Maine restaurant workers who organized the movement to reverse the rise in the minimum wage for tipped workers was Jason Buckwalter. He is now saying that he wants to take this movement to other places in the country where the minimum wages of tipped workers may be raised or have already been raised. But those who advocate for a higher minimum wage for restaurant workers say that they disagree with Buckwalter and others in his camp. “We do not believe what we see in Maine is representative of the majority of workers,” said Dave Palmer, the managing director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national group of low-wage restaurant workers.

Published on:

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) has released a report showing the results of a survey that it conducted of transgender Mainers.  The survey showed what many already, intuitively, knew:  transgender Mainers face frequent and extreme amounts of discrimination.

According to the NCTE report:

  • 8% of respondents who have ever been employed reported losing a job in their lifetime because of their gender identity or expression.
Published on:

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) turned 50 years old this month.  Congress enacted the ADEA, 50 years ago, to address the following stated problems:

(1) in the face of rising productivity and affluence, older workers find themselves disadvantaged in their efforts to retain employment, and especially to regain employment when displaced from jobs;

(2) the setting of arbitrary age limits regardless of potential for job performance has become a common practice, and certain otherwise desirable practices may work to the disadvantage of older persons;

Published on:

In response to complaints of systemic problems with harassment and discrimination, Uber has fired 20 employees, including some senior executives.  The company has also disciplined others and is still investigating additional complaints.  This is a major shakeup at Uber, a ride sharing service based in California, that comes shortly after the company received a report from a team of lawyers who reviewed its workplace climate.

Uber hired this team of lawyers, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, amid complaints from some Uber employees that the company prized aggressive growth so much that it would look the other way when some employees engaged in harassment or discrimination.  Uber hired another law firm, Perkins Coie, to assist with the problem as well and that firm has been investigating individuals’ complaints. Perkins Coie has investigated 215 complaints and about 100 of those resulted in actions taken against employees for sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination.  There are still complaints under investigation. 

The problems at Uber are not unique to Uber.  Harassment, in particular, is an epidemic in American workplaces.  Far too many workers face problems with sexual harassment, racial harassment, and other forms of unlawful harassment.  As we’ve previously reported, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) formed a task force that heard from a variety of experts on how to address this epidemic.  The EEOC issued a report that provides a variety of recommendations for preventing harassment and changing workplace cultures that permit harassment to occur. 

Published on:

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in New York, has decided that the full court—all eleven active judges—will consider whether sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act. If the full Second Circuit decides that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, it will have to overrule a prior Second Circuit decision that held the opposite.

Normally, panels of three appellate judges decide cases but those three-judge panels are required to follow precedent. They cannot deviate from the decisions that their court reached in earlier cases. When the full appellate court considers a case, however, it can overrule prior precedents and a decision by the full court to hear a case signals that some judges want to consider overruling past precedent.

Federal appeals courts rarely decide to have the full court consider cases. This type of full-court review, sometimes called “en banc review,” is exceedingly rare in the Second Circuit. Thus, the Second Circuit’s decision to hear this case en banc is noteworthy in itself. The Second Circuit, however, is following the lead of the Seventh Circuit which earlier this year ruled en banc that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.