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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10 McDonald’s Employees Sue for Sexual Harassment, Race Discrimination, and Wrongful Termination

Ten former employees of a Virginia McDonald’s filed a civil rights lawsuit against the fast food giant. The employees allege that their supervisors subjected them to racial and sexual harassment and wrongfully terminated them. Nine of the employees are African-American, one is Hispanic, and seven are women. The plaintiffs are seeking lost wages, emotional distress, and other damages from the suit—which is being supported by the South Boston NAACP.

Some examples of harassment that the employees alleged they endured includes:

  1. Supervisors touched female employees inappropriately.
  2. Supervisors sent female employees sexually inappropriate images.
  3. Supervisors solicited sex from female employees.
  4. Supervisors complained that there were too many black people in the store.
  5. Supervisors referred to African-American employees as “bitch”, “ghetto”, and “ratchet”. 
  6. Supervisors referred to Hispanic employee as a “dirty Mexican”.
  7. Supervisors punished African-American workers for breaking rules, while white employees got away with similar infractions.
  8. Supervisors devised a plan to reduce the number of African American employees working at the franchise.
  9. Nine employees were fired because they didn’t “fit the profile”.
  10. Employees were criticized about their hair or looks.

The suit is charging both McDonald’s corporate and the local franchise. The plaintiff’s attorney, Paul Smith, believes that McDonald’s corporate controls every aspect of the franchise including mandating policies and training supervisors how to deal with harassment. McDonald’s neither denied or confirmed the allegations but claims to have a “long standing history of embracing the diversity of employees, independent Franchisees, customers and suppliers.”

*image by Flickr

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Sexually Harassed Farmworkers Win $17 Million

Sandra Lopez, an immigrant from Chiapas Mexico, along with five other women, recently won a $17 million sexual harassment suit against their employer, Moreno Farms, a packing plant in Florida. According to the suit Lopez and the five women were subjected to graphic acts of sexual harassment that included rape, attempted rape, propositioning, and groping by three male supervisors. 

According to the Miami New Times, Lopez said she was dragged into her supervisor’s trailer and raped for half an hour. The other five women claimed they were fired when they didn’t comply with their supervisors’ sexual advances. 

Despite the large sum awarded to the women, collecting the money will be very difficult. As the case was coming to an end, Moreno Farms shut down and the owner fled to avoid going to jail.

Even though the women may never see a cent, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission still believes that the ruling was significant.  That’s because it shows farmworkers that they have rights despite their current immigration status. The EEOC is committed to protecting immigrants and vulnerable populations that are being subjected to discrimination and harassment by their employers.

Do you think that immigrants are particularly vulnerable to workplace sexual harassment? 

*image by Unsplash

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Sexual Harassment at Southern California College

Two female students at Cypress College, Gabriela Rodas and Porcia Ruiz, are suing the school for failing to take their sexual harassment claims seriously. The students allege that they were sexually harassed by their Spanish 102 professor Edgar Alex Herrera in the fall of 2013. When they complained, they were allegedly told by an administrator that the teacher had his rights.The girls are now suing the school because the school’s administration failed to fulfill their legal obligation of reporting the sexual harassment. Instead, they were told that transfer to a different school might be the best option. 

Some of the things the students claim Herrera did include complimenting their outfits, touching them, giving them unwanted hugs, and suggestively sizing them up. At one moment, he also allegedly told one of the girls that he wished he could say more, but that he was afraid he would get in trouble for being inappropriate.This comment suggests that Herrera was aware of the boundaries he was crossing.

In addition to sexual harassment, the students are also alleging civil rights violations, gender discrimination, and negligence. 

Failure to adequately investigate and prevent claims of sexual harassment is illegal for employers.  What do you think the College’s duties were here?

Interested in reading more sexual harassment cases? Check out this one that occured at UCLA or this one that happened at UC-San Diego.

*image by Sodanie Chea, Flickr

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Colorado Supreme Court Rules That Employers Can Fire Employees for Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic, was fired from his job at Dish Network after failing a random drug test in 2010.  Coats was a customer service representative for Dish and consumed pot off-duty (with a medical marijuana card) to control his muscle spasms.  

The Colorado Supreme Court recently ruled in a 6-0 decision that an employers’ zero-tolerance drug policy is superior to Colorado’s medical marijuana laws. Because the use of medical marijuana is not lawful under federal law (only state), employees who engage in medical marijuana usage are not protected. Employers have the freedom to set their own drug policies in the state of Colorado. 

Up until now, this has been a particularly gray area of the law in states that allow medical marijuana usage. Colorado is the first to shine some light on the subject. 

After the ruling, Dish Network released this statement: “We are pleased with the outcome of the court’s decision today. As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law.” Not everyone, including Coats (who is currently unemployed) is happy with the outcome of the five year battle. 

According to the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 Substance meaning that marijuana has “no medical accepted use, a high risk of abuse, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.” 

Do you think that the Colorado Supreme Court made the right decision? Do you think this could have been a disability discrimination claim if no drug test was failed?

image by Flickr

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Zillow Sued For Sexual Harassment

Rachel Kremer, a former sales consultant at Zillow, is suing the company for sexual harassment. The suit alleges that the work environment at Zillow was nothing short of an “ adult frat house.” Zillow is an online real estate marketplace where users can find information about homes and local real estate professionals.

During her employment at Zillow (from June 2012-August 2014), Kremer claims that she was continuously sent graphic emails and pictures by her supervisors. Some of the other offenses Kremer’s male cohorts committed include: ranking Kremer’s breast size, sending her pictures of their genitalia, and threatening to end her employment if she did not meet their demands of sexual gratification. Kremer’s attorney claims the harassment lasted well over 6 months.

Apparently, Kremer’s sexual harassment allegations against Zillow is not the only one. Zillow says it takes the allegations seriously and began a complete investigation; one employee has already been terminated.

Unfortunately sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing new. Read about another case involving a popular dating app here.

What do you think a company’s responsibility should be when there is a hostile sexual environment in the workplace?

*image by Andy Kaufman, Flickr

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Canadian Hockey League Sued for Unpaid Wages

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) is being sued by former players for $180 million in outstanding wages. The CHL employs major junior hockey players ranging in ages between 15 and 20. 

According to the allegations, the CHL paid thousands of young players as little as $30 a week for time spent training, practicing, playing, and traveling.

The CHL claims that players are independent contractors or interns and are therefore exempt from being paid minimum wage. If CHL wins the lawsuit, they will be able to continue paying players $30 to $50 a week. If not, CHL will have to pay players in accordance with minimum wage laws. 

While CHL, a for-profit organization continues to rake in hundred of millions of dollars annually, they fail to redistribute that wealth to their players. Instead, they have increased scholarships and mentoring programs for the players. Unsurprisingly, the players find this type of “compensation” insufficient. 

Considering this case, do you think the players are indeed interns or do you think they are employees and should be compensated as such? Read about a similar unpaid wages claim here

*image by Enea Pestelacci, Flickr

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Alanis Morissette Sued by Nanny for Unpaid Wages, Overtime, and Meal Break Violations

Alanis Morissette’s former nanny, Bianca Cambeiro, has sued the singer and her husband Mario ‘Souleye’ Treadway, claiming that she was not paid overtime and forced to work 12-hour shifts without overtime pay or a break.

Cambeiro alleges in the lawsuit that she was hired as a night nanny for the couple’s son. Her shift was from 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. for $25 per hour. Cambeiro states that, during her employment, Morissette and her husband prohibited Cambeiro from leaving the baby’s room during her 12-hour shift, even if the baby was sleeping. As such, she claims she could neither eat nor take a break during her shift. Additionally, Cambeiro claims that Morissette and her husband failed to pay her statutory required overtime wages, in violation of California law.

Cambeiro seeks unpaid wages and other damages. Cambeiro also says that she suffered emotional distress–which are not recoverable for wage and hour violations.

Morissette is one of many celebrities who have been sued by for overtime by their:

Nannies:

Assistants:

What do you think of these celebrity overtime claims?  Do you think these are true or made up celebrity shake downs?

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Lady Gaga Sued By Personal Assistant for Unpaid Overtime

In yet another celebrity lawsuit, Lady Gaga’s former personal assistant has sued the pop star for $380,000 of alleged unpaid overtime.  Gaga’s former personal assistant, Jennifer O’Neill, says she was on-call almost every hour of every day she worked for Gaga.  This included being Gaga’s “personal alarm clock”, fetching tampons, changing DVD’s, and doing whatever the eccentric pop star asked for.  Gaga’s main legal defense is that Ms. O’Neill never worked over 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week if you just add up her tasks individually.

Ms. O’Neill though, claims she was always required to be available and never paid for working over 8 hours in a day.  Ms. O’Neill only received her $75,000 a year salary.

During Gaga’s deposition she made the following interesting statements:

“Jennifer is a fucking hood rat who is suing me for money that she didn’t earn. She thinks she’s just like the queen of the universe. And, you know what, she didn’t want to be a slave to one, because in my work and what I do, I’m the queen of the universe every day.”

She knew there was no overtime, and I never paid her overtime the first time I hired her, so why would she be paid overtime the second time? This whole case is bullsh*t and you know it.

I’m quite wonderful to everybody that works for me, and I am completely aghast to what a disgusting human being that you have become to sue me like this. Because she slept in Egyptian cotton sheets every night, in five-star hotels, on private planes, eating caviar, partying with [photographer] Terry Richardson all night, wearing my clothes, asking [Yves Saint Laurent] to send her free shoes without my permission, using my YSL discount without my permission.

Unfortunately for Lady Gaga, bad performance or misconduct by an employee is not a defense to non-payment of overtime.  Neither is treating your employee to the benefits of a lavish lifestyle.  Overtime must be paid to all non-exempt employees who work over 8 hours in a day and/or 40 hours in a week (depending on your state).  An agreement to be a salaried employee does not override this rule.

What do you think of Gaga’s assistant’s lawsuit?  Should employees have to be paid for every hour they are available to their employer, even if they only work a small portion of that time?

Comment at:   http://www.shirazilawfirm.com/lady-gaga-sued-by-personal-assistant-for-unpaid-overtime/

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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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