Attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C., focusing our practice on employment law in New York City metropolitan area, come across cases almost daily that highlight issues common to workplace discrimination claims. Employers who discriminate or harass employees because of their gender or other protected characteristics may be held liable for damages their behavior causes to the victim or victims. Under federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws (NYSHRL and NYCHRL) not only is it unlawful to discriminate and harass, it is also unlawful to retaliate against an employee.
What does this mean? It means that an employer may not punish a worker for complaining about or trying to stop conduct that violates his or her workplace rights. For example, your employer may not transfer you to a remote office or demote you because you file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or report discrimination to your supervisor. It is not uncommon for employment discrimination cases to include claims of retaliation. One recent action against Delta demonstrates how they intertwine.
In January 2017, two women, cargo agents at JFK airport, filed a lawsuit against Delta Airlines and a supervisor seeking millions of dollars in damages for alleged “gender discrimination, violation of New York City’s human rights law, sexual harassment and unlawful retaliation.” Lauren Heffernan and Kayla Jenkins allege in their lawsuit that Delta fired them after complaining that their supervisor was masturbating at his desk. Heffernan and Jenkins were both new employees, and the supervisor was assigned to act as their “mentor” to conduct training.
A few months after beginning work, in the summer of 2015, Jenkins allegedly observed the supervisor masturbating. She was afraid to report the behavior and confided in Heffernan who claimed to have seen the same thing earlier in the month. As reported by several news sources, when the employees complained to the company they were told that Delta “was already aware that the supervisor had been masturbating in the office.” Despite that knowledge, Delta allegedly indicated to Heffernan that “[the supervisor] had been a valued employee and that reporting his conduct could ‘ruin’ him.” The women claim to have reported the inappropriate incidents to several supervisors and received no assistance. According to the New York Daily News, the court papers state that Delta supervisors joked about the supervisor’s conduct and urged the employees to keep their concerns quiet.
Delta fired Jenkins a short time later. The company told her that her schoolwork was interfering with her job, something she had not heard before that day. According to the court papers as discussed by the Daily News, the supervisor masturbated in front of Heffernan again a week after Jenkins left. Heffernan complained, and Delta terminated her employment shortly after that, allegedly for returning late from a lunch break.
The case against Delta has not reached a resolution. It is not often, however, that a case presents what appears to be clear evidence of a company’s blatant disregard for sexual harassment. Here, various supervisors apparently admitted via text to having knowledge of the supervisor’s behavior. If Delta took proper steps to discipline the supervisor or remedy the situation in some other way, the underlying sex harassment claim might have disappeared, and the victims may have remained employed. Delta contends that Jenkins and Heffernan lost their jobs for reasons entirely unrelated to their reports of sexual harassment. The company also stated that an internal investigation into the allegations resulted in the termination of two Delta employees. However, Delta declined to say whether one of them was the supervisor.
If you think you have been the victim of sexual harassment at work or that your employer has punished you for trying to protect your rights contact Leeds Brown. Retaliation can occur in many different ways including:
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