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Fighting for Employees and Their Rights

Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

Unpaid interns not considered employees

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a former psychologist intern at the Medical College of Wisconsin is not protected under state anti-retaliation rules for health employees. The reasoning for the decision is due to the fact that the woman who made the complaint was an unpaid intern. As she had not been compensated for her work, she was unable to be considered an employee under the law. The ruling noted that if unpaid interns were classified as employees, almost everyone would have to have been classified as an employee.

In her August 2009 complaint, the woman alleges that she was terminated from an internship a week after meeting with her supervisor at the transplant surgery unit of Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital where she was assigned for her internship. She reportedly asked for the meeting to discuss unethical behavior. According to the college through which she interned, the woman was let go because of concerns due to her performance, which began before the complaint was made.

Wisconsin man terminated after showing firearm to co-worker

Milwaukee workers may be interested in the case of a Wisconsin man who was terminated due to a firearm he kept in his vehicle. Though the man had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, the employer claimed that the gun was taken outside of the car at some point.

An employee of a Wisconsin door and window company was working in March when he showed a fellow worker a firearm that he kept in his vehicle. The man claims that they were inside of his car at the time and that he had a valid concealed weapons permit. This permit, he says, specifically limits the ability of an employer to terminate an employee for keeping a firearm inside their vehicle. This provision applies on the employer's property.

Reducing employee discrimination

Wisconsin employees may be affected by new legislation designed to protect pregnant women from job discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated 30-year-old doctrines to clearly articulate that any form of discrimination against pregnant women at the workplace is to be considered illegal and constitutes sexual discrimination. The chairwoman for the EEOC says that the agency continues to receive an alarming amount of claims alleging overt or subtle discrimination against pregnant employees.

The new standards set forth by the EEOC prevent employers from requiring employees to take leave from work, stating that they are obligated to provide pregnant workers with light duty instead. In addition, lactation will now be considered as a medical condition related to the pregnancy. Men may now receive paternal leave as well. These changes were implemented less than a month following the Supreme Court's decision to hear a case concerning the EEOC's duty to attempt to settle workplace discrimination charges before filing a claim against the employer in court.

Tinder sued for sexual harassment

While the popular dating app Tinder may have brought Wisconsin residents together, its founder is in hot water after a former marketing executive has made serious allegations against him. According to the former executive, she was subjected to sexual harassment and stripped of her title as co-founder.

The former marketing vice president said that her co-founder said that she could not be listed as a co-founder because having a 24-year-old girl with this title made the company look like a joke. Additionally, she says that the co-founder degraded her in front of the chief executive officer of the company and subjected her to inappropriate sexual comments on a routine basis.

Noncompete clauses in Wisconsin employment agreements

At one time, a noncompete clause was primarily limited to employment contracts of employees who had access to trade secrets or other proprietary information. Today, noncompete clauses are being inserted into employment contracts of tutors, auto workers and camp counselors. As such agreements have become more common in the workplace, workers may be restricted in their professional development after they are let go from a job.

There are remedies for workers who are not allowed to work for a competitor due to such an agreement. First, a worker may ask a lawyer to draft an advisory opinion letter to the former employer stating that the clause is too broad. A worker may also go to court and ask a judge to nullify the agreement due to it being too long in length or too restrictive as to where the employee can work. Another option is to get a job and hope that the former employer doesn't attempt to enforce the agreement.

Tribal sovereignty potentially problematic for employees

Workers employed by tribal businesses in Wisconsin may find that their ability to appeal to federal and state laws may be hampered by the sovereign immunity granted to Native American tribes. However, U.S. courts have applied certain federal workplace standards to these sovereign workplaces in cases involving non-tribal workers. Compensation for breaches of employee rights may hinge upon the workplace waiving sovereignty. Tribal courts reportedly offer additional avenues for workers seeking to file employment claims.

Sovereign tribes are not required under federal law to follow layoff requirements or the anti-discrimination regulations found in the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII. A number of court rulings have invoked other employee rights found in federal law. Some examples are the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Family Medical Leave Act. Precedent may be established for applying these laws, but courts are not bound to do so.

Executive order to ban contractors from LGBT discrimination

Wisconsin readers may be interested in a new executive order that President Barack Obama is planning to sign. Once signed, the order will ban federal contractors from discriminating against individuals based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.

House Republicans have refused to allow a vote on such a measure, prompting activists to call for an executive order. The Senate had passed an employment non-discrimination bill, but House Speaker Boehner has stated that he will not permit a vote on it in the House. The bill passed by the Senate would offer protection from sexual orientation discrimination and discrimination against gender identity.

Company sued over discharged workers

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin Plastics Inc., seeking punitive damages and lost wages for employees who were reportedly discharged for having poor English skills. The lawsuit was filed on June 9. The agency claims that speaking English was not a skill required for performing their job effectively.

The agency also noted that the discharged Hispanic and Hmong employees had been evaluated and received satisfactory grades on their yearly performance review. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges that the employees were fired based on a 10-minute period of observations. The Green Bay-based plastics and metal manufacturing company claims the allegations are false, that there is nothing illegal about its business practices and that it prides itself on employing a highly diverse workforce.

Donald Sterling sued over alleged sexual harassment

Wisconsin basketball fans are likely aware of the recent controversy over racist comments made by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Donald Sterling was banned for life by the National Basketball Association in April after comments disparaging African Americans that had been recorded by his girlfriend were made public. The 80-year-old man's legal issues took another turn on June 2 when a lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles accusing him of sexual harassment.

The suit is being brought by a woman who claims that she worked for him for several months after being romantically involved with him for six years. The legal action alleges that the woman was subjected to severe sexual abuse during the time she was employed by Sterling, and she says that she was fired when she objected to his behavior.

Wisconsin DNR fires employee for sexual harassment

A Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employee was terminated for sexual harassment of a co-employee of the opposite sex. He was fired for violating numerous DNR rules involving sexual harassment through abusive conduct, inappropriate language and sexual harassment. Despite the pleas to stop by the co-worker, the former employee sang sexual lyrics to a rap song to her, hugged her against her will and discussed with her, intimate details of a sexual relationship with a girlfriend.

The fired employee initially denied knowing the co-worker was offended by his conduct but later confirmed that the co-worker told him she was offended. He also admitted that his conduct was in violation of DNR rules.

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