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San Diego Employment Law for Employees Law Blog

Sexual Harassment and a hostile work environment

An employee may find him or herself dreading going to work each day because he or she is being subjected to harassing or abusive treatment in the workplace. It could be sexual harassment or some other abusive treatment. The harassment or abuse could be coming from a supervisor, a co-worker, a customer or even an outside contractor. The employee has heard the term "hostile work environment" and believes that he or she is the victim of a hostile work environment.  Is the employee entitled to compensation for the hardship and distress that the hostile work environment is causing?

How some employers mishandle sexual harassment complaints

When an employee in California first complains about sexual harassment, his or her employer has an opportunity to resolve the situation so that it does not result in a lawsuit. However, many employers mishandle sexual harassment complaints and end up making the situation worse for their employees and for themselves. Before an act of sexual harassment takes place, employers also make mistakes by failing to set up sound policies for addressing these types of serious complaints.

Sometimes, the established sexual harassment policy at a workplace makes it difficult for the employer to mitigate the effects of this behavior. For example, a policy that requires an employee to report sexual harassment to supervisors only may not work for an employee whose situation calls for an alternate reporting channel. Policies that do not prohibit dating between supervisors and subordinates can also result in a lot of sexual harassment-related issues when these relationships end or lead to favoritism.

Investigator finds discrimination at UCLA research center

A new report claims that an outside investigation at the University of California, Los Angeles, discovered that female staff are working in a hostile environment in the research center for Alzheimer's disease. The center is part of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

A university administrator said in a letter to the staff in March 2015 that an investigator determined that some men were discriminating against three women. Additionally, the administration had not properly responded to previous discrimination complaints. The investigator handed in the report in October 2014 and noted that there has been an atmosphere of hostility, conflict, mistrust and tension at the center for about 10 years. Women are being treated in a demeaning, unprofessional manner, the report added.

Walmart worker threatens lawsuit over missing wages

California workers may be interested to learn that, on April 10, it was reported that retail giant Walmart could potentially be facing a lawsuit after allegedly failing to pay their managers for overtime. Under federal overtime laws, hourly employees must be paid time and a half for each extra hour that they work if they work more than 40 hours in a week.

One worker claimed that she was hired as a manager but was given the duties of a normal worker. However, because she was given the title of a manager, Walmart claimed that it was exempted from paying her time and a half when she worked more than 40 hours a week. She claimed that this happened to other workers as well. Additionally, the workers were reportedly denied their lunch and rest breaks.

Whistleblowing on Blue Shield superior may have cost VP his job

The former vice president of Blue Shield of California believes he was unfairly dismissed after voicing his concerns about a more senior officer's suspicious conduct, and he filed a suit in state court on April 6. In his lawsuit, the former officer claims that the company's chief information officer and senior vice president was responsible for his termination after the plaintiff had voiced objections about potential financial improprieties.

When Blue Shield needed to pick a vendor for the Veritas Data Project, the plaintiff expressed his reservations when the senior officer wanted to use a vendor that would charge an unfixed price of $4.6 million instead of a company proposing to charge a fixed $1.6 million. The suit says that the officer could not offer a valid reason for wanting to use the more expensive vendor or for why he was so resistant to the plaintiff's questions about the issue.

California woman sues former employer for wrongful termination

A lawsuit recently filed in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that Kaiser Permanente and Southern California Permanente Medical Group fired the plaintiff after she reported that other employees had violated the privacy rights of patients. The plaintiff, a woman who had been employed by Kaiser since 1978 for 34 years, complained of retaliation and age discrimination.

Although the woman had received good evaluations throughout her career, she said her employer became hostile after she complained of violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This federal law ensures that patients cannot have their medical information shared and discussed without their permission. Her complaint launched an investigation of her instead of the people who shared confidential information.

Vineyard workers awarded $65,000 in sex discrimination suit

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing announced that eight Napa Valley vineyard workers will share $65,000 as part of the settlement of a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. The complaint was filed against a vineyard owner, a management company and a farm labor contractor.

According to the complaint, two female workers were fired from a vineyard owned by Rutherford-based Alsace Co. in June 2013 after repeatedly asking for a second bathroom, which is legally required for work crews that include men and women. The claim said there was only one portable toilet available for use by two work crews.

Facebook sued for gender and race discrimination

On March 16, a former Facebook employee filed 11 complaints against the social network in a California court. The woman's claims stemmed from her time working for Facebook between June 2010 and October 2013. She alleges that race and gender discrimination were pervasive in Facebook's work environment, and her claim charges Facebook for various offenses including national origin discrimination and sexual harassment.

According to the plaintiff, coworkers at Facebook ignored her opinions on a regular basis. She says that she was also subjected to inappropriate comments about the fact that she was working rather than staying at home with her children. She claims that management at Facebook reprimanded her for taking time off to do volunteer work at the school her children attended. The woman says that Eventually a less-qualified male employee was hired to replace her, and she was fired.

Wellness programs could lead to workplace discrimination

Some California residents may be employed at places that promote wellness for their employees. While this can be positive, it may also leave employees vulnerable by requiring them to share health information that their employers may later use to discriminate against them.

Because people are often hesitant to share this information, employers may create incentives for employees to complete health risk assessments that include physicals and detailed questions about mental and physical health. When the incentive is a small item, this is not a problem, but in some cases, employers may try to deny their employees access to health insurance if they refuse. Furthermore, there are cases in which employees have faced discrimination after employers have learned that they had diabetes or other medical conditions.

Supreme Court puts dress code on trial for discrimination

Although discrimination based on religion is one of the things prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, previous cases ruled in favor of allowing employers to discriminate against visibly religious applicants based on the dress code or "look" enforced by the business. In late February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that challenges this practice, which may be good news for highly diverse states like California.

The case involves a young Muslim woman who applied for a position at a department store and was not hired because she was wearing a hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women. The department store's dress code is "preppy" and does not permit any headgear. Some sources believe this case is likely to be decided in her favor, which would reverse the long-standing precedent that has traditionally allowed employees to refuse to hire workers who would not comply with the company dress code for religious reasons.