University of Texas Professor Wins $3M Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit

Professor Pregnancy Discrimination News

University of Texas at Austin engineering professor, Evdokia Nikolova, has been awarded $3 million by a jury for being discriminated against based on sex and pregnancy when she applied for tenure. 

Nikolova had worked for nearly five years at UT-Austin and two years at Texas A&M University, when she applied for tenure for the 2018-2019 academic year. Despite being unanimously approved for tenure by the School of Engineering, UT-Austin dean of engineering school Sharon Wood denied her tenure stating that Nikolova did not have the seven requisite years of teaching, which professors typically have when requesting tenure.

Wood argued that Nikolova was making the request too early because she had taken a “probationary extension” and ”modified instructional duty” for pregnancy and childbirth during 2015-2016 and therefore had not yet met the seven years.

Under various state laws like California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, employees cannot be punished for taking pregnancy or medical/disability leave.  

Nikolova filed the lawsuit against UT-Austin in 2019. The lawsuit showed how there continues to be discrimination against women and mothers in the workplace. Evidence showed that since Nikolova’s first university interview, nine male professors had received tenure while both women who applied for tenure during the same period were denied. The lawsuit also highlighted the importance of pointing out discrimination in influential institutions like UT-Austin, as it deters other institutions from thinking that discrimination can go unchecked.

The University denied any unfair treatment of Nikolova, but stated it will look to improve processes and implement steps to comply with the verdict.

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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.

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National Origin & Race Discrimination – Case Example

A recently handled national origin and racial discrimination case

Lisa is a young woman of Chinese descent. Lisa was subjected to harassment and discrimination at work based on her national origin and race.

Lisa’s boss would make racist comments such as “fucking Chinese people”, constantly saying that there are too many Chinese employees and saying that they needed to stop hiring Chinese people. Lisa’s employer additionally instructed Lisa not to hire certain types of people, such as “blacks.” Lisa protested and complained about the racist comments to her employer.

Instead of trying to cure the discrimination and harassment as required by law, Lisa’s employer retaliated against her and terminated her employment because she protested her boss’ discrimination and harassment.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits an employer, including any supervisor, from harassing or discriminating an employee based on national origin or race. We helped Lisa get justice for the racial harassment and retaliation she endured. We were able to get her a favorable settlement.

If you have been harasseddiscriminated, or retaliated against based on a protected category such as race or national origin, give us a call at 310-400-5891 for your free intake.

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Whistleblowing – Case Example

Whistleblower Employment Lawyer

Patty was a wonderful professional who performed her job exceptionally. Patty had complained to her Employer about fraud that was being committed by her boss in violation of the USA Patriot Act. Instead of taking action to address the fraud, the company let the fraud continue unabated. Moreover, management retaliated against Patty by bullying and intimidating her and telling her to look the other way on financial crimes. 

When Patty had to take a medical leave of absence due to a serious medical condition affecting her day-to-day life, management retaliated by not accommodating and instead terminating her employment before she was fully released to work by her doctor. 

Patty’s employer discriminated against her by terminating her employment because of her disability and in retaliation for exercising her rights under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and California Labor Code. 

If you suspect that you have been retaliated against or wrongfully terminated for making complaints of illegal activity, or because of your disability or medical condition, give us a call at 310-400-5891 for your free intake.

Learn more about Whistleblowing Law / Disability & Medical Leave Law in California

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Pregnancy & Disability Leave – Case Example

Pregnancy / Disability Leave

Dalia is a young woman who had consistently performed well at her job. Dalia became pregnant and took a pregnancy leave because of her medical condition. She regularly kept in contact with her employer at all times. She provided doctor’s notes to her employer that she was disabled because she suffered from post-partum depression.

But, out of nowhere, Dalia was suddenly and callously fired the day before her one year work anniversary.  Her employer thought that by terminating her before her 1 year work anniversary, they would be home free to terminate her because California’s Family Rights Act would not apply.  But, they failed to realize that she was protected from their discrimination by other California laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  

Dalia’s employer unlawfully used her pregnancy and medical condition against her, and terminated her employment to avoid dealing with her medical and parental needs.

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated based on a protected category such as pregnancy, disability, or a medical condition, or been denied medical leave, give us a call at 310-400-5891 for your free confidential consultation.  

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NYPD Sexual Harassment Nightmare

Jeffrey Maddrey, 45, head of the NYPD’s Patrol Borough Brooklyn North, was recently accused of sexual harassment, by a former female cop.  His accuser, Tabitha Foster, 40, refuses to cooperate with the investigation. 

Maddrey claims the accusations are lies and has been fully cooperating with the Internal Affairs Bureau throughout the entire investigation. Foster, on the other hand, has not been. Because Foster is no longer employed by the NYPD, she cannot be forced to cooperate with the investigation.

Foster originally accused Madddrey of the following on her Facebook page: 

1. Foster claimed that Maddrey slept with her as well as other female co-workers.

2. Maddrey allegedly showed Foster nude images of a fellow female cop on his phone. 

3. Foster claims Maddrey told her that he has a fetish for women who are married and pregnant.

As of now, Foster’s Facebook page has been deleted. Before it was deleted, however, she posted provocative images of her and the police commissioner. There was also a picture of herself wearing a Santa hat while standing next to Maddrey. The caption read “I appreciate you allowing me to sit on your face. That’s all it’s good for.”

According to a source that knows both Maddrey and Foster, the two had a very close personal friendship. The source claims that the police chief is actually the victim in all of this, not Foster. 

In 2013, Foster was hospitalized for having a stroke. The source says that Maddrey brought her tennis shoes to the hospital to help aid her physical therapy. Maddrey also gave her kids gifts. Foster has a different story, however. She claims that Foster came to the hospital in order to have sex with her. 

When Maddrey no longer had time to see Foster, she allegedly began stalking him. She bought burner phones so that her number would be hidden when she called. The source also claims that she would send Maddrey naked pictures of herself, begging him to have sex. In addition, she would wait outside of his house for him to get home. 

Foster retired from the NYPD shortly after suffering from her stroke. She is currently pursuing a music career. 

What do you make of this mess?

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Lyft Drivers Get a $12 Million Lift, But Are Still Not Employees

Update February 3, 2016

Good news for Californians using Lyft. Lyft recently settled a class action lawsuit that gives drivers additional workplace protections without classifying them as regular employees—which likely would have devastated its business model. This is also good news for other startups who rely heavily on the unique contractor employee business model. 

Lyft drivers got some good news too.  Here are some of the benefits drivers will now receive: 

  1. Lyft will pay out $12.24 million to affected drivers.
  2. Lyft must give employees notice if they are no longer allowed to be drivers any longer.
  3. A driver cannot be deactivated unless he or she is given a specific reason such as having a low passenger rating. 
  4. If a driver is deactivated, the driver will be given an opportunity to dispute the decision. Lyft will pay for the arbitration for the driver to do so. 

While drivers are still not technically considered employees, the benefits listed above are a significant improvement. Though Lyft will incur some costs with the introduction of the new benefits, classifying drivers as employees would have been much more costly for the company. 

Uber drivers will have to wait until June to find out if they will be considered employees or independent contractors. 

Do you think this settlement will have an impact on the pending Uber case or other ride-share cases throughout the U.S.?  

If Uber loses its case, would this make Lyft the king of California ride sharing?


Update September 2, 2015

This past week, a San Francisco judge granted three Uber drivers class-action status in a lawsuit against the ride sharing company. The three drivers want to be classified as employees versus their curent status as independent contractors. In addition, they are also seeking reimbursement for fuel and other costs related to their vehicle’s wear and tear. Uber will most likely appeal this claim due to the fact that most drivers provide service on their own time and don’t have set schedules. Whatever the outcome may be, one thing is for sure, this issue isn’t going away any time soon. Just this past month, the National Labor Relations Board broadened their definition of what an “employer” is. They determined that “subcontractors” are actually “joint employers of workers.”


Update June 17, 2015

On June 17, 2015, a California labor commissioner ruled that Uber drivers should be considered employees and not independent contractors. The commissioner explained that the decision was based on the fact that Uber is “involved in every aspect of the operation.” The news could be detrimental to Uber and other companies with similar business models in the state of California. But, the ruling is not binding on other labor commissioners or on the court system. In fact, other labor commissioners have ruled the other way.


Original Post: 

In two separate class action lawsuits, drivers for Uber and Lyft are seeking to be classified as employees instead of independent contractors.  The plaintiffs of both cases are hoping to be reimbursed for expenses such as gas and car maintenance.  If the drivers are successful, they would also get benefits and protection in the form of worker’s compensation, payroll taxes, health care, social security taxes, and unemployment insurance. 

Because drivers are told how much they can charge per ride, and hey risk being fired if they don’t obey the rules, they feel that they should be considered employees. In addition, if a driver gets injured while working, neither Uber or Lyft has to assume any liability. 

Uber and Lyft feel differently, however. They argue that their drivers have many liberties that traditional employees do not. For example, drivers have the ability to work as many hours as they want, whenever and where they want, making this type of employment ideal for those seeking flexibility to pursue other endeavors. 

The outcome of these cases would not only have an impact on the ride sharing marketplace but also companies such as TaskRabbit and Airbnb. 

Do you think Uber and Lyft drivers should be considered independent contractors or employees?

*image by Flickr

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Obama Orders Paid Sick Leave for Government Contractors

President Obama recently signed an executive order that will require government contractors to be given at least seven paid sick days a year. For every 30 hours worked, contractors will earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave. The new regulations will go into affect starting in 2017 and will affect around 300,000 people. 

Some studies have shown that paid sick leave not only contributes to friendlier worker relations and increased loyalty, but it is especially beneficial to workers with families. As Obama nears the end of his second term, the White House has been working diligently to expand access to paid leave. In addition to the most recent executive order, Obama has also directed the following changes this year:

1. In January 2015, Obama issued a presidential memorandum to advance up to 6 weeks of paid sick leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

2. Obama is currently pushing Congress to pass a law that would grant government employees 6 additional weeks of paid maternal leave.

3. Obama is pressing Congress to pass The Healthy Families Act which would require any business with 15 or more people, to give employees up to 7 paid sick days per year.

The United States is the only advanced nation that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. As it currently stands, only 60 percent of the total private-sector workforce in the United States, has access to some sort of paid sick leave.  In California, mandatory paid sick leave went into effect on July 1, 2015.  Over a decade ago, California also instituted paid family leave, but those funds come from the taxpayers, not employers.

What do you think of government mandating sick and family leave pay by employers?

*image by Marc Nozell, Flickr

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New Study Shows More than 1 in 10 Sexual Harassment Claims at Work are Filed by Men

It seems like every other day there is another sexual harassment case making headlines. Though the specifics may vary, the case usually goes something like this: female employee or subordinate gets sexually harassed by her male employer or supervisor. What some people might be shocked to hear however, is that 5% of reported sexual harassment cases are actually filed by men against women and 11% of cases are filed by men against other men. According to a study conducted by the QUT Business School, that means more than 1 in 10 sexual harassment claims at work are filed by men. 

An overwhelming majority of sexual harassment complaints (9/10) are made by subordinates against their supervisors. The study suggests that women supervisors may be adopting the sexualized banter often found in “old boy’s clubs” as a way to fit in with their male cohorts. Some examples of complaints filed by men subordinates against their female supervisors include: a female manager asks her male employee to expose his abdominal muscles, yells at him in front of co-workers, calls him princess, tells him to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get a tiara’, and tells jokes about rape. Sexual harassment also includes unwarranted touching, hugging, or kissing. In sexual harassment cases filed by men against men, complaints involving homosexual slurs and questions of sexual orientation are the most common. 

Though the majority of complaints are still females against males, it’s important to raise awareness about this growing minority. Regardless of who is doing the harassing, sexual harassment in the workplace can have a detrimental affect on the emotional and psychological health of the employees and overall company morale. Because of the stigma associated with men reporting sexual harassment cases, workplaces should place more focus on implementing supportive complaints mechanisms for both men and women alike. 

*image by David Tan, Flickr

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Wife of NFL Player Suing Employer for Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Philippa Okoye, wife of NFL player Lawrence Okoye, is suing her former boss and employer for sexually harassing her, openly mocking her interracial marriage, and demoting her when she complained. When Okaye was hired as a senior investment adviser in 2013, she was the only woman working in the Manhattan division of deVere Group, the world’s largest group of international financial advisers. 

Okaye alleges that a senior area manager for deVere was the one that primarily led the harassment. Okaye alleges that the senior manager openly expressed that he wanted the office to have the same drug and sex fueled escapades seen in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Boiler Room

Okaye, the only female employee amongst 21 male-coworkers, allegedly faced sexist antics daily. In addition to making inappropriate comments, her co-workers would also allegedly rate visiting women on whether or not they were worth “f*cking”. Some of the inappropriate things said to Okaye by her coworkers during her time of employment include:

1. Don’t change your surname if you marry Lawrence, because people will think you’re black, and that’s not good for business.

2. How many cheerleaders has your boyfriend f*cked today? He’s probably f*cked the whole cheerleading squad by now.

3. So can you handle the banter or are you going to be a woman about it and be sensitive? 

4. I think it’s disgusting when white women go out with black guys. 

When Okaye complained to the senior area manager about the sexist and racist comments directed towards her, he allegedly replied, “this is why I didn’t want women in the office.” She alleges she was then demoted and eventually fired in retaliation for her complaint. 

deVere Group claims that the allegations are “false and incredulous” and that Okaye is just a disgruntled employee. 

*image by Esteban Chiner, Flickr

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Shirazi Law Firm, PC

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