Friday, June 29, 2012

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Businesses use many names, words, and titles in an attempt to define relationships with workers.  The California courts, however, are not bound by mere titles or words, and instead look to a company’s conduct to determine the real nature of its relationship with workers.

The Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal recently held that a franchisor could be held accountable for workplace harassment at one of its franchises when the franchisor exercises control over personnel decisions.  In Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, an employee of a Domino’s restaurant alleged sexual harassment and assault at her job against both the local Domino’s franchisee and its parent company, the Domino’s franchisor.

The Court of Appeal rejected the franchisor’s attempt to dismiss the case against it on the grounds that plaintiff’s only employer was the local restaurant.  The Court held that despite the restaurant’s contract with Domino’s establishing it as franchisee and an independent contractor, there was evidence that the Dominos’ maintained substantial control over the franchisee’s local operation, management-employee relations and employee discipline.  

Further, the alleged harasser in Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC was the plaintiff’s supervisor, and in California an employer is held strictly liable for workplace harassment by its supervisors.             

You should contact an attorney experienced in matters involving employment law as soon as possible, if you believe you are the subject of workplace discrimination.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Age Discrimination Claims in the Age of Layoffs

Stale economies inevitably result in layoffs. As revenues dip, employers make tough decisions to balance budgets. Impacted employers often choose to layoff high-salary workers to cut costs. Firing high wage earners generally hurts older employees, and the courts are often called upon to determine whether eliminating high-salary workers, who happen to be over 40 years of age, is age discrimination.

A recent decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is an example of the courts’ general reluctance to second guess an employer’s cost-saving choices, even when said choices harm older employees. Schechner v. KPIX-TV was about two forty-plus year old bay area television news reporters whose positions were eliminated by a local news station. During the case an expert statistician showed that the layoffs disparately affected older workers. In response, the employer claimed that the statistics did not explain differences in types of jobs, such as the difference between an anchor versus a general assignment reporter.

The Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs could use statistics as some evidence of discrimination. The statistics alone, however, were not enough to overcome their employer’s excuse that they were targeted for termination because they worked as general assignment reporters, and the argument that there was no discrimination because the very same individuals who had recently extended the plaintiffs’ contracts were the ones that made the decision to let the plaintiffs go.

You should contact an attorney experienced in matters involving employment law as soon as possible, if you believe you are the subject of discrimination.