Category Archives: discrimination

Uber’s Toxic Workplace Culture

A company director shouting a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a meeting. A manager groping female co-workers’ breasts during a company retreat. A manager threatening to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat. All of these incidents — and more — are described in a fascinating front-page story on Uber’s workplace culture by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, who based his story on interviews with 30 current and former employees of the ride-hailing service and reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings.

As you’ve probably heard, Uber found itself thrust into the spotlight after former employee Susan Fowler published a blog post last Sunday about her experiences working for the company. Fowler, an engineer, said she and other women were sexually harassed and discriminated against by her manager and little to nothing was done about it, even when she reported it to HR, because the manager was a “high performer.” (Fowler’s descriptions of her interactions with Uber’s HR department are particularly damning: For example, when she noted to an HR representative how few women were in her engineering department, the rep allegedly told her that she shouldn’t be surprised by the ratio of women in engineering because people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.)

Fowler and other current and former Uber employees told Isaac that HR would excuse poor behavior by their bosses because the managers in question were top performers who benefited the health of the company. The company’s culture — set by Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick — emphasizes getting ahead at all costs, the sources told Isaac, even if it means undermining co-workers and supervisors. One group in particular that was shielded from accountability was “the A-Team,” the sources said, a group of executives close to Kalanick.

Since Fowler went public with her accusations, Kalanick has brought in former Attorney General Eric Holder and board member Arianna Huffington to conduct an independent investigation of the issues Fowler raised. He said the company would release a full diversity report shortly and that 15.1 percent of the engineering, product management and scientist roles at Uber were held by women and that that number “has not changed substantively in the last year.”

In a statement to the Times, Uber CHRO Liane Hornsey said “We are totally committed to healing wounds of the past and building a better workplace culture for everyone.”

Hornsey, who joined Uber in January (its former HR chief, Rene Atwood, left in July to join Twitter) and who will assist with the investigation, spent nine years as Google’s vice president of global people operations. Hopefully she’ll be able to put her experience and expertise to good use at a company that appears to sorely need it.

Discriminatory Dress Codes in the U.K.

Over on the other side of the Atlantic, a storm is brewing over the unequal treatment of women in the workplace. The United Kingdom has a law in place — the Equality Act of 2010 –intended to prevent such treatment. However, that apparently hasn’t stopped U.K. employers from ordering their female employees to wear high heels, dye their hair blonde and dress themselves in revealing outfits. That’s according to a recent report by the British Parliament, undertaken in the wake of a petition signed by more than 150,000 people calling for a law that would ban organizations from requiring women to wear heels at work. The parliamentary investigators received complaints from hundreds of U.K. women who said they were subject to sexist dress codes by their employers.

As reported in yesterday’s New York Times, Nicola Thorp started the petition after she was sent home without pay from her job as a temporary receptionist for refusing to comply with an order that she get herself a pair of shoes with heels that were at least two inches high. Turns out that Portico, the receptionist-services firm that formerly employed Thorp, had quite an extensive employee dress code that covered just about every aspect of a woman’s appearance, including hair (“regularly maintained hair colour — if individual colours hair — with no visible roots”), makeup (“makeup worn at all times and regularly reapplied … “) and footwear (“Heel height normally a minimum of 2 inches and maximum of 4 inches, unless otherwise agreed by the company”). The code even suggested the palette of nail polishes that was acceptable. Portico said it changed its policy after Thorp raised the issue, the Times reports.

Thorp told the Times that part of the reason she started her protest was concern for the health effects of wearing high heels throughout the workday: “The company expected me to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I told them that I just wouldn’t be able to do that in heels.”

Thorp is hardly alone in her concern about the physical effects from being forced to wear high heels all day: “We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by the wearing of high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply makeup,” the report said. It cited longstanding medical evidence showing that women who wear high heels for long periods of time can suffer physical damage, including stress fractures.

U.K. lawmakers expressed concern that the Equality Act has not been effective in preventing employers from applying sexist dress codes. The report calls for “urgent action” by the government, including increased financial penalties for employers that break the law. However, Thorp said she wasn’t satisfied, telling The Guardian she was “absolutely chuffed to bits” that the report’s recommendations didn’t go further.

“The petition took off and I was very pleased to see the debate over heels grow to one about clothes, and continue moving on to other aspects of how women are treated in a work environment,” she told the paper. “We now need to see the government take these recommendations on board. The law should not just be changed but enforced.”

Under current U.K. law, instructing women to wear high heels at work “isn’t necessarily sex discrimination, ” Julia Wilson, an employment lawyer at Baker McKenzie, told British newspaper The Independent. “If [members of Parliament] want clear rules and fines for companies in relation to dress code practices, that is likely to require a change in the law.”

EEOC Releases Stats on LGBT Bias

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 91,503 charges of workplace discrimination in in fiscal year 2016 — the second year in a row that the number of charges has increased, the agency reports.  The EEOC says it resolved 97,443 charges of discrimination and secured more than $482 million for victims of discrimination through voluntary resolutions and litigation last year.

That’s according to the EEOC’s just-released annual summary of its enforcement and litigation data for the previous fiscal year, which this year — for the first time ever — includes detailed information about workplace discrimination charges filed by LGBT employees. The agency reports that it resolved 1,650  charges and recovered $4.4 million for LGBT individuals who filed sex discrimination charges with it during fiscal year 2016.  The number of such charges filed by members of the LGBT community has steadily risen since the EEOC began collecting this information in 2013, with 4,000 charges filed between then and 2016.

The agency has been a strong advocate of workplace rights for LGBT employees, arguing that the protections afforded workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act extend to sexual orientation. In 2015, it ruled in favor of David Baldwin, a former Federal Aviation Administration employee who charged the FAA with discriminating against him because he is gay. In that case, the EEOC concluded that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation  is indeed “sex-based” discrimination and therefore falls under the protection of Title VII.

It’s filed supporting briefs in a number of federal lawsuits by members of the LGBT community against their employers, including that of Kimberly Hively. Hively, a former adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, claims the college refused to allow her to interview for a full-time position or extend her contract because she is a lesbian. In late November the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in her case and is expected to issue a ruling later this year. According to reports, the 7th Circuit judges expressed sympathy toward the arguments put forth by Hively’s legal team. Should the court rule in her favor, it would be the first U.S. appellate court to expand Title VII’s protections to LGBT individuals.

Mental Health Conditions and the ADA

Mental healthIn many cases, making reasonable accommodations for employees’ physical conditions should seem straightforward enough.

Provide a hearing-impaired worker with the necessary phone equipment, for example. Allow a blind employee to bring his or her service dog to work. Lower the height of a wheelchair user’s desktop.

Addressing the needs of individuals with mental health conditions—which can be difficult to understand or even recognize—is a bit trickier for employers. Recent history gives us examples (like this one) of how organizations can run afoul of the American with Disabilities Act when dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

This week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a resource document it hopes will explain workplace protections and appropriate accommodations for employees and job applicants with mental health conditions under the ADA.

Judging by recent EEOC data, many employers could use some guidance in this area.

During fiscal year 2016, the organization resolved nearly 5,000 charges of discrimination based on mental health conditions, and obtained roughly $20 million for individuals with mental health conditions who were unlawfully denied employment and reasonable accommodations. And, EEOC charge data show that claims of discrimination based on mental health conditions are on the way up.

Depression, PTSD & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights is geared toward the individual employee, but can also be instructive for businesses. For instance, the document offers examples of possible accommodations to help individuals with mental health conditions perform their jobs, such as altering break and work schedules (scheduling work around therapy appointments, for example), providing quiet office space or devices that create a quiet work environment, making changes in supervisory methods and granting permission to work from home.

It also outlines scenarios in which employees or job applicants are allowed to keep a mental health condition private, and details situations that permit employers to ask medical questions, including queries surrounding mental health.

“Many people with common mental health conditions have important protections under the ADA,” said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang, in a statement. “Employers, job applicants and employees should know that mental health conditions are no different than physical health conditions under the law. In our recent outreach to veterans who have returned home with service-connected disabilities, we have seen the need to raise awareness about these issues. This resource document aims to clarify the protections that the ADA affords employees.”

Disability Stigma Alive and Well

Came across this post on LinkedIn the other day, reminding us all about the importance of giving disabled Americans the chance to 512903522-disabilityprove themselves in the workplace.

Included in the general reminder by Amber Fritsch, a talent-management consultant, were other reminders for employers — including  the new provisions regarding leave as a reasonable accommodation — the Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act — released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this year. Would be nice to think we’re moving in the right direction toward giving the more than 56 million Americans with disabilities a fair shake in corporate America.

But then I harked back to something I had come across earlier in the year — a mention of a movie I can’t say I’ve seen and can’t say I want to: Me Before You.

According to this recent post by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbilityUSA.org, the film is “the latest Hollywood movie to end with the assisted suicide or euthanasia of the lead character with a disability.”

She calls it “yet another case of ‘ableism’ — prejudice that people with disabilities are somehow less human, less valuable, less capable than others — and should simply die.”

Pretty grim description, but not too far removed from the stigma disabled job candidates still face, she says. The latest research from Mizrahi’s organization shows the numbers of working disabled Americans is still woefully low.

It cites findings that only one-in-three Americans with a disability has a job today and, of those who do, 400,000 work in sheltered workshops, also known as “enclaves” or “crews.” These institutions literally and legally can and frequently do pay people with disabilities sub-minimum wages, says Mizrahi. She adds:

“The lack of opportunity for people with disabilities leads to poverty, prison and, as we see in the fictionalized true story behind Me Before You, even death.”

In a follow-up conversation, Mizrahi cited a Kessler Foundation study showing 70 percent of people with disabilities are working age and currently striving for work. Only 34 percent have any job, however. From her vantage point …

“There has been NO improvement in the labor-force-participation rate in decades for people with disabilities. Zippo. And because other groups made progress and we did not, the gap in [those] rates between people with and those without disabilities has increased substantially.” 

She thinks a serious, systemic and ongoing communications campaign highlighting the benefits of inclusive hiring and self-employment is needed in this country so “people with disabilities can achieve the American dream, just like anyone else.”

Not sure why this hasn’t happened yet. Also not sure what the underlying problem is. And it’s not like we haven’t probed the matter. This recent HREOnline news analysis shows problems of recognizable bias in the hiring process still in existence at a majority of companies.

As Paula Brantner, executive director of Workplace Fairness in Silver Spring, Md., says in that story:

“You start with the adherence to the law [i.e., the Americans with Disabilities Act], but until you get to where people can actually work side-by-side with someone who has a disability, it’s going to be hard to overcome some of those deeply held biases that are really unfounded in reality.

“HR needs to send the message that this is a company that welcomes workers with disabilities and then facilitate that process every step of the way.”

HRE Editor David Shadovitz’s more-positive HRE Daily post last year at least cites some evidence that disabled workers and job applicants are starting to overcome some of these barriers.

The post includes statistics from John O’Neill, director of employment and disability research at the Kessler Foundation, showing that roughly 16 percent of those with disabilities say they’ve experienced barriers resulting from supervisors’ attitudes and about the same proportion experienced barriers resulting from co-workers’ attitudes.

But when you ask them about their ability to overcome those barriers, about 41 percent of the former said they were able to do that and 54 percent of the latter said the same.

So there’s hope. But the overcoming efforts shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of disabled workers alone.

Landmark Ruling on the Horizon?

A new landmark ruling affecting how employers view sexuality when considering applicants could soon be in the offing, according to Reuters.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments tomorrow in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, in which a former Ivy Tech adjunct professor, Kimberly Hively, claims the college refused to allow her to interview for a full-time job and ultimately did not renew her contract because she is a lesbian.

The case , Reuters notes, gives the 7th Circuit a historic opportunity to fix what three of its own judges have called “a jumble of inconsistent precedents” and a “confused hodge-podge of cases.” If the full appellate court sides with Hively and her lawyers from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, gays and lesbians will finally receive protection under federal law from workplace discrimination.

Lambda Legal lawyer Kenneth Upton told Reuters:

“Sexual orientation doesn’t have anything to do with employees’ ability to do their job,” Upton said. “It shouldn’t be a determiner of whether you should continue to be employed.”

The Hively case spotlights a weird legal paradox, according to the Reuters piece.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids employers from treating workers unequally on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. A plurality of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1989’s Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins that employers cannot discriminate against workers who don’t conform to sex stereotypes.

Yet as a three-judge panel at the 7th Circuit explained last summer in its since-vacated Hively opinion, every federal appellate court to have considered the question of whether employers can discriminate based on workers’ sexual orientation has concluded that Title VII’s bar on sex discrimination doesn’t give redress to gays and lesbians.

Upton added that three-judge panels at the 5th and 2nd Circuits are also facing the question, so ultimately, it will probably be up to the Supreme Court to provide an answer.

 

The EEOC Enforcement Agenda

Earlier this week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued its updated enforcement guidance on national origin discrimination.

(The EEOC also issued two resource documents to accompany the guidance: a Q & A publication on the guidance document and a small business fact sheet designed to illustrate the guidance’s chief points in plain language, according to the organization.)

The new guidance defines national origin discrimination as “discrimination because an individual (or his or her ancestors) is from a certain place or has the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a particular national origin group.”

The documents also address Title VII’s prohibition on national origin discrimination as applied to a broad range of employment situations and highlight practices for employers to prevent discrimination, as well as discussing legal developments since 2002, when the EEOC issued the national origin discrimination compliance manual section that these new guidelines are intended to replace.

“EEOC is dedicated to advancing opportunity for all workers and ensuring freedom from discrimination based on ethnicity or country of origin,” says EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang, in a statement.

“This guidance addresses important legal developments over the past 14 years on issues ranging from human trafficking to workplace harassment. The examples and promising practices included in the guidance will promote compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws and help employers and employees better understand their legal rights and responsibilities.”

This announcement comes just weeks after the EEOC unveiled its Strategic Enforcement Plan for fiscal years 2017 through 2021. One pillar of this plan is the agency’s expanding focus on protecting immigrant and migrant workers, such as those who are Muslim or Sikh or persons of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, as well as those perceived to be members of these groups, as HRE’s Julie Cook-Ramirez noted earlier this month.

Of course, the EEOC’s new guidelines and its stated strategy for the next five years arrive almost exactly two months before the scheduled inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump, who stands to significantly shake up the agency’s agenda.

In a recent blog post at www.law360.com, law professor Michael LeRoy explains how the incoming president could very well upend the EEOC’s enforcement agenda with regard to national origin (and other forms of) discrimination.

“Trump’s popularity derives in no small measure from people who are tired of ‘political correctedness,’ ” writes LeRoy, a professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations and College of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This concept is generally found in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations that prohibit employers from creating a ‘hostile work environment.’ ”

That term applies to sexual harassment, but racial, religious and national origin harassment as well, adds LeRoy.

“A Trump EEOC could redline ‘hostile work environment,’ thereby signaling that no federal employment policy prohibits the type of degrading language that Trump has used against women, Mexican, Muslims and other groups.”

For that matter, President Trump will have the opportunity to appoint high-ranking personnel that could in turn impact staffing decisions throughout the EEOC, potentially shifting the agency’s enforcement priorities, as Seyfarth Shaw attorneys recently pointed out.

In addition to the possibility that President Trump could designate a new EEOC chair, the agency will see General Counsel David Lopez leave at the end of 2016.

“[Lopez’s] impending departure means that President Trump will have an early opportunity to appoint his successor,” Seyfarth attorneys wrote. “These leadership changes at the highest levels of the EEOC will undoubtedly impact the direction the agency takes in the future.”

A Trump administration could also signal budgetary constraints for the EEOC, which may alter the way the agency approaches enforcement of discrimination guidelines.

“Historically, the EEOC adapted by focusing its enforcement efforts on systemic litigation, meaning targeting high-impact cases that address policies or patterns or practices that have a broad impact on a region, industry or entire class of employees or job applicants,” Seyfarth attorneys note. “The theory was that large, high-profile cases, settlements and judgments would have a greater deterrent effect, and would therefore affect a larger number of workers and industries.”

Faced with the possibility of fewer resources and new personnel, however, the EEOC of the near future could be forced to find “new and creative ways to adapt its enforcement program (and its own political viability) to the new reality.”

 

Trump Win Good for Biz Women??

Not one for post-election posting here, but this LinkedIn piece by Sallie Krawcheck caught my eye. As a woman watching and dv496065aweathering the campaign, and now the transition to a Trump presidency, I wanted to make sure as many women — and men — as possible saw it too.

Her premise that “Donald Trump as president of the United States could just be the best thing that has happened to professional women in a long time … huh? what?” is right in Krawcheck’s wheelhouse. She’s the CEO of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women; chair of Ellevate Network, a global professional women’s network; and author of Own It: The Power of Women at Work, to be released in January. As she puts it,

“We’re awake now. That’s because it’s all out in the open: the Billy Bush conversation, the recent New York Times OpEd on “bro talk on Wall Street,” even the light sentence for Brock Turner.  And while as a mother and an aunt, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it that we haven’t made more progress for younger women, this does represent an odd form of forward motion: We can’t really deal with an issue until we fully understand the issue.”

It’s a compelling piece and worth the read, whatever your gender or persuasion, political or otherwise. This new Trump era, ushered in by stepped-up conversations about the treatment of women, comes with “some proof that we can’t rely on others to fight this battle for us, and so we must redouble our efforts,” Krawcheck says. “… I’m hearing from more and more women that we must ‘put on our big-girl pants’ and do this ourselves..”

And it’s not like women don’t have the resources, she adds. “[W]e control $5 trillion of investable assets, we direct 80 percent of consumer spending, we’re more than half of the workforce. We’ve got a lot of power.”

Krawcheck’s list of what to do to claim and use that power is impressively detailed, and long. Just some of her many suggestions — some we’ve heard and written about, some we haven’t — include mentoring and sponsoring other women, amplifying what other women say in meetings, pointing out to others when they interrupt other women or ignore them in meetings, pointing out when the words they use to compliment men (“aggressive” or “go-getter”) are used to put down women and refusing to work at the company that doesn’t “get it” on making the work environment one in which you can be successful.

She also bangs the political drum some, post-election, suggesting women start donating to female candidates whose views line up with theirs, and start running for office and encourage other women to run for office.

And the financial-independence drum:

“[D]oing all that we can to be in financial control feels more important today than it did [before the election]. It’s important that we break the old gender norms of ‘the man manages the money; I manage the household.’ That leaves us retiring with two-thirds the money of men … but living five-plus years longer than they do. …

“[P]lease get yourself a financial plan and invest.”

All politics and election furor aside, Krawcheck gave me some serious things to think about. If any of this gets you thinking about new approaches to help the women in your organization claim their power and succeed, then all the better.

The Motherhood Tax at Work

New research out of the United Kingdom shows the gender-pay gap widens significantly after the birth of a child, otherwise known as the “motherhood tax.”

According to a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 12 years after giving birth for the first time, women are making 33 percent less per hour than men.

On average, women in work receive about 18 percent less per hour than men, down from 23 percent in 2003.

While the wider gap for mothers is not because women see an immediate cut in hourly pay after childbirth.

Possible explanations include mothers missing out on promotions or accumulating less labor market experience, the authors said.

“Comparing women who had the same hourly wage before leaving paid work, wages when they return are on average 2 percent lower for each year spent out of paid work in the interim,” the IFS wrote.

(Tip of the hat to CNN Money.)

A Groundbreaking New Pay Equity Law

Beginning July 1, 2018, employers in Massachusetts will be prohibited from asking job candidates about their salary history before offering them a job or asking candidates’ former employers about their pay. The new law, the Pay Equity Act, is designed to reduce the pay disparities between men and women in the workplace.

Although other states (including California and Maryland) have also enacted recent legislation designed to reduce pay inequity, Massachusetts is the first state to ban employers from asking about candidates’ salary history. The law, signed earlier this week by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, not only had bipartisan support in the state legislature but also from business groups such as the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Nationally, women still earn only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Because companies tend to use candidates’ pay history as a guideline in making offers, these inequities can follow candidates throughout their lifetimes, pay-equity advocates say.

The Massachusetts law, which amends and expands upon the state’s pre-existing pay equity law, also makes it illegal for employers to ban employees from discussing their pay with others and will require equal pay employees whose work is “of comparable character or work in comparable operations.” The law also bars employers from reducing the pay of any employee in order to come into compliance with the Pay Equity Act.

The law also increases the penalties for violations, according to an analysis by law firm Holland & Knight:

The law expands the remedies available to plaintiffs by extending the statute of limitations from one year to three years, and creating a continuing violation provision under which a new violation of the law occurs each time an employee is paid an unequal amount. This provision may permit employees to recover years of back pay discrepancies as well as liquidated damages. Fines are increased from $100 to $1,000 per violation. There is no requirement that an employee file first with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Lawsuits may be filed directly in court.

Notably, however, the law features a safe harbor provision for employers that have been accused of pay discrimination, writes attorney Victoria Fuller of White and Williams:

Employers may avoid liability for pay discrimination under the Act if they can show within the last three years and before the commencement of the action, they have completed a good-faith self-evaluation of their pay practices and can demonstrate that reasonable progress has been made towards eliminating compensation differentials based on gender for comparable work in accordance with the evaluation.