Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gender discrimination settlement at plant in Peabody

The Salem News reported this week that the Peabody Municipal Light Plant paid $112,500 to settle a gender discrimination complaint brought by a female plant worker.  The worker alleged that she was repeatedly passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified male plant workers.  The settlement amount includes a $65,000 payment of attorneys' fees to the plaintiff. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

House members propose bill to override Supreme Court's age discrimination ruling

Several United States congressmen have proposed legislation to address a controversial 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court on age discrimination claims.  In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., the Supreme Court made a dramatic change to the standard of proof in cases brought under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), ruling that a claimant must show that age was the "but-for" cause of the adverse employment action.  Previously, the standard required showing that age was a "motivating factor" in the employment action.  This "motivating factor" standard is applied in Title VII cases, which the ADEA was modeled after, and thus the Supreme Court's departure from this standard in the age discrimination context seemed perplexing to many (including Justice Stevens in dissent).  Almost immediately, Democratic senators began an initiative to pass legislation to overturn the decision.  Now the effort has begun anew, this time in the House of Representatives.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Discrimination alleged at Sheriff's Department by victim of clergy sexual abuse

The Boston Globe reported today that a correction officer for the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination alleging that he was harassed by his supervisors and co-workers for the past six years after he revealed that he had been sexually abused by a priest as a child.  The complaint includes numerous examples of alleged harassment, such as his locker being defaced with sexually graphic messages, lewd jokes made against him, and a deputy yelling at the officer to perform a sexual act on a priest.  According the Globe, the officer reported the abuse to the jail superintendent, who told him to "man up." Afterward, the harassment allegedly intensified.  The article also describes a letter from the Department to the officer in November 2010 that remarked on the officer's "sporadic attendance" record while he was receiving treatment, and warned him that the Department could not permit any more disruption to its daily operations due to such absences.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Supreme Judicial Court: heightened judicial review for discrimination against legal immigrants

Claims of discrimination by legal immigrants will now receive the strictest degree of judicial scrutiny under Massachusetts law.  This recent announcement by the Supreme Judicial Court is particularly noteworthy because the state's constitutional guarantee of equal protection does not expressly refer to immigration status.   The ruling arises out of a class action lawsuit filed by thousands of legal immigrants who allege that they were unfairly denied coverage under the state’s subsidized Commonwealth Care health plan.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gender war in high school athletics: what role can boosters play?

Title IX requires equal funding of all educational programs, including athletics, regardless of gender.  According to the Women's Sports Foundation, the law has resulted in a 904% increase in participation by females in high school athletics and 456% increase in participation by females in college athletics.  There is also an ongoing debate about whether Title IX has the unintended consequence of hurting male athletic programs by forcing school's with budget issues to eliminate male athletic programs or teams to equalize funding. 

The Haverhill Touchdown Club, the boosters for the Haverhill, Massachusetts high school football team, had their own encounter with Title IX recently.  According to the Lawrence-Eagle Tribune, the Touchdown Club intended to donate $15,000 to help cover the athletic fees for football players, which run $275 per year (the same as other varsity fees).  The high school football team has not a won a game in three years, and according to the Tribune, far fewer students play on the team than before the fees were instituted.  The Touchdown Club discovered, however, that it would need to donate $15,000 to cover boys' fees and $15,000 to cover girls' fees to comply with Title IX.  The Club scrapped their plans for the donation and are considering other avenues to help the football team now. 

Although I do not have any experience in Title IX, this story is a good example at how laws relating to discrimination and equal opportunity can apply in surprising ways.  Whether you are an employer or an individual, it is a good practice to think broadly, even creatively, about whether your actions implicate such laws.