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Suit accuses Oak Harbor mayor, city administrator of unethical conduct

The Oak Harbor public works director and a former city engineer accused the mayor and city administrator of a long list of unethical conduct in a lawsuit filed last week in Island County Superior Court.

Cathy Rosen, the longtime director of the city’s largest department, and former City Engineer Joe Stowell are asking for unspecified damages for retaliation against whistleblowing, violations of laws against a hostile work environment, a violation of public records laws and infliction of emotional distress.

Rosen is also alleging gender discrimination, and Stowell is accusing the mayor of wrongful discharge.

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Working From Home: Employees May Face Discrimination From Participation in Videoconferences

When a business holds meetings remotely using video conferences, some employees who participate in the meetings might face two forms of discrimination – inequities during the video conference and unfair judgment in the future because of personal details revealed by the meeting. A Washington employee rights attorney can help you evaluate your legal rights and options if you feel that you face discrimination from participating in video conferences when working from home.

Discrimination During Video Conferences

Overt discrimination can happen during virtual meetings, in that the host or other participants might interrupt or disrespect a participant because of factors that amount to discriminatory practices. Just as some people feel comfortable engaging in hateful commentary on social media that they would be unlikely to express to a person’s face, some employers and employees show less hesitation about being rude and unprofessional in Zoom meetings than they would in an in-person conference at the office. For example, in a video conference:

  • A person of color might not get an opportunity to state an idea or opinion without someone else barging in and stealing the “floor.” 
  • An older worker might get ignored because some younger employees consider the person irrelevant.
  • A person with an alternative lifestyle might get treated with disrespect because of a co-worker’s prejudices.
  • Differences in conversation styles can lead to some people losing the opportunity to be heard in virtual meetings. A person who waits for an opening in the conversation might never get to speak and participate, while more assertive co-workers dominate the meeting and steamroll anyone whose input they do not want to hear.

Those who host workplace video conferences should create a protocol for participating in the meeting, such as posting in the chatbox or clicking the “Raise Hand” icon and waiting for the host to call on people before they speak. Setting a time limit for each speaker and the number of times a person can talk will establish fair opportunities for everyone to be involved.  

Starting at the top of the list of participants and making sure that everyone gets a chance to speak before anyone talks multiple times is another meeting strategy that can be effective. Some people who engage in discrimination refuse to let people they perceive as unequal participate in the covnersation. The host must anticipate these problems and take measures to prevent discrimination from occurring in online meetings.

Discrimination After Virtual Meetings

Because so many people now work from home, holding job-related conferences remotely allows participants to see things about your home and life that you may keep private at work. Those who are inclined to engage in illegal harassment or discrimination against members of particular groups might find plenty of “evidence” about co-workers during online meetings. Items that you no longer notice, like wall hangings, artwork, or decorations, might indicate things like your religion, country of origin, political affiliation, interests, lifestyle choices, or sexual orientation. In a sense, working remotely can invade employee privacy, which could lead to illegal discrimination.

If you think that you might be the victim of discrimination during or after work-related video conferences, a Washington employee rights attorney could help you evaluate and pursue legal remedies. Contact us today. 

Sapphire Legal discusses the classes protected under Title VII.

Title VII Protected Classes: Where We Stand Today

Discrimination in the workplace is against the law. Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination based on a variety of factors. Some states have expanded discrimination laws beyond the protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also, current federal court cases appear to be expanding the interpretation of some of the protections in Title VII. If you are unsure whether you are a victim of employment discrimination, you can contact a Washington employment discrimination attorney for help.

The Original Five Protected Classes

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on five classes — race, sex, color, national origin, and religion. Federal protections have been expanded since the law was enacted to include age, citizenship status, genetic information, pregnancy, and veteran status. There are also federal statutes that protect employees who are disabled from employment discrimination.

Many states have also enacted employment discrimination laws. Some states expand the basic classes that are protected from discrimination in the workplace. Washington law provides employment discrimination protection to a wider group of individuals. Currently, classes protected from discrimination by Washington state laws are:

  • Age (40 years and older)
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Maternity and pregnancy
  • Color
  • Creed
  • Use of service animals by individuals with a disability
  • Disability or appearance of disability
  • Marital status
  • AIDS, HIV, and Hepatitis C status
  • Honorably discharged veteran or military service
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity 
  • National origin

States may have led the way in expanding the classes that are protected from employment discrimination, but recent federal court cases are seeking to expand federal protections to the LGBTQ community as well.

Federal Courts Disagree Concerning LGBTQ Protections

The federal courts do not agree on whether Title VII protections extend to the LGBTQ community. The Eleventh and Fifth Circuits have ruled in several cases that Title VII protection does not extend to discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

However, the Second, Sixth, and Seventh circuits have heard cases involving discrimination based on sexual orientation and ruled in favor of the employee. The courts have held that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination in several cases. Washington federal court cases are appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is known to be more liberal than other Federal Appeals Courts. The Ninth Circuit would likely follow the other appellate courts and expand protections to the LGBTQ community as well. However, the Supreme Court is expected to settle the issue soon, as discussed below.

The U.S. Supreme Court Set to Resolve Discrepancies 

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on October 8, 2019. The issue before the court is whether Title VII prohibits employment discrimination against transgender people. Until a final vote and opinion are issued, we continue to wait to see what the justices do regarding the expansion of employment discrimination protection based on sexual orientation.

At the same time, there is federal legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that would expand the protections against employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. However, it is uncertain whether the Senate will take up the proposed legislation.

Contact a Washington Employment Attorney for Help

The laws regarding employment discrimination continue to expand. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace. If you have questions or concerns about employment discrimination, contact a Washington employment discrimination attorney for help.

Sapphire Legal discusses the most common types of workplace discrimination.

What Are the Most Common Types of Workplace Discrimination?

Workplace discrimination is much more common than we would like to believe, and certain types of discrimination are more prevalent than others. You may have observed examples of employment discrimination where you work or you may have experienced it yourself. Though both federal and state laws prohibit this misconduct, too many companies get away with it because: [1] they are able to hide behind statutes allowing “at-will” termination, [2] they use another reason to discipline or terminate an employee (“pretext”), and [3] employees are fearful they will lose their jobs if they complain to the company or to government agencies. 

If you are dealing with employment discrimination, you need a first-rate employment discrimination attorney to provide you with guidance while you are still employed and to give you options to make it stop. If you are no longer employed, an attorney may be able to assist you in obtaining compensation for the illegal discrimination you experienced, including reinstatement, lost wages, emotional distress damages and your attorney’s fees and costs. Additionally, an employment attorney can assist you in obtaining unemployment benefits, as well as provide information for other resources that may help defray the financial impact of your wrongful termination. 

At-Will Laws Do Not Allow Workplace Discrimination

Although most states have policies that permit employers to fire you for any reason or no reason at all, employees are still protected by federal and state anti-discrimination laws. This means that although you can be fired for the pettiest of reasons or for no reason at all, by law you cannot be fired for reasons associated with your protected status, such as age, gender, race, religion, etc.

Which types of workplace discrimination are most common?

The following are the most common types of discrimination in the workplace.

1. Retaliation Discrimination

Retaliation Discrimination is far and away the most common type of discrimination. This explains why employees are so often reticent to complain about mistreatment whether it involves wage and hour disparity, lack of promotion, unpleasant environment, bullying or harassment. Most employees believe that the human resources department is there to help employees and are shocked to later find out that human resources is involved in the later retaliation of them. The human resources personnel work for the employer and therefore, should not be trusted. When you fear that reporting unfair treatment will expose you to retaliation, it is important for you to contact an employment discrimination lawyer to support you. 

2. Racial Discrimination

Racial Discrimination is, tragically, alive and well in the United States. In the present political climate, it is rearing its ugly head more frequently and more blatantly. Those who discriminate at work, aware that they are breaking the law, typically do so subtly. Thus, a particular company may hire a “token” person of color but never give that person the respect he or she deserves—not giving earned bonuses or promotions, for example, or not including the individual in meetings. Shamefully, more than three-quarters of African and Asian Americans report experiencing discrimination, as do more than half of Hispanics. Discrimination at work should not be tolerated and should be reported. 

3. Disability Discrimination

Even though most people voice support for treating those with disabilities equally, disabled individuals generally find it more difficult to get jobs and often experience discrimination in the workplace. Though very rarely does a disabled individual apply for a job for which her disability disqualifies her, employers are frequently unwilling to make the small accommodations necessary if they hire someone who is mobility- or hearing-impaired. Employers also feel that having a disabled employee doesn’t fit their image — a cruel and incorrect assumption.

4. Sexual Discrimination (Sexism)

A hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote; less than a decade ago, gay marriage was not legal anywhere in this country. Even though there has been a great deal of progress in the area of sexual discrimination, for most workers this is still an uphill battle. Female and LGBTQ individuals are still harassed in too many workplaces and the wage disparity between women and men remains a serious issue.

5. Age Discrimination (Ageism)

With longer lifespans, many seniors are not only able to work, but eager to do so. Unfortunately, many employers, particularly those involved in tech industries, practice ageism without even being aware of it. They often assume that people over a certain age, regardless of their credentials and proven abilities, will be unable to keep up with younger workers. They also may feel that having older workers in the workplace will brand their company as old-fashioned rather than innovative and inclusive. Many employers replace dedicated and loyal employees with longevity at the company because they can pay someone else a lesser salary and to defray the costs of health insurance benefits because premiums are higher for an older workforce. Employers often replace older employees with younger ones stating that the company wants “fresh” and “innovative” perspectives. Age discrimination is almost always subtle with the employer typically complaining about performance or production.

In the end, any kind of employment discrimination hurts not only the individual employee but the entire workplace. Turning away or mistreating capable, talented employees for reasons of prejudice is not only illegal, but it also tarnishes an employer’s reputation both as an employer and as a business. Employers know this and want to protect their public image, which is why it is important for employees who have been discriminated against to contact an attorney who knows how to get the employer’s attention and can help the employee recover the damages suffered due to illegal discrimination.