Texas Employment Law Blog

Texas Employment Law Blog

Employment Law and Discrimination Issues

Fired Over Fears of Ebola: What you need to know.

Posted in Disability Discrimination, HR Management

Well, it has happened already. My firm is getting calls from employees who have been terminated or fear termination because their employers are afraid they may have contracted Ebola during recent trips to the African continent.

I was interviewed this week on WOAI-TV regarding this issue. Here’s the video:

I think the most important points to take away on this issue are these:

  • Employers should keep in the mind that the chances one of their employees actually has Ebola is incredibly low. Don’t make decisions based on fear and ignorance.
  • Employers should keep in mind that if an employee actually does have Ebola, that employee is likely protected from discharge by the Americans with Disabilities act. Employers have a duty to accommodate conditions such as this. In the case of Ebola, a short leave of absence is the obvious accommodation of choice. Whatever an employer does, it should be done thoughtfully and with the assistance of competent employment law counsel.
  • Employees should understand that people’s fears of Ebola right now are disproportionately high and in some cases completely irrational. If you suspect that your employer is afraid you may have contracted the disease because you recently traveled to Africa or were near someone who did, open a dialogue with your employer. Employers are forbidden under the ADA from asking you about your health without solid evidence that you have contracted the disease but employees have no such restriction. Let cool heads and dialogue be the rule, not the exception.

In the case of Ebola, let’s not let fear of the disease become more of a problem than the disease itself.

You May Be More Biased Than You Think

Posted in HR Management

I have spent many years fighting against intentional civil rights violations in the workplace. Workplace discrimination is a terrible thing. It destroys careers, harms families, and is bad for the economy. And most people, I truly believe, are against it.

But what science is now showing us is that even very good, well-meaning people can discriminate at an unconscious level. According to this science, you are doing it right now as you read this.

You’re faced with around 11 million pieces of information at any given moment, according to Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. The brain can only process about 40 of those bits of information and so it creates shortcuts and uses past knowledge to make assumptions.

So how do we deal with this information overload? Our brains compensate by making assumptions (aka “stereotypes”) for everything…and everyone one we encounter. In other words, we are guided in our decision-making not just by the objective data we received but also by what we expect to be true. This can be an especially challenging problem for those who are trying to make hiring decisions in an ethical and unbiased manner. The hardest part of this is that we don’t feel or believe that we are allowing bias to color our perceptions…but it does anyway.

This issue effects every company across the country and it is a serious problem that can only be addressed by actively discussing it and taking active steps to acknowledge and eliminate our unconscious biases. This Fast Company article discusses the problem and some tactics that we can all use to combat it.  It’s a good article and I commend it to your reading.

So if my biases are “unconscious” how can I do anything about them? After all, I don’t even know I’m being biased right? Well, not exactly. We know you are being biased. We now know that we are all biased. So the remedy is to change the way we make decisions so that these unconscious biases are limited by the systems we design. Taking pictures, names, etc out of hiring materials so that initial hiring decisions (or interview lists) are made without knowledge of the candidates’ demographic information is one simple example. Creating clear criteria for evaluating candidates before looking at their qualifications is another. More reliance on objective data and less reliance on your “gut” should be the goal.

The article discusses this in greater detail here. It is an important issue that I hope employers and HR specialists start to pay greater attention to.



The Reader: SCOTUS to Hear Religious Discrimination Case; UAW Gets Backing in Effort to Unionize VW Plant; and Luring Lawyers to Rural America

Posted in Other Articles

Here are the Employment Law Reader Entries for October 6, 2014:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Religious Discrimination Case - The U.S. Supreme Court has granted review in a religious discrimination case to determine whether an employer can be liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for refusing to hire an applicant or discharging an employee based on a “religious observance and practice” only if the employer has actual knowledge that a religious accommodation was required and the employer’s actual knowledge resulted from direct, explicit notice from the applicant or employee. In this case, the employer did not hire a Muslim woman who wore a headscarf to a job interview. Neither the subject of the headscarf nor the plaintiff’s religion was discussed during the job interview.
    Source: Employer’s Advisor
  • UAW gets backing from German unions to organize VW - We continue to follow a story that we have previously reported on this blog – the attempts to unionize VW’s Tennessee car plant. The UAW has gained two German allies in its bid to organize Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn. German union IG Metall and the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council signed a letter of intent Sept. 9 with the UAW to “Organize Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee workers as a UAW-represented facility and to begin the process of formation of a works council there.
    Source: Detroit Free Press;  Hat Tip: Robin Shea
  • In rural America, there are job opportunities and a need for lawyers - Not employment law per se but an interesting article regarding state governments cooperating with bar associations to bring lawyers to rural areas that desperately need legal services. Nearly 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but the New York Times says just 2 percent of small law practices are in those areas. Those still practicing law in small towns are often nearing retirement age, without anyone to take over their practices. And without an attorney nearby, rural residents may have to drive 100 miles or more to take care of routine matters like child custody, estate planning and taxes. For people of limited means, a long drive is a logistical hardship, requiring gas, a day away from work and sometimes an overnight stay. And census information shows that rural communities are disproportionately poor. All this creates a “justice gap,” with legal needs going unmet because potential clients can’t find a lawyer, or they can’t afford the lawyers they can find.
    Source: ABA Journal

The Reader: Work Life Balance in France; Prohibiting Off-Duty Drinking by Alcoholics Violates ADA

Posted in Disability Discrimination, HR Management

Here are the Employment Law Reader Entries for September 22, 2014:

  • Achieving a Work Life Balance in France - Here in America we seem to simultaneously lament the absence of work-life balance while at the same time take pride in our Forty-Hour-Workweeks-Are-For-Wimps work ethic. And while we make light of European views on the topic, my personal opinion is that Western Europe is way ahead of us on this issue. The issue of reconciling work and personal life has been an important issue in Europe in general and in France in particular for many years. Recently it has become a growing concern in France and resulted  in the negotiation of a nation-wide inter-sectoral agreement relating to the quality of working life in 2013. In this context, the issue of flexible working raises, among other things, the question of whether employees benefit from particular rights to request more flexible working organization, i.e. a change in working hours or a request to work from home, on the basis of family-related obligations or, more broadly, personal constraints. The Global Workplace Insider blog has a discussion this week of some of the rules that have been implemented there.  I think it was interesting to see how another country was approaching this vexing issue through legislation.
    Source: Global Workplace Insider
  • EEOC Says Prohibiting Off-Duty Alcohol Consumption by Alcoholic Employees Violates ADA  – Blanket policies prohibiting alcoholic employees from consuming alcohol permanently – whether on-duty or off-duty – violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in an informal discussion letter dated August 28, 2014. The EEOC rejected such a blanket rule – applied to all alcoholics or individuals perceived to be alcoholics – primarily because no individualized assessment was conducted.  Specifically, the ADA does not permit employers to apply qualification standards that screen out, or tend to screen out, individuals on the basis of disability unless they are job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.
    Source: Drug & Alcohol Testing Law Advisor

Shell Oil and Related Company Pay Over $4 Million in Overtime Back Wages Following DOL Investigation

Posted in Overtime Law

Shell Oil Co. and Motiva Enterprises LLC, which markets Shell gasoline and other products, have agreed to pay $4,470,764 in overtime back wages to 2,677 current and former chemical and refinery employees as a result of investigations by the U.S. Department of Labor that found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The department’s Wage and Hour Division conducted investigations at eight Shell and Motiva facilities in Alabama, California, Louisiana, Texas and Washington, which found that the companies violated FLSA overtime provisions by not paying workers for the time spent at mandatory pre-shift meetings and failing to record the time spent at these meetings.

“Employers are legally required to pay workers for all hours worked,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Whether in the international oil industry, as in this case, or a local family-run restaurant, the Labor Department is working to ensure that responsible employers do not experience a competitive disadvantage because they play by the rules.”

The Wage and Hour Division’s Houston District Office coordinated investigations with the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle District Offices to ensure nationwide compliance by Shell and Motiva. The findings revealed that those eight Shell Oil and Motiva refineries failed to pay workers for time spent attending mandatory pre-shift meetings. The companies required the workers to come to the meetings before the start of their 12-hour shift. Because the companies failed to consider time spent at mandatory pre-shift meetings as compensable, employees were not paid for all hours worked and did not receive all of the overtime pay of time and one-half their regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Additionally, the refineries did not keep accurate time records.

The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Workers who are not employed in agriculture and not otherwise exempt from overtime compensation are entitled to time and one-half their regular rates of pay for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. The law also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and it prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law.

Source: US Department of Labor

The Reader: Latinos Have Higher Rate of Job Accident Death, Wage Theft: Walks Like a Duck Edition, and Fifth Circuit Relaxes Retaliation Standard

Posted in Other Articles, Overtime Law, Race / National Origin Discrimination, Retaliation

Here are my Reader picks for today, September 16, 2014:

  •  Latino Workers Dying at Higher Rates in Job Accidents-As Latino workers take on more and more of the nation’s toughest and dirtiest jobs, they increasingly are paying for it with their lives. Preliminary federal figures released last week showed that of the 4,405 U.S. workers killed on the job in 2013, 797 were Latinos. That equates to 3.8 of every 100,000 full-time Latino employees in the U.S. dying in workplace accidents during the year. The fatality rate for Latinos was up marginally from 3.7 per 100,000 workers in 2012, and was significantly higher than the 2013 fatality rates of 3.2 for whites, 2.9 for blacks and 1.5 for Asians. Safety experts point to reluctance among many Latino workers, particularly immigrants, to protest job hazards. They commonly attribute the reluctance to language barriers or fears that complaining about working conditions will cost them their jobs or even lead to deportation. In addition, worker advocates blame weak federal and state regulation and a trend of employers increasingly giving dangerous jobs to temporary workers, including some with little training.
    Source: Fair Warning Reports
  • How much Retaliation is Enough to Make it Actionable  - A continuing, unresolved issue under Title VII is what constitutes sufficient discrimination in ”terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” to make a retaliation claim actionable. Most courts require proof of a “materially adverse employment action,” which can include being placed on a more onerous schedule or subjected to unhealthful conditions. But the Fifth Circuit has long required proof of a more exacting “ultimate” employment decision, e.g., “hiring, firing, demoting, promoting, granting leave, and compensating.” In a recent 2-1 decision, however, a panel of the court holds that a material diminution of duties not otherwise accompanied by a change in title or pay may be actionable. This is a big deal in the Fifth Circuit.
    Source: Paul Mollica’s Daily Developments in EEO Law

EEOC Sues Taprite Fassco for Sex and Disability Discrimination and Retaliation

Posted in Disability Discrimination, Retaliation, Sexual Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has filed suit against Taprite Fassco Manufacturing, Inc., a San Antonio-based supplier of CO2 regulators in the soda and beer industries, in a case related to a similar case recently filed against the same employer by The McKinney Law Firm. Here is a copy of the EEOC’s press release regarding their filing.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -Taprite Fassco Manufacturing, Inc., a San Antonio-based supplier of CO2 regulators in the soda and beer industries, violated several federal anti-discrimination laws in its treatment of one of its quality control inspectors, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. The EEOC said the company subjected the woman to gender and disability discrimination and unlawfully retaliated against her for complaining.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, after the quality control inspector, a longtime employee, raised questions to management concerning wage disparity between the sexes among workers at Taprite Fassco’s San Antonio plant, management disciplined and demoted her into a less favorable and lower paying assembler position. The employee was physically unable to perform the new job because of her diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

The EEOC also charged that Taprite Fassco denied requests for accommodations that would have permitted the employee to continue working, thus violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC said that even after she filed a complaint of discrimination alleging sex discrimination under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act, Taprite Fassco opted to pay her male replacement (whom she initially trained) substantially more than she was compensated for performing essentially the same work.

The EEOC’s San Antonio Field office filed suit (Civil Action No. 5:14-cv-00801) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency’s administrative conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for the victim, as well as injunctive relief.

“Enforcing laws that require equal pay for men and women performing the same jobs is a priority for the EEOC,” said David Rivela, senior trial attorney in the EEOC’s San Antonio Field Office. “Our employment statutes also safeguard workers from reprisal when the employees address managers about potentially unlawful practices. The EEOC will vigorously prosecute employers who retaliate against employees for simply seeking answers about their opportunities and protections.”

Daily Read: EEOC vs. Fitness-For-Duty Exams and Ford ADA Telecommuting Case in Overdrive

Posted in Disability Discrimination, Lawsuit Filings

We bring you the best articles in employment law and related workplace HR issues.
Here are our picks for today, September 10, 2014:

  • EEOC takes on fitness-for-duty medical releases – Recent lawsuits and press releases from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show the agency is targeting employers’ fitness for duty examinations. Increasingly, the EEOC is finding that employers’ exams do not violate the law but that those same employers may have violated both the ADA and GINA by requiring an employee to submit overbroad medical release forms in order to complete a fitness-for-duty examination. (GINA prohibits employers from requesting or requiring that employees disclose genetic information). Here is a copy of the EEOC’s press release regarding case filed by the agency this week on just this issue.
    Source: Eric Meyers: Employment Law Handbook
  • Ford Motor ADA Telecommuting Case Still Running – Michael Soltis publishes his fifth article on an important ADA accommodation case that just wont quit. The issue: when, if ever, is telecommuting a reasonable accommodation. This issue is in flux as technology makes telecommuting more and more pheasible for many types of workers.
    Source: Disability Leave Blog

Daily Read: Fast Food Workers: “No Soup for You!”, Paid Sick Leave in California, & A Mother/Law Professor’s Perspective on Ferguson

Posted in FMLA, NLRB, Race / National Origin Discrimination

Several times per week we bring you the best articles in employment law and related workplace HR issues.

Here are our picks for today, September 4, 2014:

  • Fast-Food Strike Today Across The Country - Union organizers running the campaign designed to secure $15 per hour wages for fast-food workers announced on Labor Day that fast-food employees will walk off the job today in approximately 150 cities across the country. The organizers expect that major fast-food hotspots Burger King, McDonalds, and Wendy’s will be hit hard by labor shortages. Today’s planned strike, organized and underwritten primarily by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), comes on the heels of a July meeting held in Chicago where over 1,000 fast-food workers met to discuss their working conditions. During the meeting, workers agreed to ramp up their efforts to win higher wages.
    Source: Labor Relations Today
  • California Becomes Second State to Offer Paid Sick Leave - Over the holiday weekend, California became only the second state (after Connecticut, which began granting paid sick leave in 2012) to guarantee at least some annual paid sick leave for most full and part-time employees. Assuming Governor Brown signs the bill, California’s law would be the tenth in the nation at the state or local level that requires employers to provide paid sick leave.
    Source: Wage & Hour Insights
  • Employee Wins Reversal of Religious Discrimination Defeat at the Fifth Circuit - Russell Cawyer reports on a victory for a religious discrimination plaintiff at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The trial court had dismissed the case because the religious accommodation denied was not leave to attend a religious ceremony but rather leave to attend a church-sponsored event that the employee believed to be important to her and her relationship to her church. The appellate reversed the trial court, stating that the issue of whether an event is truly religious or not is a subjective one and that an employee’s sincerity of her religious practice is largely a matter of individual credibility. The court admonished that, therefore, judicial inquiry into the sincerity of a religious belief should be handled with a “light touch” or “judicial shyness.”
    Source: Texas Employment Law Update

Labor Day 2014

Posted in Other Articles

As we head into the Labor Day weekend, here are some quick facts about a holiday that is near and dear to our hearts here at the firm:

How Labor Day Came About

“Labor Day differs in every essential from the other holidays of the year in any country,” said Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor. “All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.

Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, l883.

In l884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in l885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day Legislation

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 2l, l887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.


Have a great Labor Day weekend everybody!