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Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

EEOC rules U.S. Army discriminated against transgender woman

Wisconsin residents may be interested to learn that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that the U.S. Army violated the civil rights of a transgender civilian employee working in Alabama. The decision was issued on April 1.

According to the complaint, which was filed in March 2012, a transgender woman who worked as a software quality assurance specialist at the Redstone Arsenal Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center near Huntsville experienced discrimination and harassment by superior officers when she began her transition from male to female 5 years ago. She alleged that officers referred to her by her male birth name and male pronouns, kept her from accessing the women's restroom and purposely outed her. She further alleges that, despite receiving high marks on her work performance, she was removed from her post at AMRDEC because other workers were uncomfortable.

Whistle-blowers describe retaliation at VA hospitals

Wisconsin residents with ties to VA hospitals may be surprised to learn about allegations of retaliation against whistle-blowers at the agency. Beginning in 2014, there have been a number of scandals associated with treatment of patients in the hospital system including long wait times during which some patients have died while waiting for treatment. The panel of whistle-blowers who testified April 13 before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs were drawn from a number of states including California, Alabama and Delaware.

The panel described a number of retaliatory practices that included efforts to isolate and discredit employees who raised concerns about the ways in which the agency operated. One doctor described having his office moved to a storage room. Another was forced off the VA campus where he worked while another doctor described practices that were meant to intimidate employees, which included reduced performance ratings for employees who attempted to bring problems to the attention of managers.

SEC reviewing employee agreements at multiple companies

The Securities and Exchange Commission is enforcing whistleblower protections provided within the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It wants employers in Wisconsin and across the country to observe whistleblower protections in its employee contracts and agreements. The commission has requested documents from numerous companies in an effort to identify violations within confidentiality agreements, employment contracts and non-disclosure agreements.

In its case against KBR Inc., the commission issued a cease and desist order about its confidentiality agreements that barred employees from discussing information without permission from KBR attorneys. A threat of dismissal was included in the agreement. KBR settled the issue and revised its wording to state that an employee could report suspected violations of federal law to regulatory agencies.

Same-sex spouse definition under FMLA rule on hold

Wisconsin employees may have heard about a federal rule that was to become effective on March 27 that allowed employees to take FMLA leave in order to care for a same-sex partner, regardless of whether or not same-sex marriage is legal in the state. On April 6, it was reported that a Texas federal judge granted an injunction to stop enforcement of the rule.

The judge reportedly granted the injunction because it was argued that the U.S. Department of Labor, which issued the rule, did not have the authority to do so. Ultimately, the argument entailed that the rule made the employers have to choose between complying with the federal rule and complying with their state laws. As states define the term spouse differently, this could be confusing for the employers.

SEC fines company for obstructive whistleblower policy

People in Wisconsin may be interested to learn about a recent announcement made by the Securities and Exchange Commission about the results of its first enforcement action the agency filed against a Houston-based company. The publicly traded company was fined for its policies and confidentiality agreements that could have potentially prevented whistleblowers from reporting securities violations to federal authorities.

In the agreement, KBR, Inc. will pay a fine of $130,000 and comply with a cease-and-desist order regarding the confidentiality agreements it required of its employees. The agreements provided that employees could not make reports without first getting approval from the company's legal department.

Paramount whistleblower files claim

Whistleblower employees of publicly traded companies in Wisconsin and across the nation are protected from retaliation when they bring forward suspected illegal or unethical action. In 2013, an employee of Paramount Pictures highlighted concerns about an executive who was over-charging the company for travel expense reimbursements.

The worker claimed that she had evidence that the studio's executive vice president of industrial relations, her boss, had a history and pattern of submitting fraudulent expenses for reimbursement following travel on behalf of the union health plans and pension. After the worker raised the concern, she was offered a position that she did not want. She was also given the option to accept a severance package.

Appeal denied in whistleblower case

As some Minnesota residents may know, speaking out about an employer's illegal or unethical behavior is protected under the law. The employer may not retaliate against the employee due to his or her disclosure. A whistleblower lawsuit may be filed against a former employer if this right to speak out is threatened.

A case before the Minnesota Supreme Court recently demonstrated this principle. A former dean of Globe University reported what she called the school's unethical and misleading practices towards students and was terminated after disclosing this information. According to court documents, the dean said that the university used tactics to recruit students that were not in the students' best interests.

Former J.C. Penney worker files whistleblower claim

Wisconsin residents might be interested to learn about a new lawsuit that was filed against the national retail chain J.C. Penney, Inc., by a former employee. The plaintiff in the lawsuit claims that he was retaliated against after noticing activities that he thought were fleecing customers and subsequently making his allegations public . His claim was filed in Florida under the Private Whistleblower Act.

Between 2007 and 2009, the plaintiff was employed in the custom decorating department of a company location in St. Petersburg, Florida. During that time, the man says he noticed that customers were being overcharged. According to his claims, sales tax was being added to nontaxable items, and items that were supposed to be on sale were being sold to customers for full price.

Supreme Court rules on pregnancy discrimination case

In a decision that could have a significant impact on employees in Wisconsin and around the country, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 25 that a worker who claimed that she had been the victim of discrimination by her employer on account of her pregnancy was entitled to have her case reheard. In its 6-3 decision remanding the case to the lower court for retrial, the court indicated that the plaintiff should have another opportunity to demonstrate that the actions of her employer were in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The case centered around the actions of the plaintiff's employer, United Parcel Service, when the plaintiff became pregnant in 2006. On the advice and recommendation of her doctor that she not lift heavy packages, the plaintiff requested a modification of her delivery job to encompass lighter duty as an accommodation to her condition. Her supervisors refused her request, stating that while UPS had provided similar accommodations to other classes of workers, including those who had a condition that was within the scope of the Americans With Disabilities Act or who had been injured on the job, pregnancy was not within the scope of the company's policy. She subsequently went on unpaid leave and later sued UPS in federal court after filing a workplace discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A look at the OSHA's final whistle-blower rules under SOX

Wisconsin employees may be interested in some information about a new final whistle-blower rule passed by the federal government. This final rule has been years in the making, but continues the policies in effect for a while.

Passed in 2002, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create rules regarding whistle-blowers at public companies. Three years ago, OSHA created an interim rule that protects employees from retaliation by their company or affiliates if they expose securities or financial fraud by the company. If that employee gives information about these different types of fraud and there is some kind of retaliation, the employee has 180 days to file a complaint under the law.

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