EEOC suits and priorities; flu shots & religious exemptions; owner knowledge of delinquencies in condo/HOA; accommodations for the hearing disabled; and more in Our Social Media Posts This Week, June 11-17, 2023

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week. You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

The post on Sunday 6/11/2023 told us the EEOC sues Mueller Co., LLC and IH Services Inc. for sexual harassment and retaliation. We warn you – the facts are ugly. It is alleged in a suit filed May 1st that both companies violated Title VII by subjecting female IH Services employees to a hostile work environment based on sex and then retaliating against them when they complained.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, from at least May 2018 until late August 2020, IH Services, a staffing agency, assigned female employees to provide cleaning services at a Mueller fire hydrant manufacturing plant where several of Mueller’s male employees subjected at least three female IH Services employees to unwanted sexual touching and sexual comments about their bodies and sex lives. But that’s not all; Mueller male employees also acted as noted in the post. At least three females complained to multiple IH Services and Mueller managers; what they did after the complaints is also in the post.

The EEOC filed suit in federal court (the docket number and district are in the post) after completing an investigation and attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The relief requested by the EEOC in the suit is listed in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Make sure your managers know how to behave with and toward employees and take prompt action on complaints.

The post on Monday 6/12/2023 was about flu shot requirements: can employer do that? A(noter) new EEOC lawsuit, this one taking aim at a Michigan hospital that allegedly violated federal law by denying a job applicant’s request to be excused from a generally applicable flu shot requirement. What happened? A job applicant refused to get a flu shot for religious reasons and requested an exemption; Mercy’s alleged response is in the post. (Sounds similar to COVID-19 shots and exemption requests, right?) The EEOC says that Mercy’s alleged conduct violates Title VII; what it seeks by way of remedy is in the post.

This is not the first EEOC suit to claim that an employer violated Title VII by denying an exemption to a flu vaccine requirement. In December 2022, the EEOC filed a simi-lar suit against Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, alleging it violated Title VII by denying a maintenance employee’s request for a religious exemption to the flu vaccination requirement. Why was the denial a problem? See the post.

And in 2016, the EEOC recovered $300,000 on behalf of six health center employees who were fired after refusing to get a flu vaccine for religious reasons. There the EEOC alleged that the employer granted several medical-based exemption requests while denying all exemption requests that were based on religion. And there’s more from 2018 too; see the post.

Why is this a big deal? Because under Title VII, employers must reasonably accommo-date the sincerely held religious beliefs of applicants and employees unless doing so would create an undue hardship. How undue hardship is defined is in the post.

Similarly, the ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate applicants and employees who have a disability (as defined by the ADA). Undue hardship is also a defense under the ADA, but it is defined differently (see the post). That means it is more difficult for employers to show undue hardship under the ADA than under Title VII.

So, what are best practices for employers when it comes to the flu shot? The EEOC has long advised employers to encourage rather than require employees to get the flu vaccine. But what about in settings where a vaccination requirement makes more sense in light of increased risk of exposure and transmission (like health care settings)? See the post.

And what are option for employers that choose to implement a general flu vaccine requirement and need to engage in a good-faith, interactive process of determining whether reasonable accommodation is possible when a disability-based or religious exemption is sought? One is permitting employees to wear a mask instead of getting the vaccine. Others are in the post.

TAKEAWAY:  As with the COVID-19 vax, employers must be aware of their legal obligation to accommodate requests for exemption from a flu vaccine for religious reasons. Consult an employment lawyer for assistance.

The post on Tuesday 6/13/2023 was for condo and HOA Q&A: are owners entitled to know who’s delinquent and if any sanctions? Some states provide that the official records of a condo or homeowners’ association must include certain financial information, including “a current account and a periodic statement of the account for each member, designating the name and current address of each member who is obligatiod to pay assessments, the due date and amount of each assessment or other charge agasint the member, the date and amount of each payment on the account, and the balance due.” And they also go farther as to records inspection by owners(see the post for an example). In those states, sanctions (e.g., late fees, interest, fines, attonryes’ fees for collections) shoudl be shown on account statements, but what about delinquency status? See the post.

TAKEAWAY: Know what PA law provides as to owners’ entitlement to various association records – consult with a community association lawyer.

The post on Wednesday 6/14/2023 was about EEOC priorities 2023-2027: sexual harassment, pay discrimination, and AI.  The Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”) describes the EEOC’s top enforce-ment priorities, which are Protecting Vulnerable Workers and Persons From Underserved Communities From Employ-ment Discrimination; Enforcing Equal Pay Laws; and the others listed in the post.

Relative to the first category mentioned above,  the ”vulnerable worker priority” includes workers who, according to the EEOC, “may be unaware of their rights . . . or reluctant or unable to exercise their legally protected rights.” Examples are workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities and others noted in the post.

As to  “Enforcing Equal Pay Laws,” the SEP focuses on pay discrimination based on any protected category. It also states that the EEOC may use “Commissioner Charges and directed investigations” to enforce equal pay. How that is a change from current practices is noted in the post.

The other categories are also described in the post along with what employers should watch out for.

        TAKEAWAY: Know what the EEOC will be stressing in the coming years – but don’t forget about everything that is covered under applicable employment laws.

In the post on Thursday 6/15/2023 we learned that Bowlero faces $60M settlement  after  dozens of discrimi-nation claims. Bowlero is the world’s largest operator of bowling alleys, but now it’s in the gutter after dozens of former employees made age discrimina-tion and retaliation claims. The EEOC has proposed a $60 million (no typo) settlement. Let’s take a step back … More than 70 former employees have claimed they were fired based on age or due to retaliation while working at Bowlero (whose astronomical sales figures are in the post). While about 30 million people visit Bowlero’s 325-plus facilities in North America annually, its stock dropped ~9% since this news first hit. Bowlero CEO Thomas Shannon has been accused of hosting “obvious beauty contests” with prospective hires, using video calls to evaluate a candidate’s appearance. The EEOC’s investigation has been ongoing since 2016. What one former HR employee said is in the post. Ouch.

TAKEAWAY: Treat all employees uniformly – and according to applicable law. It could be a very expensive lesson otherwise.

The post on Friday 6/16/2023 talked about the difference between buying in a condo-minium or homeowners’ association and a (non-condo/HOA) house. Whether you’re a first-time buyer, downsizing, or buying a second property, there are many different reasons for purchasing a condominium unit (or one in a homeowners’ association) instead of a home not in a community association. There are some ways that buying a condo (or home in a homeowners’ association) differs from other housing. Some pros of a condo (or other community association unit may include on-site amenities (such as those discussed in the post), built-in community (against, see the post for details), lower maintenance (including the things listed in the post). But there are also other things to consider (not necessarily cons, just considerations) including the association costs and what is covered now and in the future (yep, see the post), the rules (oh so important – see the post) and more as discussed in the post.

TAKEAWAY:  Know what ownership in a condo or homeowners’ association entails before buying – have a community association lawyer review the documents and explain them to you.

Finally, in the post yesterday 6/17/2023, we saw that the E-ZPass operator, staffing agency will pay $120K to settle claim they fired worker for hearing disability. The company that operates the New York E-ZPass system and its staffing agency have agreed to pay that amount to settle a lawsuit filed by the EEOC alleging the companies fired a worker after she requested an accommodation for a hearing condition. Want background? The EEOC alleged that the company, Broadleaf Results, Inc., fired a worker it had placed as a customer service representative at an E-ZPass Customer Service Center in Staten Island, New York, operated by the agency, Conduent State and Local Solutions, Inc. after the worker said she was having trouble hearing customer calls and asked for an accommodation. What the EEOC alleged that Condunent then did is in the post. The settlement amount includes lost wages and damages along with the non-monetary relief noted in the post.

In the E-ZPass case, the EEOC attorneys said that in 2023 there are many creative ways to provide adaptive and assistive technology as a reasonable accommodation.  Broadleaf denied all allegations; its further statement as to the settlement is in the post. Likewise, Conduent’s statement as to the settlement is also in the post.

This isn’t even the first recent case involving hearing impaired workers. The EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, which hears federal-sector appeals, ruled in April that a claim alleging the Air Force denied disability accommodations for more than 700 civilian employees and applicants who are deaf would proceed as a class-action case. What the complaint alleges the Air Force did (or in this case, did not do) is in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t treat workers or applicants differently – or retaliate against them – if and when they request a reasonable accommodation. Rather, engage in the interactive accommodation and try to fulfill your legal obligations, obtaining legal counsel if necessary.

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