Gender and Sex Harassment
Equal pay violations, pregnancy discrimination, sex harassment, and discrimination based on family caregiving responsibilities remain some of the most commonly litigated areas of employment law and some of the toughest issues facing women at work. Our firm is committed to, passionate about, and experienced in handling these issues. Our attorneys have successfully handled many high-profile sex discrimination claims, and have drafted legislation and done advocated legislative changes on pay equity and other gender issues in Michigan.
One of the most challenging aspects of sex discrimination cases is protecting our clients from further harm by raising what can be career-jeopardizing claims. We are sensitive to the stigma and double standards that apply to those who speak out about sex discrimination at work and are able to offer practical advice and sophisticated representation that combines zealous advocacy with a laser focus on the best interests of each client’s life and career.
If you are experiencing sex harassment or gender discrimination at work, come talk to us. We will help you strategize about the most effective way to address it, stop it, and ensure that it doesn’t happen to other women.
Hostile Work Environment
The term “hostile work environment” is used in many contexts, but the range of conduct that the law actually prohibits is relatively narrow. For workplace harassment to be illegal it needs to be severe and pervasive and directed at you because of sex, race, age, or some other legally protected characteristic.
Sex harassment—whether it is sexual comments from peers in the workplace or supervisors who punish or disfavor an employee who won’t reciprocate sexual advances—is the most common and most frequently litigated type of harassment claim. We have handled hundreds of sex harassment cases in all types of industries and are passionate advocates for our clients who are experiencing this form of sex discrimination.
We can help you understand if what you are experiencing is actionable and can bring your case to the attention of your employer or the courts. We are particularly experienced at resolving these cases early and with sensitivity to the emotional toll that these issues take on our clients. When these cases have to be litigated, we are aggressive and experienced advocates who will fight for you and achieve results.
Wage and Hour Claims
Our firm helps workers who face wage theft. This may mean that your employer has denied overtime, has forced employees to work off the clock, or has paid less than State and Federal laws require. Some employers misclassify workers as “exempt” to deny them required minimum wage or overtime payments, and some employers treat employees as “independent contractors” to deny them unemployment, overtime benefits, and regular pay that other employees receive. We have handled all of these situations. If you have been subjected to these illegal pay practices, we can help recover compensation for your lost wages. Our lawyers have been involved in both individual and class-action lawsuits involving these types of claims, and we have a track record of success in recovering substantial awards.
It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against anyone who asks for overtime pay, calls a lawyer, or files a complaint or claim for proper pay. If your employer removes responsibilities, cuts your hours, or fires you for complaining about wage theft, you may have a claim for retaliation and should talk to us.
Denial of Commissions
State laws protect employees who are paid by commission, ensuring that if you are terminated or for any other reason denied proper payment, you can collect what you are owed. In fact, the law may allow individuals to collect additional damages when they are denied commissions. If you believe your commission payments have been illegally withheld, or if you have been systematically underpaid, we have the knowledge and experience to assist.
Pregnancy discrimination is a form of discrimination that affects a woman’s right to fulfill herself as both a professional and a parent. And while almost half of the U.S. workforce is female and a large majority of women are or will be mothers in their lifetime, pregnancy discrimination is commonplace. All too often, employers look at pregnant women and decide that they will not contribute like a non-pregnant employee and will “check out” mentally or otherwise after the baby arrives. Other employers make assumptions about what pregnant women can or cannot do while pregnant. This type of stereotyping is illegal, and if you are fired, put off on involuntary leave, or put into a worse job because someone anticipates that you cannot or will not do your job while pregnant, you need help.
Our founding partners have been pregnant working women. We have tried lengthy jury trials, and we have pursued major civil rights lawsuits and claims of gender discrimination and public corruption while juggling maternity leave issues and nursing infants. While pregnant with her first child, Sarah Prescott joined with the American Civil Liberties Union to file a major Federal lawsuit on behalf of several pregnant Detroit police officers. Not only did the police department have to change its policies and compensate the women who were discriminated against, but Sarah and others successfully fought to change Michigan law to better protect pregnant women.
Of all forms of discrimination in today’s workplace, age discrimination is one of the most rampant and widely tolerated. Of course, age discrimination is illegal under both State and Federal law. Yet a manager who would have the sense never to use a racial or gender-based slur might have no problem asking a long-serving, highly skilled employee “When are you going to retire, anyway? You’re getting too old for this!” Age discrimination is also very often hidden or covered up by employers under the umbrella of “reorganization” or “reductions in force.”
If you are facing hostility, pressure, comments, and attacks based on your age, you need legal help—and ideally you need help before your employer terminates you or papers your file with made-up criticisms. If you are terminated and feel your age is at issue, we can help. Likewise, if an employer begins reducing your title, responsibility, reports, or pay, you need immediate legal assistance. The sooner we are involved, the sooner we can help.
Race discrimination may involve racial hostility or harassment, failure to hire or promote based on race or color, creation of a racially hostile work environment, and/or termination due to race or color. While laws have been on the books for decades making it illegal to discriminate against any individual in regard to recruiting, hiring and promotion, transfer, work assignments, performance measurements, the work environment, job training, discipline, discharge, wages, or benefits based on race, the reality is that some workers face direct or indirect racial bias on a daily basis.
Our attorneys are committed to racial equality in the workplace and have a strong and lasting passion for protecting individuals from racial bias, whether explicit or implicit. For example, our laws prohibit racial or ethnic slurs, racial “jokes,” derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct based on an individual’s race/color. However, racial bias may be involved in a termination where race is never made an overt or explicit basis for the action being taken. Our lawyers know racial bias when they see it and have the experience and commitment to take on race discrimination, whether carried out by private or public entities.
Discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs or practices is illegal. In addition, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless doing so creates an unreasonable burden. For example, an employer may be required to afford schedule changes for religious holidays, or permit dress and grooming practices related to religious practice. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs. If you believe your employer has treated you unfavorably because of your religious beliefs, or those of your spouse or close associates, or because of affiliation with a religious organization or group, our lawyers may be able to assist you.
Ethnicity or National Origin Discrimination
Just as our laws prohibit race discrimination, they also protect workers who face termination, demotion, or other negative actions based on nationality or ethnicity. Our firm is deeply committed to protecting the rights of all workers who are exploited or mistreated because they do not “fit” with the majority in the workplace. Often, this type of discrimination reveals itself through intolerance for customs, accents, beliefs, attitudes, and out-of-work activities of employees, which have nothing to do with delivering solid and effective performance on the job. If you are facing hostility based on ethnic or national origin, you should have a lawyer who has actually been in a courtroom, fighting this type of discrimination. Our lawyers have that experience and know how to help.
Military Service Discrimination
Federal law prohibits discrimination against service members who have to leave the workplace for military duty. The law also requires employers to provide military leaves and to return service members to comparable positions upon their return from active duty or reserve assignments. The law provides for attorney fees and triple damages against employers who violate its terms, thus making it cost effective for these claims to be pursued. The FMLA also provides extended leave time to family members who need time off work to care for a disabled or injured service member.
If you feel that your military status is a negative for your employer or your ability to take time off for military duty or to care for an injured veteran in your family is being denied, you should consult with a lawyer at our firm. We love working with and helping military families and will be zealous advocates for your rights.
Seeking a skilled lawyer’s help when you have a severance offer is important for a number of reasons. First, severance agreements usually come with waivers of your rights to pursue any legal claims against your employer. Our experienced lawyers can help you decide whether what you are gaining from signing is worth the waiver of your rights. Severance agreements also may include non-competition clauses or terms that require you to cooperate with your employer after your termination. Our lawyers can help ensure that these terms are drafted more favorably for you, to ensure your ability to thrive after an employment separation. A lawyer experienced in this area also will know not only what a fair severance would be, but how to negotiate for better financial terms. This may include not only more money, but more favorable benefits, payment terms and other conditions.
Our experienced team understands that if you do not ask for what you want, the answer is always “no.” At the same time, professionals often want to handle severance negotiations with discretion and tact. This takes judgment, experience and a good understanding of each client’s individual needs and goals. We offer personalized, confidential support and advice to clients earning seven figures and more, as well as to individuals seeking a review of an uncomplicated severance offer.
Family Medical Leave Act Issues
The Family and Medical Leave Act is a law that guarantees most employees medical leave to care for themselves or for a family member for up to 12 weeks during a 12 month period. This time may be taken all at once, or taken in smaller time periods. The FMLA requires employers to follow specific written guidelines, but employers often do not follow the law correctly. When this happens, the employee may be entitled to extra protections under the law. When it comes to taking leave, you need to discuss your situation with lawyers who understand this area of the law, especially if your employer is denying you time off or interfering with you taking leave. At times we see employees who fail to take proactive action at this stage, only to find that their employer finds false or unfair reasons to criticize their performance and paper their personnel file. It is essential to use your rights and assert them properly to protect yourself.
If you have asked for leave or taken leave and faced retaliation as a result, you also need immediate help. It is not uncommon for employees who take leave to be terminated, or for an employer to retaliate by assigning less favorable work or more difficult working conditions. Our lawyers have experience in this area and have trained other lawyers and human resource professionals on the requirements of the FMLA.
Disability Discrimination and ADA Accommodations
If you have a disability, or are ill and cannot work for an extended period of time, it is important to know what employment protections you have. The Federal Americans with Disabilities Act and state law prohibit employment discrimination based on a person’s disability, perceived disability, or association with a disabled person. You may also have a right to a reasonable accommodation so that you can continue to work during periods of disability. If you are considering asking for an accommodation, it is very important to consult a lawyer to ensure that your request effectively moves you toward a solution.
If you believe you have been treated differently at work because of a disability or need help navigating requests for accommodation or other disability related employment issues, the attorneys at Salvatore Prescott & Porter can help. We are well versed on what can be a complicated interplay among the ADA, workers compensation law, and the FMLA and understand the complex issues that you have to navigate on a daily basis when you are facing a disabling medical condition. We can help you understand the law in this area and ensure that your job is protected as you focus on taking care of your health.
Whistleblower Protections / Qui Tam
The law protects those who blow the whistle or are planning to blow the whistle on activities that they suspect are illegal. Blowing the whistle usually means reporting known or suspected wrongdoing to a governmental agency. For example, if you work in a school district or local township, reporting suspected violations of law within the school district or township would be protected. If you have been fired, demoted, or had your hours cut for getting ready to blow the whistle, for gathering information to blow the whistle, or for actually going forward to report wrongdoing, you must speak with a qualified lawyer right away. There are critical deadlines for filing lawsuits relating to whistleblowing that will affect your rights. Our attorneys have experience in handling these types of cases and understand what it takes to stand up to powerful and respected employers, from large pharmaceutical companies to courts, law enforcement agencies, and other trusted public entities.
We also have experience handling Federal whistleblower claims for employees who have knowledge that their employers are defrauding the government. This area of the law is particularly complex and requires consultation with attorneys who have experience. If you have information about fraud against the government, come talk to us.
Probably the most commonly litigated and most successful employment claims these days are retaliation claims. If you have made a complaint about discrimination or other illegal conduct in the workplace and find yourself demoted, terminated, or harassed shortly after doing so, you may have a retaliation claim that you should pursue. Likewise, if you have been punished for speaking out in support of others being discriminated against or are a public employee who has been retaliated against for exercising your First Amendment rights, come talk to us. We have achieved seven figure verdicts in retaliation cases and have successfully litigated these cases against employers, the police, and prominent public officials.
Most non-union employees in the private sector are employed “at will,” meaning they may be fired without a good reason or for any reason at all. However, a variety of Federal and State laws protect workers’ rights, including laws against discrimination and retaliation. Employees may also be protected from retaliation because they blew the whistle on illegal activities or because they themselves refused to violate the law. There are also legal protections for various workers who have employment contracts, including verbal contracts promising them “just cause” termination.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, you may be entitled to money, return to your job, attorney fees, emotional distress damages, and/or punitive damages. However, as with all legal matters, deadlines can be short and could prevent you from having any rights at all. Because this area of the law is complicated, it is important to reach out to a lawyer who understands the wide range of protections that may apply to your situation. Our lawyers are not only subject matter experts, but have a track record of success in guiding clients to settlements and verdicts on a range of employment-related claims.
LGBTQ Rights at Work
Although in Michigan we do not currently have specific State or Federal law protection from employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, existing anti-discrimination laws are increasingly being used with success to address discrimination based on LGBTQ status. If you are experiencing hostility or harassment based on your gender identity or have been denied employment opportunities because you don’t “fit” traditional gender norms, we may be able to use Title VII and State gender discrimination laws to protect your job. In addition, a number of municipalities have local ordinances that outlaw this type of discrimination. Salvatore Prescott & Porter attorneys have brought these cases and have written and spoken on this emerging area. We are committed to advancing the law in this area and to helping ensure that the workplace reflects the values of equality and individual dignity that our country was founded upon.
Federal Employee Representation
Although anti-discrimination laws protect employees of the Federal government, these workers must go through a unique administrative framework and are held to different timelines for pursuing those claims than employees in the private sector. There are also some differences in the remedies available to Federal employees.
We have represented a number of Federal employees in Federal sector claims. If you are a Federal employee who has experienced discrimination at work, it’s important that you seek legal advice quickly about your claims and how to pursue them. We are happy to meet with you to advise about the process and help you understand whether legal representation in your Federal sector claim makes sense.