NEWS AND RESOURCES

Illinois Employers Required to Offer a Retirement Savings Program to Employees

Beginning July 1, 2019 employers who have been operating in Illinois for at least two years will be required to participate in a state-run retirement savings program or offer another qualifying retirement plan. The Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Act (820 ILCS 80/), adopted in 2015, requires employers with 25 or more workers who do not already offer their employees a retirement plan to automatically enroll their workers aged 18 and older in the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program, a state-run payroll-deduction Roth IRA. Employers with 100 – 499 employees must register for the Secure Choice Program by July 1, 2019 and employers with 25 – 99 employees must register by November 1, 2019 (employers with 500+ employees were required to register in late 2018). Participating employers will be required to automatically enroll employees in the savings program, withhold five percent of an employee’s compensation (up to an annual IRS maximum), and remit employees’ contributions to the Program, unless the employee elects a different amount or opts out of the Program. Full-time and part-time employees are eligible as well as seasonal employees if they work for the employer for more than 60 days. The Secure Choice Program is not intended to be an employer-sponsored retirement plan. The Act does not allow employer matches or contributions. The employer requirement is limited to offering the Secure Choice Program to new workers (using materials provided by the Secure Choice Program manager), providing an annual enrollment period for ongoing employees, automatically enrolling workers who do not opt out, and depositing worker payroll deductions into the Program’s trust fund. Penalties for noncompliance begin at $250 per employee per year initially, and increase to $500 per employee if the employer continues to be in violation of the Act. An employer is exempt from the Secure Choice Program if it offers another retirement plan such as a 401(k) plan or any other plan qualified under Internal Revenue Code section 401(a). Thus, it is important for employers to thoroughly examine all the options available to determine whether implementing a qualified retirement plan may be a better alternative.

Employer May Be Liable for Employee’s Alleged Pedophilia

The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled a church and its pastor can be liable for a youth minister's sexual assault of a teenage church member. In Doe v. Coe, 2019 IL 123521, the court found plaintiffs, Jane Doe and her parents, made a plausible case that the church and its pastor could have circumvented the assault by acting on signs the minister was allegedly a pedophile. The lawsuit alleged that the First Congregational Church of Dundee (FCCD) and its pastor, Aaron James, negligently hired, supervised, and retained FCCD’s director of youth ministries, Chad Coe. At issue is whether FCCD knew or should have known at the time it hired Coe that he had a sexual interest in children and, once hired, was there a general foreseeability that the assault could occur. Plaintiffs alleged that FCCD failed to conduct a background check before hiring Coe. They further alleged that a simple Google search of Coe’s name would have revealed his pseudonym, BluesGod88, and that he used that pseudonym on certain pornography websites, including to post obscene photos of himself. Furthermore, Justice Garman found plaintiffs made a reasonable argument that the church and pastor allegedly failed to monitor Coe. Plaintiffs alleged the pastor took no action after receiving reports from an early childhood professional that Coe behaved inappropriately with Jane Doe. The church and pastor also provided Coe with unsupervised access to children and failed to monitor those interactions. According to the court, it is generally foreseeable that abuse could occur under such circumstances. “We do not, at this stage, determine whether negligence has been proven but merely whether facts have been alleged that, if proven, could entitle plaintiffs to recovery,” Garman said. The case has been remanded to the circuit court.

Civil Actions Against Employers May Now be Brought in Certain Work Injury Cases

 Today Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1596 which amends the Illinois Workers Compensation and Occupational Diseases Acts (“Acts”), effective immediately. The new law creates an exception to the workers’ compensation system by allowing civil actions to be brought against Illinois employers in latent injury cases. Previously, the Supreme Court held that an employee's action was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Acts.  Further, employers have been able to rely on a 25-year statute of repose that limits the time for a worker to bring a claim. A statute of repose begins to run when a specific event occurs regardless of whether any injury has resulted or been discovered yet. Occupational illnesses often do not manifest themselves until decades after a claimed exposure to asbestos or other toxic substances. The statue of repose prevented many workers from filing claims for occupational diseases because they had not learned of their illnesses until long after the deadline had passed.  Now if a worker’s compensation claim is precluded by the statute of repose, a civil action can then be brought against the employer in state or federal court.  While a defendant employer would have various defenses available that would not be available in a worker’s compensation case, damages would not be capped or limited as they would be under the Acts.

Failing to Provide a Larger Monitor to an Employee as a Reasonable Accommodation Could be Costly

Bath & Body Works, LLC settled a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The chain allegedly violated federal law by refusing to consider a reasonable accommodation requested by an employee with a disability and then constructively discharged her because of her disability. According to the lawsuit, a Bath & Body Works store refused to provide a reasonable accommodation to a lead sales associate with Type 1 diabetes suffering retinopathy. Jennifer Tvinnereim requested a larger monitor at the cash register to accommodate vision issues she had related to her diabetes, but she was simply sent home and had her hours reduced. Tvinnereim then contacted Bath & Body Works' corporate H.R.  Instead of providing the monitor, the store manager purchased a cheap, hand-held magnifying glass and presented it to Tvinnereim in front of her coworkers. The EEOC alleges that Ms. Tvinnereim was humiliated when she was told to hold the cheap magnifying glass in front of customers as she used the cash register monitor. Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires the employer to provide employees and applicants with a reasonable accommodation for a disability, unless it causes the employer an undue hardship. Even though the store actually tried accommodating the employee, it was not tailored to resolve the issue when it had the wherewithal to do so. "Employers must give serious consideration when an employee requests an accommodation for a disability," said Greg Gochanour, the regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago District Office.

Stanley Black & Decker Settles EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

Stanley Black & Decker Inc., a global diversified industrial company, will pay $140,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the lawsuit, Stanley Black & Decker fired an inside sales representative for poor attendance in December 2016, even though she exceeded her sales goals and quotas. The employee had requested unpaid leave for medical appointments and treatment related to her cancer. The EEOC charged that the termination violated federal law because the employee’s absences were related to her cancer treatments or need for additional medical testing, and she had requested a reasonable accommodation. Moreover, the company’s inside sales attendance policy did not provide exceptions for people who need leave as an accommodation to their disabilities. Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities, unless it would pose an undue hardship. In addition to the $140,000 in monetary relief to the employee, Stanley Black and Decker is prohibited from denying reasonable accommodations in the future and must update its inside sales attendance policy to provide for reasonable accommodations. This is a reminder to all employers that rigid attendance policies can run afoul of the ADA if they penalize employees taking leave as a reasonable accommodation for their disabilities. “We encourage employers to review their policies and procedures, including attendance policies, to ensure they provide for reasonable accommodations and equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities,” said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Jamie R. Williamson.

Illinois Raises Hourly Minimum Wage to $15

Governor Pritzker signed legislation that will gradually raise the minimum wage in Illinois to $15 an hour by 2025. The new law, known as the Lifting Up Illinois Working Families Act, is the first increase to the statewide minimum wage since 2010. The law takes effect on January 1, 2020 when the state’s current minimum wage of $8.25 will increase to $9.25. On July 1, 2020 that amount will increase again to $10 an hour. The minimum wage will then rise $1 an hour every January 1st through 2025 when the minimum wage will reach $15 an hour. Opponents of the law cited concerns of being unable to sustain small businesses in areas outside of Chicago where the cost of living is lower. To address those concerns, the legislation creates a tax credit to help smaller businesses offset the cost of the minimum wage hike. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees would be able to claim a tax credit for 25% of the cost in 2020. That tax credit would gradually decrease over the next several years, eventually phasing out in 2025. 

Reimbursement of Employee Expenses is Now the Law

Beginning January 1, 2019, Illinois employers must reimburse employees for expenses incurred while performing their jobs. This new requirement is an amendment to the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. 820 ILCS 115/9.5. To qualify for reimbursement under the amendment the employer must have “authorized or required” the employee to incur the expense; the expense request must be submitted within 30 calendar days (unless a longer period is provided for under the employer's expense reimbursement policy); and the employee must provide a signed, written statement in lieu of a receipt when the supporting documentation has been lost or does not exist. The amendment allows employers to establish their own written expense reimbursement policies specifying the amounts and requirements for any reimbursements. Employees are not entitled to reimbursement under the new law if they fail to comply with the employer’s established written expense reimbursement policy. Employers may not establish a policy that provides no employee expense reimbursement or provides minimal reimbursement. Employers may now need to reimburse employees for their work-related mileage (excluding the regular commute), employees’ personal cell phones (if supervisors, customers, or clients call those phones for work-related purposes) and home internet and other home office expenses that are necessary for an employee to work from home. Failure to comply with the new law can result in damages equal to the reimbursement amount and a 2% penalty for each month the expenses are not paid as well as attorneys’ fees incurred by the employee.

Female Doctor Triumphs in Wage Discrimination Claim

A federal judge ordered Denton County to pay $115,000 to a former county physician in damages stemming from a pay discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Dr. Martha C. Storrie, a primary care clinician in the Denton County Public Health Department, was hired in October 2008. Her position involved providing medical treatment for Denton County residents in clinics operated by the county. In August 2015, Denton County hired a male physician to perform the same duties as Storrie. According to the lawsuit, the director of the health department started the newly hired male physician’s salary at $170,000. Storrie was paid $135,695 annually at the time. The EEOC alleged that the director did not act to fix the pay discrepancy even after Storrie brought it to his attention. This alleged conduct is a violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit unequal pay disparities based on gender as opposed to other factors such as qualifications and job duties. In addition to the damages Storrie received, the federal order also requires Denton County to implement a new written policy regarding the compensation policy for new physicians and provide training on equal pay for women.  “The EEOC is hopeful the County’s renewed efforts may also lead to other departments or areas within the County’s workforce being reviewed and considered periodically to determine equal opportunities are given to both men and women,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Robert Canino.

Amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act

Effective August 24, 2018, a charging party has 300 days to file a discrimination charge alleging violations of the Illinois Human Rights Act.  The increase to 300 days now mirrors that of federal law, which requires parties to file discrimination charges before the EEOC within 300 days of an adverse act.  Also, a charging party may opt to bypass the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) investigative process and file a lawsuit in court without first having gone through an IDHR investigation.  To see all of the recent amendments click on the attached link to the legislation.      

Changes to Sex Education in Illinois Public Schools

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation expanding the requirements for sex education courses for students in grades 6 through 12. The law now requires more education on sexual harassment in the workplace and on college campuses. The courses will also include a discussion on what constitutes sexual consent and what may be considered sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Chicago Increases Its Minimum Wage

Beginning July 1, 2018, the minimum hourly wage for non-tipped employees will be $12.00 per hour (up from $11.00) and the hourly wage for tipped employees will be $6.25 per hour (up from $6.10). This increase is part of Mayor Emanuel’s Chicago Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, which was passed by the Chicago City Council in December 2014. All businesses operating within Chicago and/or employing persons working within Chicago are required to comply. The ordinance applies to all employers that maintain a business facility within the city of Chicago and/or are required to obtain a business license to operate in the city. All employees who perform at least two hours of work in the city of Chicago within any two-week period qualify for the increased rate. The ordinance covers all qualifying employees, including domestic employees, day laborers, and home health care workers. There are some exceptions: persons under 18 years of age, adults during the first 90 days of employment, disabled employees who have a state-approved lower wage rate, trainees taking part in a program, and employees working at a business with three or fewer employees (excluding domestic workers and day laborers). Chicago businesses are also required to post a Notice to Employers and Employees in each place of business beginning July 1, 2018. They must also include the Notice in each employee’s first paycheck following July 1st.

Companies Settle Male-on-Male Sexual Harassment Suit

Three related Honolulu-based tour companies will pay $570,000 to settle a same-sex sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 2017, the EEOC filed its lawsuit in which several male employees claimed they were victims of egregious sexual harassment by Leo Malagon, the male president of Discovering Hidden Hawaii Tours. According to the lawsuit, Malagon allegedly harassed young males for more than a decade by making employment opportunities contingent upon engaging in sexual acts with him and performing unwanted sexual acts on male employees. When employees complained about the harassment, the company failed to take corrective action. Many of the employees were subsequently forced to quit because of the harassment or were retaliated against for reporting the harassment. This alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to paying $570,000 to a class of male employees, the settlement also requires that the alleged harasser have no further involvement in the operations and divest control of the companies. “This settlement sends an unequivocal message that accountability is required regardless of who the alleged harasser is, and no one is above the law under Title VII,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC.

Age Discrimination Law Applies to Job Applicants

A divided federal appeals court ruled that job applicants, not just current employees, can sue employers for alleged age discrimination. The case involved Dale Kleber, an attorney with more than 25 years of experience. Kleber was 58 years old when he applied for a job with CareFusion Corp., a healthcare products company. The job posting required applicants have “3 to 7 years (no more than 7 years) of relevant legal experience.” When the company did not contact him for an interview, Kleber sued for age discrimination. He argued that CareFusion violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by imposing the seven-year cap on experience, effectively shutting out candidates older than the age of 40. The legal issue in this case is whether the ADEA protects job hunters from hiring practices that are more likely to hurt older candidates, even if the policies are not expressly age-based. This is called “disparate impact” in legal terms. CareFusion argued that the ADEA provision Kleber says the company violated protects only current employees, not job applicants. The district court ruled in favor of CareFusion, a decision that the appeals court panel overturned by a 2-1 vote. “We have not been presented with, and could not imagine on our own, a plausible policy reason why Congress might have chosen to allow disparate impact claims by current employees, including internal job applicants, while excluding outside job applicants,” the majority wrote in its ruling.

Oral Surgery Practice Settles Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Professional Endodontics, P.C. will pay $47,000 to settle an age discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC's lawsuit charged that the company violated federal law by firing Karen Ruerat four days after her 65th birthday. According to the lawsuit, Ruerat was terminated pursuant to the company’s mandatory retirement policy which required all employees to retire at age 65. This alleged conduct violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. “Private employers need to understand that mandatory retirement policies run afoul of the ADEA and will be met with challenge,” said Kenneth Bird, regional attorney for the EEOC.

Company and EEOC Reach Agreement to Resolve Discrimination Charge and Revise Severance Agreements

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and The Coleman Company, Inc. have reached a voluntary conciliation agreement to resolve allegations of disability discrim­ination raised by a former employee. Following an investigation, the EEOC found that it was probable that Coleman violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by conditioning employees’ receipt of severance pay on an overly broad severance agreement that interfered with employees’ rights to file charges and communicate with the EEOC. The severance agreement also prohibited employees from accepting any relief obtained by the EEOC should the agency take further action. Coleman has agreed to hire an outside equal employment opportunity consultant to review its separation agreements and make sure they comply with the law. Courts generally deem contract provisions that preclude employees from filing charges or cooperating with the EEOC during an investigation as void against public policy. In fact, the district court of Colorado recently voided settlement agreement provisions that limited an employee’s right to participate in the EEOC’s lawsuit and accept a share of any financial or other relief obtained by the EEOC.

KFC Franchise Settles Lawsuit for Firing a Bipolar Employee

Hester Foods, Inc., the operator of a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Georgia, violated federal law by discriminating against an employee because of her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged. The suit was filed on behalf of a former manager, Cynthia Dunson, who alleged the owner violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when he fired Dunson after finding out she was taking medications prescribed by her doctor for bipolar disorder. According to the EEOC, the owner referred to the medicine in obscene terms and forced Dunson to destroy the pills by flushing them down the toilet. When Dunson later told the owner that she planned to continue taking the medications per her doctor’s orders, the owner told her not to return to work and fired her. In addition to paying $30,000 in damages to Dunson, the decree settling the lawsuit requires Hester Foods to create a handbook with policies that prohibit discrimination, provide annual equal opportunity employment training, and periodically report to the EEOC about complaints. “Employers are not allowed to force workers with disabilities to choose between their jobs and their health. Reasonable accommodation includes allowing workers to rely on their physicians, not on the opinions of the company managers,” said Antonette Sewell, regional attorney for the EEOC.

Company Settles Disability Discrimination Lawsuit for Not Accommodating Deaf Employee

The Cheesecake Factory will pay $15,000 and implement changes to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Oleg Ivanov, a deaf man who was hired by the restaurant as a dishwasher. The EEOC’s investigation found that The Cheesecake Factory denied Ivanov's requests for orientation training with either closed captioned video or an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. The company subsequently fired Ivanov for issues associated with his disability. This alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense. It is also illegal to punish an employee with a disability for requesting a reasonable accommodation. As part of a two-year consent decree, The Cheesecake Factory will pay $15,000 to Ivanov for back pay and compensatory damages. The company also agreed to provide closed captioning for the training and orientation videos that are required viewing for new hires.

Company Settles Religious Discrimination Lawsuit for Revoking an Employment Offer to a Jewish Applicant

XPO Last Mile, Inc., a logistics company, will pay $94,541 and furnish significant relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the lawsuit, XPO Last Mile’s operations manager offered an applicant a dispatcher/customer service position and told him his start date would be on October 3, 2016. When the applicant told the operations manager he could not start work then because he celebrated the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah on that date, the operations manager replied that he thought it would be acceptable for the applicant to start on October 4. Later that evening, however, the market vice president called and told the applicant that the company would not give him a religious accommodation. XPO Last Mile violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it revoked its offer of employment because the applicant was unable to work on Rosh Hashanah due to his religious beliefs. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an applicant’s or employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless it would pose an undue hardship. In addition to the $94,541 in monetary relief to the applicant, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit enjoins XPO Last Mile from terminating employees based on religion or denying religious accommodations absent an undue hardship in the future. The company will implement and distribute to all employees a detailed policy against religious discrimination. The company also will provide training on unlawful employment discrimination, which will emphasize prohibiting religious discrim­ination and on providing religious accommodations.

Employee Who Works Outside of Illinois May Prevail on an Illinois Wage Claim

The Appellate Court found that employees who work primarily outside of Illinois may sue their employer for unpaid wages under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act in Illinois if the employer has sufficient contacts with Illinois.  In the attached Watts v. Addo Management LLC case, the plaintiffs were truck drivers who primarily drove trucks for the employer outside of Illinois.  The company argued that the plaintiffs' lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to perform a certain amount of work in Illinois.  In rejecting the defendants' argument, the Appellate Court found that the Wage Act language that stated that the Act applied to all employers and employees in Illinois did not preclude the Wage Act from applying to those who perform work outside of Illinois for employers who have sufficient contacts with the State of Illinois.       

Company Settles Discrimination Lawsuit for Terminating Rather Than Accommodating Pregnant Employee

Silverado, a network of memory care, at-home care, and hospice care centers, has agreed to pay $80,000 to a former employee to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the lawsuit, Silverado violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it fired caregiver Shaquena Burton rather than accommodate her pregnancy-related medical restrictions by putting her on light duty assignment. “The Supreme Court made clear in Young v. United Parcel Service that if an employer provides light duty or other accommodations to a large proportion of nonpregnant workers while denying those opportunities to a large percentage of pregnant workers, the employer may be violating our nation's civil rights law prohibiting pregnancy discrimination,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Gregory M. Gochanour. “In this case, Silverado deprived Ms. Burton of an accommodation that it consistently offered to its nonpregnant workers.” The consent decree settling the suit prohibits future discrimination, prohibits retaliation, and provides that Silverado will pay $80,000 to Burton. Silverado must also post notices of the settlement, revise its anti-discrimination and record-keeping policies, report any requests for light duty or other job modifications periodically to the EEOC, and train its managers regarding those rights, obligations, and procedures.

Company Settles Retaliatory Discrimination Lawsuit for Terminating Temp Worker Because She Complained of Sexual Harassment

Plastipak Packaging, Inc. will pay $90,000 and furnish other relief to resolve a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC charged that Plastipak fired a female employee, who had been placed by a temporary agency, because she complained that one of its employees had sexually harassed her. Rather than investigating her complaint, Plastipak terminated her assignment. Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation against individuals who complain about discrimination or harassment. “All employees, including temporary workers, have the right to earn a living without being subjected to sexual advances and to exercise their right to oppose unlawful harassment without being fired," said EEOC Philadelphia Director Jamie R. Williamson. Companies need to ensure compliance with the law even for those workers who are employed by temporary agencies and not the place where the services are being performed.  Companies must treat temporary workers as regular employees for purposes of compliance with Title VII and other employment discrimination laws.  

Lowe’s Settles Discrimination Lawsuit for Not Accommodating Disabled Manager

Lowe’s Home Centers will pay $55,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC's lawsuit says Lowe's failed or refused to accommodate a department manager who was disabled from a spinal cord injury that substantially limits the use of his right arm. In 2006, Lowe’s hired the employee as a customer service associate and promoted him to department manager in 2008. The company knew of the employee’s disability at the time of his promotion. He successfully worked as a department manager for six years. His disability prevented his use of certain power equipment but he delegated the task to an employee he supervised when necessary. In June 2015, Lowe’s stopped providing the employee with a reasonable accommodation and demoted him to a non-supervisory associate position. His hourly wage was cut by more than $4 per hour. According to the EEOC, the company's refusal to accommodate the department manager, a qualified individual with a disability, and subsequent decision to demote him to a lower-paying position violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Casino Settles Disability Discrimination Suit for Failing to Extend a Leave Under FMLA

Greektown Casino LLC will pay $140,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the lawsuit, the casino unlawfully failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a stress-anxiety disorder which lead to his discharge. The employee, a pit manager, exhausted his leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) following a stress-anxiety-related collapse on the job. He requested an additional four weeks of extended leave. Greektown denied the request and subsequently fired the employee. Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that covered employers provide reasonable accommodations for the known disabilities of employees. Based on this case and the recent Pioneer Health Services case, it appears that the EEOC takes the position that leave beyond what FMLA requires can be a reasonable accommodation for a disability. Employers must bear in mind that denying a request for additional leave without considering whether it would be an undue hardship may result in potential liability under the ADA.

Company Settles Religious Discrimination Suit for Firing a Muslim Employee who Sought a Modification to the Grooming Standard

According to the lawsuit, Universal Protection Services, LP, dba Allied Universal Security Services, refused to accommodate the request of a Muslim security guard who sought a modification to the company’s grooming standard. The company fired him two days after he made the request. Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs so long as this does not pose an undue hardship to the employer. In addition to paying the $90,000, Allied Universal agreed to comprehensive injunctive remedies including in-person training and monitoring to ensure that religious discrimination will not occur in the future.  As part of the settlement the company will retain an equal employment monitor; review and revise its religious accommodation policies and practices to comply with Title VII; provide annual EEO training for employees, supervisors, and managers who are involved in the religious accommodation process; post an employee notice; and undertake record keeping and reporting to the EEOC.

Volvo Settles a Disability Discrimination Suit for Revoking a Job Offer because of Prescription Medication Use

Volvo Group North America will pay $70,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the lawsuit, Volvo made a conditional job offer to a qualified applicant who was in a supervised medication-assisted drug treatment program. The applicant had explained his medically prescribed suboxone use at the time of his pre-employment physical. But when the applicant reported to work for the laborer position he was told he could not be hired because of his suboxone use. The EEOC said Volvo violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it failed to conduct an individualized assessment to determine what effect, if any, the suboxone would have on the applicant's ability to perform the job he was offered. "Employers should make hiring decisions based on the qualifications of an applicant, not his disability or participation in a medically supervised treatment program," said Jamie R. Williamson an EEOC District office director. Under the three-year consent decree resolving the suit, Volvo is required to distribute ADA policy information to its Hagerstown facility employees, provide ADA training, report to the EEOC how it handles any disability discrimination complaints, and post a notice of the settlement. The company will also amend its policy on post-offer medical and drug evaluations to explain what happens if an applicant's lawful use of prescription drugs poses a direct threat as defined by the ADA. 

Corporation Settles a Disability Discrimination Suit with a former Employee who had a Liver Transplant

Pioneer Health Services Inc. of Mississippi recently agreed to pay a settlement of $85,000 after a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit alleged the company illegally fired an employee after she underwent liver transplant surgery. According to the 2012 lawsuit, Joyce Dumas was a social worker/therapist employed by Pioneer when she underwent liver transplant surgery. Pioneer granted Dumas’ requested leave for the surgery but denied her request for several additional weeks of leave to recover from her surgery.  Pioneer then fired Dumas for exhausting her company-approved leave and refused to hire her for an open position several months later. The EEOC said Pioneer allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to engage in the ADA’s interactive process when the employee requested additional time off and ultimately failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. According to the settlement agreement, Pioneer must also provide training to its employees regarding ADA requirements and review its anti-discrimination policies and make any needed modifications. The company is also required to have an assigned senior company official with ADA training provide written recommendations to management before terminating an employee based on an actual, perceived or record of physical or mental impairment or for those who have exhausted their medical leave.

Car Dealership Settles a Retaliation Suit Brought by an Employee Who Encouraged others to Complain of Racist Comments

Aloha Auto Group, Ltd. will pay $30,000 and provide other relief to settle a lawsuit for retaliatory discrimination filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that Aloha Auto fired Daniel Young because he encouraged a group of Asian-American and Pacific Islander employees at the dealership to file hostile work environment complaints after a manager made offensive comments. Firing an employee for encouraging others to complain about a racist comment violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “The EEOC takes retaliation seriously because it undermines the integrity of the federal process for reporting and preventing discrimination,” said Anna Park, one of the EEOC’s regional attorneys. The consent decree settling the suit requires Aloha Auto to pay the $30,000 in damages to Young and also requires the company to appoint an equal employment opportunity monitor to ensure compliance with anti-retaliation policies and procedures.

New Standard for Unpaid Interns

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it would adopt a new standard for determining whether interns and students are employees who must be paid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The DOL abandoned its previous method and instead adopted the “primary beneficiary” test used by federal courts. The new test has seven factors that provide a frame of reference to determine who is benefiting more from the intern-employer relationship. The seven factors are:

1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.

2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by an educational institution.

3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern's formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.

4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern's academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.

5. The extent to which the internship's duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.

6. The extent to which the intern's work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.

7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job after the internship concludes.

The advantage of the primary beneficiary test is its flexibility. The test does not require that each of the seven factors be met and no single factor is determinative. Employers should review how the primary beneficiary test applies to interns at their organizations and make sure that any unpaid intern programs primarily benefit their interns and not the company.  Otherwise, the interns should be paid.

Illinois Lawmakers Work to Combat Sexual Harassment

Governor Bruce Rauner recently signed into law Public Act 100-0554 which provides several measures to combat sexual harassment in the state legislature. First, all employers of lobbyists as well as government employers are required to adopt a policy prohibiting sexual harassment. The legislature requires lobbyist employers to follow many of the same requirements as state agencies in preventing sexual harassment. Beginning January 1, 2018, all lobbyist employers and local governmental entities must have a written sexual harassment policy in place. The law also sets forth new minimum standards for all policies. A sexual harassment policy must include a prohibition on sexual harassment, details on how to report sexual harassment allegations, a prohibition on retaliation for reporting sexual harassment allegations, and the consequences of violating the prohibition on sexual harassment or knowingly making a false report.  Additionally, Illinois lobbyists are also required to undergo annual sexual harassment training. Finally, the new law amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to require the Illinois Department of Human Rights to establish and operate a sexual harassment hotline by February 16, 2018.  The hotline is intended as a means for individuals to anonymously report sexual harassment in both public and private places of employment. 

EEOC settles lawsuit for same-sex sexual harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled a lawsuit against Centurion Products LLC for same-sex sexual harassment for $125,000.  According to the suit, Centurion violated federal law by maintaining a sexually hostile work environment at its plant.  Allegedly, a male floor supervisor and other male employees used explicit sexual innuendos, insults, and engaged in unwelcome sexual touching of male employees. The EEOC claims that not only did Centurion fail to respond to complaints in a timely and proper manner, but it terminated an employee in retaliation for lodging a complaint about such harassment. While it denied the allegations, Centurion admitted that it failed to maintain a written policy or procedure to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. 

EEOC files suit for discrimination of men where equal parental leave benefits are not provided

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against cosmetics company Estee Lauder for discriminating against men. According to the suit, the company’s parental leave policy allows new fathers to take two weeks of paid leave for “child bonding,” while new mothers get six weeks. The suit also alleges that new mothers are provided with flexible return-to-work benefits upon expiration of child bonding leave that are not similarly provided to new fathers. The EEOC claims the practice violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. “It is wonderful when employers provide paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements, but federal law requires equal pay, including benefits, for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women,” EEOC Washington Field Office Acting Director Mindy Weinstein said in a statement.

 
Illinois Passes Religious Garb Law

Recently, the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) was amended to emphasize coverage with respect to employer dress and grooming policies. The amendment, known as the “Religious Garb Law,” provides that an employer cannot require a person to violate or forego a sincerely held practice of one’s religion, including the wearing of any attire (hijab, yarmulkes, crosses, etc.) or facial hair. However, the law indicates that nothing prohibits an employer from enacting a dress code or grooming policy that may include restrictions on attire, clothing, or facial hair to maintain workplace safety or food sanitation. Moreover, an employer may not have to accommodate an employee if, after engaging in a bona fide effort, the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would result in an undue hardship to the employer’s business.

UPS agrees to pay $2 million to settle nationwide EEOC disability discrimination claims

United Parcel Service Inc. has agreed to pay $2 million to nearly 90 current and former workers to settle claims that it discriminated against disabled employees. In 2009 the EEOC filed a lawsuit in Chicago federal court alleging that UPS violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it failed to provide employees with reasonable accommodations and maintained an "inflexible" leave policy that automatically fired employees when they reached 12 months of leave, without engaging in an interactive process. In addition to the $2 million, UPS agreed to update its policies on reasonable accommodation, improve its implementation of those policies, conduct training and provide the EEOC periodic reports on the status of every accommodation request for the next three years.

Sending generic invitations to connect through social media to former co-workers does not violate a non-solicitation agreement

In an August 7, 2017 First District Illinois Appellate Court case, the Court affirmed a circuit court order dismissing a lawsuit brought by an insurance and financial products company against its former employee for allegedly breaching the non-competition provisions of an employment agreement.  After the former employee went to work for a competitor, he sent generic invitations to connect on LinkedIn to former co-workers.  His LinkedIn page contained information about job opportunities at his current employer.  The former employer argued that the exchange amounted to using LinkedIn as a recruitment tool in breach of the parties’ agreement not to solicit employees.  In rejecting the breach of contract claim, the Court explained that one had to look at the content and substance of the communication.  In the matter at bar, the invitations to connect were sent through generic emails that invited the recipients to form a professional connection.  The generic emails did not discuss the former employer, the current employer, or suggest that the recipient view any specific item on the profile page.  Moreover, there was no solicitation to leave their current place of employment to join the competitor.  Thus, the mere post of a job opening on his public LinkedIn page did not constitute an inducement or solicitation in violation of his noncompete agreement. 

7th Circuit rules Title VII covers sexual orientation

A federal appeals court ruled 8 to 3 that a former adjunct professor who is a lesbian may go forward in her lawsuit against Ivy Tech Community College for sex discrimination on account of her sexual orientation. In August 2014, Kimberly Hively sued Ivy Tech for discrimination based on sex after the college would not grant her full-time employment and ultimately terminated her, which she believed was based on her sexual orientation.  For the first time, the 7th Circuit has ruled that discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation is encompassed within Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s ban on sex discrimination.  The court entered a narrow decision based on the facts of Hively and did not expand its scope to other situations.  Thus, the court narrowly held  that a person who alleges employment discrimination on the basis of that person’s sexual orientation has put forth a case of sex discrimination in the context of Title VII only.

The Favorable Verdict for a Worker Harassed by a Customer Should be a Wake-Up Call to Business Owners

The EEOC filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a former Costco employee who alleged that her employer did not do enough to protect her from a stalking customer while she worked.  Following the denial of summary judgment, a federal jury found unanimously against Costco and awarded the employee $250,000 in compensatory damages.  The employee alleged that the customer improperly touched her, followed her in the store, and made comments to her.  While Costco eventually revoked the customer's membership, it was only after the employee filed a police report, obtained an order of protection, and went out on a medical leave.  This case is a signal to business owners to pay closer attention to their employees when they complain about customers amidst concerns of losing business.     

Employee Privacy

Effective January 1, 2017, the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act was amended to broaden its protections to all online accounts used by an employee primarily for the employee’s personal use.  An employer cannot require an employee to join an online account established by the employer, require that the employee add the employer as a contact to the employee’s online account or to a group affiliated with the employee’s online account, or provide a username or password to any personal online account except in limited circumstances.  However, the amendments do not prohibit activity concerning business or professional online accounts created at the direction of the employer or paid for by the employer in connection with the employment.  

New Overtime Rules Enjoined From Going Into Effect

On November 22, 2016 a Texas judge entered an emergency preliminary injunction on a nationwide basis enjoining the Department of Labor's Final Rule from going into effect December 1, 2016.  The Final Rule increased the minimum salary level for exempt employees from $455 per week ($23,666 annually) to $921 per week ($47,892 annually).  Until further notice the salary test under the Fair Labor Standards Act will remain at $455 per week.     

I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form

Effective January 21, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will require all employers to use its updated version of the I-9 form to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States.  This revised edition will expire August 31, 2019.  One of the revised features of the form is the "Other Last Names Used" section, which replaces the "Other Names Used" section.  This is but one of several changes to the I-9 form.  Feel free to click above to review the I-9 form.        

Cook County Earned Sick Leave Ordinance

On October 5, 2016, the Cook County Board of Commissioners established employer paid sick leave similar to the ordinance passed by the City of Chicago in June, 2016.  Under the County's ordinance a covered employee who works at least 80 hours for an employer within any 120 day period shall be eligible for paid sick leave. The Cook County Ordinance will become effective July 1, 2017.   

Illinois Freedom To Work Act Bars Non-Competes for Low-Wage Employees

On August 19, 2016, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law the Illinois Freedom to Work Act (the Act). Effective January 1, 2017, the Act bans private sector employers from entering into non-compete agreements with “low-wage employees” and declares such agreements to be “illegal and void.” The Act defines a “low-wage employee” as any employee who earns the applicable federal, state or local hourly minimum wage or $13.00 per hour whichever is greater. Specifically, the Act prohibits employers from entering into agreements with low-wage employees that would restrict these workers from performing: (1) any work for another employer for a specified period of time; (2) any work in a specified geographical area; or (3) work for another employer that is similar to such low-wage employee’s work for the employer included as a party to the agreement. The Act only restricts non-competition clauses. It does not prohibit non-disclosure or other confidentiality agreements, nor does it appear to apply to non-solicitation provisions. 

Chicago City Council passes Ordinance requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to employees

Beginning July 1, 2017, covered employers will be required to have a sick leave policy that at a minimum allows covered employees to accrue and use up to five earned sick days over the course of one year. Sick time will be earned at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked. Employees will be able to roll over up to 20 hours of unused sick time to the following year. Employers will not be required to pay out unused sick time. Any covered employee who works at least 80 hours within any 120-day period shall be eligible for paid sick leave. A "covered employee" is an employee who performs at least two hours of work for his or her employer in any two-week period while physically inside the geographic boundaries of Chicago.

City of Chicago updates the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance Summary

On March 17, 2016, the City of Chicago updated the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance Summary (required by MCC Section 5-12-170) to add a reference to Section 5-12-101 (Bed Bugs-Education). The addition states that a landlord shall provide the tenant with the informational brochure on bed bug prevention and treatment prepared by the department of health pursuant to Section 7-28-860.  As of June 1, 2016, this updated Summary must be attached to every written rental agreement and also upon the initial offering for renewal.

Department of Labor’s final rule updating overtime regulations

President Obama and Secretary Perez announced the publication of the Department of Labor’s final rule updating the overtime regulations. Specifically, the Final Rule sets that employers must pay overtime for work beyond 40 hours in a week to all workers earning up to $913 per week or $47,476 annually. It will also automatically update the salary and compensation levels every three years, to meet the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage census region (currently the South). The Department of Labor estimates that 4.2 million workers would newly qualify for the added pay, with 35% of full-time salaried workers expected to fall below the threshold under the new rule. The effective date of the final rule is December 1, 2016. The initial increases to the standard salary level (from $455 to $913 per week) will be effective on that date. Future automatic updates to that threshold will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020.

Federal District Court rules on consideration in non-competes

U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Gettleman declined to rule that a non-solicitation agreement was invalid because the former employee had not worked for the plaintiff employer for two years. The defendant was hired in April 2012 and signed employment agreements containing a one year non-solicitation clause as to customers and employees. Defendant resigned in April 2013, joined a competitor, and solicited his co-workers to join him before and after he left Plaintiff’s employment. Plaintiff sued to enforce the employment agreements, seeking damages. Defendant moved for summary judgment arguing that two years of employment is required for consideration to be adequate to enforce restrictive employment covenants. In denying summary judgment, the court reasoned that the consideration was adequate since the plaintiff sought damages only and not equitable relief.

Appellate Court decision regarding Non-compete, Non-solicitation, and Confidentiality Provisions

The Illinois Appellate Court upheld the Circuit Court's determination that the non- compete, non-solicitation and confidentiality provisions in an employment agreement were unreasonable as a matter of law and affirmed the refusal to judicially modify the restrictive covenants. The opinion applies the Reliable Fire “rule of reasonableness test.”

Appellate Court decision regarding the RLTO

An August, 2015 Illinois Appellate Court decision has confirmed that a Chicago tenant who successfully prosecutes a counterclaim in an eviction action for damages under Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO) is entitled to an award for the tenant’s attorney fees. The landlord filed an eviction and sought back rent. The tenants counterclaimed, alleging that the place had bugs, etc. The tenants prevailed on one of the counts in their counterclaim and sought attorneys’ fees and costs. The court agreed that they were permitted to seek fees against their landlord on the counterclaim in which they prevailed.

The Application of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “Suffer or Permit” Standard in the Identification of Employees Who Are Misclassified as Independent Contractors

The U.S. Labor Department issued a memo that is designed to cut back on what it calls “worker misclassification.” The memo includes a set of standards for employers to follow to decide who is an employee and who is an independent contractor. The Labor Department is concerned with misclassification because non-employees are not covered by various workplace regulations such as overtime, occupational safety, unemployment insurance, etc.

National Labor Relations Board’s Report of the General Counsel Concerning Employer Rules

The Board offers employers new guidance on how to craft employee handbook rules that do not run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.

New Pregnancy Discrimination and Accommodation Amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA)

All private, non-sectarian employers in Illinois, regardless of the number of employees, are covered by the pregnancy amendments to the IHRA. The amendments to the IHRA establish pregnancy as a legally protected class and define the term "pregnancy" broadly to include: "pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth." The amendments apply to employees and applicants who are expecting and who recently gave birth.

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