• 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.
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The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a jury could reasonably find that a Sheriff unlawfully sexually harassed one of his female corrections officers because he repeatedly hugged her and, on one occasion, kissed her. The female corrections officer complained to supervisors about the Sheriff’s harassment but they did not forward her complaint for investigation.  The court found that a jury could reasonably determine that this conduct created a hostile work environment.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the decision of a trial judge who had thrown the case out on summary judgment because he did not believe hugging could constitute sexual harassment. While hugging may not constitute unlawful sexual harassment in every case, the Ninth Circuit found that it did in this case where, among other things, (1) the Sheriff was the highest official in the department; (2) the hugging occurred over 100 times over twelve years; (3) the hugs were chest-to-chest; and (4) there was evidence that the female corrections officer who brought the case needed to get sleep medication because the Sheriff’s behavior upset her so much.

The court interestingly found that the alleged harasser’s prominent position made his conduct more likely to create a hostile work environment. The Sheriff won his position through an election and he was the highest official in the department. According to the court, the Sheriff’s high rank and authority over his employees gave his harassment a “threatening character” that would not have been the same had the Sheriff been a co-worker of the female corrections officer.

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The Washington Post recently ran a story about a class action sex discrimination case against Sterling Jewelers, the company behind Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers. The women who filed the case initiated it in 2008 but the public knew nothing about the case until recently because Sterling made its employees agree to bring claims against the company in arbitration. Arbitration, unlike court proceedings, can enable a company to keep damaging information about the company away from the public eye.

What we learned from the Washington Post story is that the plaintiffs in the case produced about 250 sworn statements from women who claim that Sterling fostered a corporate culture of abuse toward women. The women who made these statements spoke of a culture where male managers treated their female subordinates as sexual objects. These men demanded that the women they managed acquiesce to their sexual harassment in order to get ahead at Sterling. The plaintiffs also allege that Sterling paid female employees less than similarly situated male employees.

If the plaintiffs who filed this case had been allowed to file it in court, this evidence of widespread sex discrimination would have come to light far sooner. A class action such as this likely would have grabbed headlines back in 2008 when it was filed. Because Sterling was allowed to force the case into secretive arbitration proceedings, the public did not know about it. Women who applied for jobs at Sterling did not know about these allegations of widespread sex discrimination at the company. If the allegations are true, some of the women who obtained jobs at Sterling without knowledge of the allegedly toxic culture likely became victims of that culture.

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Maine’s new marijuana law, which recently went into effect and permits some recreational marijuana use, contains a provision that prohibits employers from discriminating against workers who are 21 years old or older because they use marijuana outside of work. At the same time, the law specifically permits employers to prohibit marijuana use at work and to prohibit employees from working under the influence of marijuana.

Some employers that require employees and/or applicants to undergo drug tests as a condition of employment will have to adjust to this new law. Workers who use marijuana should also make an effort to educate themselves about the new law. There are going to be conflicts between some federal laws—such as U.S. Department of Transportation regulations—and this new Maine law because it is still a violation of federal law for anyone to use marijuana. Hopefully, the Maine and U.S. Departments of Labor will develop resources that will further help employers and workers to navigate these conflicts between state and federal law.

If you believe that your employer is violating Maine’s new marijuana law and you advise it as such, you may be protected from retaliation under Maine’s Whistleblower Protection Act. However, before you approach your employer about its non-compliance with Maine’s new marijuana law, it is a good idea for you to speak with an experienced employment lawyer. A lawyer can give you advice on how to best protect yourself from retaliation in case your employer does not take kindly to your attempt to help it comply with Maine’s new law.

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An African American man, Russell Lopes, recently won a $4 million jury verdict in a case against the Town of Brockton. Lopes’ attorneys argued that Brockton discriminated against him because of his race when it refused to hire him for a job with the Department of Public Works (DPW) and then retaliated against because he spoke out against the discrimination. At the time of the events, Brockton had a far lower percentage of non-white DPW employees than the non-white population of Brockton. Lopes’ attorneys uncovered evidence that they believed showed that Brockton had rigged its hiring process in favor of white applicants.

“When you looked at the evidence, you looked at the data, the facts and listened to the testimony, you realized Brockton had bent, twisted and broken every single rule they had in order to favor white people in the application process,” said Lopes’ attorney.

According to Lopes, he applied for a job with DPW and he had far more than the required 3-5 years of experience. He included reference letters and positive performance reviews with his job application. Nevertheless, Brockton told him that it decided not to hire him because of a lack of experience. Lopes tried to get an explanation for why Brockton said he lacked experience because he believed that he clearly had sufficient experience. He said that no one with the Town would give him an answer. So, he spoke to the press about what happened.

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In almost every workplace, information is communicated and stored electronically. Email, scanned documents, spreadsheets, databases, memos, letters, and more are all stored electronically. These troves of electronic information often contain the evidence that lawyers need to prove illegal activity. Even when a wrongdoer tries to cover their tracks, electronic storage of information can make it difficult to completely cover their tracks. One example of this occurred in a case in San Francisco that recently resulted in a judgment of over $10 million dollars for a whistleblower.

In that San Francisco case, the company claimed that it fired the whistleblower because of erratic work and loud outbursts. The whistleblower—who argued that the company fired him because he blew the whistle on illegal activity—said that his work was not erratic, he did not make loud outbursts, and the company never provided him with any documentation to support these claims. The company presented a performance review, dated a couple months before the whistleblower’s termination, which appeared to corroborate the company’s claim of erratic work and loud outbursts. But because the performance review was created electronically, “metadata” showed that the performance review was a fake.

Metadata is information about an electronic record such as who created it and when it was created. The whistleblower’s lawyer obtained the metadata associated with the performance review that supported the company’s claim of erratic work and loud outbursts. The metadata showed that the performance review was actually created after the whistleblower’s termination. This showed that the company did not take that performance review into account when it fired the whistleblower and that it may have created the performance review after the termination as a way to cover up its unlawful retaliatory motive for firing the whistleblower.

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A federal court in Connecticut has held that a jury could reasonably find that a cellphone company doing business as Verizon Wireless discriminated against an employee because of his disability. The employee, Edward Green, had a history of chronic back pain stemming from a back injury that required surgery. He worked for Verizon Wireless as a customer service representative who fielded customer calls and attempted to resolve their complaints.

Mr. Green suffered an exacerbation of his back pain that required him to take leave. He was worried about taking leave because his supervisor had told him in the past that employees who took sick leave could be fired and if anyone had any complaints about that, they could be fired for their complaints. While on leave, Mr. Green’s supervisor told him multiple times not to take too much leave and that he could be fired. Eventually that is exactly what happened—Verizon Wireless fired Mr. Green while he was on leave.

Verizon Wireless argued to the court that it fired Mr. Green because he experienced five disconnected calls and it fired any customer service representative with five disconnected calls. But Mr. Green said no one ever communicated this supposed rule to him; it also did not communicate the rule to other employees; and Verizon Wireless never put the rule in writing. Verizon Wireless presented evidence of other customer service representatives who it claims it fired for violating this rule but many of them had significantly more than five disconnected calls. Due to this evidence, and other evidence presented, the court determined that a reasonable jury could determine that Verizon Wireless did not actually terminate Mr. Green for violating this alleged rule and, instead, fired him for taking medical leave for his back pain.

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Earlier this month in New Jersey, a federal jury found that Lockheed Martin had discriminated against one of its employees because of his age and awarded that employee $51.5 million. Reports about the case indicate that the jury heard evidence that Lockheed Martin had a practice of laying off older workers while at the same time recruiting and hiring younger workers.

The plaintiff in this case, Robert Braden, was the oldest of six employees who reported to the same manager and he was the one chosen for layoff. The company gave Braden no reason for his lay off and did not use any objective criteria to make the layoff decision. Braden was 66 years old at the time of the layoff. The other four employees that the company chose for layoff from Braden’s facility were all older than 50.

The jury awarded Braden $520,000 in back pay which was doubled under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The jury also awarded Braden $520,000 for emotional distress under New Jersey state law. Also under New Jersey state law, the jury decided to make Lockheed Martin pay Braden $50 million in punitive damages.

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The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of leave per year for certain qualifying reasons, like a serious health condition or the birth of a child. For employees who need to take all, or close to all, of the 12 weeks they are entitled to, they should know how their employers calculate their leave years. This is because every time a new leave year begins, employees get 12 more weeks of FMLA leave.

Under the FMLA, an employer can choose one of four ways to calculate its leave year:

  1. the calendar year;
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Earlier this week, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict against a company that fired an employee, Tracy Wink, because she needed leave to care for her autistic son. The jury found that Wink’s termination violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Wink had to take leave from work to care for her autistic son because, due to his autism, he exhibited behaviors that led to his expulsion from his daycare center. Wink’s mother was able to watch her son three days per workweek but Wink had to watch him for the other two days of the workweek. Wink’s employer, Miller Compressing Co., permitted Wink to work from home the two days per week that she had to watch her son. It permitted Wink to deduct the hours from her pay that she spent during those two days caring for her son.

After several months working under this arrangement, Miller Compressing’s management decided that it would no longer allow any employees to work from home. A human resources (HR) officer called Wink on a Friday and told her that starting the next Monday she would have to start working in the office and if she could not do that she would be fired. Wink broke down in tears telling the HR officer that she could not possibly find day care for her son with such short notice. The HR officer falsely told Wink that FMLA did not permit her to take leave to care for her son unless she was taking him to a doctor’s appointment or therapy. On Monday she came into work and said that she had not found day care for her son. The company refused to change its decision and, as a result, Wink’s employment was terminated.

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued new guidance for workers with mental health conditions like PTSD and depression. The guidance discusses how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects workers with mental health conditions and what the ADA requires employers to do to accommodate workers with mental health conditions.

The guidance makes clear that employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with mental health conditions if the worker needs such an accommodation to do her job. The guidance explains that a “reasonable accommodation is some type of change in the way things are normally done at work” such as “altered break and work schedules (e.g., scheduling work around therapy appointments)” and “changes in supervisory methods (e.g., written instructions from a supervisor who usually does not provide them).”

If you ask for a reasonable accommodation for a mental health condition, your employer may ask you to obtain information from your health care provider to prove that you have a mental health condition and that you need a reasonable accommodation. The EEOC’s guidance includes a link to a resource that you can provide to your health care provider to assist her in providing this information to your employer.