Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again.  Zero-tolerance policies are a bad idea when addressing sexual harassment complaints.  In fact, they shouldn’t even apply to complaints about discrimination or workplace infractions.  Although zero-tolerance policies convey the impression that an employer is taking a hard line stand against conduct it wants to discourage or eliminate, the reality is a little more complicated, just like the workplace.
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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released data detailing breakdowns for the charges of workplace discrimination it received in 2018. Sexual harassment charges increased 13.6% from 2017 – making sexual harassment the second most frequent charge filed with the EEOC.  Overall, the agency received 7,609 sexual harassment charges and obtained $56.6 million in monetary benefits for victims of sexual harassment.
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On September 5, 2017, the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the Superior Court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the employer in a case involving the thorny issue of whether an extended leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation. Thomson v. Department of Social Services, 176 Conn. App. 122, AC 38851. Both the Superior Court and the Appellate Court rejected the employee’s claim that her employer had failed to accommodate her disability in terminating her employment while on extended leave after she had exhausted FMLA leave. This decision is an important victory for employers. It makes a strong statement that employers need not grant open-ended leaves of absence under state law. On the facts presented, the court concluded that the employee was not entitled to proceed to trial. Summary judgment decisions in the employer’s favor in state court are rare. Rarer still is the affirmation of the Appellate Court on an issue that vexes human resources departments around the state.
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On August 22, 2017, a federal trial judge injected uncertainty into the ability of in-house counsel to communicate with company employees during an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation. In EEOC v. Day & Zimmerman NPS, Inc. (D. Conn. Aug. 22, 2017), Judge Victor A. Bolden concluded that an employer could be liable for ADA retaliation by sending a letter to its employees informing them of the existence of an ADA claim by an employee and advising them about potential interviews by the EEOC.

By way of background, the employee involved had filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging that a company had violated the ADA by firing him from working at the Millstone nuclear power station after he provided a doctor’s note indicating that he could not work around radiation. The EEOC soon commenced an investigation into the charge, requesting a list of roughly 150 employees who worked at Millstone during the time period at issue, including those individuals’ names, job titles, dates of employment, home addresses, and telephone numbers.
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