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age discrimination in the workplace

I Believe I was Not Hired Because of My Age, What Can I Do?

As the population gets older, age discrimination is becoming more common among employers.  There is no doubt that ageism is real, but it is not something that you should have to tolerate. If you believe you are not being hired because of your age, there are avenues available for which to obtain legal relief, which may include monetary damages. This may involve filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a prelude to filing an age discrimination lawsuit against the employer. These types of cases can be difficult to prove, however, so your first step should be to speak with an experienced employment law attorney in your state to find out what kind of case you have.

What Does Age Discrimination Look Like?

Does any of this sound like you? You’re over 50 years old and you have worked at the same company for more than 20 years. Due to circumstances beyond your control (such as having to move out of the area because your spouse got a job or you needed to be closer to an aging parent), you had to leave the company you work for. You are highly skilled at your position, you have in-depth experience, impeccable references, and expertise that goes beyond that of most in your field.

The job market is very strong right now, there are plenty of openings for positions in your industry, and unemployment is very low in the city and state you are moving to. So, with all of that going for you, you should have no problem finding a new job, right? Well, that’s what you thought anyway.

Even before you completed the move to your new location, you put your resume out to all of the job search platforms, and you’ve had many positive conversations on the phone with recruiters and hiring managers. They speak highly of your background and professional experience, and they make it sound like you would be a perfect fit for the position they have available.

When you finally arrive at your new home and start lining up face-to-face interviews, you are confident that your job search will not last more than a week or two. Then you start sitting down with some of the same people you have talked to on the phone, and things take a decidedly downward turn.

You sense a negative vibe with hiring managers after you meet them face-to-face for the first time. Their mood is much different in-person than it was on the phone, and many of the questions they ask seem to have very little to do with the actual job. At the end of the interview, they are courteous, but they are also rather cold and short. They politely inform you that they’ll “be in touch” if they want you to come back and take the next step in the hiring process, and that is the last you hear from them.

Several weeks after your move, you are starting to get settled into your new surroundings, but you still have not been able to find a job. You’re not sure why, you never had a problem getting a job in the past, and you worked for several employers before settling into the company you stayed with for two decades. But now, when you follow up with these companies, they say you are “overqualified” or “not exactly what they were looking for”, or something similar. The companies keep re-posting the job openings you were applying for, but they never call you back.

Types of Age Discrimination

Age discrimination can take many forms, and the type of scenario described above has been experienced by countless Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers who have applied for a job after the age of 40, and especially after they have turned 50. 

The various types of age discrimination can be divided into three general categories:

  • Direct Discrimination: Though it is rare these days, there are still instances when an employer will provide direct evidence of ageism. The most blatant would be responses such as “you’re too old for this position” or “we are looking for someone a little younger”. Other more subtle questions can also show discrimination, such as “how old are you?”, “how much longer do you plan to keep working?”, “when do you plan to retire?”, or “what year did you graduate?”
  • Disparate Treatment: As in the scenario described earlier, you were highly qualified for the job, and as it turns out, better qualified than the person they ended up giving the job to. The job called for the exact educational credentials, experience, and skillset you possess, but they gave it to someone who was 15 years younger with only about half of your qualifications. In this type of situation, the employer would need to prove that they had a legitimate reason that has nothing to do with age for giving the job to the other candidate. This is known as a “reasonable factor other than age” (RFOA).
  • Disparate Impact: If there are hiring requirements for the job that adversely affect older employees and these requirements have nothing to do with the actual job, this would be another form of age discrimination. One example would be requiring an employee to lift 70 pounds when they are being considered for an office job in which heavy lifting is not part of their everyday work. Again, the employer would have to show that there is a reasonable factor other than age for having this requirement.

Are you a Victim of Age Discrimination in Alabama? Call Attorney Kira Fonteneau to Discuss your Case

If you believe you were not hired for a job because of your age, there are legal options that may be available to you. Be sure to document extensively your interaction with prospective employers (particularly changes in behavior and attitude after meeting them face-to-face discriminatory questions, and discriminatory requirements), then contact a skilled and knowledgeable age discrimination lawyer.

If you are in Alabama, call attorney Kira Fonteneau today at 205-564-9005 or message us through our online contact form to schedule a free consultation and case assessment. Kira will meet with you to discuss your case and advise you of your legal rights and options.

housing discrimination attorney in birmingham al

What Types of Housing Discrimination are Illegal?

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 prohibit discrimination against renters on the basis of a protected class. These federal laws apply to all aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship, and they provide protections to individuals (and couples) who fall into a wide range of protected categories.

Landlords cannot discriminate in selecting tenants on the basis of a group characteristic such as:

Race: Federal law prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on race or the color of their skin. These days, overt racial discrimination is rarer than in years past, although it still occurs. More common are subtler forms of racism, such as not calling back a black applicant, or telling them that an apartment is already rented when in fact there is still a vacancy.

Ethnicity/National Origin: Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or national origin is nearly as pervasive these days as racial discrimination. Some landlords will not rent to tenants who are from certain countries or have an accent. For example, when they detect an accent over the phone, they do not call them back or again they tell the applicant that the apartment is already rented. Another discriminatory act would be to ask applicants of certain ethnicities to prove their citizenship or show their legal status without asking this of other applicants.

Religion: Landlords are not allowed to show religious preferences, and they should not be asking any questions that might reveal your religion, or whether or not you are religious at all. For example, a question like, “where do you go to church?” might seem innocuous, but this type of question implies that you go to a church rather than a synagogue or mosque, or to no place of worship at all. A question like this should never be asked, because it would lead an applicant to reasonably conclude that those who attend churches (and likely Christian churches) are preferred tenants.

Familial Status: Landlords are not allowed to ask your marital status, whether or not you have kids, or are planning to have them. A lot of landlords prefer not to rent to tenants who have kids, because they believe that they will make a lot of noise and create a lot of mess. But federal law does not allow landlords to discriminate on this basis, and any questions about your kids are off limits. Landlords are also not allowed to discriminate based on age, unless you are applying to live in an approved senior or retirement community.

Sex: You cannot be denied housing or have special restrictions placed on you solely because you are female or male. This would even include something that is seemingly designed to help, such as requiring female tenants to live on the second or third floor of a building because the landlord believes these units are safer. Another type of sex discrimination in housing is sexual harassment. One common example would be refusing to rent to someone who resists the landlord’s sexual advances.

It should be noted that federal law still does not have protections in place for housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and less than half of the states have enacted such protections. Hopefully, this will change in the near future.

Disability: Federal law prohibits landlords from discriminating against individuals who have a physical or mental disability that significantly inhibits one or more major life activity. Landlords are not allowed to ask if you have a disability or illness or ask to see your medical records.  Landlords are also required to reasonably accommodate the needs of the disabled tenant. One example would be allowing a blind tenant to have a guide/service dog in a building where no pets are usually allowed.

Are There any Exceptions to the Fair Housing Act?

There are some types of rental property which are exempt from housing discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act. As we touched on earlier, certain types of housing communities can be rented to seniors only. Other housing that is exempt includes:

  • Single family homes being rented by a landlord without a property manager or any advertising, as long as the landlord owns no more than three such properties at any given time;
  • Buildings with four or fewer rental units in which the landlord lives in one of the units;
  • Certain types of housing that is run by private clubs or religious organizations in which rental units are only available to their own members.

What Should I Do if I’ve Been a Victim of Housing Discrimination? 

If you have been discriminated against as a renter based on a federally protected class, you have legal rights, and you may be able to file a claim for housing discrimination. Since 2005, attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for those in Alabama who have had their rights violated under the Fair Housing Act. Kira has extensive knowledge of this area of the law, and she fights hard to help her clients obtain appropriate legal relief. 

To schedule a free consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005 or message us through our online contact form.

Sexual Harassment Part 4 – Sexual Harassment in the Manufacturing Industry

In the first three articles in our series on sexual harassment in the workplace, we have looked at the medical industry, hospitality industry, and the retail industry. This time, we will take a look at another working-class industry that does not receive very much attention with regards to sexual harassment; the manufacturing industry. Like the others we have talked about, women in this industry frequently have to endure a hostile work environment in which they often feel like they have very little recourse when they are being harassed.

Manufacturing is a unique industry in a lot of ways. The industry has traditionally been dominated by males, and even today, only about 25%-30% of manufacturing workers are female. Manufacturing is also different from many other industries in that there is virtually no customer interaction in this industry, and nearly all of the work is performed “behind the scenes” and away from the view of the general public. This makes it in an environment where it is much easier for workers to get away with bad behavior.

Sexual Harassment Complaints in the Manufacturing Industry

According to a 10-year study conducted by the Center for American Progress, manufacturing had the third highest number of EEOC complaints for sexual harassment. The industry received just under 12% of the 85,000+ complaints to the agency over their decade-long study. The only two industries that had more complaints were the food and accommodation (hospitality) industry and retail. This is surprising considering the low percentage of female workers in manufacturing compared to these other two industries, and it highlights the significance of the problem of sexual harassment in manufacturing. 

There are a lot of reasons sexual harassment is so pervasive in the manufacturing industry:

  • Isolated Workspaces: As mentioned earlier, most manufacturing happens away from public view. Workers are typically assigned to various places on an assembly line, and they often do their tasks with very little supervision. Managers tend to spend most of their time in the back office and only come out on the floor when there is a problem to attend to.
  • Culture of Silence: Manufacturing is a difficult and stressful job, and over the decades, reporting bad behavior has often been viewed as “snitching.” Workers frequently justify their actions by saying things like “this is the way things have always been” or that they were just “blowing off steam”. In this type of environment, women are often afraid to complain because they fear they will be labeled as “moody” or “difficult to work with”, which could put their livelihood in jeopardy.  
  • Lack of Sensitivity: In a traditionally male-dominated industry, sensitivity has never been a top priority. As such, salty language, inappropriate jokes, making fun of other employees, and similar conduct has always been seen as “no big deal” and just “part of the job.”  
  • Limited Accountability: The EEOC estimates that only about 6% to 13% of incidents of sexual harassment are ever formally reported. It is easy to see why this is the case in the manufacturing industry. Many harassed workers do not feel like anything will be done about their complaints. Higher level executives and their human resources personnel are usually located off-site, so there is a general feeling that workers’ complaints may not be taken seriously, and nothing will be done to hold those who are perpetrating this type of behavior accountable.

Changing a culture that has operated the same way for such a long time is never easy. That said, “things have always been this way” is not an acceptable defense. Sexual harassment and other forms of workplace harassment and discrimination are illegal under federal law, and no employee should have to endure a hostile work environment. Manufacturing companies need to take proactive steps; such as enacting stricter anti-harassment policies, ensuring that all workers and management are fully educated on these policies, implementing more transparent reporting policies, and making cultural changes to address this problem.

Have you Experienced Harassment in the Workplace? Know your Legal Rights

If you have been sexually harassed as a manufacturing employee or a worker in any other industry, you do not have to stay silent. Your right to a harassment-free workplace is protected by federal law, and there are legal remedies available, which may include the right to recover compensation. To learn more about the legal options you may have for your specific situation, it is best to speak with an experienced civil rights lawyer.

For nearly 15 years, attorney Kira Fonteneau has fought for the rights of working people in Alabama. Kira has helped numerous employees who have been subjected to harassment and discrimination obtain appropriate legal relief. For a confidential consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also message us through our web contact form.

sexual harassment in the workplace in Alabama

Sexual Harassment Part 3: Sexual Harassment in the Retail Industry

Last month, we talked about sexual harassment in the hospitality industry and the unique circumstances that put hospitality workers in greater danger being harassed or sexually assaulted on the job. This time, we will look at another working-class industry in which a high number of workers are subjected to sexual harassment; the retail industry. According to CBS MarketWatch, retail is second only to the hospitality industry for the number of sexual harassment charges that are filed each year.

When some people think of retail, it conjures up images of glamour and fashion, shopping for clothing, trying on dresses and shoes, etc. But that is far from reality for most people who work in the retail industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time retail worker makes less than $33,000 per year, which is well below the U.S. median household income. In addition, 42% of those working in the industry earn a low hourly wage, defined as less than two-thirds of the median wage across the economy. Approximately 55% of low-wage workers in retail are women, and a large percentage of these women live at or near the poverty line.

Lower wage workers are more susceptible to sexual harassment largely because of their economic vulnerability. For one thing, harassers tend to target those who earn a lower income, because they believe victims are less likely to report the incident. With so many retail workers struggling to get by, the last thing they want is anything that may put their job in jeopardy.

Sexual harassment in the retail industry is not usually peer-to-peer; in a large number of cases, the harassers tend to be managers or supervisors. In a typical retail setting, the manager/supervisor has a great deal of control over the employee’s schedule. They decide what shifts the employee is working, how many hours they will be able to work, and ultimately, how much money they will be able to earn.

Oftentimes, workers feel like they need to just put up with the harassment because managers and supervisors have so much control over their financial well-being. They just endure the lewd and crude jokes and comments, and the occasional touching and groping (and sometimes worse!) for the overall betterment of themselves and their families.

In addition to the disproportionate number of low wage workers in retail, there are a couple other major reasons why sexual harassment is rampant in the industry:

Decentralized Workplaces

By its very nature, the retail industry is decentralized. The stores where most of the employees work tend to be located a significant distance from any corporate office. This means that officials in the corporate office have no regular face-to-face interaction with front-line employees and immediate managers and supervisors. They may visit the stores from time to time, but essentially, the store manager is in charge on a day-to-day basis. This type of absolute authority with no accountability makes it easier for perpetrators get away with workplace harassment.

Unclear Reporting Policies

Another common problem in the retail industry is ambiguity over who to report a sexual harassment claim to and how it is handled once you report it. For larger chain stores, the process may involve calling a designated phone number and reporting harassment to someone in corporate office or HR Department. But what happens to the information from there? How seriously do they take your complaint? What is their investigation process?

As bad as that sounds, it may be even worse in a smaller store where one or two people are in charge, and they are the ones you are supposed to report harassment to. What if one of them is the perpetrator? How can you ever expect to be treated fairly in a situation like that? In many cases, employees decide to live with the harassment rather than initiating a highly uncertain claims process.

Standing up to Workplace Harassment

If you have been sexually harassed as a retail industry worker or as a worker in any other industry, you do not have to quietly put up with it. You have legal rights, and you may be able to recover compensation and obtain other forms of relief for your situation. The best place to start is to speak with an experienced civil rights attorney.

For almost a decade and a half, attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for the working people of Alabama. Kira was recently recognized for her work in this area by being appointed president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. She can meet with you to discuss your case and advise you of your legal options.

For a confidential consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also send us a message through our web contact form.

Sexual Harassment in Healthcare - Kira Fonteneau

Sexual Harassment in the Medical Field

Gender inequality has existed in the medical field for centuries. It took until the mid-1850s before the first woman was admitted to a medical school in the U.S., and Harvard Medical School didn’t admit a female student until 1936. Today, there are roughly the same number of men and women attending medical school. But despite reaching parity at the academic level, women still only make up approximately one-third of the nation’s physicians.

The gender gap is even wider in positions of authority within the health care field. While the field has far more women than men overall, women only hold about 15% of the management positions, and only about one out of five hospital CEOs are women. Because of these disparities, women are frequently subjected to various forms of discrimination and harassment in the medical workplace. And the male-dominated hierarchical structure (and other factors unique to the health care industry) has created an environment where sexual harassment is prevalent.

Widespread Sexual Harassment in the Medical Field

As more women have entered the healthcare field, the rate of sexual harassment has also increased. Women in the industry experience sexual harassment from the time they begin training for their career. For example, as many as half of female medical students have reported being sexually harassed. In addition, 30% of female members of medical faculty say they have been sexually harassed in the past two years.

It gets no better once women enter their residency and start working in hospitals, laboratories, and other medical facilities. 30% to 70% of female physicians report they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. This percentage is higher than in most other fields, and there is little evidence that the health care industry is doing anything to stop it. According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, “the efforts of many healthcare organizations and medical centers tend to go little further than avoiding litigation.”

There are several reasons sexual harassment occurs so frequently in the medical field:

  • Management Disparities: the positions of power in the health care field are overwhelmingly dominated by men, with women accounting for the vast majority of subordinates. Transgressions are frequently tolerated in this environment, because those in power tend to “look out for each other.”
  • Isolated Work Environments: Women who work as residents and in hospitals, clinics, and laboratories often work alone with their supervisors. This creates a climate where supervisors can harass subordinates without other witnesses. More than half of all reported incidents of sexual harassment in the medical field occur in isolated work environments.
  • Fear of Retaliation: One of the major reasons sexual harassment continues to occur at alarming rates within the health care field is that many women do not report it fearing negative consequences. Not only do victims of sexual harassment fear losing their job, they are also afraid that they will be labeled “moody” or “difficult to work with” or many other derogatory labels that could foster a hostile work environment and cost them career advancement opportunities. And for residents, a sexual harassment claim could mean not getting a letter of recommendation from their supervisor, which is often their only route toward securing future employment.

Sexual harassment is not only a problem between supervisors and subordinates in the medical field, females are also frequently harassed by patients whom they often work with in an isolated environment. Unfortunately, most women in the medical field do not report sexual harassment by patients because of fear they may be publicly ridiculed or even lose their jobs.

Combating Sexual Harassment in the Medical Workplace

In the wake of the #metoo movement, a growing number of female physicians and other health care workers are reporting incidents of supervisor and patient harassment. However, there is still a long way to go before females will be adequately protected from sexual harassment and sexual advances in the medical workplace.

There are steps female doctors and other health care workers can take to help protect themselves from being subjected to this behavior:

  • Avoid being alone with a male supervisor or male patient;
  • End a conversation, examination, or doctor-patient relationship if harassment or abuse occurs or if you feel unsafe;
  • Report any questionable behavior by a supervisor or patient. In most medical workplaces, there are channels set up for this specific purpose;
  • Speak with an experienced workplace discrimination lawyer about your legal rights and options.

Contact Alabama Employment Attorney Kira Fonteneau

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating aggressively for your rights and interests. For 13 years, attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for working people in Alabama. Kira knows this area of the law, and she works closely with her clients to investigate their case and explore every potential legal avenue toward obtaining relief.

For a consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also send us a message through our online contact form.  

FMLA and the Military - Fonteneau Law

Does the Family and Medical Leave Act apply to Members of the Military?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law enacted in 1993 designed to allow covered employees to take unpaid and job-protected leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Under the FMLA, covered employees may take off up to 12 weeks per year to care for themselves or eligible family members. The law was intended to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, and although the FMLA does not require employers to provide paid leave, employers can do so voluntarily. In addition, employees may substitute any paid leave they have accrued for FMLA leave.

Basic Coverages under the FMLA

Under the original provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act, covered employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for these purposes:

  • To care for a newborn child;
  • To care for a child adopted or placed into their foster care;
  • To care for a spouse or parent who is seriously ill;
  • To care for a child under the age of 18 seriously ill, or a disabled child of any age seriously ill;
  • For an employee to recover from their own serious illness.

FMLA Amendments for Military Families

In 2008, Congress amended the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide two new types of leave for covered employees with qualified family members in the military;

  • Active duty family member leave (also known as “qualifying exigency leave”); and
  • Military caregiver leave.

Active Duty Family Member Leave

Active duty family leave allows covered employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for “qualifying exigencies” that arise when an employee’s spouse, parent, or child is on covered active duty or has been called to covered active duty.

For members of the Regular Armed Forces, “covered active duty” means deployment to a foreign country (this would include international waters). For members of the National Guard and Reserves, “covered active duty” means deployment of the member with one branch of the Regular Armed Forces to a foreign country to support a contingency operation.

There are 8 qualifying exigencies for which an employee can take active duty family member leave under the FMLA:

  • Short-Term Notice Deployment: An employee may take up to 7 calendar days to deal with issues that may arise from the notification of an impending call to covered active duty.
  • Military Events and Related Activities: Employees may take leave to attend military programs, ceremonies, events, briefings, family support and assistance programs, and other activities related to deployment to active duty.
  • Financial and Legal Arrangements: Updating bank accounts, wills, powers of attorney, etc.
  • Childcare and School Activities: Arranging care and schooling for the child of a family member called to covered active duty or is already deployed abroad.
  • Counseling: Employees may take leave to attend counseling for themselves, the deployed family member, or the child of the deployed family member.
  • Rest and Recuperation (R&R): Employees may take up to 15 days of leave to spend with a military family member on short-term R&R leave during active duty deployment.
  • Post-Deployment Activities: Employees may take time off to attend ceremonies, programs, events, briefings, and related activities that occur after the family member returns home from active duty, or to address issues and events that arise from the death of an active duty military family member.
  • Parental Care: Employees may take leave to care for a military family member’s parent who is unable to care for themselves, and whose care is necessitated by the family member’s active duty deployment.

Military Caregiver Leave

Eligible employees may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a covered service member. “Covered service member” is defined as a current military member or veteran discharged (other than dishonorably) within five years of treatment who has incurred or aggravated a serious injury or illness while in the line of active duty.

A serious injury or illness is one that makes an active duty member medically unfit to perform his/her duties. For a veteran, a serious illness or injury is one that rendered them medically unfit to perform their military duties, qualifies them for certain VA benefits, or inhibits their ability to work.

Eligibility for FMLA for Military Families

For employees with military family members to be eligible for leave, they must meet all the criteria to be eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act:

  • Work for a private employer with 50 or more employees, or work for a federal, state, or local government agency or elementary or secondary school;
  • Have worked for a covered employer for at least the past 12 months;
  • Have worked at least 1250 hours during the past 12 months;
  • Work within 75 miles of a site that has at least 50 employees.

FMLA Anti-Retaliation Provision

It is unlawful for a covered employer to deny, restrain, or interfere with an employee’s right to take a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. It is also unlawful for a covered employer to retaliate against an employee or prospective employee or discriminate against them for exercising (or attempting to exercise) an FMLA right. If you or someone close to you has been subjected to retaliation or discrimination for exercising an FMLA right, or an employer has engaged in any other discrimination in the workplace, contact an experienced employment law attorney to assess your case and review your legal rights and options. Contact Fonteneau Law at (205) 564-9005 or through our website contact form.

Housing Discrimination Lawyer - Kira Fonteneau

Alabama Housing Discrimination Lawyer

The Federal Fair Housing Act protects the rights of individuals to obtain access to housing without discrimination. Housing discrimination is also illegal under Alabama law. Building owners, landlords, homeowners, and others involved in the housing industry have an obligation to comply with federal and state fair housing laws. When these laws are violated, legal remedies are available to compel offenders to alter their policies and practices, and in some cases, pay monetary damages to victims of discrimination. If you were denied housing and you believe your civil rights have been violated, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney to discuss your legal options.

Since 2005, attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for individuals who have been denied housing and experienced other types of civil rights violations. Kira understands the frustration individuals go through when they are qualified to rent or purchase a home or apartment, but they are denied that opportunity through no fault of their own. Kira is an aggressive advocate for those who are victims of housing discrimination, and she works tirelessly to obtain appropriate relief for her clients, and to ensure that those responsible for this type of discrimination are held fully accountable.

Free Consultations – Call Now! (205) 564-9005

Housing Discrimination Laws in Alabama

Individuals can be denied housing for legitimate reasons such as inability to qualify for a home loan or inability to pay rent, but federal and state laws prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Skin Color
  • National Origin
  • Gender
  • Marital Status
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Familial Status
  • Sexual Orientation

Under the Fair Housing Act, discrimination is prohibited in the sale or rental of a home or apartment, obtaining a mortgage, obtaining homeowner insurance, and any other housing-related service. Some examples of housing discrimination may include:

  • Real estate agents or rental managers who steer their clients away from certain neighborhoods based on race or any other protected class;
  • A landlord or rental manager who imposes a “no pets allowed” policy on a disabled person who needs a service animal (e.g., guide dog) to obtain access to the home or apartment they want to live in;
  • A building owner who refuses to make any other type of “reasonable accommodation” (such as a wheelchair ramp) for a prospective tenant with disabilities;
  • A real estate agent or rental manager who uses stall tactics to avoid showing a home or apartment that is for sale or rent;
  • A landlord or homeowner who artificially inflates the rent or price of a home to make it unaffordable to a tenant or discourage a purchase offer;
  • A rental manager who selectively demands that a housing applicant produce a “green card” based on the individual’s accent or ethnicity;
  • A rental manager who fails to respond to an inquiry about an apartment or home for rent, or never gets back to an interested party after they have submitted an application;
  • A bank or mortgage company that refuses to provide financing for a home to a qualified applicant based on race or any other protected class;
  • A bank or mortgage company that imposes less favorable terms and conditions on financing, such as higher interest rates and/or closing costs;
  • An insurance agent or insurance company that refuses to insure a property based on the racial makeup of a neighborhood;
  • A landlord who asks for sexual favors in exchange for approving a rental application, or in exchange for payment of the rent;
  • A landlord who imposes an arbitrary “no kids allowed” policy to prevent an individual with children from renting a home or apartment;
  • A landlord who tries to intimidate a long-term tenant into vacating a property because of their race or another protected class;
  • A landlord who refuses to rent to an individual who has a certain disease or health condition, such as HIV/AIDS.

Housing discrimination can be difficult to detect, because it is usually not done openly. However, there are some signs to look for that may indicate that you are being discriminated against. Here are some phrases that should make you suspicious:

  • “We just rented that apartment to someone else, but thanks for inquiring”
  • “The seller just pulled the listing off the market”
  • “If you have children, you will need to pay an extra security deposit”
  • “I’m not sure if you can afford to live in this neighborhood”
  • “I’m not sure if this neighborhood is for you”
  • “There’s a long waiting list for this apartment, but maybe something can be worked out to move you to the front of the line”

What to Do if you Believe your Right to Fair Housing Has been Violated

If you encounter suspicious treatment by someone in the housing industry, there are some steps you should take to help protect your legal rights:

  • Retain all Communication Records: Keep records of all communication between you and rental managers/landlords, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, insurance agents, and other contacts with parties that are in the housing industry. Note the dates and times of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings and document everything that was said during this communication. Also save copies of all written and electronic communication, such as letters, emails, and text messages.
  • Retain all Available Supporting Documentation: Retain copies of any other records, such as business cards, deposit receipts, and housing applications. You may also want to save any newspaper ads and/or take screenshots of all electronic advertising. This is especially helpful in cases when applicants are told that housing is no longer available, but the provider continues to run public advertising to the contrary.
  • Take Detailed Notes: Write down, in as much detail as possible, everything that has transpired during your experience dealing with a housing provider. It is best to do this while the process is ongoing, so everything is fresh in your mind.

Speak with a Knowledgeable Alabama Housing Discrimination Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been the victim of housing discrimination, attorney Kira Fonteneau is here to stand up for your rights. Kira understands the complexities of state and federal housing laws, and she has a successful track record obtaining justice for each client she serves. To schedule your free consultation with attorney Fonteneau, contact our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also send a secure and confidential message through our online contact form.

Human Resource Employees and Retaliation - Kira Fonteneau Attorney at Law

HR Employees can be victims of Retaliation, Too

Many employees view Human Resources as the enemy, helping management to carry out unfair or discriminatory policies.  Did you know that Human Resources employees who advocate for employees can be the victims of retaliation themselves?

HR Employees May Help Other Employee Victims of Discrimination

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit decided that Title VII protects HR representatives from retaliation in certain situations.  The Case, Gogel v. Kia MFG. of Georgia, Inc., involved an HR employee who received a complaint from an employee.  The employee reported that she felt another woman was being treated more favorably because of a romantic relationship with a senior manager.   When Gogel reported the complaint through her chain of command, she was discouraged from pursuing it.

Later when Gogel complained about being overlooked for a promotion, she concluded that the reason was her prior advocacy for the employee who complained and gender discrimination.  After Gogel filed her Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, management approached her to sign a document promising not to discuss her charge of discrimination, get other employees to give her information about her Charge, or to encourage other people to file Charges against the company.  Later Kia accused Gogel of working with another employee to further their Charges of Discrimination against the company because they had the same lawyer.  The company decided that the unproven allegation she was helping another employee with her Charge violated her duties as a Human Resources employee and terminated her employment.

The Eleventh Circuit decided that Human Resources employees can help the employees they work with sometimes.  The court explained that Title VII protects HR employees who try to resolve employee complaints internally if the employer fails to respond adequately and the HR employees actions were reasonable.

Get Help Before You Make a Decision

The bottom line is that Human Resources employees should not be afraid to advocate for their employees and not just co-sign unlawful behavior by their employers.  It is, however, a good idea to consult with an attorney to determine whether the course of action you propose to take is protected.  Kira Fonteneau is an employment lawyer with several years of experience helping Alabama employees level the playing field against their employers.  If you think you need to discuss an employment issue, call us at 205-564-9005.

Should you Quit or Wait to be Terminated - Kira Fonteneau

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Resign or Wait For Termination

Most people who call our office are at their wit’s end.  They think they a termination is coming, they are being harassed, or worse; their employers are making them choose between termination or resigning. Employees who feel that they are victims of discrimination often wonder what they should do.  The answer depends on the facts of each case, but as a general rule, when it comes to pursuing a legal claim, it is often best to stay put.

If you feel that you are about to be fired

Most companies do not fire employees out of the blue.  Usually, there are signs that the employer is taking action.  If you think your employer is building a case to fire you, take action.  First, get your résumé together and begin to get ready for your future at a different company.  Next, try to determine if you are being singled out for an illegal reason. Are people who are different from you getting less punishment for the same infractions? If you suspect that your employer is targeting you because of your race, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, taking Family and Medical Leave, or use of workers’ compensation benefits, it is important to gather your thoughts and evidence of the improper behavior.  You may have emails, voice recordings, videos or other evidence that will help you if you decide to file a lawsuit. Once you gather evidence and want to know if it proves discrimination, call our attorneys to get a consultation to find out if you have what you need.

If you suspect discrimination, report it

If you suspect that your employer is treating you differently because of your race, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, or because you took FMLA, you must report it to management or Human Resources, even if you think it won’t do any good.    Making the complaint is the first step to ensuring that you preserve your claims of discrimination.  It also gives your employer an opportunity to do the right thing.  If you do not report discrimination or fail to tell your employer that you think the discrimination was based on your race or sex or other protected category, you may be waiving your claims.   Even if you think that you do not want to play the race, sex or disability card, it is important that you do and preferably in writing.  This is also a good time to discuss your concerns with an attorney who can help you lay out the important facts.

If your employer gives you the option: Termination or resign

In general, it is not a good idea to resign to avoid termination.  Many people feel as though it will look bad if they have a termination in their employment history.  While that may be true, there is no practical benefit to resigning and it could mean that you lose your right to collect unemployment benefits. Most large employers have policies preventing them from sharing the details of your termination.  If you later file for unemployment or claim that you were discharged in your lawsuit, your employer will pull out your resignation letter and say that you chose to leave on your own.  This could ruin your claim.

If you feel that you are in danger

Although the general rule is that you should let the employer make the first move when it comes to termination if you feel that you are in danger and you have reported the illegal behavior to your employer, you may find it is in your best interest to resign.  Again, if you have time, it is best to contact an attorney first, but always place your physical and mental well-being ahead of a potential lawsuit.

Kira Fonteneau is an experienced attorney who can help guide you protect your rights.  If you feel like you are about to be fired and would like to discuss your next steps, contact us  or call us at 205-564.9005.

photo of a labor union

Is it Really Illegal to Join a Union in Alabama?

Alabama is considered a Right to Work state. There is a lot of misinformation and confusion surrounding what this actually means. Some people tend to think that if you live in a “right-to-work” state like Alabama, this means you cannot be part of a union. Likewise, some believe that they will be arrested if they join a union. Fortunately, this is not really the case. To explain a bit, consider how unions work and how Alabama law treats them.

What is a Union?

A union is nothing more than a collection of employees who gather and create a master contract among and between themselves, which allows them to bargain together as a group for better wages, treatment, benefits, and other worker rights. This is what we know as “collective bargaining.” The theory is that workers alone have very little power to negotiate with their employers, who are generally large multi-million-dollar organizations. Together, workers have real power.

What is “Right-to-Work?”

This is a political term, not a legal one. In so-called “right-to-work” states, workers cannot be forced to join a union as a precondition of employment or to keep their jobs. This has long been the law of the land in Alabama. However, it does not in any way prevent a person from voluntarily joining a union. In fact, about 11% of the state’s workforce are in unions, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

States that do not have “right-to-work” laws allow certain types of trades and professions to have union shops, meaning those employers can make union membership a condition of employment. If you want to work for a union pipefitter operation in a union state, then you will have to agree to pay union dues. There are pros and cons to this arrangement, but in general, unions with mandatory membership are much stronger, as everyone contributes, and everyone is protected. In states like Alabama, unions are much weaker in terms of bargaining power and funding.

Alabama’s Constitutional Amendment on Unions

It was not enough for Alabama lawmakers to already have laws on the books that bar mandatory membership in unions. In 2016, Amendment 8 passed by an almost 70% vote, thus amending the state’s constitution to include a specific provision called “Right-to-Work.” You can read the whole Constitutional Amendment 913 and see how it prevents unions from requiring membership. However, nothing in this amendment says a person is committing a crime by choosing to join a union and such a provision would be unconstitutional under the United States Constitution.

Federal Worker Protections Preempt State Law

Thankfully, although Alabama laws are not worker-friendly, federal laws preempt or supersede state laws in many ways. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protects the rights of workers to organize; however, this is not a universal principle. Some jobs and industries may be exempt from federal preemption, such as state workers.

Workplace Discrimination and Labor Disputes

If you are facing a dispute with your employer, you need an attorney who understands both state and federal laws that protect workers in Alabama. Call the dedicated employment lawyers of Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC today to get real answers to your toughest labor law questions.

door key on rental agreement

How to Tell if a Landlord is Violating Your Rights Under Fair Housing Laws

Have you ever been shopping for a place to rent, only to find that it is much more difficult than expected. You have the money, you found just the right place, but for some unexplainable reason, it is no longer available. It can be very frustrating. It is not just renters who face challenges finding a place to live. Even home buyers can face difficulty when looking for a place to buy. Many times, this is just part of the supply and demand in a tight housing market. Other times, however, discrimination and federal housing laws might be violated.

If you believe you have been discriminated against, you should speak with a Birmingham fair housing lawyer. The attorneys of Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC have decades of experience fighting for victims of discrimination. Here is how to tell if a property manager or landlord is violating your rights under fair housing laws.

Tell Tale Signs of Housing Discrimination

 

If you are looking for a place to rent or buy, and you hear any of the following, you might be dealing with unfair discrimination:

  • Landlord tells you the property “just rented,” even though the listing remains up
  • Landlord asks to see your “papers” or a “green card”
  • They tell you they do not allow children or they have a “limit” on the number of children allowed in a building
  • A realtor keeps making excuses for why he or she can not show a particular home to you
  • Asking for larger deposits due to you having children
  • You are told they can not rent to you due to a past history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Asking you to sign extra or unique paperwork or agreements relating to children, noise, music, or even types of food that can be prepared in the home
  • Applications with questions about race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or orientation, and so forth
  • Veteran status (in certain cases, this may be a pretext for discriminating against those with service-connected disabilities)

While most of these are not automatic violations of housing laws, they are certainly good indicators that a problem may exist.

What is Protected Under Federal Housing Laws?

 

A landlord, homeowner, property manager, realtor, or broker cannot discriminate based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation and/or identity
  • Family status (having children, marital status, etc.)
  • Disability

How Does the Law Protect You?

 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers unique protections for all Americans. One way the law does this is by ensuring that all people have a right to be treated fairly in the search for safe and secure housing. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity was created to regulate and enforce fair housing standards on a national level. Those who suffer discrimination by landlords, property managers, brokers, and others in the real estate industry, should contact an experienced attorney right away to find out if they may have a claim for housing discrimination. Often, victims may be entitled to seek compensation for civil rights violations involving housing discrimination.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of housing discrimination, you can contact Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your situation today. The call is free, so you have nothing to lose by reaching out to us to learn more.

Sexual assault at work

Can an Ex Sexually Harass Me at Work?

Many Americans work with or around their romantic partners and even spouses. In fact, this can be especially true in small towns and communities, where a large company may be the primary employer for the entire region. People often meet their future spouses at work and work together for years. In general, this is fine, but what happens when the marriage falls apart? Whether a divorce is due to something that happened at work or something totally unrelated, it can take a toll on a couple’s work life. Many spouses find it difficult to adapt to the new dynamic and changed relationship at work. An ex-spouse may begin dating again or may reject an ex’s attempts at reconciliation.

Any number of complex emotions may be at play after a divorce, in particular when the parties are forced to continue interacting with each other every day in a work setting. This leads many to wonder whether they can actually be sexually harassed or discriminated against by their own ex-spouse. The short answer is YES. For help with your discrimination or harassment case, call Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC today.

What is Sexual Harassment?

 

Sexual harassment takes two broad general forms – direct unwanted advances or a hostile work environment. Basically, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) describes sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Of course, there does not need to be touching or even a “sexual” component to the conduct. If the person’s gender or sexuality are the underlying basis for the harassment or negative treatment, it may rise to the level of sexual harassment. Likewise, repeated and predatory offhand or off-color remarks may create such a hostile environment that the victim feels powerless to stop it.

How can an Ex Harass Me?

 

Sometimes an ex may feel jilted or unwilling to ‘let go’ after a breakup or divorce. While the majority of people understand that relationships end, and they are able to move on, some cannot. Here are just a handful of ways in which exes have harassed people in the workplace:

  • Intimidating or harassing a new dating partner
  • Using a superior position at the company to negatively impact an ex
  • Ignoring an ex’s demands to stop making sexual advances
  • Using dirty jokes or comments to diminish or marginalize an ex-spouse at work
  • Openly sharing or discussing private details of the relationship at work
  • Sharing photos, information, or other things that are highly embarrassing

Who can be the Victim?

 

Women and men alike can be victims of discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. As recent headlines have shown, even icons of masculinity like actor Terry Crews have come forward with reports of sexual harassment. Title VII forbids both same sex and opposite sex harassment. In addition, although there is no explicit protection for sexual orientation in Title VII, harassment because a person does not conform to gender norms can be illegal.  If a man is harassed because he does not appear masculine or a woman is harassed because she is not feminine enough, that could be illegal.

Fight Back Against Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

 

If you believe your ex has engaged in sexual harassment, and you want to know what options you have for taking back control of your life, call Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC today to schedule a consultation with an attorney. We will meet with you privately and discreetly to discuss your case and figure out what options you may have. You may even be entitled to compensation if your employer knows about the problem and is not taking steps to correct it.

Policeman blowing whistle

Are There Protections if I Report Discrimination or Misconduct at Work?

There are more than 11,000 sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) each year. When employees are subjected to unlawful and discriminatory conduct at work, everyone suffers. It hurts productivity, it affects work quality, and it results in a lot of lost time. It does not just hurt the worker who is being discriminated against. Many times, other employees will come forward and speak up.

Unfortunately, many workers are afraid to say something for fear of being fired or experiencing negative consequences. Many wonder what will happen if they come forward about what they have seen. It is always scary to come forward and speak up about unlawful sexual harassment and discrimination, but federal law offers protections for those who do.

Available Protections

 

EEOC Whistleblower Protections

In addition to investigating discrimination, The EEOC also investigates retaliatory conduct by employers. Title VII specifically protects employees who report discrimination internally, file Charges of Discrimination, or serve as witnesses in an internal investigation or EEOC investigation from retaliation.  If an employer takes an adverse employment action, liking, demoting, firing, cutting hours or failing to hire a person because they exercised their right to report discrimination, the best course of action is to file a new Charge of Discrimination immediately.

 

Under federal law, there are specific protections, known as “whistleblower protections.” There are a few ways that whistleblowers are protected. One is the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), and the other is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

FLSA Retaliation

 

Many employees do not know that it is also illegal for an employer to discriminate against them because they complained about not getting overtime or minimum wage or participated in a Department of Labor investigation into improper pay practices that could be illegal retaliation.

Whistleblower Protection Act

 

Aside from the laws that create protections for workers who have been discriminated against or subjected to unfair wage practices, under this federal law, Federal Government employees, and employees of federal contractors and grantees (including applicants) are protected against retaliation and discrimination when they disclose conduct that they reasonably believe meets one of the following:

  • A violation of any federal statute or regulation
  • Grossly improper management and supervision
  • Acts that constitute a severe waste of public funds
  • Abuse of authority
  • Any substantial danger to public health or safety

What Types of Disclosures are Protected Under WPA?

There is no specific rule that says how or to whom disclosures must be made. Instead, the law protects employees who disclose information to anyone, so long as it does not violate confidentiality laws or national security concerns. Employees also do not need to first notify their employers. Conduct is protected regardless of the following:

  • Disclosure is made directly to the alleged perpetrator of the wrongdoing
  • Information was already previously disclosed
  • Employee’s motives are irrelevant
  • It does not matter if the employee was working at the time of the disclosure
  • There is no time limit on the disclosure of wrongdoing

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

This massive federal law was enacted in response to major corporate corruption scandals like Enron, in order to allow the investigation and prosecution of corporate leadership. The law provides strict protections for workers who speak out against their companies on issues involving violations of law.

What to do if You Are the Victim of Retaliation After Reporting Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace

If you or someone you know are the victims of unlawful retaliation after reporting government waste, fraud or abuse, or discrimination and harassment in the workplace, you have options. Likewise, you may be entitled to compensation for your termination or other adverse employment actions. If you had a good faith and reasonable basis for reporting sexual harassment, discrimination, or other unlawful conduct by your employer, and you are now the target of retaliation, you have options. Call the experienced employment discrimination attorneys of Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC today to learn more about your rights.

photo of a gavel and a sign of discrimination

What to Expect When You File a Discrimination Case

When you have been the subject of employment discrimination, it can be difficult to know where to turn. Complex federal and state laws often create hurdles and obstacles. Employers certainly do not make it easy. Family and friends may be full of seemingly good advice, but when it comes right down to pursuing justice, victims often find themselves all alone. Kira Fonteneau wants you to know exactly what to expect when you file a discrimination case against an employer.

Step 1: First Try Complaining to Management

 

It is hard to say your company was in the wrong if you never gave them a chance to do right. So, notify your superior or human resources department right away. It is best to put something in writing. Keep a log book or journal, and write down the name and title of the person you informed about your discrimination. Creating a paper trail is crucial. If your complaints go unanswered and the problem continues (or gets worse), proceed to step 2.

 

Step 2: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

 

Before you can just go to court and file a lawsuit, there are some administrative steps you must take.  This involves filing a complaint with the EEOC. Each area has its own local agency that is tasked with handling the complaint process. The EEOC is strict about how long you have to file, however. In many states, there are extended deadlines for filing. Not so in Alabama. As the EEOC makes very clear, you have just 180 days to file your complaint.

Unless you are close to the deadline to file, you should call Kira to see if the firm can assist you with filing a Charge of Discrimination.

Step 3: EEOC Investigation and Determination

 

EEOC, while a fine government entity, is still the government. There are inefficiencies and bureaucratic issues that can delay progress. The EEOC will investigate your complaint, talk to witnesses, and attempt to resolve the matter without court intervention. During this process, here are some tips for you to keep in mind:

  • Document everything
  • Stay focused
  • Do not be afraid to check in and stay on top of the case
  • Continue looking for creative solutions
  • Speak to your private attorney

Step 4: Right-to-Sue Letter

 

Chances are pretty good that the EEOC will not be able to determine that discrimination occurred. This does not mean it lacks merit; it just means the EEOC gets a lot of cases and tends to deny many of them. If the EEOC cannot resolve the claim, it will send you a letter advising that you now have the right to file a lawsuit under Title VII. You will only have 90 days, though. This is a very short amount of time to prepare and file a lawsuit, even for highly skilled attorneys. Hence, it is usually a good idea to speak with an experienced discrimination lawyer well in advance of this point.

Keep in mind that the EEOC can actually represent you and file a lawsuit on your behalf.  However, it is very expensive, and the government is limited in how many cases it can pursue. It generally focuses on more serious, politically charged, or highly publicized cases that may have precedential effect. In other words, the EEOC prefers to take cases that could lead to sweeping changes.

Right to Hire Your Own Attorney

 

If you have a potential discrimination case against your employer, you have a right to hire your own attorney to work with you to navigate the system and move your case forward, whether through an EEOC resolution or through a federal action in court. At Kira’s firm we focus our efforts on representing workers who have faced discrimination, harassment, wage violations, or who are facing complex labor disputes with their employers. If you need help, call us as soon as possible so we can begin helping you build your case today.

Case Involving Alabama Arby’s Franchise

Highlights How Teens are Impacted by Sexual Harassment

 

When most people think about discrimination and sexual harassment, they tend to think of adult professionals who are passed over for promotions or subjected to sexual advances by high-powered executives. However, a current case pending before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) highlights the realities of sexual harassment and how even younger workers can be impacted.

The attorneys of The Fonteneau Firm LLC represent clients throughout Alabama who face discrimination, harassment, and labor rights violations. Call today if your rights are being violated.

March 30, 2018 Lawsuit

 

A little over a month ago, the EEOC filed suit against an Alabama Arby’s franchise owner, Beavers’, Inc., alleging among other things that the franchise (and Arby’s) had ignored repeated complaints of sexual harassment against female employees. According to the complaint, the franchise company knowingly hired a male employee who had a history of sexual harassment. Allegations go on to explain that this male employee was hired as a “team leader trainee,” who began pressuring female employees to engage in sexual relations with him. The graphic and detailed allegations even claim that he “attempted to follow employees home.”

Teenagers Among the Victims

 

What makes this story even more troubling is that among the victims are a number of young workers, some of whom were just teenagers at the time. These teens allegedly reported the harassment to superiors but received no support or action. Ultimately, it is claimed that one of the victims was actually physically injured by the accused harasser.

The case, EEOC v. Beavers’ Inc., d/b/a Arby’s, Case No. 1:18-cv-00150, is pending before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. As a press release from the EEOC reports, Beavers’, Inc. is a Florida company that operates 51 franchises throughout the southeastern U.S.

Sexual Harassment Affects Everyone

 

Some people think of sexual harassment as harmless fun of “just joking,” but the key distinction to remember is that it becomes sexual harassment when there are unwelcome sexual advances or the environment becomes hostile and it affects your ability to work and carry on your daily tasks.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) released a comprehensive report in 2011, which chronicled the results of a survey of almost 2,000 individuals nationwide. The results were astonishing. Nearly half of all women surveyed reported being sexually harassed as a teenager, whether in school or at their jobs, many of which were part time or low-paying jobs frequently held by high school students. The survey results also illustrated the harm one by these events, as 87% of those who reported harassment felt that it had a negative impact on their lives.

Simply put, no one should be forced to tolerate this type of behavior, especially not children and young teenage adults. Such behavior teaches an early and damaging lesson that is hard to unlearn.

Fighting for Your Rights

 

If you have been the victim of workplace harassment, discrimination, or unwelcome sexual advances, contact an experienced team of Alabama employment discrimination lawyers who can answer your questions and guide you through the challenging maze of laws that apply to harassment claims. Our team has over 15 years of collective legal experience that they can put to work for you. Call today to schedule a completely free and private case consultation. There is no charge for meeting to discuss your case, so put your mind at ease and find out your options today.

What Can FMLA be Used for

Keys to Using FMLA

When you have a medical condition that requires you to leave work for a while, it can be a scary proposition. Will you lose your job? Do they have to let you come back? How will you pay the bills? What about health insurance? These concerns and more are addressed by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law designed to protect many American workers and their rights when they get sick or have to leave work temporarily. If the law applies to you, then you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.  Here are the keys to using FMLA.

Does FMLA Apply to Me?

Not all employers and employees qualify under federal law. To be eligible, the following must apply in order for the employer to be covered:

  • Applies to public agencies (federal, state, local, etc.)
  • Applies to public schools
  • Applies to private employers with at least 50 employees who work at least 20 weeks during this year or last

The following must apply to the employee:

  • Must work for a covered employer (see above)
  • Must have been employed for at least 12 months (for at least 1,250 hours during that year), prior to actually going on FMLA leave
  • Must work at a location where there are at least 50 employees (at the same location or within 75 miles thereof)

What Can FMLA be Used for?

The idea of FMLA is to allow a sick or injured worker to take time to get better before coming back to work. This may include:

  • Serious medical conditions that make it impossible for you to work
  • You have to care for an immediate family member who has a serious condition
  • Having a baby
  • Adopting a child
  • Other “qualifying exigencies” (these can include a host of unusual situations, such as a spouse being called to Active Duty in the military)

How do I Prove I Need FMLA?

Some people worry they will have to give their employer medical records to prove their condition. This is not necessary. If your employer needs proof, it will provide you with a Department of Labor approved form to allow your health care provider to certify your medical leave.  See the attached link: https://www.dol.gov/whd/forms/WH-380-E.pdf (for your own serious health condition, or https://www.dol.gov/whd/forms/WH-380-F.pdf (for a family member’s serious health condition)

How to Take FMLA

First, your employer can require you to use all applicable paid vacation, personal time, or sick leave that you have accrued before FMLA will kick in. Keep in mind, FMLA is unpaid leave. You are not paid while out on FMLA.  That said, there is nothing that says you can not work or earn income of some sort while you are out. If the condition that triggered your FMLA no longer exists, then your employer can require you to return, and your absences could be  counted against you.

Where to Turn for Help

If you have been refused FMLA, you may have a claim for compensation. Some employers lie or mislead employees to think they are not eligible to keep their jobs after having a baby or recovering from a surgery, when in truth, the employer is legally required under FMLA to allow the employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Some employers terminate employees for using FMLA, but state a false reason for the termination to cover for the illegal behavior.

If either of these events happens to you, then you may be entitled to compensation. Give Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC a call to learn more about your rights.

photo of a person being fired

What is a Pretext Firing?

You may have heard the term “pretext” when discussing workplace discrimination or a wrongful termination. So, what exactly is a pretext? A pretext is basically just a made-up reason for terminating someone, when the real reason is unlawful or improper. When you think pretext, think pretend, because sometimes employers will pretend that they terminated an employee for a legitimate reason, even when the real reason is discriminatory. The good news is that there are sometimes ways to prove that the reason given is just a pretext, and thus unlawful.

Unlawful Grounds for Termination

Before you can really decipher whether your employer is lying about the reason for your termination, it is important to know what reasons are generally considered unlawful. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1967, the following are not lawful reasons for firing an employee:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Veteran status
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • National origin
  • Genetic information
  • Sexual harassment
  • Equal compensation
  • Retaliation

Common Types of Pretext Firings

Now that you know the reasons for which an employer cannot fire you, consider how some employers may try to conceal their true motives. Obviously, it can take just about any form, but these are some of the more common examples:

The Make Believe Downsizing

An employer may try to say you were downsized due to budget shortfalls, or maybe the company just had a rough year. In most cases, employment is at-will, meaning an employer has a right to terminate you with or without cause. If it turns out that there is no budget shortfall or the company is actually growing, then this could be a strong indicator of a pretext reason for your termination. Naturally, the more facts and details you have, the better. These cases are all about facts.

What is Good for the Goose, May Not be Good for the Gander

Employers should be treating all employees the same in the same situations. If an employee of one particular religion is singled out for termination after making a relatively small mistake at work, while all other employees who made the same error kept their jobs, then using that violation of company policy may well be a pretext for a religious reason for termination. This would be unlawful and may give rise to a potential discrimination case against the employer.

It is all About the Timing

If you just filed a workers’ compensation claim or reported illegal activity under whistleblower protections, and your employer suddenly decides to terminate your employment, the reason given may not be the real reason. If the timing is suspicious, you may also be dealing with a pretext firing.

Euphemisms can be Telling

We are all familiar with euphemisms – those words we say when the word we want to say is not appropriate. In regular conversation, things like “Gosh,” “darn,” or “shoot” may stand in the place of otherwise profane or impolite words. The same is true of an employer’s use of certain euphemisms. Has your employer made veiled comments about age?

Perhaps you were fired because your employer is looking for “fresh young talent” or because the company is looking for “energetic new workers.” If the company is laying off aging employees and hiring younger, often lower-paid replacements, “new ideas” may be a pretext for age discrimination.

Fighting Back Against Discrimination

If you believe you have been fired for an unlawful and discriminatory reason, you may be dealing with a pretext termination. Your career and livelihood are at stake, so do not take chances. Contact an experienced employment law attorney who can discuss your case and help you determine whether your termination may be discriminatory. Throughout the Birmingham area, Fonteneau & Arnold, LLC are lawyers for working people. We want to help you when you need it most.