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Houston Employment Law Blog

When treatment of others matters in employment law

Texas workers are unlikely to get direct evidence from an employer that they were discriminated against. Direct evidence includes an employer blatantly telling an employee that he or she didn't get a job because of gender, race or another protected attribute. Therefore, an employee may have to rely on other types of evidence such as how other similarly situated employees were treated by the employer.

While the treatment of other employees isn't necessarily admissible in a lawsuit against the employer, it can be considered by a court if it is relevant to the case. For instance, if an African-American worker was denied a promotion, the fact that white workers with fewer credentials were promoted may be relevant. It may also be relevant for a jury to look at whether the same person was making hiring or other employment decisions in multiple cases.

GE accused of making millions off 401(k) participants' loss

Many workers in Texas invest for retirement through their employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. A possible class-action lawsuit emerging against General Electric Co. illustrates the harm caused when plan managers ignore fiduciary duties. Participants in GE's plan, which is one of the largest in the country with over $28 billion in assets, have filed a lawsuit based on violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Court filings detail plaintiffs' claims about company representatives pushing investments in GE's proprietary mutual funds at company meetings. The lawsuit accuses GE of knowingly urging participants to direct their funds into mutual funds run by GE Asset Management so that GE could earn high profits through investment management fees charged by GEAM. The company promoted five specific mutual funds despite their poor performances. Participants experienced losses of hundreds of millions of dollars while GE earned hundreds of millions of dollars through GEAM.

Employees stuck at work during hurricane may receive pay

During the recent natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey, many workers were physically stuck at their work location, unable to leave. Whether their hours at work are compensable may depend on several factors.

At a bakery in Houston, an overnight shift baker found himself stranded in the bakery due to hurricane conditions after his shift was over. Concerned for his family’s safety but helpless to act on their behalf, he used his stranded time at the store to bake. In fact, he engaged in his trade to the extent that the City of Houston was able to use the baked goods to feed the community's needy during the days immediately after the hurricane. But what about receiving pay for those hours on the job?

Lawsuit against GrubHub questions worker classification

Many Texas workers find themselves earning money in the gig economy. The rise of technology companies that offer services that connect customers with service providers has created controversy about the status of the people providing those services.

The companies insist that they only provide applications that enable a transaction, but some workers claim that they are employees entitled to overtime pay and not the independent contractors that the companies consider them. A federal court trial is addressing the classification of a man who worked as a food delivery driver through GrubHub. His lawsuit demands overtime pay and reimbursement of business expenses as well as the ability to create a class action representing other drivers.

Blacks and Latinos still face hiring discrimination

Many Texas residents believe that, as long as they work hard and continue to improve themselves, they will find success. Those who are black or Latino, however, will have to work even harder to get a fair chance to even get hired. In fact, according to a meta-study, hiring discrimination against blacks has not improved in the last two decades. While hiring discrimination against Latinos has reduced slightly, many still face discrimination.

The meta-study included data from more than 55,000 applicants. According to the results, white individuals have received, on average, 36 percent more callbacks than blacks. Further, whites also received, on average, 24 percent more callbacks that Latino residents since 1989. The study found no change other than a slight reduction of hiring discrimination against Latino individuals.

Government agencies split over Title VII

In July 2017, the Department of Justice said that the Civil Rights Act did not protect workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation. When it made that statement, the department put itself at odds with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The DOJ has jurisdiction over state and local government employers throughout Texas and the rest of the U.S. while the EEOC has jurisdiction over cases involving private and federal employers.

According to LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal, this may create a situation where some employers are subject to enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act while others aren't. In a brief submitted to the Supreme Court, the group asked that the judges take a look at a decision made by the 11th Circuit in the case of Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital. This court ruled 2-1 that workers were not covered by Civil Rights Act protections based on sexual discrimination simply because they were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The legal obligation to accommodate disabled workers

The Family and Medical Leave Act enables eligible workers in Texas and around the country to take time off to care for themselves or family members under certain circumstances. The law requires employers to protect their jobs for 12 weeks. If an individual's medical circumstances become disabling, then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission maintains that the legal protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act would prevent employers from terminating the jobs of people with ongoing medical problems.

In August, the EEOC asserted this position in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman fired after taking medical leave. Court filings indicate that the employer should have accommodated her need to continue treatment for breast cancer. The employer approved leave for the woman between June 2015 and September 2015 although she had requested a leave through November of that year. When she could not return to work after September, she lost her job and now seeks damages.

Inflexible leave policies and the ADA

Houston employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants and employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that companies must make job adjustments that will allow individuals with a disability to perform necessary work functions. However, some employers violate the ADA by having an inflexible leave policy.

An inflexible leave policy, also known as a "no-fault" leave policy, automatically terminates an employee once the employer's maximum leave limit. has been reached. While this type of policy typically offers all employees the same amount of leave, it violates the ADA by failing to engage in an interactive process with employees, which is required under federal law. The interactive process demands that employers consider each employee's request for additional leave on an individual basis and engage in a conversation with an employee about his or her needs.

How to know if you are entitled to overtime pay

To protect workers' rights, there are state and federal laws concerning overtime pay. In the state of Texas, employers have to pay overtime if employees work more than 40 hours a week. That means if an employee workers 12 hours one day, 10 hours the next, 12 hours the following day and nothing else for the rest of the week, then he could not receive overtime. Some states work on a daily basis. 

It is important for employees to understand their rights, so they can receive overtime when they deserve it. That involves learning about the law to know when overtime is mandatory. 

Former women employees at Google report discrimination

People in the Houston area may have heard about an engineer at Google who was fired because of a document he released arguing that women were biologically less likely to have the skills to work in technical careers. Several women who used to work at the company have alleged that sexism, racism and ageism there made them leave. Women reported not seeing a future for themselves at the company, hearing sexist and racist jokes and facing discrimination in terms of promotions and other aspects of their jobs.

One Asian woman said a coworker had told her she must have had an easy time getting her job because Asians are good at math. She said this was typical of comments that built up over time. A black woman reported that she felt unwelcome and was frequently asked for identification while on the Google premises when her white coworkers were not. She said prioritizing diversity was discouraged and that she felt invisible while working for the company.

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