• 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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This week the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation based on a person’s transgender status.  New Hampshire is the only state in New England without such protection.  The bill, which passed the house 195-129, now moves to the Senate.

“Today’s bipartisan vote to pass HB 1319 demonstrates that New Hampshire is ready to truly become the Live Free or Die State. The House of Representatives just voted to move New Hampshire forward by updating our state’s laws to protect transgender people from discrimination,” said Linds Jakows, Freedom New Hampshire Campaign Manager. “Granite Staters from all walks of life have gotten the opportunity to meet their transgender neighbors and have come to understand that HB 1319 is about making sure that everyone has the opportunity to truly live free. We are so grateful to the bipartisan coalition of New Hampshire House members who voted to champion opportunity for all, and we urge the Senate to swiftly send HB 1319 to Governor Sununu’s desk.”

Jakows also responded to the fear-mongering of opponents to the bill.  “We know that most people haven’t yet met someone who’s transgender, and it becomes easy to believe those fear-mongering stories that we all hear when you actually haven’t connected a face and a real story to the issue of discrimination,” Jakows said.

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Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the first lawsuit filed by the Trump administration under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, and religion.  DOJ enforces Title VII against state and local government employers.

The lawsuit alleges that the Houston Fire Department violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it subjected two female firefighters to sexual harassment.  The news of the lawsuit coincided with the announcement of a new DOJ initiative to combat sexual harassment in the workplace—the Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative (SHWI).

This lawsuit against the City of Houston follows criticism from civil rights advocates over the fact that the current administration had not filed any Title VII lawsuits.  Now that the first one has been filed, it will be interesting to see whether DOJ will begin to file Title VII lawsuits at an increased frequency.

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued a Texas company that fired three brothers because they had a blood disorder, hemophilia A. Hemophilia A runs through these brothers’ family and requires them to undergo expensive medical treatment if they suffer a scrape or other injury that causes bleeding.

The president and vice president of the company, Signature Industrial Services, LLC (“SIS”), allegedly instructed the brothers’ manager to fire them because the president and vice president learned how the company’s health insurance rates would spike if SIS employed the brothers. One manager allegedly refused to fire the brothers but when he left SIS, the president and vice president got another manager to fire the brothers. This manager told the brothers that SIS decided to let them go in connection with a reduction in force, but SIS laid off no other workers at the time it terminated the brothers.

The factors that led SIS to allegedly discriminate against these brothers are very common in disability discrimination cases. Companies often discriminate against workers with disabilities because of the actual or perceived additional costs that come with employing a person with a disability. These additional costs are often not a defense to discrimination unless the employer can show that the costs pose an undue hardship on it.

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Most people understand that many victims of sexual harassment go through horrible emotional and psychological turmoil. However, many people do not realize that sexual harassment victims also suffer physical bodily harm due to the harassment. A recent study, for example, explains how sexual harassment can cause harm to the victim’s cardiovascular system, stiffening her blood vessels and harming her heart.

“People often think of harassment as a single event, but much more commonly, it’s a process that happens over time. You keep going to work day after day while this stuff keeps happening,” said Louise Fitzgerald, who has studied harassment in utility workers, office settings and factories. “It’s that prolonged exposure to stress that turns into a physiological reaction.”

This link between psychological trauma and bodily harm should not surprise people who have suffered from psychological trauma. People, for instance, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience disproportionately high amounts of physical health problems. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a “growing body of literature has found a link between PTSD and physical health. Some studies have found that PTSD explains the association between exposure to trauma and poor physical health. In other words, trauma may lead to poor health outcomes because of PTSD.”

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Maine legislators held a hearing this week on a bipartisan bill to explore the feasibility of an employee-financed paid family medical leave system.  House Majority Leader Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) and Sen. Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) have co-sponsored the bill.  Herbig and Volk previously sponsored a bill to establish an employee-financed paid family medical leave system but they are now backing this new bill which would just study how much such a system would cost.

The original paid family medical leave bill that Herbig and Volk sponsored would have financed paid family leave with a maximum 0.5% pay deduction from employees’ pay.  It would not have required businesses with fewer than 15 employees to participate but would give them the option to participate if they wanted.

“Creating a paid family leave medical system on the shoulders of our businesses would not benefit anyone. This bill has never proposed to do that,” said Herbig. “There isn’t an easy fix but I’m tired of spinning our wheels when there are small steps we can take to creating a cost-effective, paid family medical leave system in Maine that works for both families and businesses across our state.”

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guard-tower-2639113_1920-300x200Female corrections officers experience sexual harassment at alarming rates and many prisons illegally fail to protect them from this harassment. The Washington Post recently ran a story about this serious problem.

In recent years, female corrections officers who have banded together and opposed sexual harassment have had success with legal action. Last year, for example, the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to settle a sexual harassment class action for $20 million and, as part of the settlement, agreed to make procedural changes that will help to prevent sexual harassment from recurring in the future.

The sexual harassers in prisons are often inmates. Many female corrections officers work in environments where male inmates threaten to rape them and masturbate in front of them. Even though prisons have a huge amount of control over inmates and the ability to severely discipline them for this conduct, some prison officials refuse to do so. Instead, they fault the women for complaining about the sexual harassment accusing them of having “thin skin” and telling them that they work in a “man’s world.”

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The federal First Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a jury verdict against the Providence Fire Department (PFD) in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a lesbian who formerly served as a lieutenant in PFD. The plaintiff, Lori Franchina, suffered severe sexual harassment and after she reported the harassment to PFD she experienced severe retaliation. Some of the harassment and retaliation included: a man on the first day he met her telling her that he could impregnate her if she wanted because he knew she was a lesbian; this same man later opened the closed door to Franchina’s bedroom in the firehouse, walked in while she was getting undressed, and refused to leave until the third time she asked him to “get the f—k out”; multiple people used sexist epithets to refer to her; another person tampered with her food and made her sick; and, in one disgusting incident, someone flung blood and brain matter from a suicide victim on her. To remedy the damages that Franchina suffered, Franchina was awarded $806,000.

One of the legal hurdles that Franchina had to overcome to win this case was that she had to argue that she experienced discrimination based on her sex, not just her sexual orientation. This is because the First Circuit previously determined, about 20 years ago in a case called Higgins, that the law Franchina sued PFD under, Title VII, does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.

The First Circuit judges in this case distinguished the facts of Higgins from the facts of Franchina’s case because Franchina suffered harassment not just because she was gay but, rather, because she was both a woman and a gay person. Thus, the First Circuit found that this case fit into a category of Title VII cases called “sex-plus” cases. A common type of sex-plus case is where a woman with children gets discriminated against not just because she is a woman but, rather, because she is a woman with children. Similarly, Franchina experienced harassment (a form of discrimination) not just because she was a woman but, rather, because she was a woman who was gay.

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The Maine Employee Rights Group (MERG) is pleased to announce that award-winning attorney Allan Townsend has joined the firm.  Allan comes to MERG from the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section, where he worked for the past seven years protecting the rights of employees of state and local governments as well as military service members.

DOJ entrusted Allan to represent the United States in some of its most high profile cases including a large class action challenging the New York City Fire Department’s (FDNY) pattern of discrimination against Black and Hispanic applicants—which settled for about $100 million—and the first-ever employment discrimination lawsuit that DOJ filed to protect the rights of a transgender individual.

“Allan began his career in Maine and we are thrilled that he has returned from Washington, DC.  He is an extraordinary attorney and a dogged advocate for his clients.  Allan has spent his entire career fighting for working people and all Maine workers should be thankful that he has returned,” said MERG principal Peter Thompson.

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A Suffolk County jury slapped the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) with a $1.2 million verdict yesterday because it discriminated against an employee who needed medical leave.

The employee, a data resources manager, suffered from nerve tumors in his feet which required surgery and recovery time. The employee had a pre-planned vacation to Mexico scheduled for the period of time he was going to be recovering from his surgery. His doctor said he could go on the vacation and he told MWRA about the vacation when he requested medical leave. Even though his doctor cleared him to go to Mexico during his medical leave, MWRA fired him supposedly for going to Mexico during his medical leave.

The employee’s lawyer argued to the jury that MWRA’s claimed reason for firing the employee was illogical, false, and just a pretext to fire him because he needed medical leave. Given the verdict, the jury obviously bought the employee’s lawyer’s argument.

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Maine Senator Susan Collins, and one of her colleagues in the Senate, recently sent a letter to Facebook, Google, and Linkedin expressing concern about job advertisements that target only workers in certain age groups. This is the same issue that we discussed last week because there is a class action lawsuit against companies that have been posting these job advertisements.

“By targeting employment advertisements to specific age groups, certain users may be denied the ability to view job opportunities. We write today to express our concerns related to such targeting and to inquire as to the use of age-based advertising tools in hiring practices,” said Senator Collins in her letter. The letter asked the companies to provide her with certain information by January 31, 2018, which will help her to better understand the issue.

Targeting certain demographic groups with social media job advertisements is an interesting issue. Of course, a company can use this ability to target demographic groups for discriminatory reasons, seeking to exclude certain groups of people from its work force. However, some employers may want to use this same technology to target certain demographic groups that are under represented in their companies.