Nashville Legal Blog

EEOC fails to pursue 87% of complaints

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency charged with enforcing workplace discrimination laws in Tennessee and across the country. An analysis of EEOC cases filed between 1997 and 2018, though, indicates that the agency is less effective than it might be in enforcing those laws. An administrative services outsourcer, Paychex, Inc., conducted the study and found that the EEOC did not act regarding 87% of the nearly 1.9 million complaints filed during the 21 years through 2018.

In those cases, the EEOC either found that no reasonable cause for pursuing the complaint existed or it dismissed the case for administrative reasons. The agency found reasonable cause to pursue a discrimination action in only 4.6% of the cases filed. It considered filing a lawsuit related to only 3.2% of the complaints it received.

Women workers continue to face discrimination, harassment

The #MeToo movement has drawn attention to sexual harassment in the workplace. Sparked by the exposure of film producer Harvey Weinstein's decades of predatory behavior directed at actresses, #MeToo has drawn attention to discrimination and unwanted sexual advances in industries as wide-ranging as academia, media and tech. Many hoped that the campaign would lead to a new era in which workplace sexual harassment was widely identified as unacceptable and largely eradicated. However, one study indicates that many men have decided to stop interacting with female co-workers rather than simply refraining from harassing behavior. This could point to continued misunderstandings about what exactly constitutes actionable workplace sexual harassment.

Researchers at the University of Houston surveyed men and women in various industries twice in 2018 and 2019 to measure attitudes about #MeToo and workplace sexual harassment. In the 2019 survey, researchers found that 27% of male respondents said they now avoid one-on-one meetings with women. Even more concerning, 21% said that they would be reluctant to hire women in positions that require close personal interaction, and 19% said that they would hesitate before hiring an attractive woman. All of these figures indicate an increase in discriminatory behaviors and attitudes from the 2018 results.

How to reduce instances of harassment at bars

Bars in Tennessee and throughout the country tend to have reputations where harassment and other forms of poor behavior are tolerated. According to one survey, 71% of woman have experienced harassment in any type of public venue. While it is easy to use alcohol as an excuse for a person's poor decisions at a bar, it isn't solely to blame.

In some cases, bar owners and staff don't want to call out a patron for fear that he or she will stop spending money there. By acknowledging that it is a good thing to call out harassment wherever it happens, bars and restaurants can do their part to create a safe environment for all customers. Bartenders and other employees may be able to spot harassment by listening to conversations or looking for nonverbal signs that a person is uncomfortable.

Video game developer settles workplace discrimination lawsuit

Employers in Tennessee and around the country often face a public backlash as well as possible legal sanctions following allegations of workplace discrimination or harassment. The California-based video game developer Riot Games appears to have taken steps to mitigate such a backlash by settling a class-action lawsuit filed by several of its female workers. The lawsuit, which was filed in November 2018, accused the company of nurturing a misogynistic work environment and violating the California Equal Pay Act.

Riot Games announced the settlement in an Aug. 23 press release that contained few details. The plaintiffs have also declined to comment on the terms of the proposed agreement, which will now be submitted to the court for approval. The lawsuit was filed after a popular video game blog ran an article alleging that the work environment at Riot Games was toxic.

Switching employees from hourly to salary

Some employees in Tennessee may be concerned that their employers will convert them from hourly to salary to avoid paying overtime. In most cases, it's not legal for an employer to do this. That's because most people are protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which mandates that employers pay overtime for every hour after 40 hours in a week. There are some exceptions to the rule.

The only way an employer can exempt an employee from overtime requirements is if they meet certain criteria. They have to have a minimum level of salary, receive the same pay every period regardless of hours worked and meet the duties test. Generally, the duties test requires that the employee fit into one of a few categories: manager, credentialed professionals, independent workers or outside sales. If a boss switches an employee to salaried exempt but does not change their duties to one of these categories, it's a big red flag.

Ageism study yields surprising results

Media outlets in Tennessee and around the country often portray age discrimination in the workplace as an issue primarily affecting women, but a study published recently by a leading career website suggests that men are just as likely to face the problem. Fairygodboss polled 1,000 workers over the age of 40 about their workplace experiences, and more men than women told them that they had been rejected for a position they applied for because of their age.

The study did contain some encouraging findings. Almost three-quarters of the respondents said that they had not encountered ageism at work, and only 6% said that they had endured negative age-based comments from a manager or supervisor. Most of those that did say they were treated unfairly because of their age told researchers that the discrimination or harassment began before they reached the age of 45. More than a third of the male respondents and 39% of the women said that they encountered this kind of discrimination an age that would have been considered fairly young just a few years ago.

Tinder denies wrongdoing in sexual harassment case

Allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination can be extremely damaging to employers in Tennessee and around the country. This is especially true when they are accused of either covering up misconduct or offering their workers pay raises or promotions to remain silent. This is what the company behind the dating application Tinder is accused of doing in a lawsuit filed recently by a former executive.

The woman who filed the sexual harassment lawsuit claims that Tinder management attempted to cover up unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances she was subjected to at a company party in December 2016. She also alleges that she was fired after four years of service when she refused to accept an increased salary in return for signing a nondisclosure agreement. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for wrongful termination, gender violence, negligence, sexual battery and retaliation.

TSA criticized over offensive workplace display

Employers in Tennessee and around the country may face harsh criticism from media outlets, advocacy groups and the public when they do not take firm steps to address racial discrimination and harassment. This is the situation the Transportation Security Administration finds itself in following a recent incident at Miami International Airport. Two officers were placed on administrative leave after an offensive display, which was described as a noose by the local media, was discovered in a screening area. However, it is the agency's initial response to the incident that has drawn the most criticism.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a public inquiry after learning that a TSA supervisor initially brushed the July 21 incident off as a joke. The TSA says that it plans to deal with the officers involved internally. However, that's not good enough according to the NAACP. A TSA representative responded to the criticism by pointing out that the display was removed immediately after being discovered in an area not open to the public.

Study examines harassment in the workplace

A study conducted by specialist insurer Hiscox indicated that 35% percent of employees believe they have experienced harassment in the workplace. Of the people in that group, 50% said the harassment was due to their sex or gender. The study including surveys of 500 full-time employees in Tennessee and across the country and was conducted from June 6 to June 11, 2018. Study participants were found with an invitation over email followed by a survey they completed online.

Among those who said they were harassed, 73% said the harasser was in a higher position than they were and 78% said the harasser was male. The study also found examples of male employees who said they had been harassed by female coworkers and employees who said they'd been sexually harassed by members of the same sex. There were also instances noted wherein the harassment came from vendors, customers or others outside the company. Sexual harassment in any form may be actionable against the employer, even if the harassment is coming from a person who does not work there.

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