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fightAs an employer, investigating employee misconduct and assessing proper punishment to each employee involved in breaking the rules is often complicated. It is very important to complete this task carefully and meticulously, though, especially if one the employees involved is a member of a protected class. In the case of one bank, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that its decision to punish an African-American employee involved in a workplace fight more harshly than the white employee involved in the same fight may constitute racial discrimination. The unfavorable ruling for this employer highlights the potential pitfalls that can await employers that issue different punishments to employees involved in similar misdeeds, especially when the employees are of different races, genders, religions, and so on.

The case began with a verbal disagreement between Curtis Wheat and Brad Hatfield, two male co-workers at Fifth Third Bank. The disagreement escalated into an argument and eventually a physical fight. After the event, the bank sent Michelle Healy, an employee relations consultant, to interview both of the men. An angry Wheat told Healy that he would “take care of [the problem with Hatfield] myself” and “Monday is going to be a big day,” but he refused to elaborate further.

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Transgender_Pride_flagTwo Georgia women, who lost their jobs and subsequently launched Title VII sex discrimination cases against their former employers, ultimately took their cases all the way to the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to defend their positions. These two cases, one of which was decided in mid-January and one of which remains pending, offer some important insight into the state of federal sex discrimination law and the changes that could soon take place.

The recently decided case involved an auto mechanic from Cobb County. When Credit Nation Auto Sales hired the mechanic, the mechanic identified publicly as a man named Louie Chavez. In 2009, Chavez began transitioning from male to female and began going by the name Jennifer Chavez. Chavez’s supervisor expressed unease about the mechanic’s decision, fearing that the mechanic would negatively affect business.

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factory-productionAn Ohio man, who had a disability that affected his ability to stoop, bend, and twist, could not pursue an Americans With Disabilities Act case against the employer that terminated him. The law required the employee to show that the party that decided to terminate him knew about the disability. In this case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers not only Ohio but also Tennessee, decided that the employee lacked this necessary evidence establishing knowledge, and so his case was properly decided by the trial court in favor of the employer.

The employee, Michael Arthur, was a man who was born with spina bifida occulta, which is a birth defect that causes a malformed spinal cord. In 2002, three years after Arthur began working for American Showa, Inc., the man underwent surgery to fuse some of his spinal discs. Even after the surgery, the employee continued to have problems and took FMLA leave in 2003 due to his back.

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pole_dancerA woman who previously worked as an exotic dancer at an Athens club recently launched a class action lawsuit accusing her former employer of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. According to the former employee, the club improperly withheld wages, overtime pay, and tips by improperly classifying her as an independent contractor when she was really an employee, the Athens Banner-Herald reported on its website, OnlineAthens.com. The Athens case is the latest in a string of lawsuits in which exotic dancers have challenged the legality of the way their clubs pay them.

In the recent case, Christie Burrell danced for three years at Toppers International Showbar, a well-known club in downtown Athens. During her entire employment, the club classified Burrell and all its other dancers as independent contractors, not employees. By doing so, the club avoided some of the requirements the FLSA imposes on employers regarding the payment of employees, specifically compliance with minimum wage and overtime rules. Burrell’s action claimed that, even though the club permitted, and sometimes demanded, dancers to work 40 hours or more per week, the dancers never received wages or overtime. Instead, the only compensation the dancers at the club received was their tips. To make matters worse, the club allegedly didn’t even pay the dancers all of the tips they earned, since the club engaged in “siphoning away” part of that money “to distribute to non-tip eligible employees.”

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business-manA Florida man should not have had his age discrimination case thrown out, even though both he and his replacement were both in their 40s. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to reverse a summary judgment in favor of the man’s employer, stating that an age discrimination case requires only a “substantially younger” replacement and that the employee’s allegation that age bias was the reason the employer replaced him with a man seven years his junior was enough to meet this “substantially younger” standard.

The employee, Robert Liebman, had worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for 28 years when MetLife fired him in 2013. He started in 1985 as a sales representative and, by 2013, had risen to the position of Managing Director of the insurer’s West Palm Beach and Boca Raton offices. At the time of his termination, Liebman was 49 years old. Liebman sued MetLife for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The employer asked the trial court to grant summary judgment in its favor on the age discrimination claim, noting that the employee that it selected to replace Liebman was also over 40 years of age and, therefore, a member of the same protected class as Liebman. The trial court sided with the employer and issued a summary judgment order in favor of the insurer.

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job applicationA North Georgia man’s claim that R.J. Reynolds’ hiring practices for sales manager jobs violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act got new life as a result of a recent decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court decided that both employees and job applicants alike can pursue age discrimination claims based upon the discriminatory results created by an employer’s policies.

The case involved Richard Villarreal’s pursuit of employment with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. In November 2007, Villarreal submitted an application to Reynolds through an online job board, Careerbuilder, for a sales manager position. At that time, Villarreal was 49 years old. The employer never contacted the applicant about the job. In May 2010, he filed an ADEA violation claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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policemenAn employer’s obligation to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and refrain from discriminating against employees with disabilities places certain limitations on what an employer can and cannot do. One obligation an employer does not have under the law is to accommodate an employee if that accommodation would mean that the employee would pose a health or safety risk to himself or others. The existence of this risk was what doomed a policeman’s case in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case is helpful for Tennessee employers in assessing how to deal with employees who are potential risks.

The employee in the case, Todd Michael, had been a policeman with the City of Troy, Michigan, for two decades when others around him began noticing instances of odd behavior. The police chief began an investigation of Michael. The chief eventually suspended the investigation in 2009 when Michael informed the chief that he needed brain surgery.

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calendar1A pair of minority employees at a jail in Georgia lost the chance to go to trial on their claims that their employer committed racial discrimination and then retaliated against them when they filed formal complaints about the misconduct, due to their timing for suing their employer. The US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia decided that the employees’ claims were not filed within the period of time required by the law, so the case could not proceed.

The employees in this case were Justin Ramzy and Alicia Spearman, who worked as part of the medical team in the Muscogee County Jail. The employees, both of whom were African-American, suffered what they believed was racial discrimination at work. After Ramzy and Spearman filed a complaint about the discrimination in 2012, Ramzy was terminated the next year for violating medical team protocol regarding the recording of patient medical information. Ramzy claimed that other white employees did the same thing but weren’t punished. Spearman produced documents that backed up Ramzy’s claim.

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Pers care asstIn a unanimous decision, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in November that home care workers who are employed by third-party service providers and perform their jobs in the homes of the employers’ clients are not exempt from the Georgia minimum wage law. The employees, who may have opened the door for similar claims from thousands of workers, argued successfully that, when one included their time traveling from one client home to another within a single work day, they received total compensation that amounted to less than $5.15 per hour.

The employer in this case was Res-Care, Inc., and its subsidiary, Southern Home Care Services. The employer was in the business of providing in-home care and personal support services. Employees might help clients bathe, go to the bathroom, dress, groom themselves, and get around their home. They also might undertake some domestic chores like washing dishes and laundry. Employees often provided care to multiple clients during a single day, and they were not paid for traveling from one home to another.

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11th Circuit courtroomAn employee at an auto parts manufacturer was unsuccessful in his pursuit of his claim of race and national origin discrimination. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the employer because the employee’s attacks on the employer’s nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions did not demonstrate that the employer’s reasons were mere pretexts for discrimination. Although the case originated in Alabama, the 11th Circuit’s ruling is very instructive for Georgia employees regarding what does (or does not) show pretext in employment discrimination cases.

The alleged victim of discrimination was Claude Short, who had worked for Mando American Corp. as the Quality Director at its Opelika, Alabama facility since 2006. By late 2008, the employer had transitioned Short into a new role. The employer wanted Short to work from an office in suburban Detroit, but he persuaded the company to let him work from a vacation home he owned in Tennessee.

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