Too Fat to Work Here?—Not So Fast

Scott F. Cooper

A decision this week from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has further fueled the debate over whether obesity is a protected impairment under federal and state law.

In Casey Taylor et al. v. Burlington Northern Railroad Holdings Inc. et al., Case No. 16-35205 (9th Cir. Sept. 17, 2018), Burlington rejected Taylor’s application to become an electronic technician because his Body Mass Index (“BMI”) placed him in the “severely” or “morbidly” obese category. Complicating this case is that the company’s chief medical officer otherwise found Taylor qualified for the position. The company also was willing to reconsider the application if Taylor undertook additional pre-hire medical screening at his own expense. The Ninth Circuit earlier this year held that shifting pre-hire medical examination costs to an applicant is unlawful.

The Ninth Circuit certified the issue and sent it to the Supreme Court of Washington to determine its application under Washington state law. Pending that ruling, the Ninth Circuit will then resolve the issue under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). How these decisions come out could have sweeping implications for employers who have acted against obese job applicants and employees. Continue reading “Too Fat to Work Here?—Not So Fast”

What #MeToo Means for the Maritime Sector

Susan L. Bickley, Emery Gullickson Richards, and Jeanne M. Grasso

The #MeToo movement has shone new light on issues for employers in the maritime industry seeking to ensure that seafarers and shore-based personnel can participate in a work environment free of sexual harassment and assault, both shipboard and shoreside. Employees at sea, often for months at a time, can face special challenges associated with a work environment that can be thousands of miles away from any home office, and that can lead to feelings of isolation, make communications difficult, involve close proximity between work spaces and living quarters and generally require employees to remain at the workplace during rest periods.

In other sectors of the global maritime industry, companies engaged in international business can find themselves navigating scenarios that arise from expectations regarding workplace interactions between men and women that are as diverse as their workforces. We examine here the unique legal framework that applies to sexual harassment in the maritime context, what to keep in mind for addressing incidents and recent trends regarding steps employers are currently taking in response. Continue reading “What #MeToo Means for the Maritime Sector”

New Maryland #MeToo Bill Sets Up Public Shaming and Restrictions

Asima J. Ahmad

Maryland’s legislature recently passed Senate Bill 1010 in an effort to provide victims of sexual harassment additional workplace protections. The Bill awaits the governor’s signature.

Set to be effective October 1, 2018, and titled “Disclosing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act of 2018” (the “Act”), the Act voids any provision in an employment contract, policy, or agreement that waives substantive or procedural rights or remedies relating to a sexual harassment claim that accrues in the future, or to a retaliation claim for reporting or asserting a right or remedy based on sexual harassment (unless prohibited by federal law). Any employer who enforces, or attempts to enforce, such a provision will be liable for the employee’s attorney’s fees and costs. The Act will apply to any employment contract, policy, or agreement executed, “implicitly or explicitly extended,” or renewed on or after the effective date; so, it seems to cover policies and agreements implemented prior to October 1, 2018 that continue in place after that date. Continue reading “New Maryland #MeToo Bill Sets Up Public Shaming and Restrictions”

Employers Should Take Notice of New Jersey’s Expected Equal Pay Law

Thomas J. Szymanski

The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (“Act”), directed at remedying discriminatory pay practices in the workplace, was passed by both houses of New Jersey’s Legislature and awaits the signature of Governor Phil Murphy. This is not the first time that the New Jersey Legislature has passed a bill modeled after the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which made it easier to pursue pay-discrimination lawsuits—former Governor Chris Christie previously vetoed nearly identical versions of this bill, based on his stated belief that they were overly-expansive and bad for business. Governor Murphy has pledged to sign the current version of the Act into law, with an anticipated effective date of July 1, 2018. Some of the Act’s provisions, notably those providing for treble damages and a six-year look back period, could provide more employees with much greater relief for violations than the federal Ledbetter Act or other state equal pay laws. Continue reading “Employers Should Take Notice of New Jersey’s Expected Equal Pay Law”

New York #MeToo Initiatives—It’s No Longer Just an HR Issue

Stephen E. Tisman and Rither Alabre

Propelled by the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the “#MeToo” movement, New York government officials have taken new steps to protect victims of sexual misconduct in the workplace.

  • The New York County District Attorney’s Office has created a special “Work-Related Sexual Violence Team” of prosecutors to investigate reports of work-related sexual violence.
  • The New York Attorney General filed suit, in response to the announcement of the proposed sale of the Weinstein Company, for civil penalties and an order of “restitution” to victims.

These actions make clear that new layers of scrutiny are being imposed to examine how employers handle sexual harassment claims. Importantly, companies and individuals faced with such claims will confront new areas of exposure—outside of traditional human resources procedures and concerns—which must be analyzed and addressed. Continue reading “New York #MeToo Initiatives—It’s No Longer Just an HR Issue”

Blowing the Whistle Internally Is Not Enough to Be Covered by the Anti-Retaliation Provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act

Yelena Barychev and Brooke T. Iley

On February 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a much anticipated decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Paul Somers that the anti-retaliation protections of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (the “Dodd-Frank Act”) do not extend to an individual who reports alleged company misconduct only internally without submitting this information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”).

Paul Somers worked at Digital Realty Trust, Inc. as a vice president of portfolio management. While employed, he reported possible securities law violations to senior management but never reported this information to the SEC. Mr. Somers’ employment was subsequently terminated. He then sued Digital Realty in federal court accusing the company of violating the Dodd-Frank Act by firing him for complaining internally about alleged violations of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (the “Sarbanes-Oxley Act”). Mr. Sommers never sought relief directly under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The district court, and then the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, supported Mr. Somers reliance on the SEC’s broad interpretation of the definition of the term “whistleblower” under the Dodd-Frank Act. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. Continue reading “Blowing the Whistle Internally Is Not Enough to Be Covered by the Anti-Retaliation Provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act”

Sexual Harassment and the #MeToo Movement: Immediate Action Items for Employers

Scott F. Cooper and Brooke T. Iley

As the breaking news reaffirms in graphic detail on an almost daily basis, we are in a transformative time when it comes to how claims of harassment are reported and handled in the workplace. From Hollywood to Rockefeller Center, and everywhere in-between, employers must be prepared. On December 15, 2017, Blank Rome’s Labor and Employment co-chairs, Scott Cooper and Brooke Iley, held an emergency briefing by webinar entitled: “The #MeToo Movement: Are You Prepared?” Continue reading “Sexual Harassment and the #MeToo Movement: Immediate Action Items for Employers”