2012 Landmark Year for Workplace Litigation

For hundreds of thousands of Americans, 2012 was the year they finally spoke up about the discrimination they were forced to endure in the workplace. Employment discrimination lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight a few of these remarkable achievements, and hope that they will lead to improved workplace practices across the country.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that enforces employment discrimination laws. In 2012, the agency collected more than $365 million for victims of discrimination in the workplace. This is a four-fold increase since 2010. Data from the agency reveals that the most frequently filed charges were for discrimination against race, sex, and retaliation. Sex discrimination includes allegations of gender bias, pregnancy, and sexual harassment. With the EEOC’S refueled focus on discrimination investigations, government enforcement will only continue to gain strength.

In one of the most recent high-profile cases, a doctor illuminated a long-time struggle between male and female doctors at Harvard’s teaching hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The plaintiff, Dr. Carol Warfield, was the first-ever female chief of anesthesia, and worked at the hospital for more than thirty years before speaking up. Dr. Warfield filed the case against Dr. Josef Fischer, who was the former chief of surgery, the hospital, and the former chief executive.

In the lawsuit, Dr. Warfield argued that Dr. Fischer was abusive and demeaning, blatantly ignoring her in meetings and lobbying for her removal from the position based solely on her gender. When she complained to the chief executive, he and Dr. Fischer both retaliated against her, forcing her out of the pain clinic she helped build. The case ultimately settled for $7 million in favor of Warfield, the largest in Massachusetts history for a single plaintiff alleging gender discrimination. She will also have the hospital’s pain clinic named after her.

In another case, Burger King was ordered to pay $2.5 million to settle claims of sexual harassment. Nearly 90 women were involved in the suit, alleging that they were victims of various acts of undignified treatment. Claims ranged from illegal strip searches to incidents of rape. The lawsuit lasted 14 years in court.

These cases were important because they significantly altered the landscape for workplace discrimination lawsuits in the U.S. The nature of workplace bias is much different today than it was in the 1950s and 60s, prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The civil rights issues at stake today are much more subtle, and, in some cases, largely unconscious.

Stereotypes are by and large the motivating factor behind discrimination. This is evidenced in one case in California, in which an employer wrongfully withdrew a contract when he learned the woman was pregnant. The supervisor claimed that he rescinded the contract out of concern for the safety of her pregnancy. The woman argued that it was up to her, not her supervisor, to determine what was best for her and her child, and that the loss of contract caused her significant economic loss at the moment in her life when she needed monetary security the most. When her supervisor terminated the contract, he was acting on subtle stereotypes that are commonly enacted in the American workplace: that women need to somehow be protected from danger and that they are unable to decide what is best for themselves, and in this case, their unborn child.

Workplace discrimination lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm hope that, in 2013, more victims of stereotyping and bias step forward. If you or someone close to you was affected by workplace discrimination, you have important legal rights, and should seek legal guidance as soon as possible.

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