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cheek swabAtlas Logistics Group Retail Services (Atlanta), LLC had a relatively serious business problem stemming from what it believed was employee misconduct. The employer also had what it thought was a viable solution. It just needed DNA samples from some of its employees to identify the misbehaving worker. Unfortunately for Atlas, its plan had one major flaw:  it was against federal law. As of June 22, that flaw cost the employer $2.25 million in damages awarded to two employees for the employer’s violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The problem began when Atlas discovered several piles of human feces in one of its warehouses. While disturbing to any employer, the issue was especially problematic for Atlas as a company that warehouses food products sold to grocery stores. Atlas collected DNA cheek swabs from employees Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds. A lab compared the DNA of the men to DNA from the feces and found no matches.

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Security guards required by their employer to monitor the radio during their meal breaks were not entitled to pay for those breaks, as monitoring the radio and responding to possible emergencies did not transform the break into compensable time.

The case was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which has jurisdiction for cases in states from Michigan to Tennessee. The plaintiffs were security guards at a casino in Detroit. Their employer granted them meal breaks in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) but with some restrictions. Namely, they were required to monitor the radio, and in case of an emergency, they would have had to respond. They were also required to stay on the premises during these breaks, but they were allowed to sit down, watch television, use the internet, and engage in generally any task they wished.

Under the FLSA, employers are required to pay nonexempt employees an overtime wage of 1.5 times their normal wage for every hour in excess of 40 the employee works in a seven-day work week. The question before the Sixth Circuit in this case was whether the duty to monitor the radio, although labeled as a meal break, constituted work. If the time was counted as work, the plaintiffs would have worked about 41.25 hours per week and would have been owed overtime.

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A new rule issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) amends the Family Medical Leave Act’s (FMLA) definition of “spouse” to include same-sex couples married in states where same-sex marriage is legally recognized.

Under the new rule, codified at 29 C.F.R. § 825.102 and 825.122(b), two people are married for purposes of the FMLA if the jurisdiction in which they were married recognizes them as legally married. The old rule looked to the place of the couple’s residence, which meant that same-sex couples who resided in Georgia and Tennessee were not currently eligible for FMLA leave, even if they were married in one of the growing number of states that has legalized same-sex marriage.

The new rule also contemplates couples married outside the United States. A same-sex marriage or same-sex, common-law marriage originating in another country will be recognized under the FMLA so long as the couple could have been married or common-law married in at least one U.S. state.

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The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a Georgia employee’s lawsuit that alleged unlawful race and age discrimination. The plaintiff asserted that he was fired from his job because of his race and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“the Act”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The employer, a company that made and shipped water treatment chemicals, filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff was fired for his on-the-job performance. The trial court granted the motion, and, on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of many personal characteristics, including race. Under the Act, an employer with 15 or more employees may not fire an employee because of his or her race. Similarly, the ADEA prohibits discrimination against employees who are at least 40 years old.

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued a Tennessee staffing agency and an international recycling company with a facility in Tennessee over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The action was based on the defendants’ treatment of a deaf employee. The plaintiff sought temporary employment through the staffing agency and was assigned to work at the recycling center. However, the plaintiff suffered from a hearing impairment disability, and once the defendants learned of the disability, the complaint alleges that the defendants informed her that she could no longer work there.

The ADA protects employees with a recognized disability from discrimination in the workplace. It is a federal law that applies to most employers with more than 15 employees in Tennessee, Georgia, and the rest of the United States.

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A recent Sixth Circuit holding affirmed a federal district court’s ruling that an employer did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by declining to hire a prospective employee because he refused to provide his social security number on religious grounds.

The plaintiff applied for an internship with the defendant, an energy company. However, he refused to provide his potential employer with a social security number. The plaintiff asserted that he did not have a social security number because he disavowed it upon turning 18 due to his sincere religious beliefs. When the defendant refused to hire him, he filed suit alleging religious discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a valid legal claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The district court granted the motion.

A person who files a Civil Rights Act religious discrimination claim must prove three elements:

  1. There was an employment requirement that conflicts with a genuine religious belief held by the plaintiff;
  2. The plaintiff advised the employer of the belief; and
  3. The employer terminated or disciplined the plaintiff for refusing to comply with the employment requirement.

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The Department of Labor is considering raising the minimum wage an employee must earn to be considered an overtime exempt employee. If the proposed rules raise the wage threshold as expected, millions of workers who thus far have been exempt from overtime pay could be eligible.

The federal law that controls overtime rules in Georgia and the rest of the United States is called the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA requires employers to pay employees an overtime wage of 1.5 times the employee’s normal salary for each hour in excess of 40 the employee works in a seven-day workweek.

However, the FLSA exempts many types of employees from the overtime mandate. This means that employers are not legally required to pay these overtime-exempt employees the time-and-a-half overtime wage. Whether an employee is exempt or nonexempt is determined by the primary duties of her job. The employer does not determine whether the employee is exempt or nonexempt.

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A trucking company that fired a truck driver who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to a recent Eleventh Circuit ruling.

The plaintiff in the case was employed in Georgia by the defendant, a trucking company, as an over-the-road driver. In 2010, the plaintiff requested and was granted an FMLA leave of absence to care for a “serious health problem” after talking with his personal physician about his alcohol issues. Upon completion of a 30-day program at an inpatient substance abuse facility, the plaintiff’s physician certified that he was fit to return to work. A week after his discharge from the treatment program, the plaintiff was fired. The reason given was that his clinical diagnosis of chronic “alcohol dependence” made him unfit for his job according to company policy and DOT regulations.

The plaintiff sued his former employer for wrongful termination under the ADA and interference and retaliation under the FMLA. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted summary judgment on behalf of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

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The Eleventh Circuit last month affirmed the basic principles of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by denying an employer’s attempt to blame its employee’s conduct for the employer’s violation of overtime wage laws.

The case, Bailey v. TitleMax of Georgia, involved an FLSA overtime claim brought by an employee of the defendant. The plaintiff worked at TitleMax for approximately one year. During this time, the employee routinely worked off the clock at the direction of his supervisor, who erroneously asserted that the company did not pay overtime. Additionally, the supervisor also edited time records to underreport the hours the plaintiff worked. These practices resulted in overtime hours the employee worked but was not paid for.

The plaintiff brought a claim under the FLSA in federal court for unpaid overtime wages. In response to the lawsuit, the defendant contended that the employee’s violations of company policy absolved it from liability. The company adopted internal policies that required employees to accurately report their hours, regularly verify their hours, and report any problems at work to their supervisors or higher-level managers. Since the employee violated these policies, the defendant argued that it should be absolved from liability pursuant to a legal theory that prevents plaintiffs from recovering if they bear responsibility for their own injuries. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant under this theory.

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Generally, an employer must pay employees overtime wages unless the employee is exempt under federal or state law. Determining whether an employee is overtime exempt can be difficult, especially if the employee’s duties are of a mixed nature. In a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Georgia noted that it often takes a fact-intensive inquiry into the specific duties of the employee.

The case, DeKalb County v. Kirkland, involved a claim by fire captains involving accrued compensatory time. The captains contended that the county should have allowed them to use their compensatory time or paid them for it. Part of the captains’ argument relied on a provision of the county code that prohibited cash payment for compensatory time for exempt employees. They argued that they were not, in fact, overtime exempt employees, and thus the county code did not forbid payment for their accrued compensatory time.

The Court of Appeals ultimately granted summary judgment for the county. The Court noted that the determination of whether an employee is overtime exempt or nonexempt relies on his or her actual job duties. Since the captains provided no evidence to prove that they were misclassified by the county, the court could not accept their argument. Had the captains provided some evidence of their specific job duties, the Court of Appeals may have had a much harder time making a determination.

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