Nashville Legal Blog

Riot Games employees challenge a culture of sexism

Riot Games' hit production "League of Legends" has fans across Tennessee, but the company itself has been beset by allegations of sexism, especially after journalists exposed allegation from current and former female employees. These workers cited instances of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention on the job as well as a company culture in which women were routinely denied opportunities for employment or advancement. Now, two women, a current employee and a former employee, have come together to file a class-action lawsuit against the video game developer.

The case accuses Riot Games of violating several aspects of state law, including the California Fair Pay Act, and laws prohibiting gender discrimination in the workplace. The pair of women who filed the suit say that they were denied promotions and equal pay because of their gender. They're also seeking the suit to be certified as a class action case for all female employees at Riot Games. In August 2018, journalists spoke to current and former workers, many of whom recounted a deeply sexist work environment. The 2,500 employees at the company are 80 percent male, and reports indicate that female job applicants were routinely turned down because they did not fit the company's image of "core gamers."

Sexual harassment widespread among doctors and medical students

The health care industry possesses many traits that contribute to its high rate of sexual harassment among doctors and medical students. Medical schools and hospitals in Tennessee and around the country operate under hierarchical structures and tend to have male-dominated leaderships. Researchers have identified these characteristics as a breeding ground for sexual harassment. Surveys of female doctors show that as many as 70 percent of them have experienced harassment on the job. Sometimes half of female medical students have been sexually harassed before graduating.

Many tactics could enable organizations to reduce harassment. Policies should convey respect for all staff members and commit to fostering a safe environment. Sexual harassment victims should have an easy way to report abuses. Organizations should investigate all claims consistently and discipline perpetrators regardless of their rank. Independent investigators and counselors could aid organizations in creating a fair and impartial process for handling complaints.

Businesses mostly unaware of the extent of sexual harassment

A survey of 1,000 working adults conducted by a public relations company identified disparate views between executives and rank-and-file employees on the subject of sexual harassment. According to the research, companies in Tennessee likely have little awareness at the management level of sexual harassment. The survey indicated that almost 70 percent of business leaders "strongly agreed" that their organizations did not tolerate sexual harassment, but only a minority of workers agreed with that belief.

A full 25 percent of surveyed workers said that they had witnessed sexual harassment or heard about it happening at their workplaces within the past year. Although executives maintain that they are satisfied with the anti-harassment policies, one-third of workers responded that harassment happens all of the time across corporate America. Complaints in this category to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission went up 12 percent during the last year.

Are you an independent contractor? It's a fine line

When you work for someone but are not an employee, you're called an independent contractor. Independent contractors have control over what they do and when they do it. They agree to contracts with new clients and work for themselves. They are often not bound to the same requirements as employees.

As a result, independent contractors do not receive benefits through the client. The independent contractor employs him- or herself, so it's their responsibility to buy health insurance, have workers' compensation coverage and so on.

Business travel expenses can be confusing

Tennessee business owners often struggle with properly treating employee expenses as deductible for IRS purposes, and this is particularly true for travel expenses. The general rule that time spent traveling for work-related activities must be paid and is therefore a deductible expense seems clear. However, what exactly is meant by "work-related activities" is not as certain.

Tax experts explain that commuting is considered by the IRS as personal time and not work-related, which is counter-intuitive to many. This is true even in circumstances where an employee is driving an employer's vehicle back and forth from home to work. Also, if an employee is asked to stop on the way to work to pick up something for work, this is considered "incidental" to the commute and not work-related.

Employer payments for travel expenses

Many employees in Tennessee engage in travel within the state and to other states for work purposes on a regular basis. Employers who require their employees to travel for work must comply with work regulations for travel reimbursements. Workers should be paid for any time spent traveling for work, but employers do not need to compensate workers for time spent going to and from work.

Commuting is not counted as work time, and payment for an employee's work time during a commute to work is not deductible by employers on their corporate taxes. Employees should be compensated when they are engaged in any travel that is for work-related activities.

Understanding mental health issues at work

There are roughly 43.8 million people throughout the country who deal with mental illness in a given year. That is according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, and it could have an impact on how such individuals are treated at work. For instance, Tennessee workers might be more likely to face harassment from their employers because of their condition. They could also be discriminated against when applying for jobs.

In most cases, employers are not allowed to ask about the severity of a mental health condition. They are only allowed to make a job offer contingent on a medical exam if all candidates must take an exam as a condition of employment. Those who experience mental health problems may be entitled to reasonable accommodations from their employers. Examples of accommodations may include quieter spaces to perform tasks or being allowed to work from home.

How older workers deal with ageism

According to research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, seniors over the age of 65 are expected to be the fastest-growing demographic in workforce by the year 2022. Despite this trend, 60 percent of older employees have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Even though there are laws in place against discriminating against employees 40 years or older, many people in this age group report being passed up from promotion or hearing negative comments about their age.

In addition to discrimination in the workplace, older people also face obstacles when searching for employment. Nearly half of people over 40 surveyed said they were asked for their date of birth during an interview or application. This practice is illegal. Some employers will ask for an applicant's date of graduation from high school or college to attempt to circumvent these regulations.

Tennessee workers paid $678,296 in wage and hour case

A military contractor has paid $678,296 to compensate workers at a Tennessee munitions plant for unpaid wages, benefits and overtime according to a statement from the Department of Labor. The Iowa-based contractor operates the Milan Army Ammunition Plant in Gibson County as part of the military's Armament Retooling and Manufacturing Support Program. DOL investigators began scrutinizing the company after workers complained about unpaid overtime and denied benefits.

Wage and Hour Division investigators discovered that the contractor failed to include wage requirements mandated by federal law in its contract with a Tennessee-based subcontractor. The provisions of the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act stipulate how contractors and subcontractors working on prime contracts must be paid and the benefits they are entitled to. Due to this oversight or omission, employees of the subcontractor were paid less than they were entitled to under federal law according to the DOL.

Former employee sues Google for harassment

A former Google employee who was fired after complaining of sexual harassment has filed a lawsuit against the corporate giant. He is seeking $400,000 in damages. He said Google's human resources department told him they thought his claims were not valid because the man he accused of sexual harassment was not gay. After the company finalized its investigation into his claims, the man was fired. Tennessee residents who have experienced sexual harassment at work may be entitled to monetary damages.

The man said his supervisor turned toward him in a meeting room and unzipped his pants. Then the supervisor put himself together again and continued with the meeting. The man worked at Google for four years, and he said the supervisor's behavior was a method of measuring sexual interest. He also alleged that work colleagues were brandishing a sex toy and that sexually explicit conversations were regular occurrences.

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