The Chicago Employment Law Blog

December 2010 Archives

Nicole Sullivan, 22, has filed a federal employment discrimination lawsuit against Apple Computer Inc. in the Northern District of Illinois for alleged disability bias, according to AppleInsider.com. She began working at the SoHo (New York City) Apple Store in 2008 and took a leave absence for a nervous disorder the following year, seeking out the services of a psychiatrist.

She was given disability leave through a third party and was assured the details of her condition would not be released to Apple, in compliance with medical privacy laws. But she claims it was "obvious" that the store's employees and the human resources director somehow knew about her condition.

One in every 10 guards at the Menard Correctional Center in Chester was awarded a workers' compensation settlement for repetitive trauma blamed on locking and unlocking cells, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.

Also, 35-year-old warden David Rednour received $75,678 in June for repetitive trauma he claimed to have suffered during his earlier career as a police officer. In addition, he received $9,196 in paid time off last year to recover from corrective surgery.

The New York Times reported on a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Kaplan Higher Education Corp. on behalf of black job applicants. The agency accused the Chicago-based business, which has 75 nationwide campuses, of improperly using credit histories in its hiring practice.

This lawsuit comes amid increased pressure on employers to abandon the controversial practice of denying jobs to those with negative credit histories. Illinois is one of a handful of states that has banned or limited the practice.

Roughly half of all employers use credit histories for at least some hiring decisions, according to various surveys. In the case against Kaplan, the EEOC claims the employer's rejection of applicants based on poor credit histories had a "significant disparate impact" on African-Americans since January 2008.

Many employers, particularly retailers, rely on the madness of the winter holiday shopping season for the bulk of their annual revenues. That often translates to a high stress level for employees; but both workers and managers can avoid burnout and potential legal quagmires by taking extra precautions during the pre-Christmas rush, according to the Chicago Tribune's latest business column.

For example, Burr Ridge-based PersonalizationMall.com earns 35 percent of its income during the holiday shopping season and runs two 11 1/2-hour shifts to keep up with seasonal demand.

The company fills about 15,000 orders of personalized mugs, ornaments and other gift items each day during the holiday season. Co-founder and executive vice president Kathy Napleton acknowledges that it gets quite stressful.

State senator and Chicago mayoral candidate James Meeks said last week that "the word 'minority,' from our standpoint, should mean African-American" during a candidates' forum on radio station WVON, according to an article by Fox Chicago. He was referring to affirmative action programs designed to give a leg-up to historically disenfranchised classes of people, which includes but is not limited to African-Americans.

One could argue that he was trying to express a more nuanced view that affirmative action was intended to help African-Americans get a foothold in the economy, given the legacy of slavery and racism. He made his comments within the context of minority set-asides for city contracts.

But his words didn't seem all that nuanced:

Disgruntled workers at the Palmer House Hilton hotel went on a temporary strike, which was joined by similar actions at Hilton hotels in Honolulu and San Francisco, the Chicago Tribune reported. Hilton Chicago employees demonstrated for three days two months ago.

Workers are angry that "Hilton finagled $180 million in bailout fund" while their expired contracts were ignored, according to Unite Here Local 1 union spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel.

Berkeley School District in suburban Chicago forced Muslim middle school teacher Safoorah Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. government, as reported by the Associated Press (via NPR). She claims she was denied unpaid leave to make a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, an important part of the Muslim faith.

Every adult Muslim is expected to make a pilgrimage, known as Hajj, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in his or her lifetime if he or she has the financial and physical means to do so.

At least 300,000 Chicago-area households are headed by working women earning between $10,000 and $50,000 per year, according to recent research by the University of Chicago, as the Chicago Tribune reported. The number of single mothers in that category increased by 19 percent in 2008 from 2000, according to the same report.

But women continue to struggle with upward mobility as compared to their male counterparts, according to Sandy Wayne, director of the Center for Human Resource Management at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Illinois state senators are hashing out their differences as they tackle a statewide reform of the workers' comp system, according to The Alton Telegraph. As part of the negotiations, lawmakers also are working on changes to the state Medicaid program for low-income people.

Meanwhile, business leaders have complained for years that the high cost of workers' compensation insurance premiums and settlements have discouraged businesses from locating in Illinois.

Despite a campaign promise to allow the tax cuts for the wealthiest sliver of Americans to expire, President Obama has cut a deal with Republicans to extend them for another two years, the Chicago Tribune reported. But his compromise was a win for unemployed Americans, who reportedly will get a 13-month extension in jobless benefits.

The deal has not been made final through legislation yet, but it seems as if the negotiating is over and the deal likely will stand. Republicans had resisted further extensions of unemployment insurance benefits for fear that it would add to the deficit.

The industry trade journal Business Insurance published an article about the likelihood that federal legislation may soon prevent or limit the ability of employers to conduct pre-employment credit checks of prospective employees. Observers cited in the article say employers also should brace themselves for more civil rights lawsuits stemming from the practice.

A growing number of employers have been checking the credit of prospective new hires, claiming that workers with heavy debts may try to steal from the company or engage in fraud.

Congress still has by the end of today to act but the prospect for passage of legislation that would extend unemployment benefits looks particularly grim. And if lawmakers fail to act, 2 million Americans and roughly 127,000 Illinois residents will be cut off after today, according to Chicago Now's Chicago Muckrakers blog.

This is not the first time such a scenario has played out in the most recent economic downturn. Congress stalled over the summer as well, resulting in a 51-day gap in benefits for those who were left in the lurch.

Perhaps a little perspective can lighten the mood a bit. While the greater metropolitan Chicago area experienced an 11.1 percent unemployment peak last year, it's not as bad as early 1983's 12.5 percent. Still, it took about six years to get back to the baseline jobless rate of 6.9 percent.

Chicago resident Bruce Belson, 46, sued his former employer on the basis of age discrimination after he was fired by the 30-year-old restaurant manager, the Chicago Tribune reported. The manager allegedly told him he was "too old for the fast pace of the restaurant," according to his complaint (PDF).

Bruce Belson claims he was fired in January 2009, just nine months after he began working at State Street restaurant Weber Grill:

"I believe that I was replaced with a younger, less qualified individual."