Airlines Operating in New York and New Jersey Face Criticism for Alleged Sex Discrimination and Other Labor Practices

July 3, 2015

Boeing_777-2DZ-LR,_Qatar_Airways_AN1940838.jpgThree airlines are facing allegations of unfair labor practices and sex discrimination in several proceedings. A coalition of U.S.-based airlines and labor unions issued a report earlier this year claiming that the three airlines, which are based in the Persian Gulf region and fly out of airports in New York and New Jersey, engage in unfair competition and unlawful employment practices. The federal government is investigating similar claims. An agency of the United Nations (UN) recently ruled that one of the airlines engaged in ongoing sex discrimination against female employees. While these proceedings generally involve international law and treaties, they could still have an impact on workers who deal with these airlines in New Jersey and New York.

The U.S. began entering into agreements with other countries known as "Open Skies Partnerships" (OSPs) in 1992. It currently has agreements with more than 100 countries. These agreements, according to the U.S. Department of State, allow airlines to expand international service by "eliminating government interference" in various air transportation matters. Since different countries provide different levels of protection for business and labor interests, however, OSPs can result in unfair advantages for some airlines.

A coalition of three U.S. airlines and labor unions, known as the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies (POFS), issued a report in early 2015 criticizing three airlines: Qatar Airways, based in Doha, Qatar; Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and Emirates Airlines, based in Dubai, UAE. All three airlines fly out of JFK International Airport in New York City, and Etihad Airways reportedly sometimes flies out of New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport.

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New Jersey Discrimination Lawsuit Tests Effect of Medical Marijuana Law on Employment Statutes

June 24, 2015

marijuana-24001_640.pngLaws regarding medical--or even recreational--marijuana use are undergoing significant changes. Nearly half of the states in the U.S., including New Jersey, now allow marijuana use for at least some purposes. How this affects employees' rights in New Jersey, however, remains unclear. The issue, which is far from resolved, pits individuals' right to use marijuana against employers' right to enforce anti-drug policies. A lawsuit filed last year in New Jersey, Davis v. New Jersey Transit Corp., No. L-001778-14, complaint (N.J. Super. Ct., Essex Co., Mar. 14, 2014), claims disability discrimination against a railroad employee with a valid medical marijuana prescription.

Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1), and it is still generally illegal under New Jersey law, N.J. Rev. Stat. §§ 2C:35-10a(3)-(4). The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, N.J. Rev. Stat. § 6I-1 et seq., which took effect in 2010, allows the medical use of marijuana under very strict limits. Rather than "legalizing" marijuana, the law creates an exception to state criminal law. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:35-18. It provides that the lawful use of marijuana may not result in "civil or administrative penalt[ies]," N.J. Rev. Stat. § 24:6I-6b, but it does not specifically mention employment or disability protections.

The plaintiff in Davis worked as a procurement clerk for NJ Transit. His doctor gave him a prescription for medical marijuana to alleviate some of the symptoms of end-stage renal failure. He states that he notified his employer of the prescription, but was told that he had to submit to a drug test in December 2013. When the test was positive for marijuana, he was sent to a drug treatment program and lost his job. He filed suit for disability discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12a. In August 2014, the court denied a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant. The case is still pending.

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Former Employee's Lawsuit Claims Privacy Violations, Wrongful Termination Based on GPS Monitoring

June 18, 2015

GPS_Spheres.svg.pngAn employer demanded that its employees allow around-the-clock monitoring of their whereabouts and then terminated an employee because of her refusal to comply, according to a lawsuit filed last month. Arias v. Intermex Wire Transfer, LLC, et al, No. _____, complaint (Cal. Super. Ct., Bakersfield Co., May 5, 2015). The lawsuit's claims include invasion of privacy, retaliation, and wrongful termination. The case involves smartphone and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, and it may therefore present questions that are relatively novel to the legal system. The retaliation claim is based on a California statute that is similar to laws in New Jersey and New York.

The plaintiff began working for the defendant as an account manager in February 2014. According to her complaint, her supervisor told her that she was expected to keep her phone powered on at all times in order to receive calls from clients. In April 2014, the defendant allegedly instructed its employees to install a mobile application ("app") known as Xora on their smartphones. This app uses the phone's GPS capabilities to track users' whereabouts and movements.

The plaintiff's supervisor allegedly told her that the company would be monitoring employees during both work and non-work hours. While she did not object to monitoring during work hours, the plaintiff claims that she objected to off-hours monitoring as an invasion of her privacy, and that she believed the defendant's request was illegal. She states in her complaint that she removed the Xora app from her phone in late April 2014, and that on May 5, 2014, she was terminated.

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Discrimination, Harassment Lawsuit Targets the Tech Industry

June 10, 2015

food-284418_640.jpgA former program manager for the internet company Facebook has filed a lawsuit against the company in state court in California, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination based on race and gender. Hong v. Facebook, Inc., et al, No. CIV-532943, complaint (Cal. Super. Ct., San Mateo Co., Mar. 16, 2015). The case alleges numerous acts of conduct towards the plaintiff that, when taken in isolation, might seem minor, but that add up over time to constitute significant disparate treatment based on her gender and her national origin. The laws at the state and federal level are clear that employers may not discriminate in promotions, job duties, and other features of employment based on these categories. These types of claims, unfortunately, can be difficult to prove. Another recent lawsuit against a Silicon Valley venture capital firm made similar allegations but resulted in a jury verdict for the defendant. The current case makes a wide range of allegations, however, that indicate overtly discriminatory treatment towards the plaintiff.

According to her complaint, the defendant hired the plaintiff in June 2010 for the position of program manager. It transferred her to "technology partner" in October 2012. She claims that she performed her job duties well throughout her time with the company, pointing to "satisfactory performance evaluations" and regular raises as evidence. Hong, complaint at 2. Prior to the events immediately preceding her termination, she states that she "received no significant criticism of her work." Id. She was allegedly terminated on October 17, 2013.

The plaintiff alleges that multiple employees of the defendant, including her supervisor, who is named individually as a defendant, and others identified in the complaint as "Does One through Thirty," discriminated against her based on gender. This allegedly included comments belittling her work and admonishment for "exercis[ing] her right under company policy to take time off to visit her child at school." Id. at 3. She also claims that she was given assignments that no male co-workers were expected to do, such as organizing office parties and serving drinks. She makes a direct allegation that the company hired a "less qualified, less experienced male" to replace her. Id.

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Lawsuits, Pending Legislation, Address Question of Whether NFL Cheerleaders Are Employees or Independent Contractors

June 4, 2015

Jets-Cheerleaders-Dec-28-08.jpgThe question of whether an individual is an "employee" or an "independent contractor" determines whether or not they enjoy the protection of a wide range of employment laws at the city, state, and federal levels. Employees of covered employers are protected by laws related to minimum wage, overtime pay, and other matters. Independent contractors, however, are generally considered to be self-employed, and in a mere contractual relationship with the employer. Employers clearly have an interest in classifying people as independent contractors whenever possible, but some workers have begun to push back. One place where this is occurring is among the cheerleading squads of professional football teams, who claim that they are employees of the teams, not independent contractors. Multiple lawsuits, including one in New Jersey, are asserting claims for wage violations, and a bill pending in the California Legislature would formally grant "employee" status to professional sports team cheerleaders.

A putative class action filed in a New Jersey court alleges that the New York Jets football team underpays its cheerleading squad. Krystal C. v. New York Jets LLC, No. L-004282-14, complaint (N.J. Super. Ct., Bergen Co., May 6, 2014). The plaintiff alleges that the team entered into an "Employment Agreement" with her, identifying them as "Employer" and "Employee," respectively. She claims that she was paid $150 per game at which she performed, and $100 for each team-sponsored "outside event" sponsored by the team at which she was present on the team's behalf. The amount of work required of her, however, was allegedly so extensive that it rendered the pay she actually received substantially lower than the state minimum wage, often as little as $3.77 per hour.

The plaintiff in Krystal C. does not directly raise the question of misclassification in her complaint, but her factual allegations depict a level of control over the cheerleaders' work duties that fits the legal definition of an employer-employee relationship. The claimed class consists of current and former cheerleaders for the Jets employed within two years of the date she filed the complaint. She is claiming violations of the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a et seq., and is asking the court to award all wrongfully withheld pay to the class members. As of early May 2015, the case is still pending in a New Jersey Superior Court.

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EEOC Examines Risk of Discrimination in Wellness Programs Offered by Employers Under the Affordable Care Act

May 27, 2015

Spacious_Gym_Floor.JPGThe Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, or "Obamacare" to some) creates a variety of incentives to encourage employers to create and sponsor "wellness programs" for their employees. Several federal agencies, including the Department of Labor (DOL), have issued rules implementing these incentives within the requirements of federal statutes like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces employment nondiscrimination statutes, was not involved in those rulemaking processes. It issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in March 2015, stating that it will review how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., affects the wellness program provisions of the ACA. It issued a proposed rule in April.

The Public Health Service Act (PHSA), as amended by HIPAA and the ACA, defines a "wellness program" as "a program offered by an employer that is designed to promote health or prevent disease." 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-4(j)(1)(A). HIPAA prohibits discrimination in group health plans, in terms of eligibility, benefits, and other factors, based on a participant's health. It makes one exception, however, by allowing discounts, rebates, or other benefits for participants who follow an employer-sponsored wellness program.

The DOL, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) jointly issued a final rule implementing the HIPAA nondiscrimination provisions for wellness programs. 71 Fed. Reg. 75014 (Dec. 13, 2006). The rule established two types of wellness programs: participatory programs, which should be made available to all similarly-situated employees regardless of their health status; and health-contingent programs, which may be tailored to employees' particular health needs, such as a program to help employees quit smoking.

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The Distinction Between an "Employee" and an "Independent Contractor" is Critical in New Jersey Employment Law Claims

May 22, 2015

Out_of_Work_from_Nellie_Bly,_Trying_to_Be_a_Servant_(1887).pngNumerous laws at the federal, state, and city levels protect employees from a wide range of adverse acts by employers, including discrimination, harassment, withholding of pay, and unreasonable or excessive work hours. Whether the remedies offered by a particular law are available to you depends on two factors: whether your employer is an "employer" within the meaning of this specific law, and whether you are considered an "employee" or an "independent contractor." The definitions of "employee" and "independent contractor" vary from one state to another, but they are critically important to assessing a potential employment law claim. Many laws are limited to employers with a minimum number of employees. The definition of "employee" in a given situation, by determining how many employees an employer has, could also determine whether or not it is subject to certain employment statutes. As more and more employers seem to be trying to classify workers as independent contractors, and more and more workers are fighting back in court, understanding the distinction between "employee" and "independent contractor" is extremely important.

Some employment laws limit their application based on a minimum number of employees or other factors. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for example, only applies to employers with 50 full-time employees or more. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4)(A)(i). New Jersey's employment statutes have broader applicability within the state. The Wage and Hour Law, which covers the minimum wage and other matters, does not limit its application based on the employer. Certain provisions, however, do not apply to minors and workers in certain specific occupations. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a30.

Employment statutes do not offer particularly helpful definitions of "employee," as opposed to "independent contractor." The New Jersey Wage Payment Law, for example, simply defines an employee as "any person suffered or permitted to work by an employer" who is not an independent contractor or subcontractor. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-4.1(b). The U.S. Supreme Court noted that a federal statute's definition of "employee" was "completely circular and explain[ed] nothing." Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318, 323 (1992). It held that "traditional agency principles" should apply and used a multi-part test to determine whether the plaintiff was an "employee" that primarily looked at "the hiring party's right to control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished." Id., quoting Commun. for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 751 (1989).

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New York Pizza Franchises Incur Judgments, Fines for Minimum Wage and Overtime Violations

May 15, 2015

pizza-boxes-358029_640.jpgThe New York Attorney General (AG) has obtained about $3.8 million in judgments and settlements from multiple pizza franchise operators in recent months for violations of state minimum wage and overtime laws. This includes judgments against two companies that operate Papa John's pizza delivery businesses and settlements with five Domino's franchisees. Many state attorneys general pursue civil claims against employers for wage violations, but state and federal laws also allow employees to file suit themselves.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1)(C). New York's minimum wage is $8.75 per hour as of December 31, 2014. N.Y. Lab. L. § 652. The FLSA requires overtime pay equal to one-and-a-half times the wage of covered employees for hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a week, or 80 hours in a two-week pay period. 29 U.S.C. § 207. New York law follows the FLSA.

The AG filed suit against a Papa John's franchisee and its two owners in December 2014 for a wide range of alleged wage violations, including under-reporting and rounding down employee hours to avoid paying overtime. New York v. Emstar Pizza, Inc., et al., No. 017345/2014 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Kings Co.) The lawsuit claimed that various illegal wage practices had been going on for at least six years at the defendants' six locations. The AG's Labor Bureau reportedly found that employee paychecks were sometimes short by hundreds of dollars due to under-reporting of hours, failure to pay overtime, and lack of accurate payroll records.

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Race Discrimination Lawsuit Asks Court to Hold Restaurant Franchise Owner Liable for Acts of Franchisee

May 11, 2015

French_Fries_at_McDonalds_in_Indonesia.jpgMany well-known businesses, particularly restaurant chains, use the franchise model to operate national, or even international, chains of locations. Under this model, the franchise owner enters into agreements with other businesses to operate locations using the franchise's brand name. These businesses, known as franchisees, must abide by a wide range of requirements under the franchise agreement. Employees of individual franchise locations are considered employees of the franchisee, but multiple complaints and lawsuits in recent years have sought to hold a franchisor liable for acts of a franchisee, based on the theory that the franchise agreement gives the franchisor substantial control over the franchisee's business. A recent lawsuit against the McDonald's franchisor asserts that it is liable for race discrimination by a franchisee. Betts, et al v. McDonald's Corp., et al., No. 4:15-cv-00002, complaint (W.D. Va., Jan. 22, 2015).

The plaintiffs are African-American former employees of a company that operates three McDonald's restaurants in Clarkesville and South Boston, Virginia. They describe a lengthy sequence of events involving alleged racial and sexual harassment and discrimination by managers employed by the franchisee, culminating in an allegedly overt decision to "reduce the number of African-American employees." Betts, complaint at 28. All but one of the plaintiffs state that they were terminated on May 12, 2014. The other plaintiff alleges that the company constructively discharged her on July 5, 2014, after "months of racial abuse." Id. at 32.

The plaintiffs filed suit against the franchisee, several individual managers, and the franchisors. They are asserting seven causes of action, including claims for wrongful termination, constructive discharge, and racial harassment under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and sexual harassment under Title VII.

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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Pregnant Employee Who Claims She Was Denied an Accommodation for Lifting Restrictions

May 5, 2015

Oblique_facade_3,_US_Supreme_Court.jpgA delivery driver for United Parcel Service (UPS) filed suit against her employer after it allegedly refused to assign her to light duty due to pregnancy-related lifting restrictions. She claimed that the company violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, which defines discrimination on the basis of pregnancy as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a U.S. district judge's order dismissing the lawsuit. Young v. United Parcel Service ("Young I"), 707 F.3d 437 (4th Cir. 2013). The Supreme Court vacated this ruling and remanded the case to the trial court, finding that the plaintiff was entitled to trial on the question of whether she suffered unlawful discrimination. Young v. United Parcel Service ("Young II"), 575 U.S. ___ (2015). While the case was pending, UPS announced a reversal of its policy on light duty for pregnant employees.

The plaintiff worked as a part-time delivery driver. The job description required the ability to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds. When the plaintiff became pregnant, her doctor told her that she should not lift more than 20 pounds during the first 20 weeks, and no more than 10 pounds after that. The defendant refused to put her on light duty, despite, according to the plaintiff, accommodating other employees with similar lifting restrictions. The plaintiff went on unpaid leave, which resulted in the loss of her employee health insurance.

The defendant's policy was to provide light duty for employees who were injured on the job, were entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or had lost their certification from the Department of Transportation. Pregnancy did not fit into any of these categories, according to the defendant. The Fourth Circuit held that this policy did not violate the PDA because the plaintiff's pregnancy was unrelated to her job, the policy only applied to job-related conditions, and it treated "pregnant workers and nonpregnant workers alike." Young I, 707 F.3d at 449.

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Former Nanny Files FLSA Lawsuit Against Singer, Claiming $100,000 in Unpaid Overtime

April 30, 2015

microphone-626618_640.jpgA woman who worked as a nanny for a famous singer at her home in New York City filed suit earlier this year for alleged wage law violations. DaCosta v. Carey, et al., No. 1:15-cv-00596, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Jan. 28, 2015). The plaintiff claims that the defendant required her to work 100 or more hours per week without paying overtime. She is asserting claims under the federal Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights (DWBR), and the New York Labor Law.

The plaintiff worked as a full-time, live-in nanny for the twin children of the defendants, singer Mariah Carey and actor/rapper Nick Cannon. The plaintiff's duties included caring for the children at the defendants' New York City home and on Carey's musical and appearance tours. She accompanied Carey and the children on trips all over the world, she states in her complaint, caring for the children during flights and at other times.

The plaintiff claims that she "spent a significant amount of time responding to [the defendants'] or their agents' inquiries" regarding the children. DaCosta, complaint at 4. She routinely worked more than 40 hours in a week, and she claims that she often worked more than 100 hours per week, since she was essentially always on call. Carey allegedly called the plaintiff "at hours in the middle of the night" to demand that the plaintiff give her updates or bring her to the children, and she "would not tolerate any delay." Id. at 5. The plaintiff received pay of $3,000 to $3,600 twice a month, paid by a limited liability company (LLC) of which Carey was a member, and distributed by a management company that reportedly represented Carey. In addition to Carey and Cannon, the complaint names the LLC and the management company as defendants.

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New Jersey Supreme Court Applies Broad Definition of "Employee," Including Many Normally Classified as Independent Contractors

April 22, 2015

movers-24402_640.pngA key question in many wage and hour claims is whether the complainant is an "employee," and therefore protected by said laws, or an "independent contractor," who is not covered. The New Jersey Supreme Court, in response to a certified question from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, applied a very broad definition of "employee" for the purposes of state wage and hour laws. Hargrove, et al v. Sleepy's, LLC ("Hargrove III"), Nos. A-70 Sept. Term 2012, 072742, slip op. (N.J., Jan. 14, 2015). It applied the definition used in state unemployment law, which is much more favorable to employees than state wage and hour laws have been.

The plaintiffs work as delivery drivers for the defendant, a mattress company. They contend that they are employees, while the defendant argues that they are independent contractors. They signed an "Independent Driver Agreement" (IDA) when they began working for the defendant, which they claim was "a ruse to avoid payment of employee benefits." Id. at 3. They filed suit in federal court in 2010, alleging that the defendant was wrongfully denying them employment benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.

The U.S. district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, finding that the plaintiffs did not meet the definition of an "employee" under ERISA. Hargrove, et al v. Sleepy's, LLC ("Hargrove I"), No. 3:10-cv-01138, mem. and order (D.N.J., Mar. 29, 2012), citing Nationwide Mutual v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318 (1992). While the court acknowledged that the defendant had "extensive control of deliverer's activities," Hargrove I at 10, it noted other factors that led to its conclusion, including the IDAs and the facts that each plaintiff had set up their own business entities, kept their own business records, had relationships with the IRS as business entities, and purchased and maintained their own delivery trucks.

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Federal Race Discrimination Lawsuit Accused Cosmetics Company CEO of a Wide Range of Derogatory Statements

April 17, 2015

lipstick-259411_640.jpgA federal lawsuit filed by a former cosmetics company employee, which has since been settled and dismissed, raised claims of race, ethnicity, and national origin discrimination, retaliation, and other claims. Meyers v. Revlon, Inc., et al, No. 1:14-cv-10213, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Dec. 30, 2014). The plaintiff accused the chief executive officer (CEO) of numerous derogatory statements, and of retaliation for noting and reporting safety and regulatory concerns. The lawsuit asserted causes of action under federal, state, and city law, including New Jersey's whistleblower protection statute.

According to his complaint, the plaintiff worked in the cosmetics industry for 35 years, rising from an entry-level position to the defendant's Chief Science Officer. He took that position in 2010, and he stated that "his career progressed without impediment until November 2013." Id. at 1. The defendant acquired Colomer, a beauty care company based in Spain, in August 2013. In November 2013, it named Colomer's CEO as its new CEO and President.

The plaintiff claimed that he played a key role in integrating the two companies, which included reviewing Colomer's regulatory compliance. He reported concerns about Colomer's facility in Barcelona to the new CEO. He claimed that the CEO became angry and told him not to discuss regulatory or safety matters with him in order to maintain "plausible deniability." Id. at 15. From then on, the CEO allegedly harassed and belittled the plaintiff, often in front of colleagues.

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Lawsuit Claims Gender Identity Discrimination under Title VII

April 2, 2015

Gender-Symbol_Transgender_M2F_Lesbian.pngA transgender woman's sex discrimination lawsuit examined the extent of protection, if any, offered for gender identity by federal anti-discrimination law. Jamal v. Saks & Company, No. 4:14-cv-02782, complaint (S.D. Tex., Sep. 30, 2014). Issues relating to transgender persons, generally defined as someone who identifies with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, have gained considerable prominence in recent years, particularly with regard to their rights against workplace and public discrimination. New Jersey and other states prohibit employment discrimination based on "gender identity or expression" N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a), but federal anti-discrimination laws do not expressly mention gender identity.

The defendant operates the Saks Fifth Avenue chain of department stores. The plaintiff, a transgender woman, first worked at an outlet store in suburban Houston, Texas until she was transferred to its "full-line store" in Houston. Jamal, complaint at 3. She alleges that the defendant routinely "misgendered" her by referring to her with male pronouns and other indicators, and denying permission to use the women's restroom. The store manager allegedly requested that she "change her appearance to a more masculine one." Id. at 5. Managers and fellow employees, the plaintiff claims, routinely harassed and belittled her on the basis of her gender identity. She complained to the EEOC, and was fired ten days later.

The plaintiff sued for wrongful termination, hostile work environment, harassment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. The defendant filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in December 2014 that referred to the plaintiff as "he," and used the term "[sic]" when quoting portions of the plaintiff's complaint that used female pronouns. This term is used to indicate that quoted text includes errors or inaccuracies found in the original. The defendant later withdrew its motion, and the parties stipulated a dismissal of the lawsuit in March 2015. The questions it raised still remain, though.

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NLRB Issues Final Rule Simplifying and Modernizing Representation-Case Procedures,

March 26, 2015

ballot-32201_640.pngThe National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a final rule in December 2014 addressing the process by which workers may vote on whether or not to form a union or seek representation by an existing union. 79 Fed. Reg. 74307 (Dec. 15, 2014). The agency, which is charged with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., states that the new rule "remove[s] unnecessary barriers to the fair and expeditious resolution of representation questions." The rule appears to increase unions' leverage in disputes with businesses over questions of worker representation. Critics call it the "quickie election" rule, and several business organizations are already challenging it in court.

Employees have the right under the NLRA to organize or choose representatives for collective bargaining purposes, or to refrain from this sort of activity. 29 U.S.C. § 157. Employers are prohibited from "interfer[ing] with, restrain[ing], or coerc[ing] employees in the exercise of [these] rights." Id. at § 158(a)(1). If workers and employers cannot reach an agreement regarding the terms of organizing or representation, the NLRB is authorized to resolve the dispute. Id. at § 159. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the NLRB has broad discretion in these types of disputes. 79 Fed. Reg. at 74308, citing NLRB v. A.J. Tower Co., 329 U.S. 324, 330 (1946), et al.

The NLRA establishes a four-step process for representation disputes: (1) an employee, labor organization, or employer files a petition with the NLRB; (2) the NLRB, or an NLRB regional director, holds a hearing to determine if the petition presents a representation question; (3) an NLRB unit conducts a secret-ballot election; and (4) the NLRB certifies the election results. The statute only provides the basic steps, though, and the NLRB's experience has shown problems "which cannot be solved without changing current practices and rules." 79 Fed. Reg. at 74308.

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