The Chicago Employment Law Blog

August 2012 Archives

EEOC Settles Disturbing Race Discrimination Case Against WRS Compass

WRS Environment and Infrastructure Inc. (also known as WRS Compass) will settle a racial discrimination case brought by the EEOC for $2.75 million, according to an EEOC press release. In addition to the financial settlement, WRC Compass signed a three-year agreement to allow the EEOC to monitor its progress in curing the conditions that enabled the harassment.

Ordinarily, when you hear about a racial discrimination case, it's a matter of subtext and bias leading to lesser pay or negative employment decisions.

Most employers are subtle. WRC Compass' Lake Calumet site was not.

Quinn's Casino Veto Costs Jobs, Money; Won't Forfeit Integrity

Chicago will have to wait a little longer for it's first casino, reports Reuters. A casino bill that reached Governor Pat Quinn's desk was vetoed, meaning the planned city-owned casino, four riverboat casinos throughout the state, slot-machines at race tracks, twenty-thousand expected jobs, and $1 billion in licensing fees are all not coming to the state ... yet.

What's Governor Quinn's problem? The benefits of the casinos sound overwhelming, don't they? Twenty-thousand new jobs. A city-owned casino that would provide constant revenue to Chicago's over-burdened budget. An initial $1 billion in licensing fees that would help ease some of the state's insane budget deficit.

And no ethical protections, whatsoever.

Court Revives Employee's Sleep Apnea Disability Case

Meet David. David Feldman works for a brass-producing company. Back in 2007, his medical conditions of sleep apnea and fibromyalgia combined to make working night and swing shifts unfeasible, Courthouse News Service reports. The good news: He worked the day shift. The bad news: His position was eliminated.

David Feldman's employer, Olin Corp., offered him a rotating shift position that required him to work day, afternoon, and evening shifts, plus overtime. His doctor prescribed day shift only with no overtime. Though such positions existed, they were filled by more senior members of the staff.

Get the (Expletive) Out! How to Fire Someone

Man, firing people can be such a joy. Sure, they may have seven kids, but they didn't meet their sales quota last week. We don't take too kindly to slackers around here, right?

So, what's a boss to do when employees aren't pulling their weight? Fire 'em! Why carry around dead weight when you can replace them with someone better?

Firing people the wrong way, however, can come back to bite you. Here are some tips:

Updates: Caterpillar Strikers Cave, CTU Issues Strike Notice

Though the outcome was unfortunate for the workers at Caterpillar's hydraulic equipment manufacturing plant, it wasn't exactly unexpected. Previously we covered the labor disturbance and reflected on the strength of Caterpillar's bargaining position.

That strength seems to have paid off for a company that recently posted record profits, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. A new six-year labor contract includes a one-time 3 percent pay raise for newer, lesser-paid Tier 2 employees. All employees will receive a $3,100 signing bonus.

United Airlines Racism Suit Highlights Trouble With Lawsuits: Proof

Audrey Allen used to work in an onboard management position for United Airlines. Though we have no idea what that technically entails, it apparently involves managing something in-flight. Now, she's working in a lesser position, as a customer service representative, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Why the switch? According to Allen's United Airlines lawsuit, it's racism and retaliation, two of the dirtiest words in employment law.

Is it Just Us, or Has the EEOC Stepped its Game Up?

We thought we had noticed a bit more activity from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lately. What we weren't sure of was whether it was merely a high point in the ebb and flow of the tide of litigation, or whether the EEOC really had expanded its efforts to fight discrimination.

According to the Associated Press, it's the latter. In 2006, the agency had about 50 active investigations. In 2011, it was closer to 600. Last year alone, companies paid out more than $60 million in settlements in EEOC cases.

Local Temp Agency Stopped Helping Epileptic After Bad First Day

Disability discrimination laws, and employment laws in general, apply to employers and employment agencies alike. This important lesson will probably remain branded in a local temp agency's psyche, even if they are going out of business.

According to a press release from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a big lawsuit over a little seizure is going to cost JES Personnel Consultants, Inc., also known as Genie Temporary Service, $80,000. JES placed an epileptic employee with Clover Technologies Group, LLC, where he would unpack and sort ink cartridges. On his first day, he suffered a brief epileptic seizure. Though he was allowed to finish out his shift, Clover requested a doctor's note before he returned to work.

Man Called 'Transylvanian Whore,' Sexually Harassed by Boss

This, my friends, is a sexual harassment case that really demonstrates "the line." Clifford Harris once worked for a company called Electro-Motive Diesel in Northern Illinois. They manufacture trains. According to the Courthouse News Service, he was employed by Electro for four years until he was fired, allegedly due his sexual harassment complaint.

The conduct began back in 2010. On February 20 of that year, Harris discovered that unidentified vandals had targeted his locker. In addition to hanging a liquid-filled condom in the locker, they also inscribed the following taunts in yellow paint:

Terms Defined: What are Retaliation and Whistleblowing?

So, you've caught your boss with their pants down. Literally or figuratively, it doesn't really matter. For most legal complaints stemming from illegal workplace conduct, such as discrimination, harassment, or safety violations, federal and state laws protect those who "blow the whistle" and file a complaint.

Whistleblower: the person who alerts the government or a law enforcement agency to the wrongdoing of their employer or fellow employee.

Retaliation: when the boss (usually illegally) punishes an employee for filing a complaint, whistleblowing, or otherwise enforcing their rights as an employee.

The Dirty Secret: Unpaid Internships are Illegal

Those of us who are recent law graduates are intimately familiar with the present legal job scene. If you weren't on law review, you're pretty much screwed. You can try to start your own firm, sans capital and experience, or you can monitor job ads day to day. And the worst thing about those job ads is that every single damn posting seems to be either for an unpaid internship or for a lawyer with 37 years of experience.

There is no hope. It's not just lawyers either. Businesses across America are providing "opportunities" to "learn the business" and gain "valuable experience". Unfortunately "due to the economy" they are "unable to pay".

You've Got Enough to Worry About: FindLaw's Guide to the Interview

It's been nine months since you graduated. Nine long months. You've worked temp gigs, including that odd construction job that you're pretty sure exposed you to asbestos, but you've stuck through the hard times. The interview is finally approaching for your dream job.

You've got enough to worry about. The main worry, of course, is your wardrobe. Do you go pinstripes? Probably not, they convey too much of a "boss" mentality. Interviewers want to feel the power. The same goes for double-breasted suits.

The employer is trendy -- do you go for that slim-fit, notched-lapel khaki suit, or something traditional and classy. And damn it, what about shoes? Those square-toed dress shoes are a little too pilgrimy for a tech start-up but your other kicks are a little too jazzy for an interview.

See? You've got enough to worry about.

Caterpillar Strike Hits 4 Months, Despite Record Profits

From a purely soul-less capitalistic standpoint, the Caterpillar labor standoff certainly makes sense. The company famous for their bulldozers reached a labor impasse with their Joliet workers four months ago, which led to the still-ongoing strike, reports the Chicago Tribune. It seems the lesson that other companies should be gleaning from the dispute is this: you're doing it wrong!

Caterpillar made record profits last year and are on pace to do the same this year. Nonetheless, this past winter, they took a hard line in labor negotiations with a Canadian locomotive manufacturing factory that they had recently acquired. At the same time, they had opened up a new factory in the U.S., giving them extra leverage over the powerless proletariat.

New Law: Illinois Employers Can't Ask for Social Media Passwords

A questionable tactic taken up by employers as part of their pre-employment investigation should now be coming to an end, thanks to the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, which was signed into law by Governor Quinn earlier this week. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the new bill will make it illegal for employers to request their applicants' social network passwords as a condition of employment.

Why were employers asking for passwords? Well, think about how much information is on a typical person's social network. There's hobbies, interests, their favorite profanities, and perhaps even their Spotify listening history. (Note to self: remove "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" from my listening history.) By snooping on your profile and messages, an employer can get a deeper look into who you are.