The Chicago Employment Law Blog

August 2010 Archives

Unemployment figures and other economic indicators don't look so good, embodied in economics professor Carmen Reinhart's prediction of seven more years of sky-high unemployment, as reported by Bloomberg. 

The University of Maryland in College Park professor and husband Vincent Reinhart presented a paper at the Federal Reserve Bank's annual symposium, which forecasts another decade of slow growth and high unemployment.

That means Illinois employment lawyers will continue to be busy helping clients with appeals of unemployment insurance benefit claims.

Normally, federal civil rights laws protecting women and other protected groups from discrimination and harassment is triggered only when the plaintiff is able to show a pattern of abuse. But a Chicago case reported by set a new precedent that a single case of sexual harassment, if serious enough, can indeed trigger a civil rights suit.

The case, Cynthia Berry v. Chicago Transit Authority, was heard by the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals located in Chicago and centers on an alleged incident that took place in January 2006.

Chicago employment lawyer Paul Mollica, representing plaintiff Cynthia Berry, acknowledged that "there aren't a lot of cases like this" in which one single act is evaluated as a civil rights violation. But as the appellate court wrote in its decision, this case met the threshold:

When roughly half of the campus security monitors at School District 202 in Plainfield were laid off, 26 in total, two-thirds of those left jobless were women. And as Fox Chicago reported, district officials are not arguing this point; however, the firings may have violated a union agreement stating that layoffs must be done in accordance with seniority.

While Illinois Education Association representative Ann Bachman-Thomas pointed out the contractual seniority clause, calling the firings a simple case of sexism, District 202 spokesman Tom Hernandez simply acknowledged that gender indeed played a role in the layoffs.

A recent episode of National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" program discussed the legal and practical implications of using one's Web- and email-connected smart phone during off-hours, which is at the heart of an employment lawsuit filed in Chicago.

The question is whether such off-hours use is subject to overtime pay, which probably elicits different opinions from different Illinois employment lawyers.

While Apple's iPhone is used mostly by consumers for personal use, Research in Motion's hyper-secure BlackBerry is the standard-bearer of work-related productivity devices. Catherine Merritt of Ketchum Public Relations uses a popular nickname to describe its addictive qualities:

"Definitely it's a little bit of a crackberry. I check it at least a few times probably an hour."

You think you work long hours? Collinsville towing company dispatcher Nancy K. Sandage said she was forced to work between 85 hours and 116 hours per week, according to the St. Clair Record. Even more shocking are her allegations that she worked such staggering hours without overtime pay or even minimum wage.

That averages out to as much as 16.5 hours per day in a seven day work week.

With the help of an Illinois employment lawyer, she filed a lawsuit on Aug. 9 against former employer Thomas Brothers. She's seeking more than $50,000 in compensatory damages and more than $50,000 in punitive damages, in addition to attorney's fees, costs and any additional relief granted by the court.

Reuters asks a valid question with respect to July's dismal unemployment figures: "Why did 1.2 million Americans drop out of the labor force over the past three months?" The question gets at the heart of how unemployment is tabulated and why it falls short of measuring the actual rate of joblessness.

Workers who are laid off are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits; and if denied by unscrupulous employers, they have the option of appealing the denial of claims. In cases, it helps to have a Chicago employment lawyer on your side.

Unemployed homeowners in Illinois, 16 other states and Washington, D.C. will be the beneficiaries of a $2 billion Treasury Dept. Hardest Hit Fund, according to the Chicago Tribune. Illinois will receive $166.4 million of the funds, which are intended to help unemployed homeowners struggling to pay the mortgage avoid foreclosure.

Illinois, along with the other states, was selected for the program because its unemployment rate is higher than the already high national average of roughly 9.5 percent. Illinois' jobless rate was 10.4 percent in June.

While employers may argue that a criminal record or poor credit rating indicates that a job applicant may not be the best fit, an Associated Press article reported that some such screening tactics are being challenged in court.

Specifically, this means prospective employees may want to call Illinois employment lawyers if they suspect pre-employment screenings are discriminatory in nature. All pre-employment credit checks will be illegal in Illinois starting January 1, as we blogged about last week.

Of course, jobless applicants may not be privy to why they weren't hired or the motivation to file a claim even if they did.

Bob Benson, the 65-year-old former director of internal audit for Chicago, is suing the city for age and race discrimination, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Bob Benson, who is white, said former Office of Compliance Chief Anthony Boswell (who is black) replaced him with a less-qualified African-American woman.

He claims that hiring decisions were based solely on race and that these decisions often were made at the expense of bringing in qualified talent:

"I saw a pattern going on where a lot of Caucasians were being terminated and none were being hired. That told me that Boswell was discriminating."

Thanks to a new piece of legislation signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this week, employers won't be able to run pre employment credit checks on job applicants once the law goes into effect in January, the Chicago Tribune's Clout Street blog reported.

That means that any job applicant who can prove they were turned down because of a problematic credit record may hire a Chicago employment lawyer and file suit.

Nineteen female campus monitors were laid off by the Plainfield School District because of gender, according to a claimant (and union member) citing discrimination charges filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and reported by The Plainfield Sun.

The EEOC reportedly has recommended that district officials attend a mediation with the laid off workers. If that doesn't work, the 19 claimants might have the option of teaming up with Illinois employment lawyers and filing suit.

Laid off employee Lisa Allison told an EEOC investigator that the district told her and her 18 fellow claimants that layoffs would be done by seniority. But she claims to have documents proving that officials intended to lay off workers by gender in order to maintain a balance of 13 female and 13 male campus monitors.

Income and consumer spending both remained flat in June; the 6.4 percent savings rate for the month was the highest this year; factory orders fell 1.2 percent; and home sales fell to a record law, according to several new economic reports, highlighted in a Reuters article.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the lack of job growth. Those struggling with a job loss should first file for unemployment insurance benefits or speak with a Chicago employment lawyer if they believe they were improperly terminated.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law last Friday that stiffens penalties for employers who skip out on paying wages to their workers, according to the Chicago Tribune's Clout Street blog.

The new law goes into effect on Jan. 1 and establishes a new small claims division within the Illinois Dept. of Labor specifically to help employees recoup lost wages of $3,000 or less. The new division may help workers who can't afford to hire an Illinois employment lawyer still get some justice.

Former DuPage County sheriff's deputy Susan A. Kuttner filed a lawsuit alleging sexual discrimination, according to the Chicago Daily Herald. In addition to DuPage County, Sheriff John Zaruba also is named as a defendant in the suit.

With the help of an Illinois employment lawyer, Susan Kuttner filed suit less than five months after her Feb. 24 termination. Her complaint states that she was fired "despite an unblemished, exemplary record" under false pretexts.