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Tag Archives: Employment Law

Wrongful Termination, At-Will Employment and Girl Scout Cookies

A month ago, I was at my mechanic’s garage to have some work done on my car.  He happened to have Girl Scout Cookies on display.  He asked if I wanted to by some.  I told him that I already bought some from a neighbor.  He said, I can get to your car faster if you buy some cookies.  Ha! Ha! Good one Joe.  I should have taken him up on the offer, because in less than a day the two boxes of cookies were gone.  I have a preteen son who eats like a teenager.

This morning I came across this article about a woman who was fired (or as my British friends would say “got the sack”) because she was selling Girl Scout Cookies at work.  It appears that she worked at American University’s Campus for a company called Bon Appétit.  The employee worked on the campus for 28 years and for Bon Appétit for 12 years.  Over the last three years, she displayed the Girl Scout Cookies to help her daughter.  This year, Bon Appétit decided to fire her.  The manager accused her of “gross misconduct by soliciting and operating a personal cash business selling girl scout cookies over the counter which violates company policy.”

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I am not sure about you, but I feel bad for the employee.  She was not doing this for profit.  She was helping the Girl Scout, and her daughter by selling cookies.  Was the sale of Girl Scout Cookies really a conflict of interest?  Would a boxes send Bon Appétit  into bankruptcy court?  To be clear, how many times have you seen parents bring fundraiser items for their children to work – cookies, popcorn, candles, etc.  Too bad there is no avenue by which she could sue.

Unfortunately, the at-will doctrine favors the employer.  Paraphrased the doctrine says, an employer can terminate an employee for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all.  I understand there are some that say she should have been fired, and only kids, not their parents should be selling Girl Scout Cookies.  Realistically, in virtually every city across the country there is little doubt that these sales are going on in the workplace.  Perhaps today many will say bad things about Bon Appétit.  Months from now, however, Bon Appetite’s arguably unfair position will be forgotten and the employee will still be out of work.

If you have questions about the at-will doctrine, wrongful termination or other employment law issues, call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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What Every Employee Should Know About the At-Will Employment Relationship

In Florida, most employees are considered at-will employees.  This means that the employer or employee may terminate the employment relationship for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all.  Although I wrote the employer or employee, for all practical purposes this arrangement favors the employer rather than the employee.

The employee, on the other hand, is not under an obligation to remain at the employer’s place of business.  For example, if an employee has a job offer waiting at another company he or she does not have to give two week notice.  An at-will employee could say, “today is my last day of work” and leave.  As noted above, there are little benefits for the employee under the at-will doctrine.

Many employees in Florida make the mistake of saying, I have no rights because we are in a right to work state.  While the employee is correct in noting that Florida is a right to work state, there is a difference between “employment at-will” and “right to work.”  The “right to work” concept applies to the role that labor unions play in the employment relationship.  Unlike some states in the North East or Mid-West, there are very few labor unions in Florida because it is a “right to work” state.   By definition, “right to work” means an employee can work anywhere in the state of Florida without being forced to pay union dues.

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Back to the at-will doctrine, power lies in the hands of the employer.  All is not loss for the employee.  There are a number of laws by statute and court decisions that protect the employee.  The big one is discrimination law.  Generally speaking the question is whether the employer illegally discriminated against the employee or potential employee based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age or disability.  Among other things, discrimination law touches on hiring, firing, transfers, promotions, demotions and layoffs.

An employee should also understand that he or she has rights under retaliation law.   Retaliation law protects employees from being fired, demoted, harassed, or otherwise “retaliated” against because they filed a charge of discrimination or because they complained to their employer about a discriminatory practice.

Whistle-blower law is very similar to retaliation law.  There are number of state and federal laws that provide whistle blower protection to employees.    Whistle-blower law may be triggered if you report or refuse to participate in illegal activity.  Generally, an employee will be required to make his or her complaint in writing to be protected under a whistle-blower statute.

Contract law is another option for consideration by the employee.  If you are under a written contract, there is a very good chance that you will have greater rights than an at-will employee.   Many contracts will have language indicating that an employee may be terminated for just cause.   Just cause usually involves some form of misconduct by the employee that would support termination.  If an employer cannot show just cause, an employee who is terminated early may have a claim to recover damages through the end of the contract period.

While employees recognize that Florida is a “right to work”  [sic] “at-will state,” there may be avenues available to recover for wrongful termination.  If an employee believes his or her termination is illegal, the best thing to do is schedule a meeting with a labor and employment attorney to discuss potential claims.  I can be reached at (813) 413-2402.

 

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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Filed Against Christian College By Gloria Allred

Gloria Allred filed a lawsuit on behalf of Teri James, a pregnant employee who was terminated by San Diego Christian College for engaging in premarital sex.   Rumors began to spread at San the school when James appeared to be pregnant.  James, who was single at the time, met with her supervisor and human resources director and admitted to being pregnant.  The college has a community covenant and student handbook that states Biblical character is highly valued and desired.  The handbook also indicates that the school frowns upon sexually immoral behavior, including premarital sex.

Ms. Allred revealed the basis for suing when she stated:

They can call themselves a Christian college, but they have to comply with the laws of the state of California, which prohibit discrimination on account of gender, marital status and pregnancy, and with the California constitution, which guarantees the right of privacy.

In most states, I would think that Ms. James would have an uphill battle.  For example, I am aware of at least one case in Florida where a young lady who worked for a Christian high school was unable to obtain unemployment benefits after she was terminated for sharing an apartment with her fiancé.  In Florida, it is rare for an employee to be denied unemployment benefits unless the employer can show some form of misconduct.  If she could not win before the unemployment appeals referee, there is no way she would prevail in court arguing gender, marital and pregnancy status, and privacy.  On the other hand, since Ms. James is in California, I would not be surprised if the court ruled in her favor.

 

See: Woman Legally Fired For Living With Boyfriend from 2011

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Retaliation Lawsuit Filed Against Janitorial Company

Cynthia Williams, an African American woman, worked for a company called Paramount Janitorial Services.  Paramount Janitorial Services is a Virginia based “full-service” janitorial company.  Williams complained to the owner of the company stating that her supervisor made racial slurs and threats, including calling her the “N” word and threatening to beat her with his “n***** stick.”

At first blush, it appears that Ms. Williams followed the steps to protect herself from further harassment.  In the response, the owner could have taken prompt remedial action by counseling the supervisor, separating Ms. Williams from her supervisor, and/or firing the supervisor.  At this stage, the actions of the owner are unknown.   If Ms. Williams’ version of the events is true, Paramount Janitorial Services failed to take prompt remedial action.  Two days after complaining to the owner, the supervisor fired Ms. Williams.

After efforts to settle the matter failed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a retaliation lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Williams.   To prevail, Ms. Williams must show that she engaged in activity protected by discrimination law, that she suffered an adverse employment action, and that the adverse action was causally related to the protected activity.  The EEOC is seeking to recover back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages in this case.

Unfortunately, cases like these occur more often than we are ready to admit.  The actions that the owner should have taken to avoid suit are spelled out above.  If you have questions about retaliation or other employment law issues, call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

 

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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3 Mistakes Employees Make in Sexual Harassment Cases

I have practiced employment law for a few years and having handled a number of sexual harassment cases, there are many mistakes that are common to employees bringing suit.  Although these mistakes may not be show stoppers, individually or collectively, they can reduce an employee’s damages in a harassment case.

1.            Failing to Report Harassment to Management.   In many harassment cases, the employee may be uncomfortable and she will keep the offense to herself.  She never reports the harassment and eventually quits and then hires an attorney to sue her former employer.  In harassment cases, employers are able to assert as a defense that it has a policy against harassment and the employee failed to avail herself of that policy.  As soon as the harassment occurs, the employee needs to alert management and give management an opportunity to correct the problem.

2.            Failing to Document the Harassment.   When faced with harassment, an employee may be overwhelmed by the atmosphere created at work.  If she later hires an attorney, she may have a hard time remembering the specifics of her case.   Also, the employee should document her complaints to management.  While management should do a good job of keeping records, this does not happen all the time.  An employee will have a much stronger harassment case if she is able to show each complaint made to management and management’s failure to take action on her complaints.

3.            Quitting Too Soon.    In this situation, an employee may witness a co-worker looking at pornography or observe a co-worker telling off color jokes.  Without informing management, she may be disgusted by her co-worker’s behavior and abruptly quit.  She may also share her experience with a friend or neighbor, who sympathizes with her circumstances.  There may be a good chance that she will not have a case because by quitting too soon, she failed to give management an opportunity to correct the offending behavior.  She may argue that the harassment amounted to a constructive discharge, but a court would disagree if it finds that the harassment did not rise to a level to become intolerable.  The more prudent course of action for an employee in this situation is to consult with counsel prior to quitting.  The exception to this is when the co-worker is repeatedly putting his hands on the employee and management fails to correct what is happening.

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome verbal or physical conduct in the workplace.  Employees should understand that sporadic or isolated incidents generally do not rise to the level of harassment.   Employees should be familiar with their company’s anti-harassment policies to understand the actions they should take when experiencing harassment.  Before deciding to quit, an employee should consult with a labor and employment attorney to determine whether the company’s actions or inactions constitute a violation of the law.

If you have any questions regarding harassment law or employment law, feel free to call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

 

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Tampa EEOC Settles Retaliation Suit with OfficeMax for $85,000

A Florida OfficeMax recently settled retaliation claims filed by the EEOC on behalf of an employee for $85,000.  In this case, an OfficeMax store manager fired an employee, who later complained that the manager fired him because he is Hispanic.  The company required the manager to rehire the employee.  According to the lawsuit, the manager, however, made life difficult for the employee by creating reasons to terminate him and trying to force him to resign.  The employee went to the EEOC who investigated his claims against OfficeMax.   After the parties failed to reach a pre-suit resolution, the EEOC filed a lawsuit in Tampa federal court on behalf of the employee.

Besides reaching a monetary settlement, the EEOC also obtained injunctive relief.  OfficeMax agreed that over the next four years it will seek to reach more Hispanic and African American applicants in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.  It also agreed to provide training for its managers and human resources personnel on racial harassment and retaliation.

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Although Florida is an at-will employment state – i.e., an employer can fire you for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all – both federal and state laws protect employees against discrimination and retaliation.  Because an employee’s economic livelihood depends on his/her employment, the law prohibits employers from disciplining or discharging employees for attempting to enforce their rights under the law.

Rich Bradford at Bradford & Bradford is available to answer any questions that you may have concerning retaliation or employment law in general.   Call us at (813) 413-2402.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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County Property Appraiser Settles Sexual Harassment Case for $135,000

Last spring, the office of the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser was rocked by the sexual harassment claims of Carolyn Filippone.  Although the case had been pending for nearly two years, it did not make front page news until Property Appraiser, Rob Turner, fired his paramour, Carolyn Filippone.

Turner made a huge mistake by firing her as her attorneys were contemplating whether to move forward with a lawsuit.  Prior to the termination decision, Filippone’s claims were limited to sexual harassment.  Thus, the question was whether she could advance a meritorious sexual harassment case against her boss although she had an affair with him.  At this stage, this case had strengths and weaknesses for both parties.   After the EEOC dismissed her case, Filippone had 3 months to decide whether to file a lawsuit.  The decision became a lot easier when Turner fired Filippone before the expiration of the 90 days.  Now Filippone was able to add a retaliation claim to her sexual harassment case.  See Tampa Woman Considers Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Claims Against County Official; Retaliation Lawsuit Filed in Federal Court in Property Appraiser Case; Filippone complaint.

After a few short months, the Property Appraiser’s office decided that settlement was the prudent course of action.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, the parties attended a mediation conference and settled for $135,000.

Sexual harassment occurs when one employee makes continued, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, to another employee, against his or her wishes.  Retaliation occurs when an employer takes some form of adverse action against an employee for asserting his rights under harassment or discrimination law.

If you have questions about sexual harassment or retaliation, you may call Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.

Bradford & Bradford’s practice areas include, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Estate Planning, Civil Litigation, Employment Law, and Family Law.

 

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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