Employers: Take Care Before Firing an Employee who Has Requested FMLA Leave

Posted by on Sep 30, 2009 in Caregiver Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, FMLA, Retaliation, Wrongful Termination

By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
Has your employee asked for time off under the FMLA? The Third Circuit has made clear that firing that employee after the leave is requested but before it begins constitutes unlawful “retaliation” under the FMLA.
Last week’s decision in Erdman v. Nationwide Insurance Co., clarifies confusing and nonsensical language in an earlier Third Circuit decision (Conoshenti v. PSE&G) which stated that the first requirement of a retaliation claim is that the employee took an FMLA leave. Employers have used the Conoshenti decision to argue that there is no retaliation under the FMLA if an employee is fired before actually taking leave.
The Third Circuit recognized that “it would be patently absurd if an employer who wished to punish an employee for taking FMLA leave could avoid liability simply by firing the employee before the leave began.” The court made clear that firing under these circumstances constitutes “retaliation” as well as “interference” with the FMLA.
On the question of “associational discrimination” under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the court in Erdman cut the baby in half, leaving both employers and employees dissatisfied.

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Navigating the Tricky Waters of Caregiver Discrimination

Posted by on Feb 24, 2009 in Caregiver Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination

By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
In 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a record number of lawsuits over caregiver bias in the work place. See http://www.eeoc.gov/stats/pregnanc.html The EEOC also obtained 30 million dollars in monetary benefits, which is a significant increase from the prior year’s monetary recovery of 10.4 million dollars. (This monetary recovery also includes pregnancy discrimination claims.) (Note the 2008 EEOC statistics are not yet available.)
Caregiver discrimination claims have been successfully litigated in the recent years under the “sex-plus” theory. This theory prohibits employers from treating employees differently than other workers on the basis of their sex “plus” a facially neutral characteristic such as having young children.
One way employees have successfully challenged “sex-plus” discrimination is through the disparate impact theory. For example: A female asserted that her employer’s sick leave policy, which provided that sick leave could only be used when the employee was sick had a disparate impact on female employees because female employees were more likely to stay home with a sick child. Consequently, the policy forced women to resign more frequently than their male counterparts because of their caregiver role.

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EEOC Backlog Swells. What Does This Mean for Your Case In the EEOC?

Posted by on Feb 4, 2009 in Age Discrimination, Caregiver Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Gender Discrimination, National Origin Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination, Racial Discrimination, Religion Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Wrongful Termination

By: Tiffanie Benfer, Esq.
It isn’t a newsflash to those of us who regularly deal with the EEOC: the federal agency charged with protecting Americans from discrimination is overworked, with a tremendous backlog of cases. The Washington Post reported Monday that because of increased claims and decrease in staff, the case backlog is now at 73,951 – up 35 % from a backlog of 54,970 a year ago.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/02/AR2009020202452.html
This means that more and more cases are languishing in the EEOC. That’s a problem when it comes to getting to the truth behind a claim, because witnesses move away or forget what happened. In this climate, it is essential for both employees and employers to obtain independent legal counsel to move a case along, to secure witness statements, to conduct investigations, and — most importantly — to frame the issues for an overworked investigator.

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