The Chicago Employment Law Blog

April 2010 Archives

Clinton Perkins and his son-in-law Christopher Reindl have been charged with hiring dozens of undocumented workers for temporary warehouse jobs, the Chicago Tribune reported. The two are the president and office manager, respectively, of a pair of Bensenville-based temporary staffing companies.

In an apparent attempt to stay beneath the radar, authorities say the men paid the undocumented workers in cash and failed to deduct taxes. They also withdrew cash for wages in amounts of $9,800, which authorities said was an attempt to skirt a law that requires banks to report withdrawals in excess of $10,000.

Lawyers Robert Stephenson and Anthony Masciopinto, representing the defendants, declined to comment to the Associated Press in a related article appearing at the ABC News web site.

An article published by the Chicago Tribune looks at how the recently enacted Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE Act), which provides tax credits to employers who create jobs, is playing out in the Chicago area. While differing opinions about what actually creates jobs are expressed, the article offers some encouragement. The federal tax credits for employers are in place in order to encourage more job creation, which is intended to be a good thing. 

The HIRE Act waives the 6.2 percent Social Security tax on wages paid to new hires who have been unemployed or underemployed (fewer than 40 hours per week) for at least two months, among some other incentives for mostly small businesses.

That means unemployed job applicants may actually have the upper hand when competing for the limited pool of job opportunities.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Peoria lab technician and U.S. Army Reservist Vincent Staub, who claims he was fired as a result of his supervisor's anti-military bias. Oral arguments for the case, Staub v. Proctor Hospital, are scheduled for the fall.

Vincent Staub was terminated from his job in 2004 after 15 years as a lab technician at Proctor Hospital. He was called up for active duty in the Iraq War in 2003, primarily to help other soldiers set up radiology units in a field hospital.

He sued his employer and a jury found that his immediate supervisor fired him out of "her negative opinion of Staub's military service." His lawsuit was filed under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which protects National Guardsmen and Reservists from biased treatment connected to their military service, the Peoria Journal Star explains.

One of the biggest job-creation stories of 2010 is the Census Bureau's call for more than 1 million temporary workers to help with the once-every-decade household tally. The Census Bureau jobs have been creating quite a buzz in the Windy City. Chicago has seven Census Bureau offices, all indicating starting wages of $18.25 per hour

The temporary assignment may be just the ticket for Chicago's unemployed, especially for those who have exhausted their jobless benefits. But don't bother if you're among the roughly 50 million Americans with an arrest or conviction on record, an editorial in The New York Times explains. 

In fact, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the U.S. government by applicants claiming they were denied census jobs based on what they say is an arbitrary and error-prone background check process. The Times article cites a 2006 federal study finding that as many as half of all background checks are inaccurate or outdated.

If you believe you've been similarly snubbed, then you might want to ask a Chicago employment lawyer about your legal options.

Unfortunately, wage inequality is still an issue in employment law.

A Time Magazine article titled "Why Do Women Still Earn Less Than Men?" leads with the statement that April 20, 2010 is the day most American women finally earned what their male counterparts made in 2009. US women typically earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by their otherwise equal, male colleagues, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.  

It's even worse for women of color: African-American women earn 32 percent less than their male counterparts, while Latinas only make 58 percent of what equally situated men earn. To mark the dubious occasion, NCPE has marked April 20 Equal Pay Day.

Some of the wage inequality has to do with blatant employment discrimination, in which case it's best to call on the expertise of an Illinois employment lawyer.

Smoking a joint in your cubicle to relieve the symptoms of glaucoma is not the same as taking your daily pills at the water cooler, even if some states regard both as legitimate medications. Illinois is not one of those states, although the Riverfront Times reported on the growing support for a bill to legalize medical use marijuana in the state

But Oregon's Supreme Court joins other states by ruling that employers that test for drugs (including medical use marijuana) may fire or refuse to hire someone who tests positive even if they legally may smoke the medical use marijuana under doctor's orders, Inc. Magazine reported.

It's tough to say for sure how Illinois law would treat medical use marijuana with respect to workplace rights. But if it were to follow judicial rulings in Oregon, California and Washington, there's probably not much Illinois employment lawyers could do to challenge a termination following medically prescribed puffing.

A Chicago worker writing into FindLaw Answers was laid off from an information technology job he held through a third-party staffing company for about four years and was classified as an independent contractor for the last year and a half. He wants to get his independent contractor pay.

However, he claims he is having a difficult time getting paid for his last week's wages and for travel expenses incurred on the job. Basically, he wants to know whether or not he should retain the services of a Chicago employment lawyer.

That's a lot to unpack all at once, so we'll take it little by little.

Steven Seagal is known to his fans as the tough-guy protagonist in a whole slew of critically panned action flicks, including "Above the Law" and "Hard to Kill." The 59-year-old action hero also writes and executive-produces some of his films. The Steven Seagal lawsuit portrays a different story.

The Steven Seagal in real life is hardly above the law and faces a lawsuit accusing him of keeping female employees as sex slaves, reported by the Contra Costa Times and elsewhere. Twenty-three-year-old former model Kayden Nguyen was hired as his assistant but filed suit for sexual harassment, wrongful termination, retaliation and false representations about employment, among other claims.

But her claims that Steven Seagal regularly kept young women around as assistants to feed his allegedly "strange and sometimes violent" sexual appetite has grabbed headlines. The suit was filed in Los Angeles, but likely is a hot topic of conversation among Illinois employment lawyers as well.

If you missed yesterday's Chicago job fairs, as reported by WGN, don't despair. There's another one tomorrow from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel in Oak Brook and then another one at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza on April 27 (same times), according to online job-seeking network ChicagoHires.

Job fairs are a great to get beyond the anonymity of your résumé and in front of hiring managers from companies that actually are planning to add staff.

The ChicagoHires web site also provides tips on how to prepare for and ultimately ace a job interview, including obvious suggestions like "be on time" and "ask appropriate questions." But despite your willingness to please a potential new employer, any Chicago employment lawyer will tell you that the interviewing manager must also ask appropriate questions. Illegal interview questions are something all job applicants should be aware of.

Inappropriate questions can run afoul of the law if they establish your designation as part of one or more protected classes, such as disability or nationality, according to FindLaw.

Mayor Richard Daley has ordered an audit of the city's health insurance rolls in a bid to save Chicago millions of dollars in waste, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Last time Chicago did such an audit, nearly 20 years ago, the Chicago audit discovered that roughly 5,700 individuals were falsely listed as dependents of city employees and recipients of health insurance benefits.

The office of Chicago Comptroller Steve Lux sent out more than 33,000 letters to city employees reminding them to contact the office if a dependent is no longer eligible for benefits. Steve Lux was quoted by the Sun-Times:

"This has never been more important than during this difficult economy when our resources are strained to continue providing city services."

Mayor Daley plans to hire an independent benefits consultant to lead the audit process.

The heated, physical altercation between Bulls executive vice president John Paxson and coach Vinny Del Negro, detailed by Yahoo Sports, probably is one of the more popular water cooler topics among Chicago employment lawyers.

Multiple sources claiming to have witnessed the incident say John Paxson shoved the coach twice in the chest and challenged him to a fist fight, while coach Vinny Del Negro declined to return the gesture. 

Fights often break out in sporting events, as one might expect from any competitive, physical endeavor. Usually it's hockey, but fights happen in all sports except perhaps golf and chess. 

Despite all the talk about "green shoots" and the wishful thinking of economic recovery embodied on the cover of the latest issue of Newsweek Magazine (declaring that "America's Back!"), weekly unemployment claims numbers continue to climb. Salon.com's Andrew Leonard discusses what he believes is a false sense of optimism amidst the dismal unemployment figures.

Even though Wall St. is getting cautiously bullish, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average topping 11,000 for the first time since before the economic meltdown in the fall of 2008, most people are not finding jobs. This is evidenced by the weekly unemployment claims spike.

The Salon article first points out the encouraging bits of news, including the respectable surge in March retail sales, and increased US manufacturing output last month. But weekly unemployment claims for the week ending in April 9 rose by 24,000 and he points out that April employment numbers simply don't jive with the growth in payroll recorded in March.

Very similar to the federal HIRE Act this blog covered in March, which provides employers with a $1,000 tax credit for hiring unemployed individuals, the Chicago Tribune reported on a new Illinois law that also provides incentives for hiring new workers. This new job creation is aimed at bringing down unemployment numbers.

The new piece of legislation was signed into law earlier this week by Gov. Pat Quinn. The state law targets small businesses by offering a $2,500 state tax credit for businesses with 50 or fewer employees that hire full-time workers beginning on July 1.

Jobs must last at least one year and pay $25,000 or more for employers to qualify. Employers also must apply for the tax credit immediately after the employee is hired. The new law does not indicate a deadline for the credit, but sets a limit of $50 million dollars.

Chicago employment lawyer Howard Foster succeeded in helping to settle a lawsuit on behalf of 48,000 workers who claimed they were exploited because of their immigration status, the Chicago Tribune reported. The $18 million settlement was reached with Atlanta-based carpet maker Mohawk Industries Inc.

The plaintiffs claimed that Mohawk systematically hired undocumented immigrants in an attempt to pay lower wages. The settlement ends six years of litigation.

Mohawk and several other large carpet manufacturers are based in the northern Georgia area commonly referred to as the "Carpet Capital of the World." In arguing their case, plaintiffs compared their wages to those of workers at different carpet companies.

The quality of care provided to deployed US soldiers was heavily scrutinized when photos and testimony of appalling conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were revealed three years ago. Conditions have improved since then, according to the Arizona Daily Star. 

That's good news for the roughly 280,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (based on 2009 figures). But what about the estimated 242,000 non-military private contractors serving side-by-side with soldiers, often in similarly dangerous conditions?

It turns out that the employees of private contractors assisting US military operations (and their families) often lose out when they are injured or killed, according to a new University of Illinois study cited by Medical News Today. Contractors, the study suggests, routinely "use the veil of government immunity and other war-related legal arguments" to limit, or even deny workers compensation payouts.

With health care reform wrapped up (at least for now), immigrant rights groups and other concerned parties hope that the White House will take on comprehensive immigration reform, although Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein believes it's "pretty unlikely" it will be accomplished by the end of this year.

The columnist, however, seems to think it would be politically shrewd given that President Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote and mentioned the need for Republicans to win over a portion of America's fastest-growing demographic.

Closer to home, immigration rights activists recently held a rally at the Teamsters Local 705 hall in the Windy City, as covered by the Chicago online news outlet Gapers Block. Hometown U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) attended the rally, which is a good sign for those supporting reform.

Buried in the nearly 2,000-page health care reform bill passed last month is a requirement that employers provide "reasonable" breaks for nursing mothers to pump breast milk, as explained by the non-profit United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC).

Illinois already has a law that protects the lactation rights of mothers in the workplace, but the new legislation closes the gap for the 27 states don't provide such protections.

It doesn't change a whole lot with respect to nursing Illinois mothers, who already have the ability to consult with an Illinois employment lawyer if they're denied the ability to pump breast milk in the workplace. But now, they also can sue in federal court for such violations.

Although many laborers would love an ice cold Gatorade after a hot afternoon working outside, the Chicago Post-Tribune reported on an East Chicago man who allegedly fell ill from the stuff. But adding insult to illness, according to his suit, the man was fired for seeking medical attention.

He has retained the services of an attorney (not an Illinois employment lawyer, since he's just across the Indiana border) and is suing for employment discrimination on the basis of disability and race (he is African-American).

Okay, so back to the Gatorade. Progress Rail Service Corp. employee Darryl Wade Smith made it known that he had high blood pressure upon being hired in 2008. A doctor, as well as a nurse working for Progress, cleared him for work; much of it was done outside during the summer.

The American Lung Association maintains a list of the 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) that protect workers from being terminated just because they smoke. Illinois is one of those states, which enacted the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act in 1987.

It's a more far-reaching law, essentially prohibiting discrimination against the use of lawful products. Whether it's Jack Daniels whiskey, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, or Marlboro cigarettes, any Illinois employment lawyer will tell you that employers may not fire you just because you enjoy one or more of these vices after work hours.

The American Lung Association makes it clear it doesn't support such legislation, which it believes puts smokers in a protected class along with minorities and women. But aren't we all protected from discrimination against personal, legal choices that don't impact our job performance?

Despite President Obama's rose-colored assessment of the unemployment figures cited for March (unchanged at 9.7 percent), CNN reported that the number of Americans filing jobless claims during the week ended April 3 jumped by 18,000. About 460,000 Americans filed claims for the week, up from 442,000 the week before.

In a survey conducted by Briefing.com, economists had predicted new claims to decrease by about 7,000 for the week. On the bright side, Illinois was among the top three states with the largest declines in new unemployment claims.

A Labor Dept. official cited by CNN who asked not to be named said the data may have been "clouded" by the fact that the timing corresponded with the end of the first quarter and religious holidays. The unnamed official didn't provide additional explanation as to how these factors may have skewed the data.

But different data from the week before paints a more optimistic picture.

Although roughly 10,000 incidents of wage theft were reported to the Illinois Dept. of Labor (IDOL) last year, as this blog reported last month, a new survey paints a much darker picture. As reported by Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ), University of Illinois at Chicago researchers believe more than 146,000 Cook County workers are shortchanged per week.  

Wage theft occurs when employers fail to pay wages earned or do not pay their workers in accordance with labor laws, including unpaid overtime and work done off the clock.

Sadly, most victims of wage theft are low-wage workers who either don't fully understand their rights, or believe they can't afford a Chicago employment lawyer.

While actual jobs with real wages are scarce in this rough-and-tumble economy, The New York Times reported that the number of unpaid internships actually is on the rise. That's good news for young people, or those entering new professions who want some experience.

But federal and some state labor regulators are concerned that many businesses hiring interns simply because they want free labor. Not all unpaid internships are illegal, but the law is relatively clear, as explained by Dept. Of Labor (DOL) wage and hour division director Nancy J. Leppinck:

"If you're a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren't going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law."

But interns in Chicago and elsewhere who know their arrangement is illegal seldom file complaints or consult an Illinois employment lawyer for fear of sabotaging their career.

A 2006 Chicago Sun-Times investigation into workers compensation abuses by city workers, exposing workers who appeared to be faking injuries, eventually led to federal subpoenas. Now, City Hall is imposing tough new enforcement mechanisms to ensure its employees are not taking advantage of the system, yesterday's Sun-Times reported.

If you have been injured and believe the system is taking advantage of you, that's a different story altogether and you might want to call an Illinois workers compensation attorney.

Beginning the week of April 12, each city department will assign a manager to keep watch over injured workers; making sure they visit doctors, go to rehab if necessary and follow treatment guidelines. Monthly status reports will give officials better visibility into each injured employee's physical condition.

Chicago Transit Authority bus driver Maurice Gibson was fired from his job after pleading guilty to sexually abusing a 12-year-old relative, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Although he claimed the conviction has nothing to do with his job, a state appeals court just ruled that the termination was lawful.

Although his CTA union representative and an arbitrator argued that he should not have been fired for his off-duty conduct; Illinois employment lawyers will tell you that illegal activity can impact your employment status.

In this case, Maurice Gibson hid his 1997 felony conviction for sexual abuse from the CTA. Originally hired in 1987, he was fired in 2004 after CTA officials heard about his conviction through an anonymous tip. He was sentenced to four years of probation for the offense.

The Chicago Tribune reported on a recent media briefing in Hong Kong in which Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans said he expects U.S. unemployment to hover around 9.25 percent by the end of 2010. His outlook for the following year is only slightly rosier, as he predicts 8 percent unemployment by the end of 2011.

Mr. Evans also said he believes the jobless rate should drop down to the 5 percent range as the economy gets back in good health. But when, exactly, is anyone's guess.

The Fed executive is not a voting member of the Fed body that sets interest rates, but he said he believes the current super-low rate should be maintained for a while longer.

A Bloomberg News article about Mr. Evans' statements didn't provide much encouragement to Chicago jobseekers, who struggle against a double-digit unemployment rate. He said the US economy is not yet strong enough to "absorb new entrants to the workforce."

It's easy to see why companies would prefer their laid-off employees not to collect unemployment insurance, since increased UI claims result in a higher UI tax rate for employers. But one St. Louis company has made resisting and appealing the UI claims of its clients' former employees its bread and butter, according to The New York Times.

The company, Talx Corporation, claims it represents employers in at least 30 percent of UI claims. Attorney Jonathan Baird, with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, said Talx regularly files UI appeals regardless of merits:

"It's sort of a war of attrition. If you appeal a certain percentage of cases, there are going to be those workers who give up."  

But employers aren't the only ones with leverage in such instances. Chicago workers who have been laid off and denied benefits with the help of Talx may want some representation of their own through an Illinois employment lawyer, many of whom provide a free initial consultation.

Jobseekers are working harder than ever to stand apart from the crowd and convince employers that they've got the right stuff for the job, as the unemployment rate hangs in the double digits. And for good reason: The résumé and cover letter collectively make up the hiring manager's first impression.

If you've made it past that first glance (remember, yours is only one of perhaps hundreds of résumés), the manager or recruiter most likely will do a little digging.  

That means your Facebook profile most likely will form an important part of the hiring manager's second impression as he or she looks for reasons to eliminate you (and thin the stack). So why spend all that time making your résumé look clean and professional if your FB profile makes you look like a potential liability for the company?

If you can believe it, one of the most dramatic episodes of the ABC hit show "Desperate Housewives" wasn't even filmed for television. CNN reported on a lawsuit filed by actor Nicollette Sheridan alleging she was fired in retaliation for reporting abuse by series creator Marc Cherry.

Nicollette Sheridan, who played real estate agent Edie Britt before the show killed off her character, claims Mr. Cherry hit her across the face and head with his hand during a heated argument in the summer of 2008.

She said the following after the alleged battery, according to her complaint:

"You just hit me in the head. That is not okay. THAT IS NOT OKAY!"

We alerted readers about an employment discrimination lawsuit against Malcolm X College a couple of weeks ago by Muslim teaching assistant Mohammad Shaikh. Chicago Public Radio WBEZ just reported that Malcolm X College is not the only City College of Chicago facing lawsuits by Muslim staff alleging discrimination.

The Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago) said City Colleges of Chicago has discriminated against employees at Truman College as well.

Two faculty members at Truman filed separate discrimination suits in the last couple of months, with the help of their Illinois employment lawyers, including one plaintiff who led Truman's School of Nursing in 2008. She claims she was unfairly targeted when she was fired for violating the school's residency requirement.

After returning from a 30-day suspension for publicly challenging Mayor Richard Daley, the mayor's compliance officer sued his estranged boss and more recently said he is resigning, according to the Chicago Tribune. Anthony Boswell, whom Mr. Daley hired in 2007, said he plans to step down from his post at the end of May.

Mr. Boswell's counsel, Chicago employment lawyer Jamie Wareham, told reporters that the suit against Mr. Daley and Inspector General Joseph Ferguson (co-defendant) will move forward:

"They drove an honest man with a family out of town and without cause."

Although a sheriff's deputy for McHenry County repeatedly failed a physical fitness test, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court has upheld a lower court ruling that his termination was unlawful, the Chicago Daily Herald reported. Now he will once again be working under the supervisor who fired him.

Talk about awkward. Regardless, the Illinois employment lawyer for Deputy Sheriff Robert Schlenkert, Gary Bailey, said that his client is anxious to get back to work: 

"As far as we're concerned, we're ready to go now. But if they want to wait, we'll wait."

The court is expected to issue a mandate based on its decision in about two weeks.

The Washington Post published the transcript from a speech given by First Lady Michelle Obama last week on the issue of caregiver bias and the need for more workplace flexibility. She discussed her own experience trying to juggle the demands of motherhood with her professional life shortly after the birth of her daughter Sasha; when she was called in for a job interview.

Like countless other parents across the country, Mrs. Obama was unable to find a baby sitter on short notice. Unwilling to pass on the job opportunity, she brought baby Sasha to the interview with her:

"And I prayed that her presence wouldn't be an automatic disqualifier. And it was fortunate for me that, number one, she slept through the entire interview... And I got the job."

Finding a job (any job) in this economy is quite an achievement and reason for celebration. But while an employer may consider you the top candidate and informally offer the position, it often comes with one final test: The pre-employment drug screen.

Illinois law supports employers' prerogative for a workplace free of illegal drug use, according to a US Dept. of Labor list of state laws, even though non-work use of legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol are tolerated.

As we've discussed before, the use of medical marijuana (which may become legal in Illinois) is not exempt in states that allow such use. And despite criticism from those who believe employers have no business prying into the personal use of recreational drugs, there's nothing a Chicago employment lawyer can do to help you assert such a claim.

Now that the smoke is cleared, let's discuss how pre-employment drug screening works and how state law governs its application.

The Chicago Tribune reported that World Relief, a global evangelical Christian organization that helps with the resettlement of refugees, has enacted a policy requiring all new employees to adhere to the Christian faith. The organization, which handles roughly 40 percent of all refugee resettlements in the US, is losing many of its Chicago employees in protest over the new policy.

And some of them, including former legal specialist Trisha Teofilo, are themselves Christians:

"As a Christian, I feel it is my duty to advocate for the most vulnerable. I believe Jesus would not promote a policy of discrimination."

Many of the organization's clients have fled religious persecution themselves; which critics of policy have pointed out.

When federal lawmakers passed an extension of jobless benefits for America's estimated 14.9 million unemployed people (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), it was only temporary. Republicans and Democrats in the capital clashed over how it would be paid, but eventually it was passed.

Well, lawmakers left for a two-week recess in late March without approving another extension of jobless benefits for April. Apparently it's no April Fool's joke, but Democrats have stated they plan to seek retroactive benefits when Congress gets back to work on April 12, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The extension is designed to help unemployed Americans whose benefits run out on April 5, since so few job opportunities exist right now. While the House approved the extension, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked Senate passage over objections to its cost.

Former Evanston police cadet Reginald Johnson was hired in Sept. 2008 after passing his physical, only to be fired two weeks later. He claims he was unlawfully terminated for having a soft, "raspy" voice, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. 

Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington told Mr. Johnson he was let go because his voice doesn't project far enough, after subjecting him to a test where he had to shout commands from a distance. However, Mr. Johnson claimed that none of the other cadets had to undergo the same test.

Illinois employment lawyer Matthew Litvak, who is representing Mr. Johnson, told reporters that his client was simply asked to shout down a street in a seemingly non-standard portion of the training program:

"It's a subjective evaluation. There's no guideline for it."