Articles Posted in Employment Discrimination

There has been a trend in recent years for certain defendants, including some employers accused of discrimination and retaliatory action in the workplace, to seek arbitration, rather than litigation of Atlanta employment discrimination cases. While there are some situations in which arbitration might be an acceptable alternative to litigation, most plaintiffs prefer to have their day in court. Sometimes, it is necessary to fight for this right, especially when paperwork has allegedly been signed agreeing to arbitration as a condition of employment. In disputed cases, it is up to the court to decide which remedy is appropriate.

Facts of the Case

In a recent unpublished decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the plaintiff was a man who had worked two short terms as a seasonal employee of the defendant store (both terms of employment occurred during October through January, one in 2015-2016, and the other in 2016-2017). According to the plaintiff’s complaint, he sought permanent employment with the defendant, but this request was denied, as were his other attempts to become a regular, full-time employee of the defendant.

The plaintiff filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, asserting that the defendant had refused to engage him in regular employment due to his race, gender, age, and national origin, as well as in retaliation for allegations of discrimination that he made during his seasonal employment. The defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration based on arbitration clauses that the plaintiff allegedly accepted during the outset of his periods of seasonal employment. The district court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

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Employment discrimination lawsuits can be procedurally complicated. For example, in an Atlanta race discrimination case arising from an allegedly illegal termination, there may be multiple claims, amended complaints, and various motions to dismiss filed by the defendant(s). The trial court must sort out each of the issues in the case, as they develop. Sometimes, some of the plaintiff’s claims – and maybe even some of the defendants – may be dismissed from the litigation prior to trial.

Depending upon the procedural posture of a particular case, some of the court’s decisions may not be ripe for appeal until after the case is tried. Whether a ruling is subject to reconsideration by the trial court is sometimes another highly disputed topic.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent federal district case was a former sheriff’s department employee who was terminated from his employment in late 2014. He filed suit against the sheriff’s office, two cities, two counties, a former sheriff, and another individual, asserting claims for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The sheriff and the other individual defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.

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Atlanta employment discrimination claims are subject to many rules, each and every one of which must be followed regardless of whether the employee is represented by experienced legal counsel trained in these matters or whether the employee is acting pro se, meaning representing herself or himself. Although a court may grant a bit of latitude to a pro se litigant by, for example, granting a brief extension of time in which to file documents regarding the issues and legal arguments in a particular case, the general expectations are the same for those represented by counsel and those representing themselves. Consequently, most pro se plaintiffs are destined to fail, sooner or later.

Facts of the Case

In a recent unpublished federal case, the pro se plaintiff filed suit against the defendant employer in November 2017, attempting to assert claims of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; and wage and hour practices in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The plaintiff originally filed her lawsuit in state court, but the matter was removed to federal district court by the defendant.

The defendant’s answer to the plaintiff’s complaint denied liability for her allegations and asserted some 30 affirmative defenses. Although the federal district court had a general preference of setting a trial date within a year of the filing of a complaint, the court opted to grant the pro se plaintiff additional time in which to prepare for trial and set the trial for June 2019. The trial court judge explained to the plaintiff the importance of complying with certain deadlines contained in the court’s scheduling order (such as the times for making initial disclosures, disclosing expert witnesses’ names and reports, and completing discovery). The plaintiff indicated that she understood the deadlines and that she would comply with them.

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An Atlanta wage and hour lawsuit can help a worker seek redress against an employer who refuses to pay him or her in accordance with the law, including statutes and regulations aimed at making sure workers are paid a certain minimum wage. The issue of what, exactly, constitutes a fair and living wage has been the subject of much debate in recent years. As a result, some local governments have attempted to take matters into their own hands by establishing their own – higher – minimum-wage laws. A recent case arising in a sister state provides instruction on how this well-intentioned process can sometimes fail to have the result sought by local lawmakers.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal appellate court case, the plaintiffs were two African American employees who complained that their employer had refused to pay them the appropriate minimum wage, as established by a city ordinance (setting the rate at $10.10, rather than the amount set by federal law). The employer’s actions were based on a statute (passed after the city had increased the minimum wage in its borders) “prohibiting and voiding” any local law that purported to increase the minimum wage above that which was established under federal law. They sued the defendant attorney general, averring that their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution had been violated. The trial court dismissed their claims, and they appealed.

The Court’s Ruling

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and remanded the case to the panel. The appellate court first held that the plaintiffs lacked standing under Article III of the United States Constitution to bring their equal protection claims against the defendant attorney general because they could not show that their injuries were “fairly traceable” to his conduct or that their injuries could be redressed by a decision against him. Because the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit against the attorney general under the circumstances, the court found it unnecessary to reach the other issues in the case (including whether the attorney general was a proper defendant and/or whether the plaintiffs had stated a plausible equal-protection claim on the merits).

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The need for quality legal representation when dealing with matters such as an Atlanta employment discrimination case cannot be overstated. While a plaintiff does, technically, have the right to self-representation, this is never a good idea.

The same rules, laws, and procedures apply to those representing themselves as apply to professionally trained and highly skilled legal advocates who earn their living in the courtroom. Attorneys spend years learning the law and must take a rigorous bar examination in order to be licensed to represent others in legal matters. The law, including state and federal statutes regarding employment law, is ever evolving, and it can be challenging to keep up with the latest developments even for experienced counsel. Someone who is not professionally educated in the law is at a serious disadvantage.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent federal appellate case was a woman who filed suit against the defendant highway patrol department and her former supervisor, asserting claims for civil rights violations and employment discrimination during events that occurred in 2005 and/or 2006. The trial court dismissed the woman’s complaint, holding that her claims were barred by the statute of limitations, res judicata (two previous lawsuits concerning the same conduct had previously been dismissed), and sovereign immunity. The plaintiff sought review from the court of appeals.

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It is rare that both sides of a Georgia employment discrimination lawsuit agree on the facts leading up to the case. Very often, the employee believes that he or she was unlawfully fired, not promoted, demoted, etc. based on his or her age, gender, race, or disability, while the employer insists that the adverse employment action was based on other, legally acceptable reasons. The issue then becomes whether a termination or other adverse employment decision was based on “legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons” or whether the decision was based on factors (such as age or face) that, under state and federal law, should not be part of the decision process in the workplace. When these two sides conflict, either the trial court will grant summary judgment to one party based on the other side’s inability to produce sufficient evidence to prove that there are genuine issues of material fact regarding one or more claims, or the case will proceed to a jury trial.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a counselor who filed suit against the defendants, a state university’s board of regents and the director of the university’s counseling center, asserting that she had been the victim of unlawful discrimination. More specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants discriminated against her when they forced her to resign from her employment after she developed multiple health problems following a stroke-like incident in 2015, rather than be terminated.

In her complaint, filed after receiving a notice of the right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the plaintiff sought legal redress for disability discrimination, retaliation, and failure to accommodate under the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. She also sought relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the defendants’ alleged violation of her First Amendment rights. The plaintiff’s First Amendment claims were brought against the director in her individual capacity, but all of her other claims were against the university and the director in her official capacity.

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It is unlawful for an employer to take adverse employment action against a worker (or would-be worker) based on matters such as age, sex, race, or disability. An employee who is aggrieved by such conduct should consult an Atlanta employment discrimination attorney about the possibility of filing an employment discrimination claim with the appropriate governmental agency (such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) or court.

Remedies that may be available in such cases include injunctive relief, reinstatement, lost wages, and other money damages. The plaintiff has the initial burden of proving discrimination in such cases. As the case progresses, the defendant employer may allege that it has a legitimate reason for its actions. The plaintiff must then show that this reason was “pretext” rather than a true, lawful reason for the conduct at issue.

Facts of the Case

In a recent unpublished federal appeals court case, the plaintiff was a 52-year-old African American woman who worked  as a school secretary/registrar for the defendant school board for approximately two years. After her contract was not renewed and she was unable to find other work in the school district, the plaintiff filed suit in federal district court, alleging claims for racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983; age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621–34 (ADEA); and retaliation in violation of Title VII, § 1981, and the ADEA.

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In an Atlanta employment discrimination suit involving government officials as defendants, it is not unusual for defendants named in their individual capacity to seek dismissal of the claims against them based on qualified immunity. Although the doctrine of qualified immunity is complex, a court that grants dismissal of a claim based on qualified immunity is basically saying that a government official who performs a discretionary task in his or her official capacity should be shielded from suit. There are exceptions to qualified immunity, however. One of these involves situations in which the official violated a clearly established law (such as a constitutional right or a federal statute).

Facts of the Case

In a recent unpublished federal court case decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (which hears cases appealed from district courts in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida), the plaintiff was a former police officer who first joined the defendant city police department in 1997. He transferred to the defendant’s tactical unit in 2009; notably, the plaintiff’s application to transfer into the unit was initially denied but was granted after he filed a grievance with the personnel board. The plaintiff aspired to work in the unit’s K-9 department, but he was passed over, and white officers were given the positions when openings arose.

The defendant filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, complaining of the defendant sergeant’s failure to recommend him for a K-9 vacancy in 2013. In 2015, the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter. In the meantime, the plaintiff had been injured in a motorcycle accident that limited him to administrative duties, and he subsequently retired. In his complaint, he sought legal redress under both 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and Title VII. The federal district court partially granted and partially denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The sergeant sought review of the district court’s decision, particularly its rejection of his claim for qualified immunity.

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Employees who believe that they have been discriminated against due to age by a current, former, or potential employer may assume that they will eventually have their day in court if they file an Atlanta age discrimination claim.

While the United States Constitution does guarantee the right to a jury trial in some situations, the right to have a jury determine the issues in a civil case is not universal. For one thing, an employee many be asked to forfeit his or her right to a jury trial as a condition of employment.

If the worker signs an arbitration agreement prior to going to work for a certain employer, it is highly likely that any disputes between the parties will eventually be settled through arbitration rather than litigation.

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Last week, we told you about a Georgia retaliatory discharge claim. A woman was allegedly fired in response to her husband (who worked for the same employer) speaking out against workplace discrimination of a job applicant. As that case explained, the husband, too, had filed a claim against the employer, attempting to assert a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The outcome of the wife’s case hinged on her husband’s case, insomuch as he was the primary actor against whom the alleged retaliation was directed.

Facts of the Case

In the husband’s companion case, he alleged that he was the vice president of sales and marketing of the defendant company in 2017 when an advertising manager resigned. A woman who worked for a local media group expressed interest in the job. Ultimately, she met with the plaintiff and submitted a resume to his wife, who worked in human resources.  Unfortunately, the woman’s appearance (she was allegedly wearing tight, rather revealing clothing during the meeting) became a quick topic of discussion in the workplace. After a co-worker called the woman “a whore” and suggested that management would never allow a “bombshell like that” to work there, the plaintiff insisted that discrimination based on the woman’s appearance would be unlawful. (In opposition to the version of events presented by the plaintiff, the defendant company offered testimony by other employees who testified that they had been embarrassed by the plaintiff’s comments about the “well endowed” and “very, very, very well built” job applicant.)

Ultimately, the plaintiff and his wife were both terminated from their employment, and the plaintiff was issued a notice of suit rights by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in federal court, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.

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