• 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. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced last month that it had filed a lawsuit against an Arby’s franchisee because of sexual harassment teenage employees had experienced. The Arby’s franchise at issue hired a team leader with a known history of sexual harassment who pressured young female employees to have sex with him, attempted to follow female employees home, and physically injured one of his victims. The EEOC alleges that management knew about the harassment but took no action to stop it for several months.

Unfortunately, the facts of this case are very common. According to a study by the EEOC, young workers are more likely than older workers to work in places where sexual harassment occurs. Sexual harassers often victimize young employees because, due to their lack of work and life experience, young employees are less likely to know their rights, they are less likely to understand typical workplace norms, and they are less likely to complain about older and more powerful people.  The EEOC has a helpful website for young workers that can assist them if they believe their rights are being violated.

The restaurant industry is also a hot zone for sexual harassment. Some of the lowest paid workers in the economy work in restaurants. Harassers know that these low paid workers are especially scared of retaliation if they complain about harassment. Low paid workers often do not have much money saved and if they lose their jobs, they can quickly become destitute. Many restaurants frequently have corporate management located in places far removed from the front line employees and this can lead to harassers feeling less afraid that they will get in trouble.  Alcohol consumption is also more common in the restaurant industry than other industries and that can lead to higher rates of sexual harassment.

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social-media-2786261_1920-300x200A member of the New York City Council has introduced a bill that would prohibit retaliation against workers in the private sector who do not check their email after work hours.  The bill is modeled after a similar law in France that went into effect last year.

“Technology has made it easy for companies and employers to blur the line on the amount of time employers are working,” Councilman Rafael Espinal said in an interview. “The essence and spirit of this bill is to go after employers who are harassing employees to the point they are being retaliated against.”

There is no doubt that due, in part, to technologies like email, text messaging, and cloud computing, many employees can do much of their jobs from anyplace at any time.  And many employers expect their employees to do just that.  But this technology can be both a blessing and a curse.

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non-violence-1160132_1920-300x300This month marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis.  Dr. King went to Memphis 50 years ago to help black sanitation workers receive fair treatment in the workplace.  The City of Memphis treated black sanitation workers far worse than white sanitation workers.  White sanitation workers, for instance, could shower at work after they finished the filthy job of collecting people’s trash but black sanitation workers could not.  The City also did not provide black sanitation workers with shelter from storms which led to two black sanitation workers getting crushed to death inside of a trash truck where they took shelter during a storm.  To secure better working conditions, the black sanitation workers went on strike.

The union that these black sanitation workers formed back in the 1960s is still around today.  That union is still trying to secure better working conditions for its members, including air conditioning in garbage trucks, better pay, and benefits for temporary employees.

Employment discrimination against black workers has changed a lot since 1968 but racial prejudice against black people still impacts the workplace.  In Memphis, a majority black city, the poverty rate for black residents is twice the poverty rate for white residents.  “I love Memphis. I’m so optimistic about our future,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “But I don’t want to act like I’m ignorant of our challenges. Violent crime is way too high. Poverty is way too high.  And too few kids are getting properly educated.”

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dollar-1362243_1920-300x200This week, Maine’s House of Representatives voted down a bill that would have slowed the rise of the minimum wage.  In 2016, Maine voters approved a referendum to increase the minimum wage.  The referendum calls for gradual annual increases up to $12 per hour in 2020.  The bill voted down would have frozen the minimum wage at $10 per hour until 2020 and allowed it to increase by $.50 per hour annually after that.  The bill also would have created a special “youth wage” which would allow businesses to pay younger workers less than older workers.

Supporters of the bill that was voted down point to complaints from some small business owners about rising labor costs which they say will require layoffs and increased prices.  Opponents of the bill pointed out that employment and wage numbers seem to be doing well under the current law; and they, thus, see no reason to change it.  Indeed, in February 2018 Maine’s unemployment rate was 2.9% compared to 4.1% nationally.

Some opponents of this bill have also focused on the fact that the bill runs counter to the will of the voters.  “These are the same citizens who, in the face of gridlock in Augusta, exercised their constitutional right to use the citizen’s initiative process to create law,” Rep. Kent Ackley (I-Monmouth) said. “And that was because the leaders here could not do so.”

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Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and other Republican Senators have reintroduced a bill that would protect people and businesses that discriminate against LGBT people and people who have sex outside of marriage.

The text of the reintroduced bill has not yet been released but the earlier version of the bill would prohibit the “Federal government” from discriminating against individuals because they act “in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Under this earlier version of the bill, the term “Federal government” would include federal courts as well as all other branches of the federal government.

This bill could, for instance, be construed to prevent the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from suing a business that fired a woman because she had sex outside of wedlock or that fired a gay employee because he got married. Senator Lee maintains that this bill would not prohibit these types of discrimination lawsuits. But if the new bill contains language similar to the old bill and it becomes law, some courts could very possibly find that the bill immunizes employers from these type of discrimination lawsuits. Employers would argue that the EEOC sued them because they acted in accordance with their religious beliefs that unmarried people should not have sex or that LGBT people should not marry.  Some courts might accept these arguments based on the broad language of this bill.

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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.”