Our colleagues at Epstein Becker Green has a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to our readers in the hospitality industry: “NYC Commission on Human Rights Issues Guidance on Employers’ Obligations Under the City’s Disability Discrimination Laws.”

Following is an excerpt:

The New York City Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”) recently issued a 146-page guide titled “Legal Enforcement Guidance on Discrimination on the Basis of Disability” (“Guidance”) to educate employers and other covered entities on their responsibilities to job applicants and employees with respect to both preventing disability discrimination and accommodating disabilities. The New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) defines “disability discrimination” more broadly than does state or federal disability law, and the Guidance is useful in understanding how the Commission will be interpreting and enforcing the law. …

Read the full post here.

On June 4, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favor of a Christian Colorado baker and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who had refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple due to his religious objections to gay marriage.

Although the case previously had been litigated on free speech grounds, the Court’s opinion largely avoids this constitutional question, and does not address whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Instead, the decision focuses on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s decision finding against Masterpiece Cakeshop and, more specifically, what Justice Kennedy described as the Commission’s “impermissible hostility” as to the baker’s religious beliefs.

In the underlying administrative proceeding that preceded the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit, the Commission found that Masterpiece Cakeshop engaged in religious bias in violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. In its impassioned decision, one of the Commission members rejected the breadth of the free exercise clause as a justification for Masterpiece Cakeshop’s actions, noting that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.” In dissent, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, wrote that such comments in the Commission’s decision should not be “taken to overcome” Masterpiece Cakeshop’s conduct, given the “several layers of independent decision-making” throughout the various hearings leading up to the Supreme Court decision. Justice Ginsberg added that unlike other cases addressing freedom of religion (for example, where religious customers have requested anti-gay messages from secular bakers), here, the circumstances were fundamentally different because Masterpiece Cakeshop regularly made the kind of cake the couple requested and refused to sell it to them simply because of their sexual orientation.

The Court’s decision is narrowly tailored, however, and leaves open the broader constitutional issues of sexual orientation discrimination and free exercise of religion. In addition, the ruling’s effect on employers may be limited due to the extremely fact-specific nature of the decision. In fact, while the scope of Title VII, has recently been expanded by Circuit Courts to include LGBT workers, has not been considered by the Supreme Court and therefore all lower court precedents still apply. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to take any action in a pending case involving a Washington florist who refused to provide arrangements for a same-sex wedding, which presented similar constitutional issues as Masterpiece Cakeshop. Stay tuned for any further updates addressing these important issues.

Massachusetts is one of many states which have adopted legislation, commonly known as a “ban the box” law, prohibiting public and private employers from requesting criminal record information in a prospective employee’s “initial written employment application” and limiting the type and scope of questions an employer may ask a candidate following receipt of an “initial written employment application.” Yesterday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office has settled with four businesses and issued warning letters to 17 others for violations of Massachusetts’s ban the box law, marking the first enforcement efforts by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

According to the AG’s press release, it conducted an investigation into employer compliance with the state’s ban the box law by sampling an undisclosed number of Boston and Cambridge employers. The initial employment applications of 21 of those businesses were found to contain one or more impermissible questions about the applicant’s criminal record, such as whether the applicant had been convicted of violating the law, whether he or she been convicted of a crime or offense other than a minor traffic violation, and whether he or she had ever been convicted of a felony. The four employers that reached agreements with the AG’s Office are Edible Arrangements, Five Guys, L’Occitane, and The Walking Company. The first three were fined $5,000 each (The Walking Company appears to have been given a pass due to its bankruptcy status) and each was required to take steps to comply with the law. The 17 business which received a warning to immediately comply with the law are: Brattle Book Shop, Kingston Grille and Bar, Salvatore’s, Sidebar, Stoddard’s Food & Ale, The Chicken and Rice Guys (two locations), The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Tous Les Jours, Viga Italian Eatery and Catering, Love Culture, and Frette, all in Boston, as well The Middle East Restaurant, Mainely Burgers, Mexicali Burrito Co., Café ArtScience, Meadhall, and Grafton Street Pub & Grill in Cambridge.

While the press release does not indicate whether the AG’s Office intends to expand its probe, continued enforcement seems likely in light of AG Healey’s remarks that “Jobs are the pathway to economic security and building a better life. But unfortunately, many of our residents with criminal records face barriers to securing employment. These actions are an effort to give all job applicants a fair chance.”

Enforcement of ban the box legislation is not limited to regulators in Massachusetts. Well over a year ago, the New York State Attorney General announced settlements with two major national retailers – Big Lots Stores and Marshalls – for violation of New York’s ban the box law by inquiring about the criminal history of job applications on initial employment applications at their Buffalo stores. The New York AG imposed fines that were substantially greater than those set by the Massachusetts AG: Big Lots agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $100,000, and Marshalls a penalty of $95,000. Both were required to adopt new policies and training, and report their remediation to the New York AG.

These actions highlight that businesses operating in jurisdictions with ban the box laws must ensure that their pre-hiring practices comply with such laws or risk regulatory fines, not to mention public disrepute and potential civil liability.

So far, 2018 has brought an increasing number of labor and employment rules and regulations. To help you stay up to date, we are pleased to introduce the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management Webinar Series.

Epstein Becker Green’s Hospitality service team took a deeper dive into our recently released Take 5 during the first webinar. Topics discussed include:

  • Additional measures to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees in the hospitality workplace
  • Compliance training in the hospitality workplace
  • Transactional due diligence, including labor relations issues
  • The risk of self-reporting overtime and minimum wage violations under the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program

Watch a recording of the webinar video here and download the webinar presentation slides.

The federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) mandates equal pay for equal work regardless of sex.  Employers that pay men and women different wages for the same work are strictly liable for violations of the EPA unless they can show that one or more of four exceptions apply to explain the wage disparity. The four statutory exceptions are seniority, merit, the quantity or quality of the employee’s work, or “any other factor other than sex.”  The Ninth Circuit recently took up the question of the meaning of the fourth, catchall exception – “any factor other than sex” – in order to consider whether an employer may rely, in whole or in part, on an employee’s prior salary as a basis for explaining a pay differential in Aileen Rizo v. Jim Yovino.

Rizo was a math consultant who worked for the Fresno County Office of Education (“County”). After learning that comparable male employees were earning more for the same work, Rizo filed suit against her employer, alleging that its practice of calculating the salaries for newly hired employees based on their salary history violated the EPA. The County did not dispute that Rizo was paid less than her male counterparts, but it argued that basing her salary on past earnings was a lawful reason for the pay differential as it constituted a “factor other than sex” under the EPA.

On April 9, 2018, the Ninth Circuit sitting en banc rejected the County’s argument. The Court held that “prior salary alone or in combination with other factors cannot justify a wage differential.” Writing for the majority, Judge Reinhart stated that justification of a pay disparity based on “‘any other factor other than sex’ is limited to legitimate, job-related factors such as a prospective employee’s experience, educational background, ability, or prior job performance.” The Court explained that the terms “job-related” and “business-related” are not synonymous and that an employer cannot explain a pay differential based on the benefit to the business as opposed to a legitimate work-motivated consideration.  Some examples of job-related factors identified by the Court included shift differentials, job hazards, physical job requirements, and training.  Unlike each of these things, past salary was not a “job-related” factor but rather, potentially, a business-related factor.

The Court further opined that permitting an employer to rely on historical pay information was inconsistent with the purpose of the EPA, which was to correct past pay discrepancies caused by sex discrimination.  “It is inconceivable,” wrote Reinhart, “that Congress, in an Act the primary purpose of which was to eliminate long-existing ‘endemic’ sex-based wage disparities, would create an exception for basing new hires’ salaries on those very disparities….”  Thus, the majority concluded that relying on past salary in order to explain a wage differential was improper, even if it was only one of the factors ultimately considered.  Confusingly, the Court also noted that there could be instances in which past salary might play a role in individualized negotiations and declined to resolve whether past salary could be taken into account in such circumstances.  However, given the broad pronouncement against factoring past compensation into current salary considerations, it would seem unlikely that the current court would countenance such an exception.

In finding that past salary may never be considered, the Rizo decision overrules the Ninth Circuit’s prior ruling in Kouba v. Allstate Insurance Co. 691 F.2d 873 (9th Cir. 1982).  Kouba held that past salary could be one of the factors considered by employers in evaluating pay, as it was a “factor other than sex” permissible to justify pay gaps between men and women under the EPA.  Notably, four of the eleven judges on the panel concurred with the decision in Rizo, because salary history was the sole reason for the pay disparity, but separated from the majority on the issue of excluding salary history from consideration under any circumstance.  The Rizo decision has also exacerbated a circuit split on whether salary history may be considered, and to what extent.  While certain circuits have taken an approach similar to the concurring judges in Rizo, permitting it as long as it is not the sole basis for a pay disparity, the Seventh Circuit has held that salary history is always a legitimate factor other than sex.

While California employers are no longer entitled to inquire about past salary as part of the job application process as of January 1, 2018, in light of the Rizo decision, employers with operations in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii may wish to take actions to ensure that any pay disparities are not based on salary history, such as not asking about salary history during the hiring process (even in states where this practice is not prohibited by law) and conducting pay equity audits.

The first quarter of 2018 has already stirred up an array of legal matters that employers in the hospitality industry should be conscious of, both in their day-to-day operations and long-term planning. In February alone, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to curb lawsuits focused on the inaccessibility of brick-and-mortar business establishments and a federal appeals court ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a pilot program that will allow employers to avoid potential penalties for overtime and minimum wage violations. In addition, the #MeToo movement continues to be top of mind across all industries, and hospitality employers should be vigilant in their training and employee awareness efforts. Due diligence in change-of-ownership transactions should include labor relations issues, especially with unionized employees.

This edition of Epstein Becker Green’s Take 5 addresses important and evolving issues confronting employers in the hospitality industry:

  1. Will Congress Slam the Breaks on ADA “Drive By” Lawsuits?
  2. Expanding Sex Discrimination Protection to LGBT Employees in the Hospitality Industry
  3. Effective Compliance Training in the Hospitality Industry in the Wake of #MeToo
  4. Transactional Due Diligence Should Include Labor Relations Issues
  5. Voluntary PAID Program Permits Employers to Escape Potential High Penalties for Self-Reported FLSA Violations—but at What Risk?

Read the full Take 5 online or download the PDF.

Our colleagues , at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Health Employment and Labor blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Sixth Circuit Finds Title VII Covers Discrimination Based on Transgender Status.”

Following is an excerpt:

In a significant decision on Wednesday, March 6, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held in EEOC v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes that discrimination against a worker on the basis of gender identity or transitioning status constitutes sex discrimination that violates Title VII.

In R.G. & G.R., the funeral home’s owner fired funeral director Aime Stephens after she informed him she intended to begin a gender transition and present herself as a woman at work. In finding gender identity to be covered by Title VII, the Sixth Circuit also upheld the EEOC’s claim that the funeral home’s dress code, which has different dress and grooming instructions for men and women, discriminates on the basis of sex. …

Read the full post here.

Featured on Employment Law This Week: Second Circuit: Title VII Covers Sexual Orientation Discrimination.

“Legal doctrine evolves.” Those words from the Second Circuit spoke volumes as the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, overturning their own long-standing precedent. The court ruled in favor of a skydiving instructor who claimed he was fired for telling a client he was gay.

The majority opinion began by looking at whether sex is a motivating factor in the alleged unlawful practice. And, in this case, looking at sexual orientation discrimination, the court concluded that sex is a factor and inextricably linked to sexual orientation, and therefore sexual orientation acts as a proxy for sex. The Second Circuit now joins the Seventh Circuit in finding that Title VII does protect against sexual orientation discrimination, and deepens a circuit split with the Eleventh Circuit, which went the other way last year.

Watch the segment below and read our recent post.

On April 18, 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a putative class action against the SLS Hotel South Beach in Miami, Florida (“Hotel”), alleging that the Hotel violated Title VII by firing black Haitian dishwashers who worked in the kitchen and serviced several restaurants in the Hotel – including the Bazaar by Jose Andres, Katsuya and Hyde Beach – and replacing them with white and Hispanic workers, who were supplied by a staffing agency, National Service Group (“NSG”).

This case highlights one of the EEOC’s asserted priorities in its strategic plan for the next six years, to address discrimination in “complex employment relationships” focusing on “temporary workers, staffing agencies, independent contractor relationships, and the on-demand economy.” Here, although a staffing agency made the decision regarding who to hire to replace the terminated employees, the EEOC has stated that an employer may not shield itself from liability for discrimination simply by authorizing an agent to make its hiring or firing decisions, if those decisions are discriminatory.

The Complaint against the Hotel was filed by the EEOC after fifteen former employees lodged charges of discrimination with the EEOC based on their race, color and national origin, and the EEOC issued Letters of Determination after finding reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. The Complaint asserts that black Haitian employees were treated worse than their Hispanic counterparts at the Hotel.  Among the allegations in the Complaint are that black Haitian employees were reprimanded for speaking Creole while Hispanic employees were not reprimanded for speaking Spanish; that black Haitian employees were referred to as “slaves” by other employees, including managers; and Haitian employees were forced to carry heavy items up the stairs, while Hispanic employees were not asked to perform those same tasks.  Further, the Complaint alleges that the Hotel decided to outsource staffing to NSG, but it did not encourage or notify its black Haitian employees to apply for positions with the agency.  Rather, according to the Complaint, black Haitian employees were provided a settlement agreement in English, though many cannot read the language, and were told they would only receive their final paycheck upon signing the agreement.  A press release from the EEOC further contends that the black Haitian workers were replaced “with light-skinned Hispanics.” For its part, the Hotel has spoken out against the allegations, contending that it conducted an investigation as soon as it received notice of the charges and found no evidence of wrongdoing.  Chief Legal Officer for the Hotel, James L. Greeley, stated that the Hotel has been cooperating with the EEOC, engaging in good faith attempts to resolve this matter, and will continue to fully defend the Hotel against false claims.

Our colleagues Patrick G. Brady and Julie Saker Schlegel, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Beyond Joint Employment: Do Companies Aid and Abet Discrimination by Conducting Background Checks on Independent Contractors?

Following is an excerpt:

Ever since the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued its August 2015 decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., holding two entities may be joint employers if one exercises either direct or indirect control over the terms and conditions of the other’s employees or reserves the right to do so, the concept of joint employment has generated increased interest from plaintiffs’ attorneys, and increased concern from employers. Questions raised by the New York Court of Appeals in a recent oral argument, however, indicate that employers who engage another company’s workers on an independent contractor basis would be wise to guard against another potential form of liability, for aiding and abetting acts that violate various anti-discrimination statutes, including both the New York State (“NYSHRL”) and New York City Human Rights Laws (“NYCHRL”) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).

Read the full post here.