race discrimination in government agencies

Holding Governments Agencies Accountable for Race Discrimination

Each year, tens of thousands of racial discrimination complaints are filed against employers throughout the country. Under federal law, employers with 15 or more employees are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race or any other protected class. Sadly, more than a century and a half after the civil war, minorities still do not receive equal treatment in the workplace.

Race discrimination is not only a problem with private employers. This practice is also widespread within federal, state, and local government agencies. In fact, a study by Government Executive published in 2014 found that over 15,000 complaints were filed against government agencies the previous year, prompting over 10,000 investigations and 8,000 hearings held by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A bit of sad irony about that study was the fact that the EEOC itself had the third highest percentage of discrimination complaints among all government agencies.

Last year, KSDK News St Louis reported on a study that uncovered years of racial discrimination at one particular government agency; the National Geospatial Agency (NGA). The internal study that was ordered by the NGA found that African-American employees had a harder time getting promoted within the agency than their white counterparts.

Carla Greene was an African-American employee who worked at the agency for 8 years. For the first couple of years, she was climbing up the ladder. But after a while, it all stopped. No matter the quality of her work, she noticed that she was not advancing within the agency while many of her coworkers were.

“I would see other equivalent co-workers that started off as the same rank as I did, but then they were somehow promoted into a higher position,” Greene said.

Greene asked for feedback from her supervisors about what she needed to do to be promoted to a new position. She received none. She also noted that others seemed to be receiving unofficial mentoring that she did not have access to.

The agency’s own internal study helps explain why this might have been happening. The study found that NGA supervisors had what is known as an “unconscious bias”. African-American employees received less honest feedback, less training, and fewer networking opportunities. During the past several years, NGA workers have filed dozens of discrimination complaints against the agency.

Unfortunately, the numerous EEOC complaints, investigations, and hearings each year show that the widespread racial discrimination that was occurring at the NGA is far from an isolated incident. Federal, state, and local government agencies need to do far more to clean up the inherent bias that seems to exist within their agencies. And those who have been subjected to race discrimination and other forms of discrimination as government employees should take steps to hold governments accountable for their actions.

Racial Discrimination in Local Government Services

Employment discrimination is not the only area in which government agencies are falling short. Access to public services is another major obstacle in addressing racial inequality. A few years ago, a team of economists conducted an email correspondence study by sending out over 19,000 emails to libraries, school districts, sheriff’s offices, treasurers, county clerks, and job centers throughout the country.

Half of the emails were sent using African-American sounding names (DeShawn Jackson or Tyrone Washington), and the other half with white-sounding names (Greg Walsh or Jake Mueller). The emails requested basic information such as “how do I register my child for school?” or “what hours are you open?”.

The study found that the emails with the African-American sounding names were 13% more likely to go unanswered, and those that were answered were less likely to have a cordial tone. This difference appeared in all regions throughout the country, and it was large enough to conclude that it was statistically unlikely that it happened by pure chance.

Local government agencies play a major role in providing equal access to essential public services such as housing, and employment opportunities. Racial discrimination within these public agencies is clearly a widespread problem that public policy makers need to do far more to address.

Contact Alabama Civil Rights Attorney Kira Fonteneau

Racial discrimination, whether it happens as a government employee or when trying to access essential public services, is illegal. If you believe you have been a victim of race discrimination, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced attorney to discuss your legal rights and options. Contact attorney Kira Fonteneau at 205-564-9005 for a free and confidential consultation or send us a message through our online contact form.

What are the Most Common Violations against Tip Earning Employees?

What are the Most Common Violations against Tip Earning Employees?

Waiters, waitresses, bartenders, delivery drivers, and many others in the hospitality industry depend on tips for their living. In fact, many tipped employees earn more in tips than they do with their hourly wage. These workers are typically paid no more than minimum wage, and in many cases, establishments pay them below minimum wage.

Federal law and the laws of most states (including Alabama) allow employers to pay tip-earning employees less than the minimum wage, as long as these employees earn enough in tips to at least make up the difference, and as long as the employer is in compliance with the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). When an employer counts an employee’s tips toward its obligation to pay minimum wage, this is known as a “tip credit.” In order to take a tip credit, an employee must earn at least $30 per month in tips.

Although employers are required to be in compliance with federal wage and hour laws, many of them engage in routine violations. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute of the 10 most populous states, wage theft by employers is rampant, and it costs employees billions of dollars each year. Wage theft can come in many forms; such as overtime violations, forcing employees to work off the clock, denying workers meal breaks, taking illegal deductions from wages, misclassifying employees as independent contractors, and many others.

Among tipped employees, there are several ways employers frequently violate the law. Here are some of the most common legal violations against tip earning employees:

Illegal Tip Pooling

Tip pools are common in many establishments. This is when an employee contributes all or part of their tips to a pool that is then divided among a certain group of employees. Federal law allows employers to implement tip pooling whether they pay their employees a full minimum wage or not. However, there are some strict guidelines about who is allowed to participate in the pool. Employers, supervisors, and managers are not allowed to be part of a tip pool under any circumstances.

There is another important distinction between employees who have direct interaction with the customers, and those who work behind the scenes, such as bus boys, dishwashers, and cleaning staff. The FLSA was clarified in 2018 to say that only employers who pay full minimum wage and do not take a tip credit are allowed to establish a tip pool that includes “back house” staff. If you work for an establishment that does not pay a full minimum wage (in lieu of your tips), and they have a tip pool with employees that do not interact with the customers, your employer may be in violation of the FLSA.

Forced Payment for Uniforms

Another area in which employers sometimes engage in violations against tip-earning employees is with their uniform. An employer is not allowed to force an employee to pay for a mandatory uniform. In many establishments, this is pretty straightforward. If you are required to wear a specific uniform that displays the company’s logo, colors, etc., you should not be forced to pay for it. There are some gray areas, however, when it comes to requirements of certain styles of dress that may be required. For example, if the entire wait staff is required to wear a tuxedo with bow ties, and the shirt and ties must be a certain color, this could be considered a uniform.

Over-Deducting for Credit Card Processing Fees

Many employers deduct a percentage of tips an employee receives by credit card to cover the cost of the credit card processing fee. Generally, employers are allowed to do this in most states as long as the amount deducted does not put the employee below the minimum wage, and as long as the employer does not profit from this deduction. Employers who engage in this practice are on very dangerous legal ground, however. This is because of the complexity of credit card processing fees.

With many merchant processing services, an establishment pays the interchange fees for a credit card transaction. These fees may vary from as low as under 1% on most debit cards to as high as 4% for credit cards with rewards programs (such as cash back and airline miles). If, for example, an employer automatically deducted 4% of the tips an employee received through electronic (credit and debit card) transactions, they may very well be illegally profiting from the deduction.

Excessive Non-Tipped Work

Tip-earning employees frequently engage in work that does not earn them tips; such as cleaning tables, sweeping the floor, washing dishes, and many others. If an employee spends more than 20% of their work day performing non-tipped activity, an employer may not take a tip credit for that employee. In addition, employers must pay at least the minimum wage for any non-tip work a tip-earning employee performs.

Contact Alabama Employment Law Attorney Kira Fonteneau

If you are a tipped employee in Alabama and you believe your employer has engaged in wage theft against you, it is important for you to speak with an employment law, so you fully understand your legal rights and options. Attorney Kira Fonteneau has aggressively advocated for working people in Alabama for the past 13 years. Kira was recently named president of the Alabama ACLU, and she has helped numerous workers obtain justice during an employment dispute. For a consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also send us a message through our web 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.

age discrimination in alabama

5 Ways to Identify Age Discrimination in the Workplace

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) has been around since 1967. And while this law was a good step in protecting workers from age discrimination, this type of discrimination is still widespread among employers. In today’s workplace, employers do not come right out and say, “you’re too old”. Discrimination is much subtler, making it harder to identify and prove.

How Big a Problem is Age Discrimination?

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination among individuals who are 40 years of age and older, and this type of discrimination is most prevalent among workers between the ages of 45 and 74. Time Magazine reports that among this age group:

  • 20% say they have been turned down for a job because of their age;
  • Two-thirds say they have seen age discrimination occur at their place of employment;
  • 10% say they have been let go, passed over for a promotion, or otherwise denied career advancement because of their age.

Age discrimination is especially common in the tech sector, where the median age is 10 years younger than average of all sectors, which is 42. Here are the median ages at some of the large high-profile tech companies:

  • Google: 30
  • Microsoft: 33
  • Amazon: 30
  • Apple: 31
  • Facebook: 29
  • LinkedIn: 29
  • eBay: 32

Ways Employers Discriminate Against Older Individuals in the Workplace

Ageism can take numerous forms and can often be hard to spot. Here are five ways to identify age discrimination in the workplace:

Being Harassed because of Age

If an employer makes fun of you, calls you names, or makes demeaning remarks because of your age, they may be trying to get you to quit. If an employer wants to get rid of you, they would much rather see you quit than terminate you. Otherwise, they may have to pay unemployment, and they are risking an illegal termination lawsuit. Harassment may not always come in the form of employer remarks; this type of treatment could also come from co-workers. If an employer is not willing to discipline employees who engage in age-related harassment, they are contributing to a hostile work environment.

Receiving an Employee Improvement Plan

Improvement plans are common in today’s workplace for employees that are struggling in certain areas and need some extra guidance to get up to par. Unfortunately, some employers misuse employee improvement plans by using them as a way to harass an employee. If you have had strong employee reviews in the past and suddenly end up on an improvement plan for some nitpicky standard that younger employers in your organization are not held to, this is a strong indication that your employer wants to get rid of you because of your age.

Being Passed Over for a Promotion

As mentioned earlier, about one in 10 older workers have been passed over for a promotion or let go because of age. If you applied for a promotion and it was given to a younger worker who is less qualified than you are, this may be a clear sign of age discrimination in the workplace. Your case is even stronger if there is a pattern at your company of older workers being turned down for promotions in favor of younger workers – with little regard to qualifications for the position.

Being Encouraged to Retire and/or Having your Job “Eliminated”

Many companies offer early retirement packages to older workers. And when a worker turns it down, they often resort to the all-too-common practice of eliminating the position. In a large number of cases, after the position is eliminated, a new position with a different title and similar job description is created and given to a younger worker.

Seeing only Younger Employees Hired

If you start noticing a trend of only younger workers being hired at your company, this may be cause for concern. Many employers today discriminate against older workers during the hiring process by not posting positions in places where seasoned workers are likely to find them, such as newspaper classifieds. Some employers have taken this even further by using algorithms such as those in the Facebook job posting tool to micro-target applicants based on their age, gender, and other factors. An ADEA class action lawsuit was recently filed against T-Mobile, Amazon, and Cox Communication for engaging in this illegal practice.

Contact a Knowledgeable Alabama Age Discrimination Lawyer

Age discrimination is alive and well in today’s workplace. If you are over the age of 40 and believe you have been a victim of ageism, there are legal remedies available. Be sure to retain as much documentation as possible regarding what happened to you and get in touch with an employment discrimination attorney right away.

For almost a decade and a half, attorney Kira Fonteneau has successfully represented clients in Alabama who have been victims of discrimination in the workplace. Kira has extensive knowledge of this area of the law, and what it takes to prevail with these types of cases. For a consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005, or send a secure and confidential message through our web contact form.