The Chicago Employment Law Blog

September 2012 Archives

Mental Health Center Sued for Firing Woman Over Mental Health Issues

It's like rain on your wedding day. It's like a free ride when you're already late. It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. Wait a second, it's like none of those things. Darn it, Alanis Morissette, you've led us astray again!

What's truly ironic? Take note, Ms. Morisette, because here's a better example: The alleged conduct of the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center (BEW Center) in Chicago, which, according to a lawsuit, fired an employee after failing to reasonably accommodate her mental health issues.

CEOs Can Now Face Personal Liability Under IL's Equal Pay Act

Illinois has an issue with unequal pay between the genders. Women are still paid only $0.78 per dollar that men are paid, which is a wee bit unfair. The Illinois Equal Pay Act of 2003 was supposed to address the gap, but after nearly eight years of enforcement, the gap remains.

The Equal Pay Act applies to all employers with four or more non-family employees. It demands that employers pay equal wages, regardless of gender. Any discrepancy should be backed by some justification, such as a seniority system, merit system, a system based on quantity or quality of production, or some other objective test. It also prohibits an employer from cutting an employee's pay to balance the discrepancy, or from retaliating against an employee for complaining about the unlawful pay imbalance.

Spy Versus I: Can Your Employer Watch You Read This?

Stop. What are you doing on an Employment Law blog at work? Are you planning on suing your boss? Is your boss reading this? That's right. Grab the tin foil, my friend. She's watching. They all are!

It's not insane paranoia. You know they are all out to get you. The snooping is mostly legal, too. You see, when using work email, on a work computer, on a work network, your boss is allowed to monitor your activities. In fact, three out of four employers monitor their employees to some extent. Here are the most common ways:

EEOC Focusing More on Muslim, Sikh Workplace Discrimination

It should come as no surprise to anyone that since 9/11, the misplaced anger and hatred of many Americans has been directed at those perceived to be Muslims. This has been especially true in the area of workplace discrimination, where the number of complaints filed since that tragic day has increased greatly. Those caught up in the misplaced hatred are not just Muslims either. Sikhs and other South Asian workers have experienced a similar increase.

According to the EEOC, in the initial months after 9/11, there was a 250% increase in religion-based discrimination cases involving Muslims. In the six months after 9/11, there were 1,040 charges filed with the EEOC involving those perceived to be Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian. Recent cases filed with the EEOC have involved the use of terms such as "camel eater," "Saddam Hussein," and "terrorist."

DePaul University Off the Hook, Bitter Law Grads Still Unemployed

If one were to glance at the U.S. News and World Report's Annual Law School Rankings for the past few years, they would think that law graduates are having no trouble finding jobs whatsoever, especially if they went to a decent school.

DePaul University, in Chicago, is the 83rd best law school in the country. Most of the higher-ranked schools in the country are reporting over 90% employment. DePaul, despite its lower ranking and the pending lawsuit, is currently reporting 76% employment. Previously, the school reported between 88 and 98% employment, reports Reuters.

The Strike's Over. Are Layoffs, School Closings Next?

So what's next? The Chicago Teachers' Union and Chicago Public Schools finally came to an agreement this week. Classes resumed today. The CTU got three consecutive years of raises, more than 400 new teachers added to the payroll, and a guarantee that many of the new teachers will be hired from the ranks of those recently laid-off. Now they'll only have to worry about mass school closures and unemployment.

According to Reuters, the new CTU contract will add $75 million to the district's existing $665 million deficit for this year. Subsequent years will likely be even worse. Prior to the strike, next year's deficit was estimated to top $1 billion.

We've asked this question before, yet it remains unanswered: Where will the money come from? The State of Illinois will be of no help. They have their own astronomical deficit slowly suffocating state-sponsored social programs.

How to Get Time Off for Religious Holidays

Happy Jewish New Year! And though we're a little late (and early) for it, Eid Mubarak as well! For many, these religious holidays are a time to worship, celebrate, and spend time with families. In fact, for many Jewish people, work is out of the question on certain religious holidays.

How does this jibe with the laws regarding employment? Though there are no absolute laws that guarantee time off for religious holidays (aside from Christmas, which is a federal holiday), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does address the matter somewhat. It requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" for employees' religious practices.

What is reasonable? That's the key question.

EEOC Claims Leona's Pizza Breached Sexual Harassment Settlement

Most cases settle. More than 90 percent of criminal cases reach plea bargains in most states. Parties in civil cases calculate the risk of loss and additional legal fees from trial and settle the vast majority of the time. When the EEOC investigates claims, businesses usually quickly agree to change their policies immediately in order to avoid the legal expense and publicity.

"Legendary" Leona's Pizza agreed in July to do just that after allegations of sexual harassment against female employees in one of their locations were investigated by the EEOC. As part of the agreement, Leona's was supposed to fork over $75,000 to the victims, train its employees, revise its non-discrimination policy, post a notice of the settlement, and report its compliance to the EEOC.

Updates on Teachers' Strikes: What Can Teachers Strike Over?

The strikes rage on, though positive vibes are coming from the Chicago Public Schools negotiations, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Classes will not resume tomorrow, but enough progress has been made that a proposal could be voted on by the union tomorrow. If that happens, students might return to classes on Monday, while the final details are hammered out.

Meanwhile, in Lake Forest, where teachers make an average of $106,000 (which makes that law degree seem like an even worse decision), the teachers are striking over pay raises and benefits, reports the Chicago Tribune. They are miffed that their pay was frozen last year in a one-year contract. They want the next few annual raises to make up for the one-year freeze.

Can You Be Fired For Trashing the Boss on Social Media?

FindLaw SUCKS!

Just kidding. It’s actually pretty awesome. But could a certain blogger be fired for uttering such a statement on his Twitter account?

Generally, when it comes to private employees, employees can be fired for nearly anything, unless their contract provides protection. The National Labor Relations Board provides some protection for employees, but the extent of their protection is uncertain. They are concerned with matters such as workplace abuse of employees’ rights; they don’t care if those purple pants make your boss’ posterior look extra-broad.

Strike's On: Are Replacement Teachers the Next Step?

We all know it now: the strike is on.

Issues of pay were settled. Issues of longer working hours were settled. According to the Sun-Times, there are still two seemingly less important issues still on the table: re-hiring of laid off teachers and teacher evaluations.

"We do not intend to sign an agreement until all matters of our contract are addressed," CTU President Karen Lewis said. "We are committed to staying at the table."

Yep. There's a strike over evaluations that are tied into standardized test scores and rehiring of teachers who may be rehired anyway. Right now, 350,000 students are affected. Food and activities are only provided for the children from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. After that, they're turned out onto the streets if local churches and community centers are not available.

Can He Be Fired? At Will Employment and For Cause Termination

Little Jimmy hasn't been pulling his weight around the office lately. His addiction to bath salts has caused him to miss work, verbally assault co-workers, and beat an old woman with a shovel. You've decided to let him go. But can he be fired "at-will" or only "for cause"?

Generally, most employees are employed at will. This means you can fire them for any legal reason, such as incompetence, insubordination, or inception (if they are haunting your dreams.) What you can't fire them for is race, religion, age, or disability. At will employment status is generally the default for all employees absent an employment agreement that provides otherwise. Nearly all hourly-wage employees are employed at will.

CTU Take Labor Battle To the Courts, Strike Still Set for Sep. 10

The Chicago Teachers Union has just taken the ongoing negotiations to the courts, citing unfair labor practices by Chicago Public Schools. The primary complaint is that the teachers' checks at the end of August withheld their annual step raises, which were guaranteed under their previous contract, reports WBEZ. Since no new agreement has been reached, the old contract still governs.

CTU President Karen Lewis called it a "decrease in pay." The union lawyer objected to making a change to the teachers' paychecks without agreeing to it first at the bargaining table. He also stated that the complaint now makes this into an unfair labor practice strike.

Mooning Your Boss is 'Cause' For Firing

Jason Selch is a loyal friend. He also might have a slight problem with impulse control. Back in 2005, upon learning that his friend would lose his job in the aftermath of a merger, he decided to express his feelings on the matter to the men in charge. He marched into the conference room, verified that he did not have a non-compete agreement restricting him from taking another job, and then dropped his pants and mooned his bosses, reports the Courthouse News Service.

Stay classy, bro.

Somehow, that didn’t lead to his immediate termination from his position as an investment banker for a Bank of America subsidiary. The pair of bosses in the conference room discussed the matter, and one highlighted Selch’s importance to the company. So they issued a formal warning letter to Selch. Unfortunately, when the boss’ boss returned from vacation, he sent Selch packing.