1st Ever Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawsuit Filed by EEOC

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Scott Medical Health Center was recently ordered to pay $55,000 by a federal judge in the first sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The judge’s three-page order found Scott Medical Health Center, the Scott Township-based pain management and weight loss services provider, responsible for “creating, facilitating, or tolerating” sexual harassment – which can refer to any harassment related to sexual orientation or sex or gender stereotypes/gender role stereotypes. 

Also ordered by the judge, the health center will provide the commission a written report including any and all complaints and/or allegations (both formal and informal) regardless of whether they are reported verbally or in writing related to sexual harassment/sex harassment made by any employee for the upcoming five years. 

EEOC attorneys released a statement hailing the ruling as historic. They set it apart as a precedent that sexual orientation is a protected status in any workplace. The EEOC also stated that protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have been “stepped up” under sex discrimination provisions. They’re making it a priority at the national level. 

Sexual orientation is not actually protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 governing workplace discrimination, but the EEOC interprets sex discrimination as including harassment of both gay and transgender workers. The EEOC sees this case as one of many that point towards the persistent and commonplace problem of anti-LGBT bias in the workplace throughout America. 

This lawsuit based on anti-LGBT bias, was filed in March 2016. The lawsuit describes a situation in which Dale Baxley, a telemarketer for Scott Medical Health Center, was taunted by a manager for being gay. This harassment occurred in Summer 2013. Robert McClendon, the manager accused of harassing Baxley for being gay was already under investigation at the time of the filing. Several female employees made claims against the same manager. According to the EEOC complaint, Baxley quit in August 2013 after complaining to the company president and seeing nothing change. 

In response to the claims, the health center’s lawyer stated that the Defendant was “blindsided” by the allegations, that they were unaware of Baxley’s sexual orientation, and that the commission had no authority to file the claim. 

Earlier this month, the federal district judge, Cathy Bissoon, ordered Scott Medical Health Center to pay damages in the amount of $50,000, which is the maximum penalty for this type of violation against an employer the size of the health center. In addition, the court ordered the company to pay Baxley $5,500 in back wages. 

For more information about sexual orientation lawsuits or to discuss what constitutes a hostile work environment, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

A String of Harassment Lawsuits Aimed Right at Tesla

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Many only know Tesla as a company who has goals of changing the world, but more and more are rethinking their opinion of the company as news headlines point out another major component in the Tesla workplace: harassment. The company proudly claims to be forward thinking on environmental matters, dedicated to diversity and center-left politics, and the many ways in which advanced technology can support progress in all these areas of concern. But many are now labeling the company as being caught up in the “bro” culture – a culture that can still be found in many offices throughout California. Other companies experiencing similar accusations include: Uber, Google, Social Finance, Greylock Partners, etc. Major news outlets like Bloomberg and CNBC have actually implied that the problem is worse than we think.

The latest case at Tesla involves Jorge Ferro, an assembly line worker who claims he was harassed because he is gay. He claims he was taunted, told to “watch your back,” and eventually fired. Ferro states that an old scar (from a 16-year old injury) drew the notice of Tesla Human Resources, who promptly dismissed him. But Ferro alleges he was actually fired due to retaliation for reporting the harassment.

When contacted about the issue, Tesla first attempted to side step the issue by claiming that both Ferro and his supervisor were not employees, but independent contractors. They also insisted that Tesla, as a company, takes all forms of discrimination and harassment very seriously. In fact, the Guardian reported that the company responded in even further detail by referencing their own track record, “…no company on Earth [has] a better track record than Tesla…they would have to have fewer than zero cases where an independent judge or jury…found a genuine case of discrimination.”

While Tesla insists that the recent influx of harassment and discrimination claims are due to their own notoriety and the opportunity this presents for media outlets and attorneys seeking acclaim and higher profiles, there have been other accusations of similar behavior in the last few years.

Just a week before Ferro’s claim surfaced, three former African-American workers filed a California lawsuit that they were subjected to verbal and written racist slurs.

Another instance involved a former Tesla engineer who claimed she was fired because she presented examples of gender discrimination at the company to the human resources department.

If you need to discuss instances of discrimination in the workplace or have questions regarding harassment on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.