EEOC ups its enforcement game; why the customer is not always right; holiday decorations & religious accommodation in a condo/HOA; records access saga; and more in Our Social Media Posts This Week, Oct. 23-29, 2022.

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.

eeoc sues alto construction and j.a. croson for race discrimination, harassment and retaliation

In the first post on Sunday 10/23/2022 we saw the EEOC sued Alto Construction and J.A. Croson for race discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Sad facts in today’s world.  There were two separate suits – one against Alto Construction Co. Inc., a site development and asphalt paving construction company, and another against J.A. Croson, LLC, a plumbing and HVAC con-tracting company. The suit alleges that Alto’s manage-ment regularly used the N-word in front of Black employees. Specifics are in the post. Despite the employee’s objections, the site supervisor continued with that behavior. And there is more: see the post for alleged behavior by a white division manager. When the Black employee objected to that, he was fired later that day.

In the suit against J.A. Croson the EEOC alleges that management routinely used derogatory slurs in reference to non-white employees. Examples (which are pretty unsavory) are in the post. When the non-white employees complained of the racial discrimination, J.A. Croson fired them.

Both suits were filed after concili­ation failed.

TAKEAWAY: The EEOC is still working to stamp out discrimination and retaliation in the workplace – keep your nose clean.

eeoc sued starlite station bar and dance hall for sexual harassment and retaliation

In the second post on Sunday 10/23/2022 (we messed up so bonus post for you!) we leaned the EEOC sued Starlite Station bar and dance hall for sexual harassment and retaliation.  The allegations are that the operator of the Western-themed bar and dance hall subjected employees to a sexually hostile work environment, then retaliated against those who opposed the actions. The suit alleges that the sexually hostile work environment was as to both female and male employees. What happened? See the post. Just one tidbit: it is alleged that in January 2019 the owner had sex in the office at Starlite Station with a female employee when she was too intoxicated to consent. Did we say there’s more in the post?!? And remember, the allegations are as to both male and female employees (so an “equal opportunity violator”). But it doesn’t stop there; the suit also alleges that Starlite retaliated against employees who complained about or spoke out against the owner’s actions, including by firing or threatening to discipline employees who complained to managers. And yes, there is even more. Starlite then sued a number of former employees – more on that in the post. As usual, the EEOC first tried to settle (conciliate) but filed suit when that failed. The damages sought in the lawsuit are listed in the post.

        TAKEAWAY: Don’t violate the law – and when you get caught, don’t play chicken with the EEOC (rather, contact an employment lawyer to help you get it resolved quickly and out of the limelight).

the customer is not always right: why and how employers should address third-party discrimination in the workplace

The post on Monday 10/24/2022 taught us that the customer is not always right: why and how employers should address third-party discrimination in the workplace. Employers may be inclined to take a hands-off approach when customers or other third parties exhibit discriminatory conduct toward their employees, but that can be a costly mistake. An example is in the recent lawsuit filed by the EEOC against 98 Starr Road operating Co., LLC dba Elderwood at Burlington, a long-term care facility. The EEOC claims that patients made statements to and took actions against employees based on the employees’ race – details are in the post. And management’s response? Also in the post (and also not ok). This is not a new area: in 2013, Hurly Medical Center in Michigan entered into a settlement agreement with the EEOC relative to a race discrimination charge (the details of which are in the post). Hurley agreed to pay ~$200,000 and entered into a 5-year agreement which provided that the EEOC would conduct non-discrimination training for all Hurley staff and evaluate their progress. So, what can employers do to reduce potential liability for third-party discrimination/ harassment claims? One thing is that employers should not acquiesce to a client’s possibly discriminatory request. Other tips are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Employee protection against harassment and discrimination is as to all things related to their employment and mat be broader than you realize. Know the law.

eeoc sued heartfelt home healthcare services (in erIE, PA) for pregnancy and disability discrimination

The post on Tuesday 10/25/2022 brought knowledge that the EEOC sued Heartfelt Home Healthcare Services for pregnancy and disability discrimination. This one is close to home” Heartfelt is a home health care company in Erie, Pennsylvania. According to the lawsuit, a pregnant scheduling coordinator with hypertension was unlawfully discharged because of those conditions. How did the company’s president and vice president play into things? See the post. And at one point she was treated at a hospital for early contractions but remained qualified to perform her job and had no medical restrictions, what did they do? Yep, see the post.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t discriminate against employees; it will not turn out well for you. Train your employees – at all levels – as to what they can and cannot say and do. And have an employment layer on speed dial.

jewish family received legal notice from condo association to remove sukkah.

The first post on Wednesday 10/26/2022 (yep, another double-post day for you!) told us a Jewish family received legal notice from condo association to remove sukkah. The association said the family cannot celebrate outside (despite Jewish law on where the sukkah can or cannot be placed). Part of the letter from the attorney is in the VID. The association president even got into the fray – see the VID. And note what is said about Board authorization of the action!

        TAKEAWAY: When dealing with restrictions, including holiday decorations, and religious and other accommodations, consult an attorney knowledge about community association law.

eeoc alleges car dealership segregated employees by sex, retaliated against hr workers who intervened

The second post on Wednesday 10/26/2022 told us the EEOC alleges a car dealership segregated employees by sex, retaliated against HR workers who intervened. Yep, two levels of bad. A car dealership allegedly refused to hire women for sales positions or men for cashier, clerical or other office positions according to a lawsuit filed September 27, 2022. And when an HR director and recruiter informed the general manager that this was illegal and tried to intervene, what the GM said and did is in the post. Why the dealership allegedly refused to hire women for sales roles is also in the post (and laughable). A sales manager refused to meet a female interview applicant because of her sex, the EEOC alleged. And more that the company did? See the post.

        TAKEAWAY: Don’t treat applicants or employees differently based on sex – and definitely don’t retaliate against those who complain about that treatment (whether of themselves or others).

condo board that won $395K judgment against single mom now faces skeptical judge over records access. (photo credit Susan Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

In the post on Thursday 10/27/2022 we read that a condo board that won a $395,554 judgment against a single mom now faces a skeptical judge over records access. Can an association’s board interpret records access laws as it wishes if it decides that unit owners making the requests are working against it? This is not a fanciful question, but one that comes up periodically. And a question that a judge in a conten-tious trial underway between the longtime officers of a condo associa-tion and unit owners Eleanor and Edward Lepselter over their request to inspect how money is spent at the four-story, 72-unit complex. This is long but well worth reading (if only for the amusement factor).

This is the same association that got a $395,554 judgment last spring against another unit owner, Eileen Breitkreutz, a single mother it sued over her 2016 records request. The current trial stems from a Feb. 6, 2019, request by Eleanor Lepselter, also signed by Edward, appointing a law firm as their representative authorized to conduct a records request on their behalf. On the same day one of the firm’s attorneys sent his own letter advising that he was representing Eleanor Lepselter and planned to conduct a “forensic audit” of the association’s financial records. More of the letter’s contents is noted in the post. On Feb. 22, 2019, the association’s property manager, Eric Esta-banez, emailed Eleanor Lepselter, setting the following Monday as the date that the records would be made available. The email stated that only Eleanor, and not the attorney, would be allowed to inspect the records. When Eleanor showed up with the attorney, the property manager said that only Eleanor would be allowed into the room where the records were assembled. The attorney protested and told the treasurer who was also present about applicable state law (as noted in the post and similar to PA law). What was the treasurer’s response as recounted by Eleanor and the attorney at trial? See the post. When asked about the statement in court, the treasurer said “You’re a liar.” And then what did he say happened that day? See the post. Why the background matters is because the Judge isolated the dispute over what “or” means in the record-access language of state law as one of the primary issues that will determine his ruling in the case. How the Judge summed up the association’s position is noted in the post. The pending ruling is important as it could set a legal precedent affecting how associations treat similar record requests in the future.

The lawsuit is just the latest skirmish in an exhaustive series of legal conflicts involving the association. In those actions, the president and other board members accused the Lepselters, Breitkreutz and another couple, David and Dganit Shefets, of working together to try to oust the board members. And how many complaints have been made about the association to the governmental agency in charge of condo and homeowner associations? See the post. Ironically, the association leveled similar allegations in the current suit. How did the treasurer characterize counsel for the various owners when he testified recently? See the post.

The conflict goes back nearly a decade, when the Shefets transferred ownership of their two condo units to an LLC they formed so they could rent out the units. They sued in 2015 after the association refused to process lease applications (the alleged basis of which is noted I the post);that case is still pending. Around the same time, a once-cordial relationship between the Lepselters, who work as real estate agents, and the Board president soured. The animosity led to a pair of 2013 suits filed by Edward Lepselter (details of which are in the post and will have you either laughing or crying).  The association prevailed and litigated so heavily that it originally sought $120,000 in legal fees from the Lepselters. The judge in that case reduced it to $32,900 and accused the association’s law firm of compiling time records that were “duplicative, unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive.” The Shefets filed their request to inspect the board’s financial records in 2016 but the association denied the record (yes, the reason given is in the post). There are interwoven details in the several cases that are described in the post (and make for interesting reading).

After the attorney was denied access to the records, Eleanor Lepselter filed a complaint for non-binding arbitration by the governmental agency. The arbitrator agreed with Eleanor (on the basis noted in the post – that is not surprising). The arbitrator’s ruling required the association to make all records available and to pay $500 in damages. Instead, the association sued Eleanor in what is essentially an appeal of the arbitrator’s decision. At the recent trial the Board president acknowledged one of the reasons the association denied the attorney access to the records; see the post. The association’s suit alleges that the Lepselters’ request violated a provision of a separate state law (relevant language of which is cited in the post and is similar to PA law) because their request was allegedly made on behalf of the Shefets, and/or their LLC. The Judge ruled that the association had waived that argument; the basis for the ruling (interesting!) is in the post. The judge will issue a ruling after final arguments.  

TAKEAWAY: The various rights and restrictions governing a condominium or homeowners’ association apply equally to owners and board members in their official capacity – if trying to use them as both a sword and shield, consult a knowledge communication associations lawyer.

eeoc sued tractor supply for disability discrimination

The post on Friday 10/28/2022 showed us the EEOC sued Tractor Supply for disability discrimination. Tractor Supply Company describes itself as the nation’s largest rural lifestyle retailer – it employs nearly 50,000 individuals in 49 states so knowing and following the law is pretty important. The EEOC filed this suit September 30th alleging that Tractor Supply publicized an employee’s confidential medical information, subjected her to a hostile work environment, disciplined her without justification, and ultimately fired her. Some background. The employee was born with an HIV infection which is a disability under the ADA. According to the lawsuit, Tractor Supply learned about the disability because a store manager persistently questioned her to as to why she could not work a certain shift. The repeated questioning forced the employee to disclose confidential medical information. What then happened is described in the post.. When the employee complained, the company disciplined her (allegedly) without justification and ultimately fired her. What does the EEOC seek in the suit? Monetary damages (detailed in the post) and the just-as-important injunctive relief against the company to prevent such unlawful conduct in the future.

TAKEAWAY: The EEOC has stepped up its game in enforcement – while employers should not be discriminating against or harassing employees in any circumstance, they should be even more careful now with the EEOC aggressive enforcement.

eeoc sued keystone rv for disability discrimination

Finally, in the post yesterday 10/29/2022, we read about the EEOC suing Keystone RV for disability discrimination. Keystone is a HUGE RV manufacturer in Indiana. The suit alleges that Keystone refused to give less than a week of unpaid leave to accommodate an employee with a disability who needed surgery. Rather, what Keystone did is as noted in the post. The end result was termination of employment. The EEOC alleged that Keystone’s conduct violates the ADA, which prohibits employment dis­crimination based on disability, and that that the company’s actions were intentional and demon­strated a reckless indifference to the employee’s federally protected rights. What does the EEOC seek in this suit by way of damages and remedy? See the post.

TAKEAWAY: Know the law and if and how it applies to your and your employees. Get a good employment lawyer to assist you.

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