• Troubles Mount for Fox News and Parent Company 21st Century Fox
  • May 23, 2017 | Authors: John T. Andrishok; Rachael M. Coe; Murphy J. Foster; Leo C. Hamilton; Joseph R. Hugg; Rachael Jeanfreau; Steven B. Loeb; Eve B. Masinter; E. Fredrick Preis; Jacob E. Roussel; Melissa M. Shirley; Jennifer D. Sims; Jerry L. Stovall; Sunny Mayhall West
  • Law Firms: Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - Baton Rouge Office; Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - New Orleans Office; Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - Baton Rouge Office; Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - New Orleans Office; Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - Baton Rouge Office; Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - New Orleans Office; Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - Baton Rouge Office
  • After last year's ousting of Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes amid allegations of sexual harassment, Fox News has taken yet another hit. In early April, The New York Times revealed the network had paid five women a total of $13 million in settlements for sexual harassment and misconduct claims directed at on-air personality Bill O'Reilly. After the Times report, more women began stepping forward with sexual harassment claims against O'Reilly causing Fox News to sever ties with him on April 19. To compound Fox's troubles, in late March, a racial discrimination suit was filed against Fox News, its parent company 21st Century Fox, and former Fox comptroller Judith Slater by two black women, Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright, who worked in the payroll department. The suit alleges Slater, who was fired in February, had been harassing black and other nonwhite employees in the payroll department for years. On April 24, nine former and current employees including Emmy-winning reporter Kelly Wright joined Brown and Wright in filing an amended class-action lawsuit in New York Supreme Court citing similar harassment claims against Slater. According to complaints, Slater mocked the way black employees pronounced certain words, insinuated that black men were "women beaters" and expressed insulting racial stereotypes about Mexicans, Chinese men and people of Indian descent. The employees claim the company's top executives knew for years of the alleged harassment but told them "nothing could be done because Slater knew too much about senior executives," including former chairman Roger Ailes, former chief financial officer Mark Kranz and Bill O'Reilly. Fox released a statement to the Times claiming they "took prompt and effective remedial action" before Brown and Wright's suit was filed. In the lawsuit, the employees describe a culture that enabled a hostile work environment for minorities and women, going so far as to deem it "akin to Plantation-style management." In addition to the class action, a former Fox News employee filed a race discrimination charge with the EEOC and another filed a separate race discrimination suit in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

    Bill in Minnesota House Could Create Paid Family Leave and Statewide Paid Sick Leave     

    A bill was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives on January 2, 2017 that would require paid sick leave to all Minnesota employees and would provide up to 12 weeks of family leave, 6 of which would be paid. The bill, Hr 239, is in addition to HF 600 which creates a preemptive sick leave law banning cities and counties from enacting employment laws. Under the proposed bill, employees would be able to earn up to 72 hours of paid sick leave a year. Employees would earn 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. For small businesses, those with 21 or less employees, the maximum amount of earned paid sick time would be capped at 40 hours a year. Employees would be able to use sick (and safe) time for themselves or a family member's needs, including mental or physical illness, preventative care, diagnosis, and other medical related leave. Additionally, sick leave could be used in conjunction with domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to seek redress, counseling, relocation and other remedies. The last provision would make paid sick leave available if the employee or their family member's place of work, business, school or care was closed due to a public health crisis. Family, as defined in the bill, includes children, spouse, member of the employee's household, parent, sibling, grandparent and grandchild. Under the proposed Paid Family Leave portion of the bill, employees would be able to take up to 12 weeks of leave for pregnancy or the birth, adoption, or placement of a child into the home. It would also allow for employees to take time off to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Six of the twelve weeks would be paid leave. All employees would be eligible for Paid Family Leave after 1 year of employment. Employees would pay a premium that would be deducted from their paychecks to go into a state fund that would cover the leave. The bill also proposes to change the statute of limitations for the recovery of wages or overtime compensation from 2 years to 6 years.

    Alexander Acosta Confirmed as Labor Secretary
        
    On April 27, the Senate voted to confirm Alexander Acosta as Labor secretary. The vote was 60-38 in favor. President Trump nominated Acosta for the position after his first choice, Andrew Puzder withdrew from the nomination due to waning support in the Senate. Acosta, the son of Cuban immigrants, was previously a U.S. attorney, a civil rights chief at the Justice Department and a member of the National Labor Relations Board under the George W. Bush administration. Acosta's appointment filled out the Trump Administration's cabinet just days before the President's 100th day in office.

    Groups Urge Federal Appeals Court to Rule Religious Defense Lacking in Transgender Bias Claim

    The Anti-Defamation League, Muslim Advocates, the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, the People for the American Way Foundation, and 76 Christian and Jewish clergy joined an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on April 24 in support of the EEOC's appeal of a district court's decision that R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. owner's religious belief that a person's gender is immutable prevented the EEOC from pursuing a discrimination case on behalf of a fired transgender employee. In 2016, a federal district court ruled that the EEOC could not pursue its claim that the funeral home violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by firing its funeral director Aimee Stephens after she told the employer she was transgender and was planning to transition from male to female. The court ruled that the owner of the funeral home was protected by The Religious Freedom Act because he believed he would be "violating God's commands" by allowing Stephens to "deny [her] sex" while she was a representative of the funeral home. The Sixth Circuit allowed Stephens to intervene as a party in the EEOC's appeal and she filed her brief in early April, after the EEOC's appellate brief in in February.

    2nd Circuit Says Workplace Could Be Deemed Hostile By Single Use of N-Word     

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a single racial epithet used by a supervisor when speaking to an employee may be enough to show a hostile work environment. The ruling agrees with the view, argued by the EEOC as an amicus on April 18, that a single incident or comment can result in employer liability under Title VII if it is severe enough. In this case, Otis Daniel, an employee of T&M Protection Resources LLC claimed that he was referred to as "you f****** n*****" by a supervisor. The ruling held that the lower court erred when it held the supervisor's one-time use of the racial slur was not enough to support a racial harassment claim. The appeals court did not, however, decide whether T&M is liable to Daniel based on the supervisor's comment. It sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. The Second Circuit said the lower court erred in its finding that the supervisor's remark together with Daniel's other evidence of racial harassment would not enable a jury to find that Daniel experienced a hostile work environment. The appeals court also ruled that a jury could find that Daniel, who is also gay, was subjected to same-sex sexual harassment. In his complaint, Daniel alleged about 20 separate incidents of harassment during the 15 months he worked for T&M. According to the court, at least two of the allegations, the use of the N-word and the supervisor brushing his genitalia against Daniel's buttocks, appeared to be severe.

    Trump Appoints Philip Miscimarra Chairman of National Labor Relations Board
        
    On April 24, President Donald Trump named Philip Miscimarra, a management-side labor lawyer, as Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). President Trump had previously named Miscimarra as Acting Chairman in January. Miscimarra was nominated to serve on the NLRB by President Barack Obama in 2013 and was confirmed by a Senate vote for a four year term through December 2017, at which time President Trump can nominate him for another term. The Board is composed of five members, but at this time there are two vacancies that are reserved for Republicans. The Board is generally composed of three members from the president's party and two from the other. Mark Pearce and Lauren McFerran are the two Democrats on the Board. With the power shifting to a Republican majority, employers can expect some changes in the positions the Board takes on certain matters.