New Work Suits: Ford Accused of Harassment as Joint Employer

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By Jay-Anne B. Casuga

Discrimination claims against Ford, Walmart, and Marriott are among the 620 labor, employment, and benefits lawsuits filed in federal courts last week. That’s the most filings in one week since the end of June, which ended with around 640 new workplace lawsuits.

Bias cases comprised nearly half (48 percent) of all new federal employment litigation between July 22 and July 28, followed by wage-and-hour cases (25 percent) and benefits cases (20 percent). About 26 lawsuits alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act—only about two to three dozen are filed every week—though some of those cases may also include disability discrimination claims.

Notable Names
  • Ford Motor Co. and staffing company Allegis Group Inc. should be held jointly liable for permitting same-sex harassment, age bias, and retaliation against a male worker assigned to the Ford Design Center, according to a lawsuit in Michigan. Joint employer liability continues to be a hotly contested issue in labor and wage-and-hour law, but it can also come up in discrimination cases. In recent years, a growing number of federal appeals courts—including the Third, Fourth, and Fifth circuits—have found that staffing firms and their client-employers can be held liable as joint employers under federal anti-discrimination laws.
  • Marriott International was accused of unlawfully placing a black employee into positions that don’t include customer interaction. The former Courtyard Marriott worker in Florida said he was hired as a server, but was instead assigned to kitchen cleaning. He said no black employees worked in the “front of the house.” Racial segregation regarding “front of the house” and “back of the house” jobs, particularly in the restaurant industry, have been targeted in recent years by worker advocates and government enforcement agencies.
  • Bank of America client advocates and operations consultants brought a nationwide collective action and California class action against the bank, which they say incorrectly classified them as exempt from overtime pay. Worker misclassification cases in the context of wage-and-hour law exemptions continue to be prevalent across various industries. Earlier this year, a split U.S. Supreme Court rejected a longstanding approach by lower courts to interpret the exemptions in favor of workers.
  • Lowe’s Home Centers, International Paper Co., and United Airlines are a few of the companies that have allegedly violated the FMLA, according to filings last week. Although family and medical leave lawsuits make up a small percentage of new workplace litigation every week, the total number of FMLA cases filed in federal courts has steadily risen since 2012. Last year, about 1,261 FMLA suits were initiated, according to government data. And that number has already been surpassed in the first quarter of 2018.
  • An HIV-positive cashier sued Wal-Mart Stores Inc., alleging she unlawfully was fired four days after notifying a manager of her condition. Guidance documents addressing workplace protections for individuals with HIV were issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Obama administration. The EEOC enforces federal anti-discrimination laws.
  • In Louisiana, a 55-year-old Target Corp. team leader accused the retailer of unlawfully firing her because of her age. It’s the 13th employment discrimination lawsuit brought against the company in federal court so far in 2018, according to Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics.
Hot Spots
  • Florida (69), New York (67), and Pennsylvania (54) again had the most new workplace lawsuits. The Hawkeye state scouted out the least with just one new filing, while the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, and Rhode Island also were at the back of the pack with two suits filed in each jurisdiction.
  • The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, located in Manhattan, continues to be the country’s busiest federal courthouse with 35 lawsuits filed, followed closely by federal courts in the Middle (34) and Southern districts (32) of Florida.
  • Among the 13 federal appeals courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit saw the most new cases (102) filed in the Alabama, Georgia, and Florida federal courts it oversees. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the First Circuit—which covers courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island—had 17. The District of Columbia Circuit had the least (2), but it hears appeals from only one court.

Looking for more analytics on employment and benefits cases filed in U.S. courts? Bloomberg Law’s “New Work Suits” gives you up-to-date information on the latest employment and benefits complaints filed in U.S. district courts. For more information on any of the recent filings, subscribers can click here to access Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Intelligence Center.

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