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Harassment

- A woman has been awarded more than $1 million in damages after she was repeatedly harassed by a coworker who made disparaging racial and sexual remarks (.pdf). The woman’s managers refused to take action until the harasser physically assaulted the woman. (Freeman v. Whirlpool Corporation, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, No. 3:06-0593, 2009)

Social Networking

- A high-school student who was taken out of her honors courses after she complained about a teacher on her Facebook page may pursue a lawsuit against her school. A federal court has ruled that the student’s post, which deemed an instructor “the worst teacher I ever met” contained no threats of violence and was protected under the First Amendment (.pdf). (Evans v. Bayer, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 08-cv-61925, 2010)

Elsewhere in the Courts: Racial Discrimination

- A federal appeals court has ruled that an employee, Dennis Ford, may not sue his employer for racial discrimination because the discrimination was not severe enough and Ford failed to pursue his complaint adequately. Ford claimed that one of his coworkers called him a “black African American,” and “black man,” on a regular basis. However, Ford reported the incident only once and during the complaint was more concerned about other issues, such as an impending raise. In addition, the name-calling stopped after the offending employee was reprimanded. (Ford v. Minteq Shapes and Services, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, No. 09-2140, 2009)

State Legislation: Utah: Hiring

- A new Utah law (formerly H.B. 206) would restrict how employers could request personal information from prospective employees. Under the law, employers may not request an applicant’s Social Security number, date of birth, or driver’s license number until after the applicant has been offered a job. The information may also be requested after the applicant has agreed to a criminal background check, credit check, or driving record check.

State Legislation: Illinois: Credit Checks

- A bill (H.B. 4658) pending in the Illinois legislature would prohibit companies from conducting credit checks on prospective employees. Under the bill, it would be illegal for companies to use credit checks to make decisions on hiring, recruiting, discharge, or compensation. Exceptions would be made for financial institutions, public safety agencies, or any other government agencies that require credit checks as a matter of law.

U.S. Congressional Legislation: Fire Safety

- A bill (H.R. 4908) introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) would provide grants that colleges and universities could use to improve fire-safety programs. The grants, which could be for amounts up to $250,000, would be awarded to fund programs to increase fire safety awareness among college and university students, including those living in off-campus housing. The grants would fund a program for up to two years and would have to be matched by an investment of at least 25 percent of the total grant amount.

U.S. Congressional Legislation: First Responders

- A bill (H.R. 4992) introduced by Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) is designed to protect individual first responders from litigation costs arising from unintended consequences. Under the bill, the employers of first responders would be required to pay for any liability, including litigation costs related to claims of liability, that first responders incur in the course of their official duties. Exceptions would be made in the case of intentional wrongdoing or activities undertaken in bad faith.

Legal Report

- Rulings on employment issues and privacy, plus legislation on first responders and fire safety.

Elsewhere in the Courts: Age Discrimination

- A federal appeals court will allow a 58-year-old executive to pursue an age discrimination lawsuit against his employer. The highly praised executive was fired and replaced with a younger man. The court noted that a management consultant had suggested that the company enlist “young, energetic” people, a phrase that the company’s president repeated and wrote out in his notes. (Inman v. Klockner Pentaplast of America, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, No. 08-1882, 2009)

State Legislation: Credit Checks

- A new law (formerly S.B. 1045) recently enacted in Oregon will prohibit most employers from conducting a credit check on current or prospective employees. The law exempts some types of employees—such as those who work at federally insured banks and credit unions, law enforcement personnel, airport security, and any other employees who must undergo a credit check as a matter of law. The law also allows an employer to conduct a credit check if it is “substantially job-related.” To exercise this exemption, employers must disclose the reasons for the check to the employee in writing. The law will not affect the use of other types of background checks.

State Legislation: Oklahoma: Firearms

- A new Oklahoma law (formerly H.B. 1025) makes it illegal for employers to ask employees about their ownership of firearms. Under the law, private employees would be barred from asking applicants whether they own or possess a firearm. Violation of the law is punishable by a $1,000 fine.

Employment

- An amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2010 (H.R. 2701) will establish a process for ensuring that there is no conflict of interest present when employees within the intelligence community take second jobs. The amendment will also prohibit employees within the intelligence community from owning companies that sell expertise related to the employee’s government service.

U.S. Congressional Legislation: Cybersecurity

- A bill (S. 773) that would establish a high-level cybersecurity office in the government and encourage public-private partnerships to improve cybersecurity has been approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The bill must now be considered by the full Senate.
 




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