Man Awarded $450K After Workplace Birthday Party Panic Attack Leads to Termination

Disability Discrimination News

Kevin Berling was awarded $300,000 for emotional distress and $150,000 in lost wages for a disability discrimination case in late March after a two day trial in Kenton County, Kentucky.

Berling sued his employer, Gravity Diagnostics after the company threw him a birthday party against his request that the company not celebrate his birthday because it would cause him immense stress.

Berling suffers from anxiety disorders and panic attacks. He worked at Gravity Diagnostics for approximately 10 months, when he requested that the company not celebrate his birthday as it normally does for its employees. Berling told his supervisor that a birthday celebration would be a stressful trigger of bad childhood memories surrounding his parents’ divorce. The lawsuit outlines that the office manager ends up forgetting his request and the party is still held for Berling. As a result, Berling suffers a panic attack and leaves.

The next day, Berling is called into a meeting with his bosses where he suffers another panic attack when his supervisor chastised him for “stealing his co-workers” joy and for “being a little girl.” The company then fires Berling saying that they were worried about him being angry and violent. 

As part of the lawsuit, Berling claimed the company discriminated against him based on his disability, and retaliated against him for requesting a reasonable accommodation for his disability. The jury returned the verdict after two days in trial and awarded Berling a $450,000 win. 

The company continues to deny liability and is pursuing port-trial options. The company’s founder and COO, Julie Brazil, stated that the verdict sets a dangerous precedent in which workplace violence will be tolerated unless physical violence occurs, and stated that her employees were the victims, not Berling. The jury didn’t seem to agree with Brazil once they got to meet Berling at trial and saw that the company’s claim that he posed a threat was more of an exaggeration.

Employers must accommodate their employee’s disabilities and cannot terminate someone based on a protected category such as a disability or medical condition.  Further, the law prohibits harassment of an employee based on medical condition or disability. 

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, retaliated or discriminated against based on a protected category such as a physical or mental disability, or medical condition, give us a call at 310-400-5891 for your free intake.

Learn more about Disability Harassment / Disability Discrimination Law

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Five Female Police Officers Suing for Sexual Harassment

Five female police officers in Bridgeton, New Jersey have filed a lawsuit against the city of Bridgeton as well as two Bridgeton police officers (twins Angel and Luis Santiago.) The women allege that Angel Santiago, a fellow officer, sexually harassed and discriminated against them for five years. 

Angel Santiago, the officer being accused of over 70 sexually explicit actions, allegedly made inappropriate comments towards the women as well as kissing them forcibly, smacking their butts, and preventing entry to the women’s bathroom without a kiss. In addition, Santiago also allegedly rubbed his clothed genitals on the women, grabbed their breasts and shared inappropriate cell phone images.

When the women filed a formal complaint, they said that Angel Santiago’s twin brother, Sgt. Luis Santiago retaliated against them. In the suit, Luis Santiago is accused of having a condescending attitude towards the women, insulting them, and making false complaints against them following their complaint. The women are also suing the city of Bridgeton for ignoring their complaint.

The lawsuit seeks back pay, lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, interest, attorney’s fees and costs, and reinstatement to the office jobs they held prior to the alleged retaliation of Luis Santiago.  Read about a similar officer sexual harassment case here.

Do you think sexual harassment is more likely to be covered up in male-dominated professions?

image by Flickr

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Prosecutor Accused of Sexually Harassing Employees

Joe Bocchini, the former prosecutor in Mercer County, New Jersey, is currently under a criminal investigation for allegedly harassing several employees over the last ten years. In addition to sending inappropriate emails with the subject line “breast of the day”, Bocchini also sent crude sexual jokes and animated cartoons. He also allegedly made unwanted overtures and touched female employees inappropriately.

Other allegations include having his secretary handle his personal affairs on the county’s time, including planning his wedding and scheduling golf tournaments. If found guilty of these allegations, Bocchini faces a mandatory 5-year prison sentence for official misconduct.

An anonymous employee of Bocchini claimed to have created a folder on her work desktop computer with all of the inappropriate emails Bocchini sent her. After telling Bocchini of the folder’s existence, it mysteriously disappeared from her desktop. There will be a hearing to determine whether or not county officials will be forced to turn over Bocchini’s emails.

Bocchini, who has been a county prosecutor for 11 years, recently retired from his position in February. He was going to come out of retirement to join the legal team of a Hamilton law firm, but when news of the allegations made headlines, Bocchini resigned.

Under both California and federal law, sexual harassment includes being in a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment can include unwanted sexual jokes, comments, showing of pornography, touching etc… For more on this issue see here.

 What do you think about a prosecutor engaging in such conduct? Do you think it should be a criminal issue (like it is here) or just a civil one?

image by Unsplash

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College Policy Says Sexual Harassment Can Occur Through Attitude and Tone of Voice

There is an outcry at St. Petersburg College that even the tone of your voice can be considered sexual harassment. The state college in St. Petersburg, Florida who promotes a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy, recently published an online pamphlet describing what they consider to be the three types of sexual harassment;  quid pro quo, hostile environment, and hostile sexual misconduct. 

  1. Quid Pro Quo (also known as ‘this for that’) refers to situations when offers (either explicit or implicit) of “education, employment participation or benefits” are linked to sexual favors.  This is one of the two definitions of sexual harassment under California and Federal law covering employees.
  2. Hostile Environment refers to “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”. The advances must either create a hostile working environment or negatively impact a person’s job or education. Things that contribute to a hostile environment include not only sexual jokes and pornography, but “emails or computer screens.”  This is also one of the two definitions of sexual harassment under California and Federal law covering employees.  
  3. Hostile Sexual Misconduct refers to “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” from a student, employee or third party.  “[Sexual harassment] also can occur through innuendo, attitude or voice inflection. It often is not what is said, but how it’s said.” 

Many people including Samantha Harris, the director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, believes that the College’s sexual harassment policy is too restrictive. She feels that with the implementation of the new policy, students and teachers will begin to self-censor and avoid discussing any uncomfortable topics at all—like sex or gender related issues. Instead, she believes that the school’s president should develop a policy with only one definition of sexual harassment and that the definition “be consistent with the requirements of the First Amendment, by which it is bound as a public institution.”

What do you think of St. Petersburg College’s definition of sexual harassment to include someone’s tone of voice? Do you think it is too restrictive? Doesn’t “tone of voice”, “computer screen”, and “email” just define ways in which sexual things are communicated? Showing of pornography–whether by email or computer screen–to someone who does not consent is already recognized under the law as a way to create a sexually hostile work environment.  

*image by Flickr

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Three Female Police Officers Suing for Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone regardless of his or her profession, even if you are in a position of power like a law enforcement official. Three female Salt Lake City police officers are now preparing to sue the city because their sexual harassment allegations were not handled in a proper and timely manner.

Two of the officers, Melody Gray and Robin Heiden, allege that their male superior officer Findlay took a photo of the women in their swimsuits without permission and then shared the photo with coworkers. The women were afraid to report the misconduct because Findlay was their superior. Findlay is also being accused of trying to pursue a relationship with another female officer and even went as far as telling others he and that officer were already together. 

When an officer is being accused of sexual harassment against another police officer, it is customary for the force to hire an outside agency to investigate the allegations. This is not what happened. Instead, the Salt Lake City police force investigated the harassment themselves.

The claimants state that this wasn’t Findlay’s first sexual harassment offense. In 2013, a Civilian Review Board ruled that Findlay violated the department’s sexual harassment guidelines. 

Do you think the officers claims about sharing their swimsuit photos is enough to rise to the level of sexual harassment? What do you think about the difference in sexual harassment that occurs in male-dominated professions?  Do you think it is more or less prevalent than in other professions?

image by Flickr

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Price is Right Model Gets $8.5 Million Award for Pregnancy Discrimination

“The Price is Right” has been hit with an $8.5 million jury verdict for pregnancy discrimination against former “Barker Beauty” model Brandi Cochran.  The 41 year old former Price is Right model says that she was not allowed to return to work after her maternity leave in violation of California law.

The Los Angeles jury determined the former model’s pregnancy was the reason she wasn’t rehired and awarded Cochran $776,944 in regular damages and $7.7 million in punitive damages.  In their defense, producers FremantleMedia North America and The Price is Right Productions said they were satisfied with the five models working on the show at the time Cochran sought to return.

“I’m humbled. I’m shocked,” Cochran said after the jury announced its verdict. “I’m happy that justice was served today not only for women in the entertainment industry, but women in the workplace.”

The producers will appeal the verdict stating: “We believe the verdict in this case was the result of a flawed process in which the court, among other things, refused to allow the jury to hear and consider that 40 percent of our models have been pregnant,” and further “important” evidence.

This was not the first employment lawsuit by a “Barker Beauty” against the show’s producers.

What do you think of this huge verdict for failing to bring back an employee who went on pregnancy leave?

Please post your thoughts on ShiraziLawFirm.com/blog

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Magic Johnson Sued for Wrongful Termination and Age Discrimination in Los Angeles

Magic Johnson’s former flight attendant has sued his company for wrongful termination in Los Angeles Superior Court.  The former employee on Magic Johnson’s private plane, Lanita Thomas, is suing for age discrimination and various California Labor Code violations.  Ms. Thomas, 45, alleges that Magic replaced her with a much younger flight attendant because he prefers younger women in violation of the law. Ms. Thomas claims that the “pretext” for her termination by Magic was that she was seven minutes late while trying to get Magic the very specific kind of turkey he likes in his sandwiches.  Ms. Thomas-who worked for Magic since 2004-alleges that Magic hired the much younger flight attendant that temporarily substituted in for her during her prior medical leave of absence.

In addition to the age discrimination claim, Ms. Thomas is suing for California Labor Code violations, including non-payment of overtime and missed meal and rest periods.  Ms. Thomas alleges that she spent about a third of her time stocking Magic’s private plane with “highly specific in-flight food and beverage choices,” including liquorice, which she was required to “regularly squeeze to make sure they were soft.”  Ms. Thomas alleges that because she was the only flight attendant and had to spend so much time on the above-mentioned tasks, that she was never allowed to take full meal or rest breaks.

What do you think of the age discrimination claim against Magic?

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“The Bachelor” Race Discrimination Lawsuit Thrown Out of Court

Update from a previous post:

Several months back I wrote a post on the lawsuit filed by two African-American men who sued the shows “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” for race discrimination because they did not have African-American contestants (see my first post below).  Well, last week the judge dismissed the case on grounds that casting decisions by the network and the series’ producers are protected by the First Amendment.

The federal judge stated that while the Plaintiffs’ efforts are “laudable,” they cannot regulate the show’s content under the First Amendment.  The judge ruled that:  “Ultimately, whatever messages `The Bachelor’ and `The Bachelorette’ communicate or are intended to communicate – whether explicitly, implicitly, intentionally, or otherwise – the First Amendment protects the right of the producers of these shows to craft and control those messages, based on whatever considerations the producers wish to take into account”.

What do you think of this ruling on First Amendment grounds?  Wouldn’t then all discrimination be allowable as freedom of expression?

Comment below or at www.ShiraziLawFirm.com/blog

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:  Two African Americans are suing the long-running show “The Bachelor” for race discrimination.  The two men say that they—like many other African Americans—were not chosen by the show’s producers because of their race.

This case brings up two points.  First, most people think of race discrimination as being outlawed only by employment laws.  It seems unlikely that a Bachelor contestant would be an employee, but race discrimination laws can still apply.  Many states have civil rights laws prohibiting race discrimination in all sorts of situations—such as public accommodations.

Next, there is the question of whether there are exceptions to the civil rights and employment laws for such discrimination.  In the employment law context, many state laws have an “entertainment” exception.  For example, if a Broadway play or TV show is trying to cast someone to play the role of Martin Luther King, it is permissible to only hire/cast someone who is an African American male.

Now, The Bachelor does not have specific racial roles, but the producers may (rightly or wrongly) argue that their target audience is a specified gender, age, and race group.  This is a tough one to decide.  What do you think?

http://www.shirazilawfirm.com/suing-the-bachelor-for-race-discrimination/

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Jury Holds Los Angeles Hotel Owner Responsible for Discriminating Against Jews

A jury has held that the Pakistani/Muslim owner of the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, CA discriminated against Jews holding an event at her hotel.  The jury found that a group of 18 young Jewish professionals were kicked out of the pool area at the owner’s direction because of their religion–in violation of the UNRUH Civil Rights Act.  Although not an employment law, the UNRUH Act outlaws discrimination by businesses on the basis of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

According to multiple news sources, witnesses stated that the owner reportedly stated:

– “Get the [expletive] Jews out of my pool!”

– “If my [family finds] out there’s a Jewish event here, they’re going to pull money from me immediately,”

Shangri-La owner, Tehmina Adaya, denied the charges.  The jury awarded $1.2 million in damages to the group, plus another $440,000 in punitive damages, and awarded the Plaintiffs’ their attorney’s fees.

What do you think of this?

Reply below or at www.ShiraziLawFirm.com/blog

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