Scientific America: Sick Days for Workers Keep Businesses Healthier

An excellent article from the Board of Editors of Scientific America on the overall benefits to businesses that result from liberal sick day policies:

Pushing employees with the flu or a stomach bug to drag themselves into the office means more absences, not fewer. Workers who are not able to take paid time off to see a doctor are more likely to take six or more sick days a year than are those who can take time off, according to a 2005 Commonwealth Fund report. Overall, workers who are ill while on the job account for anywhere between 18 to 60 percent of workforce productivity losses, according to a 2004 review of estimates in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. cdc data also show that employees without sick leave are more likely to get injured on the job and are less likely to get preventive health screening for cancer.
Experience suggests that paid sick leave does not hurt the bottom line. Sixteen U.S. cities and the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and California have passed regulations that typically allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours on the job. A 2013 audit by the city of Washington, D.C., found no evidence that its five-year-old paid sick leave law had prompted businesses to leave the area or discouraged new companies from coming in. On the West coast, San Francisco continued to outperform nearby Bay Area cities in job growth after it implemented a paid sick leave law in 2007. There are expenses: employers have to bear a small increase in base pay for employees who use leave, for instance. But productivity and public health benefits outweigh these costs. (link)

Of special potential concern to those opposing liberal sick leave policies should the implications of the absence of such polices with respect to their restaurant dining experience:

Data published in 2013 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that one in five restaurant workers clocked in even when they were suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, the two main symptoms of norovirus. That formidable group of nausea-inducing viruses causes about half of all foodborne illnesses in the U.S. Bringing those harmful microbes into the workplace puts customers at risk. (link)

Opponents of liberal sick day policies should remember . . . you are what you eat.

Although,  New York City recently passed a progressive sick day law, New York State has yet to do so.


Former Urban Outfitters Clerk Sues For Co.'s Indifference to Customers' Sexual Harassment

From the NY Daily News:

"Tatiana Swiderski, 25, said her bosses at the Fifth Avenue store turned a blind eye [to] the harassment — refusing to call cops on the pervy patrons and holing her away in the stock room for complaining.
'They made it their mission to make me feel invalidated,' Swiderski told the Daily News. 'They tried to make me feel like I was a crazy over-reactor.'"
Now she's suing the chain for sexual harassment and retaliation."  (link)

Some of the details:

"The sexual assault came just two weeks after security told her a man had been following her and another employee with a video camera and shooting up their skirts as they went up the stairs. While the guards made him erase the video, they let him go and refused to call the police or tell her his name so she could do so. Her suit even claims that a guard mocked her.
After she complained to management, a security guard allegedly told her to “stop being a stupid bitch.” She also claims that a guard began patting her down as she left work, something she felt was sexually inappropriate and not done to other employees."  (link)

Not only are the details pretty horrifying but it appears to be a potentially industry-wide issue:

"A 2002 study in Canada found that harassment for these workers doesn’t just come from coworkers, but from customers, as it did for Swiderski, which constitutes a “significant problem.” A majority of women in retail said they had been sexually harassed by customers on the job, but given that companies are focused on satisfying the customer, women face constraints in how they can handle it and many are reluctant to bring it up."  (link)

According to the EEOC, it is a clear violation of federal discrimination law for an employer to take no action in response to harassment of employees by customers -- where it has notice of the conduct:

"The employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action."  (link)

The above response is, to put it lightly, clearly inadequate.

I was also struck by a throw away line in the middle of the NY Daily News. Interestingly -  the article notes that when Swiderski began working:

"She said there was an early sign of trouble — a co-worker told her she'd only been hired because she's 'tall, pretty, thin and white.'"  (link)

If that is accurate (which it may or may not be) Urban Outfitters may be headed for a repeat of  a large racial discrimination case brought by LDF regarding hiring for "the American look" at Abercrombie and Fitch:

"Th[at suit alleged that Abercrombie refused to hire qualified minority applicants as Brand Representatives working on the sales floor while discouraging applications from minority candidates. It also charged that in the rare instances when minorities were hired, they were given undesirable positions to keep them out of the public eye.
* * *
In November 2004, LDF and co-counsel reached a settlement with the company, winning $40 million dollars for rejected applicants and employees who had been discriminated against by the company. The settlement’s consent decree also required the company to institute a range of policies and programs to promote diversity among its work force and to prevent discrimination based on race or gender."  (link)

Of course this is just the hearsay statement of a co-worker.  But, if true, Urban Outfitters (or at least this store location) may also soon be facing suit on the race discrimination front.

It will be interesting to follow this case as it develops.

The Ten Largest Discrimination Settlements of 2013

From Inside Counsel the top ten largest discrimination settlements of 2013.

Topping the list is:

"$160 millionMcReynolds, et al. v. Merrill Lynch & Co.
The largest settlement of 2013 has its roots eight years earlier, when in 2005, broker George McReynolds accused Merrill Lynch & Co. of giving white brokers more lucrative accounts while denying black employees equal pay and career advancement opportunities. McReynolds filed a lawsuit on behalf of 700 black brokers who worked for Merrill. Before the suit was settled out of court in August, it had seen two appeals in the Supreme Court and survived Merrill Lynch's acquisition by Bank of America in 2009."  (link)

It is also gratifying to see a case I worked on for several years with my prior firm at #8.

"$3.1 millionEasterling, et al. v. State Of Connecticut, Department Of Correction
Similar to the Chicago case, this suit alleged that the a physical fitness test composed of a 1.5 mile run required by the Connecticut Department of Corrections was not a business need, and that it discriminated against female candidates. As a result over 200 women who applied for a Correction Officer position in 2004 o4 2006, were certified for the class. The settlement was finalized in July." (link)

(*small correction to IC - the Easterling class totaled 124 class members not 200)

EEOC Settles ADA Leave Suit for $1.35 Million With Princeton Healthcare

The EEOC has settled another ADA leave as a reasonable accommodation case.

Princeton HealthCare System, which operates the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro and several other medical facilities, will pay $1.35 million and will undertake significant remedial measures to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency announced today.
The EEOC’s suit alleged that the hospital’s fixed leave policy failed to consider leave as a reasonable accommodation, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the EEOC, Princeton HealthCare’s leave policy merely tracked the requirements of the federal Family Medical Leave Act and employee leaves were limited to a maximum of 12 weeks. The policy meant that employees who were not eligible for leave were fired after being absent for a short time, and many more were fired once they were out more than 12 weeks.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey after attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Under the consent decree settling the suit, approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert, the hospital is prohibited from having a blanket policy that limits the amount of leave time an employee covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act may take.
. . .
Princeton HealthCare also agreed that it will not subject employees to progressive discipline for ADA-related absences, and will provide training on the Americans with Disabilities Act to its workforce. (link)

The Legal Diversity Crisis - Why Are Black Lawyers Underrepresented at Top Law Firms?

From the New York Times and The American Lawyer - the more you think about it the more disturbing these numbers are:

"Black lawyers accounted for 3 percent of lawyers at big firms last year, a percentage that has declined in each of the last five years. And the proportion of black partners at such law firms remained stagnant at 1.9 percent during the same period, according to the 2013 diversity scorecard published in the June issue of The American Lawyer." (link)

The black population of the United States is currently 13%

As previously discussed (here and here), subconscious biases likely play at least a part in these dynamics: 

"Blacks lag behind in the top tiers of the law, according to the American Lawyer, because unconscious racial bias can influence the types of assignments and the relationships between and among employees. That can hinder black lawyers from advancing to the highest slots, it said."  (link)

As explained in The American Lawyer:

"What still is lacking, many black lawyers and diversity directors say, is a broad commitment by individual white partners to ensuring the success of minority lawyers, and particularly black lawyers. Recent research has painted an alarming picture of the continuing presence of unconscious racial bias at firms. The research confirms what a lot of black lawyers have known all along: It's not enough to recruit more black associates if you don't deal with pervasive bias." (link)

As explained by a black female ninth-year associate at a midsize firm:

"'You are deemed worthy of receiving the keys when you are liked, and you are usually liked by people who can relate to you or perceive you as similar to themselves,' a black female ninth-year associate at a midsize firm says, asking not to be identified because she is up for partnership. Black lawyers, she adds, 'would more often than not say that they were not able to bring their whole selves to work and therefore grew tired of the ruse and moved on, or they brought their whole selves to work and found themselves ostracized and alienated.'" (link)

The American Lawyer article points to a study similar to one previously covered here (regarding email responses by professors at top colleges):

"In late April, law firms were roiled by a study that shows in the starkest terms yet how implicit bias remains pervasive. The study, by Nextions, a law firm diversity consultant and leadership coaching firm, found that supervising lawyers were more likely to perceive African-American lawyers as having subpar writing skills.

In its study, Nextions inserted 22 errors, including minor spelling or grammar errors, factual errors and analysis errors, into a research memo written by a hypothetical third-year litigation associate. The memo was then sent to 60 partners who had agreed to participate in a writing analysis study. Half got a memo identifying the author as African-American; the other half, a memo noting that the associate was white. The hypothetical black associate got a significantly lower score on average than the hypothetical white one. Partners, regardless of their race or gender, had more positive things to say about the work of the white associate, and found fewer mistakes on average in the paper."  (link)

Of course, that is not the only dynamic at play:

"Interviews with two dozen black lawyers, in-house counsel, diversity experts and academics, plus our exclusive law firm surveys, suggest a variety of causes. Most agreed that pressures within law firms that began during the recession have made partnership both a more difficult and less attractive proposition for black lawyers. Meanwhile, the pipeline has narrowed. As firms keep associate classes smaller, fewer black lawyers are moving into firms; the black law graduates who are tapped by elite firms continue to be a small group of high-ranking students from first- or second-tier law schools. Finally, a mid-2000s push by corporations to compel their outside counsel to diversify has receded, displaced by concerns over law firm pricing."  (link)

The American Lawyer article highlights some of the efforts some law firms are taking in response to these issues, including revisiting hiring and evaluation systems:

"In the meantime, firms such as Schiff Hardin, Littler Mendelson and Reed Smith have begun taking steps to address both unconscious bias and structural impediments to black lawyer advancement. These steps echo in practical ways those recommended by the American Bar Association's Presidential Initiative Commission on Diversity in 2010 in its report summarizing its findings after a year of hearings on the issues." (link)

The full American Lawyer article is available here and is a very thorough and thoughtful piece.