EEOC announced six multi-million dollar employment law settlements or verdicts last quarter, including a jury award of $5.1 million because an employer pushed a self-help “religion” on its employees. Here’s the count down.
#6: University pays $2.66 million and will increase women’s salaries in pay discrimination case.
EEOC charged the University of Denver paid a class of female full professors at Sturm College of Law lower salaries than it paid similarly situated male professors. The average disparity was almost $20,000 per year.
Despite knowing about knowing about the pay difference for a few years, the college did nothing until called on it by the seven women professors who will split the $2.66 million. The consent decree requires the school to increase 2018 salaries, publish salary information annually, and conduct an annual pay equity study.
#5: Restaurant pays $2.85 million for freezing out older workers.
Seasons 52 denied employment opportunities to older workers. 135 applicants provided testimony that managers asked them their age or made age-related comments, including, “Seasons 52 girls are younger and fresh,” and “We are really looking for someone younger.”
The settlement covers applicants 40 and older who applied for a front-of-the-house or back-of-the house positions ant any of the 35 restaurants but were denied a position because of age.
#4: CSX Transportation pays $3.2 million because strength testing discriminated against women.
CSX Transportation required physical testing for various jobs, including strength testing, a three-minute step test to measure aerobic capacity and an arm endurance test. EEOC alleged the testing violated the law against employment discrimination based upon sex because the test, although neutral on its face, had a disparate impact on women seeking jobs as conductors, material handlers and other jobs. In effect, the tests excluded more women.
Employers may use pre-employment tests only when the tests evaluate abilities that are actually necessary for the safe and efficient performance of the specific job.
#3: Employer pays $3.5 million for requiring full medical release to return to work.
A large Las Vegas-based gaming company that operates slot machines, taverns and casinos agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a disability discrimination charge. Employer’s company-wide practice required employees with disabilities or medical conditions to be 100% healed before returning to work. There was no opportunity to discuss accommodating anyone less than 100%, which violates the Americans with Disabilities Act’s requirement to engage in the interactive process. EEOC also charged employer with forcing people to quit because they regarded them as damaged goods or disabled.
#2: Amsted Rail Co. pays $4.4 million after summary judgment finds ADA liability arising from carpal tunnel screening.
Amsted Rail is a manufacturer of steel castings for the rail industry. It employs “chippers,” who use a grinder or hammer to remove metal protrusions from steel casings, and the employer did not want workers’ compensation claims for carpal tunnel syndrome. It contracted out with third party for pre-employment testing, and the third-party did nerve conduction tests used to detect or predict carpal tunnel syndrome.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows employer to conduct an individualized assessment of each applicant’s ability to do the job safely. In this case, however, a judge granted summary judgment in favor of the EEOC on liability for most of the 40 individual claimants. Among other things, he found the employer’s third-party expert did not conduct an adequate individualized assessment.
Summary judgment for liability is uncommon because juries are supposed to weigh the evidence. This judge, however, held that the evidence provided by the employer was not enough to support a jury verdict. He wrote:
The Court believes no reasonable jury could find Dr. Dirkers’ judgment as to Ingram was based on an individualized assessment or relied on the most current medical knowledge. It is true that the 1994 study arguably provided some scientific support for his opinion that there was a high likelihood of a bad outcome after repeat CTS [carpal tunnel syndrome] surgery for some individuals. However, his opinion that Ingram would redevelop CTS was based on his assumptions that, because Ingram had developed CTS before and had surgery, he was especially susceptible to developing it again as a chipper and would someday, in the future, develop it again if he became a chipper. This conclusion he reached without regard to his actual examination of Ingram, including his normal NCT result and lack of any CTS symptoms. Amsted[, the employer,] has not pointed to any scientific support, existing at the time of Dr. Dirkers’ judgment, for the reasonableness of this assumption other than the unexceptional proposition that the chipper job requires tasks that are CTS risk factors. The only reasonable conclusion is that Dr. Dirkers’ judgment about Ingram was not a reasonable medical judgment and was instead based on his own subjective views rather than scientific support. Because no reasonable jury could find Amsted complied with the ADA by relying on Dr. Dirkers’ unsupported medical judgment, the EEOC is entitled to summary judgment on this issue.
#1: $5.1 million because employer required employees to engage in “religious” practices.
A judge ruled that “Harnessing Happiness” or “Onionhead” was a religion. The website describes “Harnessing Happiness” as follows:
Harnessing Happiness is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to emotional knowledge and intelligence, conflict resolution and life handling skills, for all ages. Because so much of the negativity in our world is out of our control, we believe hope lies in our ability to deal with problems in a respectful, mindful and loving way. All of our materials are written with this belief in mind.
Onionhead is part of Harnessing Happiness. We used an onion as a medium to express peeling our feelings, as a way of healing our feelings. As well, an onion has no gender, which is beneficial for children’s usage. * * *
Happiness and hope do not come from anything external. We cannot change the way others think and act. Therefore, in order to create the change we want to see and feel, we must change ourselves. Our guides and tools promote ways and means of living more harmoniously, no matter what else is happening in our lives. We learn to view everything with different eyes because we source our own empowerment and enlightenment.
EEOC alleged employer forced 10 employees to engage in practices that were part of the harnessing happiness system, including prayer, religious workshops, and spiritual cleansing rituals. It fired one employee for opposing the practice, and the employer created a hostile work environment for the other nine.
After a three-week trial, a Brooklyn jury awarded $5.1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
If you need legal help with an Oregon employment law matter, please feel free to contact me.
©2018 by Merrick Law, LLC. and Jeff Merrick. The above is not intended as legal advice. It is for general information purposes only. Reading it or attempting to contact me does not mean I am your attorney. I only represent people after we sign a written contract.