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Sacramento Employment Law Blog

Few professions are immune from sexual harassment

The growth of the #MeToo movement has led to more research in the area of workplace harassment. To those in California, it probably comes as no surprise that the media industry has a very high rate of harassment. However, a recent study shows that other white-collar sectors also allow unwanted sexual advances far too frequently.

The research was conducted over eight office environments, from telecom and pharmaceutical industries to architecture and engineering. The study sought the number of individuals, male and female, who were subjected to unwanted harassment in the workplace. The study focused not on the number of incidents but on the number of people who were harassed at least once.

No harassment, however subtle, should be allowed at work

Workplace harassment is often thought of as blatant words or actions that are easy to spot. This isn't always the way it works. In many cases, the harassment is more subtle. Dealing with this type can be challenging because other people might not see what is going on and may not experience the same thing.

It doesn't matter how subtle or blatant the harassment at work is, no employees should ever have to deal with it. Supervisors and others at the workplace should be on the lookout for any form of harassment, including those that are unspoken. Here are some to watch for:

Study suggests that insecurity motivates sexual harassment

Victims of workplace harassment in California might suspect that individuals engage in harassing behavior because they want to exert power. A new report from university researchers adds nuance to this explanation. Worries about inadequate job performance could motivate some people to harass their subordinates. According to the report, high-level executives are not the only ones prone to this behavior. Insecurity might drive lower-level supervisors to intimidate subordinates as well.

The researchers concluded after three studies that concerns about poor leadership could cause people to lash out. People with narcissistic personality traits could compensate for their feelings of incompetence and resulting insecurity by harassing people beneath them on the workplace hierarchy.

Prenatal testing company sued for pregnancy discrimination

A California company that specializes in testing services for expecting women is being sued by a former employee for alleged pregnancy discrimination. The plaintiff in the case claims she was wrongfully fired for becoming pregnant.

According to media reports, the plaintiff worked as a senior manager of content marketing at Natera, a San Carlos-based company that provides preconception and prenatal testing services to women. The plaintiff alleges that the company told her she would no longer be a manager after she announced she was pregnant. She also claims that a male executive asked her and another pregnant employee to use their pregnancies to go undercover and get blood tests at a competing company. Then, during her maternity leave, she claims she was demoted. When she complained about the demotion to human resources, she alleges that she was terminated from her position at the company.

Workers over 40 face discrimination on the job

Despite greater public attention to corporate diversity, California workers continue to face discrimination on the job. In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, protecting workers over the age of 40 from being denied jobs, promotions and opportunities due to their ages. However, while the law has been in effect for over 50 years, age discrimination continues to rear its head in the workplace and often goes unreported.

Research from the AARP indicates that only 3 percent of workers over 40 who have experienced age discrimination on the job have filed formal complaints. At the same time, nearly 60 percent of workers over 45 said that they had personally witnessed or experienced age discrimination. While reports often rely on the charges filed by federal and state agencies to track workplace discrimination rates, these official complaints reflect only a portion of the discriminatory actions that workers encounter on the job.

Retaliation isn't legal after complaints of discrimination

There are many reasons why employers might terminate an employee or move them to a less desirable shift. These actions, as well as other adverse employment actions like pay decreases, are perfectly legal as long as they aren't made due to discrimination, as harassment or for retaliatory reasons.

When an employer takes an adverse employment action for one of these illegal reasons, the employee can take action. Proving that these actions were discriminatory can be challenging, however. Here are some important points to remember when determining your next course of action:

EEOC alleges Walmart discriminated against deaf workers

Walmart stores throughout California have an obligation to comply with local and federal employment laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has alleged in a lawsuit that a Walmart store violated the Americans With Disabilities Act when store management chose not to accommodate deaf employees who needed support to receive training and workplace communications.

A spokeswoman for the EEOC said that deaf or hearing-impaired employees have a right to access workplace information and participate in meetings. When employers fail to provide reasonable accommodations for workers' disabilities, they deny those people a fair chance to enjoy the benefits of employment.

Wrongful termination case reinstated on appeal

The case of a former Wells Fargo Bank employee from California is moving forward after a federal appeals court panel reinstated her wrongful termination claim. The former loan officer at the major bank had filed her case after she was dismissed from her job as a loan officer at the bank while she was on leave after giving birth to her child. She alleged that Wells Fargo engaged in discrimination and retaliation, violated the California Family Rights Act and that her dismissal was directly related to these discriminatory practices.

Initially, the U.S. District Court in Pasadena dismissed her claims, granting summary judgment in favor of the bank. While the appeals court ruled that several of the former employee's claims for failure to promote could not move forward, it reinstated her wrongful termination complaint. The appeals court panel that heard the case found in favor of the former employee in a 2-1 ruling.

Proposed bill targets harassment in the workplace

A California senator is co-sponsoring a bill designed to protect women at work by targeting the imbalance of power between employees and employers. The bill has been called the EMPOWER Act, short for the Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting Act. California Sen. Kamala Harris said perpetrators of sexual harassment have created a culture of silence and fear that must end.

The Act makes use of different means to target harassment. It gives victims more power, for example, by removing the use of nondisclosure agreements to keep accusers silent. Use of NDAs in harassment settlements came under scrutiny following allegations of harassment by celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Bill O'Reilly. The bill also includes measures to punish companies that have allowed systemic harassment to develop. It establishes a confidential service for employees to report violative behavior to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Experience range may be subtle indicator of age discrimination

Workers in California who are not hired for a position because of too many years of experience might be able to file an age discrimination claim. One man did so after applying for a job he had previously held as a temp. The company said that although the man met the criteria for the job, someone with years of experience might be inflexible. The man is in his 60s, and the job went to a 36-year-old.

The company filed a motion for summary judgment, but a federal district court judge denied it. The judge ruled that the upper limit on experience and the comments made to the man could constitute age discrimination and that there was sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.


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