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San Francisco Employment Law Blog

Tesla allegedly fired woman for claiming sexual harassment

Tesla is a California company that wants to shape the future. However, the experiences of some of its female employees appear to be mired in the prejudices of the past. One female employee has filed a lawsuit against the company. She claims that the company fired her after a media outlet published her allegations of sexual harassment in the Tesla workplace.

The woman described a work environment where male co-workers earned higher wages than her. She also accused the company of passing her over for promotions. Harassment from male co-workers took place as well, and the company allegedly showed no inclination to address the behavior.

Women of color in science fields face more discrimination

Women of color in California and across the country who work in some of the most advanced scientific fields continue to experience hostile environments based on their race and gender, a study has found. Their experience in the workplace underlies some of the key theories through which scholars understand discrimination, particularly the "double jeopardy" of both racial and gender harassment.

The study, published in the "Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets," surveyed 474 planetary scientists and astronomers. Of the responses received between 2011 and 2015, women of color participants experienced the highest rates of verbal harassment, assault and other forms of discrimination.

How back pay damages are determined

Some California employees who are involved in a dispute with their employer over workplace discrimination might have heard of back pay damages. Back pay damages are the amount an employer may be required to pay to cover an employee's economic losses. This may include both income and fringe benefits. Back pay damages may be awarded in several types of successful discrimination suits.

For example, a person might allege denial of a promotion based on discrimination, and a lawsuit might be successful. The plaintiff would then receive the difference in pay between the two positions. This could include bonuses and stock options in addition to salary.

Data on wage discrimination

Most of the wage discrimination claims that are based on gender are filed by women. However, workers in California should also know that the some cases are filed by men. This is according to published and unpublished charge filing data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

There are federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination and are the basis for which wage discrimination charges are filed. Most of the charges are filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Individuals can file claims that allege wage discrimination based on religion, race, national origin and gender. Wage discrimination charges based on one's gender are filed under the Equal Pay Act as well. Almost 20 percent of wage discrimination charges pertain to age-related wage discrimination. A smaller percentage of charges claim wage discrimination based on one's disability.

Executives often lack protection from discrimination

Workplace discrimination suits face legal hurdles when the plaintiff is a high-level executive or a partner at a California firm. To qualify for protection from discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a person must be an employee instead of an employer. For people who hold positions of authority and power, the law might classify them as employers.

People at this level typically present complaints based on age discrimination, harassment or continually being denied promotions. A case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2003 established a test to determine whether a person is an employee or employer.

Settlement reaffirms civil rights law protects immigrants

A discrimination case against a national restaurant chain ended in a settlement with the business paying a hefty fine and establishing a fund for workers who suffered adverse effects. California-based Panda Express, which has an estimated 30,000 workers across the nation, ran afoul of the Immigration and Nationality Act when it asked workers for certain documents and put them through procedures that citizens were not subject to.

The primary issues in the case involved the employer demanding immigration documents in a re-verification process that was not required of citizens and requiring that non-citizen residents reestablish authorization to work after expiration of documents on file. Employers are expressly forbidden from asking for certain immigration documents that may cause disparate impact based on national origin or citizenship status.

Former McDonald's employee files discrimination claim

California workers may be interested to learn that a former McDonald's employee filed a lawsuit claiming that she was subjected to discrimination and was sexually harassed because she is transgender. The defendants are the company as well as the owner of the franchise located in Redford, Michigan.

The 25-year-old transgender woman worked at the franchise between April and August 2015. While she was employed there, she claimed that she was referred to as a "boy-slash-girl" by other staff. She was also not allowed to use a normal bathroom. Instead, she claimed she was forced to use a bathroom that was serving as a storage area. Additionally, she claimed that she was groped while at work. She was eventually taken off the schedule after having her hours reduced and later terminated after she complained to a supervisor.

Race discrimination in the workplace, Title VII and Section 1981

A California employee that is the victim of racial discrimination on the job is protected under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and another law, Section 1981. Therefore, when filing an employment discrimination claim, it is important that a person does so under the right law. Section 1981 applies only to racial and ethnic harassment, and Title VII deals with discrimination against several protected classes.

If someone wants to file a legal claim under Title VII, he or she must first go through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which can take either 180 or 300 days depending on the state where it's filed. It is not necessary to go through the EEOC process when filing under Section 1981, and the statute of limitations is four years.

Similarly situated employees important in discrimination cases

California residents who are contemplating employment discrimination actions should consider the importance of similarly situated employees. It is likely in any employment discrimination case brought in federal court that the judge will compare the treatment of the plaintiff to the treatment of other similarly situated employees of the company. The definition of who, exactly, qualifies as a similarly situated employee may vary widely from case to case, but there are certain factors that a judge will commonly consider.

The court will often look at whether or not the plaintiff and the proposed similarly situated employee shared the same supervisor or had similar disciplinary history and performance evaluations. The court may also consider the similarity of the tasks and responsibilities of the employees and their relative levels of experience. While an exact match is not necessary, the court is more likely to find that another employee was similarly situated to the plaintiff if their circumstances match closely.

50 years of age discrimination legislation

California residents who are at or over the age of 40 are protected from age discrimination in employment by federal law. However, according to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, age discrimination claims have remained high. They peaked in 2008 at more than 24,000, and each year for the past 10, there have been more than 20,000 claims. In 2016, there were 20,857.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act was passed in 1967 by Congress, so it is reaching its 50th anniversary. There have been a few amendments, and some aspects of age discrimination have changed. For example, at the time of its passing, it was more common for an employer to set an arbitrary age limit.

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