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Fort Lauderdale Employment Law Blog

FMLA Q & A

There are times in life when needing to take time off of work to take care of oneself or one's family is a must. Thankfully, the Family Medical Leave Act is in place to allow for this. This week, this column will answer some common questions Florida residents may have about FMLA.

Question number one: Who can use FMLA? FMLA is available to anyone who works for a public agency or anyone who works for a private company that has 50 or more employees who work at least 20 weeks during the year. Those eligible for FMLA must have worked at their current job for at least 12 months for a minimum of 1,250 hours.

Former Bank of America employee files wrongful termination suit

The environment in a workplace can profoundly affect Florida employees, and not always for the better. One former Bank of America employee claims this was the situation she faced when the company started pushing aggressive sales tactics. She has since filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, alleging that Bank of America retaliated against her for speaking up about the hostile work environment, unreasonable expectations and problematic sales practices.

Her lawsuit claims that her work environment began to deteriorate in 2018, when managers started threatening and bullying employees to push unnecessary credit card sales. Many of the encouraged sales tactics were described as unethical and even illegal. All of this was apparently an effort to improve bank management's image.

Women still underrepresented in STEM fields

For years, women in Florida and across the United States have fought for equal representation in the workforce. Though many strides have been made, one place where women still are not represented equally is in the tech industry. Previous studies have noted gender bias and discrimination in this field; recent studies show that bias still exists in STEM.

One study in the United Kingdom polled women who worked in the technology industry. Of those polled, 49% had experienced some form of workplace discrimination, and 20% had resigned from a position in the tech field due to harassment or discrimination. Though most of those polled felt that a lack of diversity in the technology field was an issue, women were more likely to feel this way than men.

Gender discrimination across class lines

Despite the #MeToo movement and widespread media attention to sexual harassment and workplace discrimination, women in Florida continue to face gender discrimination on the job. Around 40% of women across the country say that they have witnessed or personally experienced discrimination on the job; although, rates may vary considerably depending on their education and social class.

While many may expect that low-income workers may suffer more frequently from discrimination, only 7% of women who did not complete high school reported harassment or mistreatment at their current jobs. On the other hand, 13% of women with advanced degrees said the same.

Tips for resolving workplace discrimination cases

Florida workers and others who are treated differently than their colleagues are because of their gender or other attributes could be victims of workplace discrimination. While it can feel awkward for an individual to report what he or she has experienced, it is important to be heard. At a minimum, workers should document what has happened to them, and they should get copies of anything that they may not be able to retrieve if they are fired.

For instance, it may be worthwhile to obtain a copy of an employee handbook or emails sent by a manager to a worker through a company email server. Individuals should be careful about who they report any misdeeds to. Although talking to HR about harassment in the workplace may seem like a natural step, it's important to understand that this department is there to look out for the employer.

Research shows that workplace discrimination is still a problem

In Florida and across the nation, workplace discrimination is a persistent problem despite increased attention being paid to the issue. Employers are encouraged to have greater diversity in the workplace. However, research indicates that even with diversity, workplace discrimination continues to take place.

A survey by Glassdoor shows that out of every four employees across the nation, three say they are part of a diverse workforce. Still, three in five U.S. workers say they saw workplace discrimination at their job or experienced it themselves. Workers were discriminated against because of gender identity, being LGBTQ+, race, gender and age. This disparity indicates that employers should be vigilant about addressing workplace discrimination so the work environment can improve.

Age discrimination has a serious economic cost

Age discrimination in Florida and around the country not only affects targeted workers but can have a serious impact on the economy as a whole, according to a report issued by AARP. Researchers note that if older workers continue to face discrimination in hiring, terminations, or promotions, the American economy could lose up to $850 billion as a result. People over 50 generated 40% of the country's overall GDP in 2018, contributing $8.3 trillion to the economy overall. This financial contribution exceeded this group's percentage of the overall population, which sits at 35%, even though many older Americans are retired or working fewer hours.

The report notes that the economic contributions of Americans over 50 are expected to reach $28.2 trillion before 2050, but that this potential is limited by age discrimination. Discrimination based on age is unlawful under federal law, but older workers continue to face underemployment, difficulties finding new jobs or involuntary retirement. Another report noted that older workers were particularly vulnerable to wage stagnation. One of the most effective ways for workers to seek higher pay is to apply for new jobs at another company. However, older workers may face more difficulty finding a newer job, holding them back from achieving their full pay potential.

You have faced discrimination. What next?

Discrimination is an issue that continues to rear its ugly head. Even though state and federal laws work to prevent discrimination in the workplace, numerous instances of unfair treatment based on a protected characteristic take place every year. Often, it is up to the victim to ensure that justice for such wrongdoing comes about.

You may have come to understand that the mistreatment you faced on the job was discriminatory. Your boss may have passed you over for a promotion and gave it to a less-qualified man, or your employer may have given you less favorable work than white employees. Whatever the case, you understood that your treatment was due to your gender, race, religion, ethnicity, country of origin or another protected characteristic.

An analysis of EEOC workplace discrimination data

During the 2019 fiscal year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 72,675 workplace discrimination charges from employees in Florida and throughout the country. EEOC data indicates that 53.8% of all discrimination claims during that period were related to employer retaliation. It was the most common type of discrimination claim the EEOC received during the period. Complaints related to disability comprised 33.4% of discrimination claims.

Claims related to discrimination based on sex, race and age were also among the top 10 most common discrimination charges leveled against employers in fiscal year 2019. The EEOC found that 69.5% of all discrimination charges were without cause, and it also found that 70% of retaliation claims made during the 2019 fiscal year lacked cause. Of the 7,514 sexual harassment charges the EEOC received, it found that 54.6% did not have any basis to them.

Former entertainment CEO accuses Joel Katz of harassment

People in Florida might be interested to learn that entertainment lawyer Joel Katz has been accused of sexual harassment by Deborah Dugan, the former CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Katz is the founder and chairman of the entertainment and media practice area of Greenberg Traurig.

According to news sources, Dugan filed a discrimination charge against Katz and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Jan. 21. She alleged that Katz, the outside counsel for the National Academy, repeatedly commented on her appearance and referred to her as "baby." She also alleges that he made unwelcome sexual advances to her at a dinner in May 2019.

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