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February 2010 Archives

Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act

We're very fortunate that the United States and state of Texas protect individuals with disabilities in the workplace. After all, shouldn't all individuals have the right to work for pay? With Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), discrimination in employment against people with both physical and mental disabilities is prohibited.

According to FindLaw, the term disability in the law refers to somebody who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. But who exactly is covered under ADA?

Combating the Workplace Bullies

It's never fun to be bullied, but in the workplace it could even be illegal. Personnel Today reports that bullying at work has actually doubled in the past 10 years, where one out of three staff members surveyed with the Unison Survey stated that they had bullied at work within the past six months.

In some cases, bullying may fall under the category of harassment. If an employer engages in verbal conduct that is offensively based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation, then there is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Texas Child Labor Laws Overview

There are plenty of reasons you want the kids out of the house, number one being that they are driving you crazy. But when exactly can tell them to get job to pay for their own gadgets?

Of course there are certain rules and standards in Texas child labor laws that ensure a child is not employed in an occupation or manner that is detrimental to the child's safety, health, or well-being. These laws are in addition to federal standards laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA").

Hilton Management Company Settles Discrimination Suit

Managers of the Hilton hotel chain recently settled a racial discrimination lawsuit with former Latino employees who had been terminated from their positions as banquet servers at one of the hotel’s Los Angeles County locations.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Landwin Management Inc., the management company that runs a popular Hilton hotel, allegedly fired several Latino banquet servers and replaced them with less qualified Chinese workers. Employment lawyers with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission represented the Latino employees in their lawsuit, but the case quickly settled for $500,000.

Stephen Ronk, a lawyer for Landwin Management, stated that the company does not admit to racial discrimination and that the only reason for the settlement is to avoid expensive litigation costs. Mr. Ronk told Los Angeles Times that the company was simply looking for a “leaner staffing model” when hiring the new employees.

Electricians Accuse School Districts of Underpaying

Ten contractors and two school districts are now under fire since a group of electricians with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 479 decided to file a lawsuit against the school districts and contractors over prevailing wages. The Southeast Texas Record reports that the group of 16 unionized elections are blaming the Beaumont Independent School District and the Port Arthur Independent School District for failing to include prevailing-wage determinations in their contracts with bidders.

The elections reportedly had salaries ranging from $12.50 per hour to $21 per hour, but they claim that they were not paid the prevailing wage rates for the work they did on the Willie Ray Smith Middle School construction project in Beaumont and the Stephen F. Austin Middle School, Sam Houston Middle School and Tyrell Elementary School projects in Port Arthur.

AT&T Adopts New Family Medical Leave Policy

Bryan Dickenson of Garland, Texas can finally get time off from his company, AT&T Inc., so that he can take care of his longtime domestic partner Bill Sugg, who recently suffered from a debilitating stroke. However, the gay employee had to go through an uphill battle to get extended time off from work.

Most employees are covered through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) so they can take up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to take care of a sick family member, according to FindLaw.

Wrongful Termination Case Concerning National Guard Status

A recent wrongful termination case draws questions on whether an employer has the right to terminate an employee based on time conflicts associated with being a part of the national armed services.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Brandon Watkins, who is serving overseas with his 278th National Guard unit, has accused the company Rent-A-Center East Inc. of discriminating against him because of his National Guard status. Mr. Watkins claims that he was also wrongfully discharged from his position at the Sevierville Rent-A-Center store. He claims that he was terminated because of his service in the Tennessee National Guard.

Houston Companies Reach Settlement With Katrina Workers

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked; plus time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked beyond a 40-hour work week, according to FindLaw. Any employee that does not receive the proper amount of pay can consult a Houston Employment Lawyer

Two Texas companies recently settled a lawsuit with The U.S. Labor Department over unpaid overtime wages. The Houston Chronicle reports that Houston-based Universal Project Management Inc. and Irving, Texas-based Fluor Enterprises Inc. have agreed to pay $1 million to 154 workers that had worked long hours during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

How Unemployment Compensation Works

Unemployment compensation can be a valuable tool in the state of Texas if you've recently lost your job. The compensation is a valuable resource for employees who have been laid off because they have some financial security while they're looking for a new job.

Unfortunately, you can't always collect unemployment compensation when you lose your job. FindLaw reports that only former employees who are out of work through no fault of their own usually qualify for such compensation. An employee who loses a job because of a layoff or an employee who is forced to leave work for a compelling personal reason can often qualify for benefits.

Henry's Turkey Service Faces Alleged Labor Violations

Henry's Turkey Service, a Texas labor broker, might be in a heap of legal trouble when it comes to employment law.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Henry's Turkey Service has been accused of violating the the Fair Labor Standards Act. An employment lawyer is now seeing back wages for 37 workers plus interest and damages. According the the Houston Chronicle, Henry's Turkey Service sent hundreds of mentally retarded men to labor camps scattered throughout the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. The labor camp in Atalissa, Iowa had the alleged labor violations.

OSHA Fines Houston Company

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently fined O.S. Interior Systems Inc. $112,000 following a fatal accident.

New York Injury News reports that an employee died last August while working for the Houston company, O.S. Interior Systems Inc. The man was removing a demountable wall, but made contact with a live wire and was electrocuted at the site.  OSHA officials cited the Houston company for two alleged willful violations for "failing to adequately protect employees from energized electrical circuits and failing to inform employees about the hazards involved with energized electrical outlets."

Pilgrim's Pride Reaches Settlement With Dallas Workers

The chicken processing company Pilgrim's Pride recently awarded $1 million to employees at its Dallas facility through a settlement, according to The Southeast Texas Record.

Texas employment lawyers alleged that the company violated "donning and doffing" issues under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, meaning that the employer was being targeted for not paying employees for the time it takes to prepare or clean up for a shift.

Low Wage Workers Getting Shortchanged

Houston workers might be surprised that to know that those employed in the minimum-wage sector might be getting cheated out of compensation. As mentioned in The Houston Chronicle, a study titled "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers" by the National Employment Law Project found that the average worker's pay was reduced 15 percent by documented violations of fair labor laws.

Some common violations of labor laws in Houston include not paying the minimum wage, forcing "time off of the clock" that is not properly compensated, unpaid overtime wages, inadequate or nonexistent meal breaks, late pay, illegal deductions, or failure to provide a paystub.

Obama Gives Family Leave to Airline Workers

Good news came early this year for U.S flight attendants and pilots. These workers now have the same rights that most other people already have in the workplace. The Houston Chronicle reports that President Barack Obama recently signed a bill into a law, giving airline crews coverage under the Family Medical Leave Act. The signing of this legislation comes almost 17 years after the Family Medical Leave Act was originally passed.

Now, airline crews may take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks if they need to tend to newborns, recover from an illness, or take care of a sick family member.

Houston employment lawyer Stephen Roppolo called this new law a "no-brainer" in the Houston Chronicle, saying that flight crews deserve the same rights as everybody else.

AAA Faces Employment Discrimination Lawsuit

A group of current and former employees at AAA Carolinas are now suing the AAA company for racial and sexual discrimination, according to WSCOTV. An employment lawyer filed the suit in Charlotte, North Carolina on behalf of 10 men and two women. They say that they were denied promotions and subjected to racial and sexual slurs by managers at AAA. The AAA company is a national travel company that has multiple locations around the United States, including many office locations in the Houston area.

The lawsuit against AAA alleges that racial and sexual discrimination came from the AAA supervisors and managers and has been going on for a number of years. One employee, Eric Greene, told WSCOTV that he was demoted after complaining about the racial jokes in the workplace. After filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Mr. Greene claimed that he got an anonymous letter saying, "You better drop those charges with the EEOC because if you don't, something will happen to you and your family." Mr. Greene claimed that his car was stolen and set on fire that same day.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against American Express

A recent class action federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Arizona alleges that a company owned by American Express is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Employee Retirement Income Security Act, because employees were required to work "off the clock and through lunch breaks," according to TMCnet. The employees at American Express Travel Related Services, which is a subsidiary of American Express, say that the company intentionally failed to include time worked at the beginning and end of employee's shifts.

"Travel Related Services pay policies don't allow call center employees to count as time worked things most workers would get paid to do...like talking to American Express' clients," employment lawyer Anne Regan told TMCnet. "They are clearly owed these unpaid wages."

Employee Files Suit Against Beaumont Health Care Center

Injuries can sometimes lead to unexpected lawsuits within the workplace. The Southeast Texas Record reports that a Texas woman filed a lawsuit last month in Jefferson County District Court against her employer HSMTX/Lindbergh-Beaumont, which does business with Beaumont Health Care Center.

Bertha Jackson, from Jefferson County claims that she sustained bodily injuries after falling in the Beaumont Health Care Center parking lot. The Southeast Texas Record reports that Ms. Jackson's lawsuit states that "There was a condition in the parking lot of the premises which posed an unreasonable risk of harm."

Employee's Tattoos Leads To Title VII Suit Against Starbucks

It's true that some employers may frown upon visible tattoos, body piercings, and multi-colored hairstyles. But Starbucks, that bastion of Seattle culture expanding all over the world, they have a problem with tattoos? It seems so.

Benjamin Amos, a former Starbucks shift-manager from Sherman, Texas is now suing the Starbucks company, claiming that the regional and district manager of Starbucks expressed disapproval of his tattoos and asked him to quit, according to the Southeast Texas Record.

Employee Rights in the Hiring Process

Even though Houston's unemployment rate fares better than the rest of the country, many people in the Houston community are still looking for jobs. While the hiring process of getting a job can be strenuous, it's important to remember that job applicants have certain legal rights even before they are even hired.

FindLaw states that employers may not discriminate against race, national origin, gender, disability, religion, pregnancy, or age in the hiring process. This means that employers should be avoiding questions in an interview that relate to any of these issues. Even questions like "When did you graduate from high school?" or "Where did you live while growing up?" should be avoided, according to the Microsoft Small Business Center. Answers to these questions could affect a protected group of people, where an applicant could then file a legal claim against the employer.

Paid Sick Leave Strikes Debate

In some cities like San Francisco and Milwaukee, there are laws requiring most employers to provide workers with a limited number of paid sick-leave days. However, there are no laws in Texas or at the federal level that require private-sector employees to provide paid leave of any kind.

The New York Times reports that the United States is one of the very few wealthy nations in the world that doesn't mandate any form of paid sick leave; it is a country where 40 percent of the workers in the private sector don't receive paid leave from employers.

Female Workers File Lawsuit Against Dallas Fire-Rescue

Leanne Siri-Edwards, had been working with Dallas Fire-Rescue since 2006 before she was fired last August. Now the Dallas Morning News reports that Ms. Siri-Edwards is claiming that she was been a victim of rampant sexual and gender harassment in the workplace, according to the Dallas Morning News. She and another current fire-rescue employee have filed separate lawsuits dealing against Dallas Fire-Rescue, that both deal with sexual harassment.

Ms. Siri-Edwards alleges that an assistant chief once inappropriately touched her and that she was once e-mailed a naked photo of a woman. Her lawsuit has been moved from state court to federal jurisdiction, where Texas employment lawyer, Amy Davis, plans to represent the woman.

The Texan Unemployment Battle

Statesman.com reports that the Texas Workforce Commission officials are taking on new initiatives to encourage employers to hire jobless Texans. Texas businesses that hire unemployed workers in coming months will now be eligible to get $2,000 incentive payments. 

The initiative, known as the "Texas Back to Work" program was created by the Texas Workforce Commission in order to create an incentive for new jobs to be created in certain companies. Workforce Commission officials said as many as 15,000 unemployed Texans could be put back to work initially through the program.

Understanding Family Medical Leave

Do you have important family obligations and feel the need to take off time from work? Are you stressed about how to tell your employer that you need to take extended leave of absence? If so, you may have nothing to worry about; when it comes to job security. There are U.S laws that allow an employee to take extended time away from work in order to handle certain family or medical needs.

FindLaw reports that The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was established in 1993 in order to ensure that eligible employees working with private, state and local government agencies can take family medical leave when necessary. Taking leave may not result in the loss of any benefit to which an employee was entitled before taking leave, and may not be counted against an employee under a "no-fault" attendance policy. The leave may be unpaid or it can also be combined with accrued paid leave.

Immigrants File Complaints With EEOC Against Wal-Mart

The Wal-Mart company has had a history of discrimination and labor complaints over the last decade, where there are 20 Wal-Mart stores in the Houston area. A class action lawsuit was recently filed against the company dealing with sex discrimination, and is said to be the largest employment discrimination class action suit in American history, according to the New York Times, as the suit is on behalf of 1.5 million current and former female workers.

But the Wal-Mart chain still continues to face lawsuits dealing with employment discrimination in addition to the recent sex discrimination case. It could be no time at all before a Houston employment lawyer takes on a large case against Wal-Mart.

Most recently, the New York Times reported that 10 West African men filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC). The immigrant men who currently reside in Colorado claim that they were fired from their positions because supervisors wanted to give their jobs to local people in the area in need of work.

Aldi Grocery Chain Faces Employment Lawsuit

Aldi stores are coming to the Lone Star State, but the discount grocery chain is facing a legal battle with employees. Over 200 current and former store managers are suing the company for unpaid overtime wages, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The store managers at Aldi typically work between 50 and 60 hours a week, coming into the store as early at 4:30 AM, reports The Wall Street Journal. Approximately 50 of the 1,056 current store managers with Aldi have joined the lawsuit.