Texas Employment Law Blog

Texas Employment Law Blog

Employment Law and Discrimination Issues

Preparing for Your Initial Consultation with an Employment Lawyer

Posted in Other Articles

Yesterday we discussed some basic tips to help you search for an employment attorney for your case.  So now you have an initial consultation set up with a lawyer who has been recommended to you by a trusted source or who you have found from doing your own research. How do you make sure you make the most of this initial meeting?

In a word: Preparation.

Once you have a consultation with an employment lawyer scheduled, it is important that you prepare to make the most of the time you will have with the lawyer. Employment lawyers get dozens of contacts per week from potential clients and must be very selective about the cases they take. The initial consultation is your opportunity to make sure the attorney is well informed about the facts of your case. It is also your best chance to show the attorney that you are someone he or she wants to work with over the months and/or years that your matter may be pending on the firm’s docket.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind as you prepare for the meeting:

  • Take the meeting seriously and be prepared — Make sure you have good, clean copies (not originals) of any related documents with you when you arrive. Don’t expect the attorney to be your copy service and don’t leave your originals with the attorney.
  • Bring a fact chronology — Employment cases are complicated and fact intensive. A lawyer will not be able to tell you whether he can help you unless he knows most of the details of your case. The best way to do this is to bring a simple fact chronology that outlines the factual timeline of your case. A simple “Date — Fact” format will work fine in most cases. If at all possible it should be typed and not hand-written.
  • Be on time — Nothing says that you are not serious about your case like being late to your consultation. An attorney’s time literally is their money. Don’t waste it.
  • Pay the requested consultation fee on time or have it ready when you walk in the door — If the matter is not important enough for a consultation fee then don’t make the appointment to begin with. But if you do make the appointment, don’t put the lawyer in the position of trying to collect a fee from you at your first meeting. It’s not the way to get off to a good start.
  • Dress appropriately — How you dress communicates the level of seriousness you give the issue. You don’t have to wear a suit. But showing up in a dirty T-shirt and flip-flops won’t help convince the attorney that you are serious about your case. During the meeting the attorney is considering what a jury will think and whether they will take your testimony seriously. How you present yourself plays into this analysis.
  • Don’t bring unexpected guests — Attorney-client communications are privileged. This privilege can be lost if others sit in on the meeting. While someone else can certainly accompany you to the lawyer’s office, don’t expect them or ask for them to come into the meeting with you unless you cleared it in advance with the attorney. Dealing with this issue at the time of the meeting uses up valuable meeting time while the lawyer tries to assess whether they should be allowed into the meeting or not. Also, keep in mind that the lawyer wants to hear YOUR story and is less interested in your husband/wife, girlfriend/boyfriend or mother’s version of the story.
  • Don’t bring children — I love children. But they should not be brought to your attorney consultation. They are a distraction for you and the attorney and it can sometimes be difficult to discuss sensitive matters in front of them. Get a sitter or ask a friend or family member to watch them for you.

Following these steps should help you have a productive initial consultation and hopefully find a qualified attorney to handle your employment-related legal matter.

How to Hire An Employment Lawyer

Posted in Other Articles

So you need to hire an employment lawyer but you don’t know how to get started? This article is for you.

Hiring a lawyer to guide you through an employment-related dispute can be challenging. Unlike cases involving personal injury matters, there aren’t hundreds of employment lawyers running TV advertisements in an attempt to get you to “Call now!” Quite the opposite is true in fact.

Due to the complicated statutory nature of employment law practice, there are likely only a small handful of lawyers in even a relatively large city who are Board Certified to represent employees in employment-related disputes. The few who are qualified and have the years’ of experience you should be looking for will likely be extremely busy because there are so few of them. For this reason it is important that you do some research and get your own materials together before you start making calls.

To get you started, I’ve prepared a handy guide outlining some of the basic steps you need to take.

Step 1 – Do A Little Research Online. 

Before you pick up the phone and start making calls, pick up your mouse and start making clicks. Many good employment lawyers will have a website and/or a blog that will provide you with a lot of quality information about employment law issues. Take a look at what practice areas in which the lawyer claims he or she practices. You don’t want a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none attorney for your case. You want someone who concentrates the majority of his/her practice on employment law issues. You could also search legal directory avvo.com to help you find local lawyers who represent employees. It isn’t a perfect system but it will give you a good list to start your research.

Step 2 – Check For Board Certification

Lawyers are not required to be Board Certified in employment law to practice it in Texas. Some states don’t even provide for board certifications. But in Texas, the State Bar of Texas does provide Board Certification to those lawyers who practice employment law for a sufficient period of time, provide recommendations from lawyers and judges who they have practiced with and who pass a lengthy examination process. You can learn more about Board Certification here.

Step 3 – Expect To Fill Out A Questionnaire And Pay A Fee For A Consultation

Many firms have developed questionnaires. These are not idle exercises. You must fill them out to help your lawyer understand your case so he can better help you. Plus, filling out these short (usually electronic) forms may save you money. Some attorneys use short electronic forms as an initial screening tool for the many potential client contacts they receive each day. Sometimes, the form indicates a simple question for which a quick answer can be provided. Other times, the type of case being described would be better handled by another lawyer who specializes in that specific niche — you can usually get that referral set up at no cost. Then, if the form indicates an issue on which a lawyer believes he or she can provide meaningful assistance, a full, in-person consultation can be scheduled.

Most attorneys charge a small consultation fee to review employment-related matters. Because employment law is very fact specific, an employment lawyer needs to know all the facts of your case before he or she can commit to representing you. This often takes time. If employment lawyers are not paid something for this, they cannot stay in business.

Step 4 – Prepare For Your Consultation

Once you have a consultation with an employment lawyer scheduled, it is important that you prepare to make the most of the time you will have with the lawyer. Tomorrow I will post an article discussing the initial consultation in more detail, including tips on what to bring and how to prepare for this important meeting.

Pregnancy Discrimination at the Supreme Court – Oral Argument in Young v. UPS

Posted in Pregnancy Discrimination

While it has been illegal to discriminate against pregnant workers for many years, this fact has been little help to many women who have been denied accommodation of their pregnancy by their employer. That’s right, there has never been a clear decision from the Supreme Court on the issue of whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act actually requires companies to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee based solely on her pregnancy. Many employers, including UPS, have refused women any help or accommodation due to pregnancy. Last week the Supreme Court finally heard argument on the issue.

Oral argument was held December 3, 2014.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) provides that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” 42 U.S.C. §2000e(k). In this case the Court will decide whether, and in what circumstances, an employer that provides work accommodations to nonpregnant employees with work limitations must provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”  Below the district court and Fourth Circuit ruled in favor UPS.

Facts of the Case

Peggy Young was employed as a delivery driver for the United Parcel Service (UPS). In 2006, she requested a leave of absence in order to undergo in vitro fertilization. The procedure was successful and Young became pregnant. During her pregnancy, Young’s medical practitioners advised her to not lift more than twenty pounds while working. UPS’s employee policy requires their employees to be able to lift up to seventy pounds. Due to Young’s inability to fulfill this work requirement, as well as the fact that she had used all her available family/medical leave, UPS forced Young to take an extended, unpaid leave of absence. During this time she eventually lost her medical coverage. Young gave birth in April 2007 and resumed working at UPS thereafter.

Young sued UPS and claimed she had been the victim of gender- and disability-based discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. UPS moved for summary judgment and argued that Young could not show that UPS’s decision was based on her pregnancy or that she was treated differently than a similarly situated co-worker. Furthermore, UPS argued it had no obligation to offer Young accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act because Young’s pregnancy did not constitute a disability. The district court dismissed Young’s claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Playing Field Changes while Case is Pending

While this case has been ongoing, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new pregnancy accommodation guidelines stating that employers should accommodate the physical restrictions of women with normal, uncomplicated pregnancies as if those women had protected disabilities and a growing number of states have passed laws mandating reasonable accommodations of pregnant workers.

Predictions

Most legal commentators (including this one) appear to believe the court should find in favor of pregnant employees in this case and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. The question then becomes a case-by-case analysis on the nature and degree of accommodation required. This is a similar analysis to what is required in other accommodation-related cases.

Related Links:

Link to Supreme Court Oral Argument in Case

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wage Theft Costs American Workers as Much as $50 Billion a Year

Posted in Overtime Law, Wage & Hour Law

Wage theft is a nationwide epidemic that costs American workers as much as $50 billion a year, a new Economic Policy Institute report finds. In An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year, EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey and EPI intern Brady Meixell examine incidences of wage theft—employers’ failure to pay workers money they are legally entitled to—across the country. The total amount of money recovered for the victims of wage theft who retained private lawyers or complained to federal or state agencies was at least $933 million in 2012, almost three times greater than all the money stolen in robberies that year. However, since most victims never report wage theft and never sue, the real cost of wage theft to workers is much greater, and could be closer to $50 billion a year.

“Wage theft affects far more people than more well-known crimes such as bank robberies, convenience store robberies, street and highway robberies, and gas station robberies combined, and can be absolutely devastating for workers living from paycheck to paycheck,” said Eisenbrey. “For low-wage workers, the wages lost from wage theft can total nearly 10 percent of their annual earnings.”

The authors also conducted a study of workers in low-wage industries in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and found that in any given week, two-thirds experienced at least one pay-related violation.  They estimate that the average loss per worker over the course of a year was $2,634, out of total earnings of $17,616. The total annual wage theft from front-line workers in low-wage industries in the three cities approached $3 billion. If these findings are generalizable to the rest of the U.S. low-wage workforce of 30 million, wage theft is costing workers more than $50 billion a year.

Read More:

Click here for a copy of the entire report.

Theoretically related posts:

Courts Make it More Difficult for Employees to Pursue Tip Theft by Employers

Wal-Mart Sued for Wage Theft

“Wage Theft”: The Trendy Phrase That May Not Mean What You Think It Means - From Daniel Schwartz’s always excellent Connecticut Employment Law Blog

Wage Theft and Misclassification Report - Contains state by state grades.

 

Bad Bosses – You ARE the Weakest Link!

Posted in HR Management

Robin Shea posted a great article yesterday titled “Weakest link” is no way to run your workplace. In it she discusses the problems related to bosses who like to stir the pot and keep employees feeling distrustful and uncertain. Not surprisingly, she thinks its a bad idea. She writes:

Manufactured workplace rivalry can cause morale to plummet and teamwork to become nonexistent. Which in turn results in high turnover, including the loss a lot of people you probably didn’t think were “weak links.”

From a legal standpoint, a hyper-competitive workplace environment dramatically increases the odds that the employer will become a defendant in a lawsuit, the subject of an EEOC charge or other administrative complaint, or the target of a union organizing campaign. It can also result in increased rates of workers’ comp and disability-related claims because employees are too stressed out to be able to face Lord of the Flies each day.

As someone who talks to 5-10 unhappy current or former employees a week, I can tell you that this is a big, big problem in the American workplace that is commonly overlooked by corporate HR departments. Too many HR departments seem to have a type of tunnel vision centered around whether they can determine if bad behavior is illegal or not. They miss the point.

If you have a boss who is so bad that your employees are seeking advices from a lawyer, you have a big problem – regardless of whether I end up telling them the issue is legally actionable or not.

Read Robin’s excellent article here.

$185 Million Dollar Verdict Against AutoZone in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Posted in Pregnancy Discrimination, Retaliation, Verdicts & Settlements

A federal jury in San Diego has rendered a verdict against AutoZone for $872,000 in compensatory damages and $185 million in punitive damages after determining that AutoZone retaliated against against a manager for being pregnant, eventually resulting in her demotion and later termination.

According to the lawsuit, the philosophy was summed up by the vice president for western operations during a visit to a store staffed by a female manager and other women. He allegedly took the district manager aside and said: “What are we running here, a boutique? Get rid of these women,” the lawsuit states.

U-T San Diego reported the verdict.  The newspaper says it is believed to be one of the largest employment law verdicts for an individual in U.S. history.

AutoZone is an auto-parts retailer that operates about 4,000 stores across the U.S. and abroad.

Readers should keep in mind that a “verdict” is not the same as a “judgment”. The verdict will likely be significantly reduced by the court’s application of applicable statutory caps on damages. Even so the verdict is large enough that an appeal by the company is a virtual certainly.

Read more: U-T San Diego

 

 

Flexible Working Arrangements Aren’t Just for Women

Posted in HR Management, Sexual Discrimination

For years, conventional wisdom held that women far more than men took advantage of flexible working arrangements to balance work/life responsibilities. Now comes a new study revealing that male employees feel equally empowered to use programs that allow flexibility in how, when and where work happens.

The Working Mother Research Institute found that 77% of men have some degree of flexibility in their work schedules, and that 79% of those men feel comfortable using flex benefits.

The study, titled “How Men Flex: The Working Mother Report,” found that 59% of working dads would choose part-time work if they could still have a meaningful career. However, 36% of them believe their organization’s leaders would look down on men making that choice.

A different study, by the Society for Human Resource Management, found that about half of U.S. employers formally offer part-time and reduced-hours schedules. Flex-time—in which employees can vary their schedules as long as they’re at their workstations during core hours—is an option for 54% of employees. Telecommuting is available in 39% of organizations.

Click through to read the entire article.

 

 

Ebola in the Workplace Followup

Posted in Disability Discrimination, HR Management

The news about Ebola and its effect on the workplace continues. Employers are struggling to understand the potential workplace implications of the disease and how to deal with employees who may have been exposed or who are reluctant to travel to parts of the world that might expose them to Ebola.  I’ve posted on the topic here:

Some of my fellow law bloggers have been busy covering the situation:

Developing.

EEOC is Challenging Some Corporate Wellness Programs as Violating the ADA

Posted in Disability Discrimination

Marc Herman, writing for the Connecticut Employment Law Blog:

“94% of employers with over 200 workers according to the EEOC, offer their employees wellness programs….’The EEOC contends that the biometric testing and health risk assessment [in some wellness programs] constituted “disability-related inquiries and medical examinations” that were not job-related and consistent with business necessity as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). These alleged actions and severe consequences for not providing prohibited information as part of its “wellness program” violate Title I of the ADA, which prohibits disability discrimination in employment, including making disability-related inquiries.’”

Remember, voluntary medical examinations as a part of a wellness program are fine. But if employees are penalized for not participating in the medical examinations, they are likely to be found to be involuntary.

Read Herman’s entire article here.

 

Video Interview: Discussing Ebola-Related Terminations with LXBN TV

Posted in Disability Discrimination

Following up on my recent post on the subject, I had the opportunity to speak with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN on employees being terminated over Ebola. In the brief video interview, I share what I’ve been hearing on these firings and offer a bit of guidance to employers and employees on dealing with Ebola concerns.