December 2010 News: Philadelphia Employment Law News

Philadelphia Employment Law News

December 2010 Archives

Norma Gray Caught Taking Coworkers' Tips

The Philadelphia Daily News reported 53-year-old Norma Jean Gray, a resident from Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood, was recently charged for stealing her coworkers' tips. Gray had been an employee of Harrah's Chester Downs Casino and Racetrack and allegedly stole almost $3,400 in tips.

Police officials said a video recording even caught Norma Gray committing the theft. Norma Gray had supposedly taken $2,804 in tips from Harrah's cashier area and planned on distributing the money among 75 cashiers who would exchange customers' gaming chips for cash. Authorities said Gray admitted to committing the crime and to also embezzling $600 from the casino in October and November.

"The Discouraged" In Philadelphia Struggle To Earn A Living

Underground men and women in Philadelphia known as "the discouraged" are struggling to find jobs and earn money in any legal way possible, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. These people make up at least 50 percent of those unemployed in Philadelphia today, and most of them are not even counted on the jobless rolls.

Many of the discouraged battle against the risk of committing crimes and have opted to work and earn a living from caring for the elderly, cleaning apartments, braiding hair, baby-sitting, and fixing houses. 58-year-old Bryant Calloway, from Frankford, has tried "to make [his] living honestly" but feels as if he is just another John Doe with "nobody to help [him]."

Employees In Philadelphia Consider Changing Jobs

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, a new survey by Manpower revealed that 84 percent of employees are hoping for or looking into changing jobs next year. A year ago, only 60 percent of workers had considered finding a new job.

Patrice & Associates founder Patrice Rice said many people "are tired of not feeling in control of their lives," which may have led many individuals to reevaluate their careers. With unemployment remaining at 9.8 percent, a number of working Philadelphians may be frustrated about having worked "for years and all of a sudden they don't have a job."

Baby Boomers May Face Financial Hardship Once Retired

Baby boomers preparing to retire within the next few years may face some financial hardship as a result of bad timing and procrastination, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Over 10,000 boomers each day will be turning 65 during the next 19 years, but Boettner Center director Olivia Mitchell said many soon-to-be retirees "have not saved very effectively and are retiring too early."

One retirement concern for boomers in Philadelphia may have to do with the gradual disappearance of traditional pension plans. 39 percent of private-sector employees in the 1980s had pensions that provided assurance of a steady payout once they retired. However, the Employee Benefit Research Institute revealed about 15 percent of workers today have pensions that guarantee a stable payout.

Even With Less Layoffs, Unemployment Remains High

Last week's economic reports revealed employers may be laying off fewer employees as consumers appear to spend more confidently. While the economy is improving, the Associated Press reported that the job market continues to struggle with unemployment remaining at 9.8 percent nationwide.

The Labor Department said jobless claims have dropped down by 3,000 to 420,000, yet many unemployed Philadelphians are still having trouble landing a job. Economists say the number of jobless claims must drop to 375,000 or below to reach a significant decline in unemployment.

PA Counties Tackle Discrimination Against Gay Workers

In a move to protect gay workers and gays in other legal arenas, State Representative Dan Frankel said House Bill 300, or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, has now attracted 71 cosponsors and barely passed out of the State Government Committee. The bill seeks to enact a statewide ban on discriminating against individuals in housing, public accommodations, and employment on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Yet opponents of the bill were unreceptive and kept the measure from being introduced for a floor vote, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Frankel remains optimistic and said "it's inevitable" that some sort of action will occur to protect the rights of the queer community. "When you talk to people, particularly younger people, under 50, they don't understand why this is an issue."

Probable Cause Found For Sexual Harrassment Claim Against Carl Greene

In a lawsuit against former Philadelphia Housing Authority Director Carl Greene, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (HRC) ruled that there was probable cause that Greene sexually harassed Elizabeth Helm. The agency also found that Greene maintained "a pattern and practice of sexually harassing conduct" with female employees throughout the time he was employed at PHA.

Elizabeth Helm, 29, filed her complaint in April to both the HRC and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Besides Helm's case, investigators have also looked into the sexual harassment complaints of six other women who were employed at PHA between 1999 and 2008. The allegations eventually led to Greene's termination from the agency.

EEOC In Philadelphia Sues Kaplan For Racial Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Philadelphia-based office recently filed a lawsuit in Cleveland's federal court against Kaplan Higher Education in Chicago. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the EEOC claimed Kaplan denied potential hires from employment based on their credit history and considered the institution's decision as racial discrimination.

The lawsuit alleges that Kaplan, a division of the Washington Post Company, unnecessarily reviewed the credit histories of job applicants. The EEOC claimed the institution's hiring practice negatively impacted black job candidates since many of them were rejected based on their credit histories. The lawsuit seeks compensation for lost wages and benefits and job offers for those who were not hired.

Camden County Prosecutor's Office May Lose 50 Employees

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Camden County Prosecutor's Office is planning to lay off almost one fourth of its employees. 15 out of 62 PA criminal defense attorneys and 20 of the 74 detectives who manage criminal investigations may be included among the 50 total office layoffs in Camden County.

Many of the criminal investigations handled in the prosecutor's office include domestic-violence or homicide cases and often involve Camden City, which was rated as the second most dangerous city in the country according to a recent survey. Office spokesman Jason Laughlin said the office is "at as low a staff level as we can be to still get the job done."

Lawsuit Against Windowizards May Cost Employees Their Jobs

Richard Friedenberg, a former employee of Windowizards, filed a lawsuit against the company in April after he was laid off and denied from receiving severance pay in December 2009. He claims the owners have been using company money to fund their own personal expenses, such as purchasing tickets to Eagles games.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported Windowizards co-owners Harvey and Barry Goodman, Friedenberg's father-in-law, and president David Goodman have been listed as the defendants for the case. Richard Friedenberg even included his wife as one of the individuals in the suit who has allegedly used the company's money.

Philadelphia Taxpayers Question Teachers' Salaries And Benefits

Levittown parent Susan Porreca joined a local taxpayers' group against Neshaminy teachers when she felt that their fight for so-called better benefits and fully provided health insurance had nothing "to do with the education of our kids." She was in disbelief after she read their bargaining agreement and saw that that the teachers did not "want to contribute to health care" even though "they're making six-figure salaries."

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, at least 13 northern and western suburban Philadelphia districts besides Lower Bucks County have been fighting for renewed contracts with improved salaries and benefits. Salaries for full-time teachers range on average between $52,989 within the Oxford Area School District to almost $89,513 in Council Rock.

Ariel Ayanna Fired From Dechert After Taking Paternity Leave

The Philadelphia Business Journal reported that a number of lawsuits across the country have recently been filed against big law firms. Ariel Ayanna, a former Dechert associate in Boston, claims the firm's "macho culture" put him down for being the primary caretaker of his children. Ayanna was terminated from the firm after taking paternity leave, which he believes was an act of retaliation against him.

Ariel Ayanna's wife suffered from mental illness, which led him to take on even more responsibilities to care for his children. The lawsuit alleges Dechert had refused to provide him with any work until he returned and then criticized him for not meeting employment requirements. Ayanna claimed the firm discriminated against him because of his association with a disabled person.

Six Black Contractors Sue For Harassment and Discrimination

Six black men from Aston's Advanced Specialty Contractors filed a lawsuit against the Sunoco refinery for harassment and racial discrimination, reported the Philadelphia Daily News. The suit stated that the six contracted workers were harassed because they were black and forced to clean the racial slurs written about them on the bathroom walls of their work place.

The plaintiffs, including 40-year-old Philly local Kenneth Hall, were contracted to work on a project for the Sunoco refinery in Southwest Philadelphia. They worked various jobs that included general labor and janitorial work. White employees from different companies, such as Riggs Distler from New Jersey, had also been subcontracted for the project at the refinery.

Unemployment Rate In PA Drops To 8.6 Percent

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry reported that the unemployment rate in the state has dropped to 8.6 percent or by 0.2 of a percentage point in November. Though this decrease may seem minute, November's unemployment rate was the lowest in Pennsylvania since October of 2009, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

More Philadelphia-area residents were able to find jobs as employment in PA increased by 9,000 last month. The number of jobless individuals reduced to 13,000, though some of the decline may have come from a 5,000 drop in the general workforce. Most of those who were laid off had stopped looking for employment and were not counted as part of the jobless group.

Mark O'Connor Files Lawsuit For Sexual Orientation Discrimination

54-year-old Mark O'Connor, a former senior manager of Philadelphia's personnel department, filed a complaint on Tuesday claiming that Albert D'Attilio and forced O'Connor into an early and unplanned retirement after denying him a promotion. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the suit also alleges D'Attilio made prejudiced remarks about O'Connor's sexual orientation.

The lawsuit was brought before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and lists Albert D'Attilio and the city as defendants. It revealed that Mark O'Connor participated in an investigation led by the city inspector two years ago, which led to the dismissal of former boss and Human Resources Director Tanya Smith. Albert D'Attilio succeeded Smith as the director.

Moneke Thomas Sues Carl Greene And PHA

Moneke Thomas, 38, was the third employee to settle a sexual harassment complaint against former Philadelphia Housing Authority executive director Carl R. Greene. Even after Thomas received $350,000 from the settlement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported she has filed a lawsuit against PHA claiming Greene continued to intimidate her after she left in 2008.

The lawsuit was filed in October in Common Pleas Court and accuses Carl Greene and PHA of causing emotional distress for Moneke Thomas. She said that former and current PHA employees had been following her and that her mail had been tampered with during the last year. Thomas believed Greene was behind those actions, although the complaint does not directly name Carl Greene as the executor of the alleged acts.

Thousands of jobless Philadelphians have been struggling from the expiration of unemployment benefits, which began a couple of weeks ago. Washington is focused on reducing the deficit, which keeps Congress from trying to spend more money on extending benefits for those without work. According to NPR, the deadline has already passed for the extension of unemployment benefits for next year.

As a result, around 2 million unemployed Americans will lose their benefits by the end of December. The experience has affected how many people view themselves and has changed their perspective on government aid.

Business Tax Legislation May Jeopardize Philadelphia Jobs

City Council members Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Bill Green have proposed a measure for an insta-city business tax that may potentially eliminate 75,000 jobs in Philadelphia by 2015, according to Wharton economist Robert Inman. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that the Sanchez-Green legislation plans to do away with the tax on business profits and multiply a company's general gross-receipts tax.

The legislation will tax volume instead of profitability, which may place more of a tax burden on larger labor-focused industries with almost thousands of local employees. Struggling businesses may end up bankrupt with the proposed measure while allowing wealthier companies to thrive.

Arlene Ackerman Allegedly Suspends Five Whistleblowers

State Representative Michael P. McGeehan claims Arlene C. Ackerman, the Philadelphia School District Superintendent, has been suspending whistle-blowers for publicly discussing details about no-bid contracts. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the Attorney General's Office will be called to investigate and determine whether Ackerman violated the state's whistleblower protection laws.

The term "whistleblower" refers to an employee who has reported an employer's violation of the law, which can vary from sexual harassment to unlawful pollution practices. Federal and state laws protect whistleblowers from retribution for reporting a violation or filing a claim. An experienced PA employment attorney can offer a more detailed explanation on the laws protecting whistleblowers.

Joanne Palazzolo Fired After Whistleblowing

Elkins Park local Joanne Palazzolo was terminated from her position as the health department's business administrator in Bucks County after informing the controller's office of the department's allegedly dishonest timekeeping habits. Palazzolo supposedly lied to her boss about her whereabouts after she met with investigators about the time records, according to PhillyBurbs.com.

Joanne Palazzolo met with chief investigator David Rouland and deputy controller Kim Doran after she noticed employees in the Doylestown health department were not signing in or out when they arrived or left the office. She was asked not to inform anyone about their meeting, which put her in a difficult situation when her boss David Damsker asked where she had been that day.

Inaccurate Background Checks Lead To Job Loss

Many Philadelphians have fallen victim to inaccurate background checks and have been fired as a result, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Thousands of people may never even find out about an erroneous background check, especially if an employer never gives them a copy.

 

Lillie Coney, the associate director of Washington D.C.'s Electronic Privacy Information Center, said data brokers may be a part of the problem. She said they "know the documents they are getting have errors, but it does not stop them from using [them]." When a flawed background report is given to an employer, no one is apparently held accountable.

West Pharmaceutical Expected To Cut 170 Jobs

PhillyInc reported West Pharmaceutical Services Inc. is expecting to close its Montgomery-based plastic components manufacturing plant in central Pennsylvania. The company stated that its operations will be more effective as a result of the decision, although it will also unfortunately lead to a loss of 170 jobs.

West Pharmaceutical, which has its headquarters in Lionville, creates various pharmaceutical parts like stoppers and vials. The company's CEO and chairman Donald E. Morel Jr. said West is aiming to "reduce the manufacturing capacity devoted to product lines that no longer support sustainable, competitive operations." The company is expecting to save about $6 million in 2011 and $12 million in 2013 after this restructuring.

Philadelphia Businesses To Receive Work Opportunity Tax Credit

The Council's Committee on Commerce & Economic Development in Philadelphia passed a bill this week where companies that make new jobs will be able to receive a work opportunity tax credit. Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. sponsored the measure known as the "Job Creation Opportunity Extension Bill," which will extend a two-year employment stimulus program.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported The Job Creation Tax Credit Program will give Philadelphia businesses that create employment opportunities within the city a credit against Philly's business privilege taxes. These businesses will collect $3,000 for each new job created during the 2012 and 2013 tax years, as well as for 2010 and 2011.

Anti Discrimination Ordinance Fails In Hatboro

While several communities in Pennsylvania have been passing a new anti discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT individuals from prejudice, Hatboro chose otherwise. Norm Hawkes, the Hatboro mayor, vetoed a proposal on Monday that would have created a borough commission who would evaluate discrimination claims.

The queer community is not currently protected from discrimination under PA state law in areas like housing, public accommodations, and employment. Hawkes said he did not "feel anyone should be discriminated against anyplace or anywhere," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. He just thought that discrimination issues based on sexual orientation would be "much better handled on a state vs. local level."

Lower Merion Passes Anti Discrimination Ordinance

The board of commissioners in the Lower Merion Township unanimously voted to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. The Lower Merion (LM) is now the 18th Pennsylvania district to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression or identity, according to the Main Line Times. The new measure prohibits discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment.

Lower Merion commissioners began drafting the new ordinance after Bala Cynwyd local Jason Landau Goodman, 21, asked them to create a legislation that protected LGBT individuals from discrimination. The measure then created a seven-member local Human Relations Commission (HRC) who will receive, assess, and investigate complaints involving any kind of discrimination.

Why Are There So Few Jobs In Philadelphia?

Many Philadelphians may still be wondering why few jobs were created in November after the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported 3.36 million job openings had been available in October. New jobs typically follow a boost in profits, and the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis revealed corporate profits rose to $1.66 trillion in September.

Yet only 39,000 jobs were created in the private-sector in November, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Economists said employers will have to make 125,000 to 150,000 jobs to keep pace with the number of people struggling to find employment. They believe that the U.S. economy is coming close to creating more employment opportunities based on BLS reports on hires and separations.

Walmart Lawsuit Could Become A Class Action

The Supreme Court will be hearing two major appeals on Monday that seek to prevent mass lawsuits from reaching trial, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. One case involves an environmental lawsuit that claims coal-fired power plants are responsible for bringing about global warming.

The other Walmart lawsuit, which we will be discussing, involves claims of employment discrimination against Walmart Stores Inc. The lawsuit alleges that 1.5 million women who worked at Walmart during the last ten years were consistently paid less than their male counterparts and denied any promotional opportunities. The case, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, also has a possibility of being regarded as a class-action lawsuit.

Survey Reveals Increase In Temporary Jobs

Yoh's Annual Workforce Trends, a staffing company based in Philadelphia that serves many technical industries, recently conducted a survey that was given to 200 executives and human-resources and procurement professionals in the country. The study revealed that the United States' largest businesses have been able to retain or increase the number of temporary workers hired during the last two years.

According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, businesses with annual revenue of more than $750 million received the survey. Temporary employees were identified as individuals who were not provided with a W-2 form by their employers. Independent contractors, consultants, project teams, and traditional temporary positions were all included under the category of a temporary worker.

Hope For Another Extension On Unemployment Benefits?

There may be a possibility that Congress extends unemployment benefits for another year with two different bills might come up for votes on Saturday in Washington. Congress representatives seem supportive in the idea of extending benefits, but the larger question is whether the extensions will already be paid for or financed with deficit spending.

The Labor Department reported only 39,000 jobs were added by the country's payroll in November compared to the 172,000 jobs were added in October. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the number of new jobs last month was not enough to even try and reduce the nation's unemployment rate of 9.8 percent. November marks the 19th month that joblessness has stayed above 9 percent.

Applications For Unemployment Benefits Drop In November

The job market may expand in Philadelphia and provide more opportunities for employment as November marks a two-year low in the number of individuals applying for unemployment benefits across the country. Although unemployment claims actually increased last week by 26,000 from 436,000, the Labor Department reported the four-week moving average of claims reduced to the two-year low of 431,000 last week.

Chief economist Steven Wood for Insight Economics, L.L.C. said this decline may suggest that "the labor markets may actually be improving." However, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that some economists still do not expect a change in the nationwide 9.6 jobless rate. Even though the recession officially ended in June 2009, the unemployment rate has remained over 9 percent since May 2009.

Camden Employees Expected To Receive Layoff Notices

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the Camden City Council made a unanimous vote on Thursday to send out layoff notices to municipal employees, threatening 383 jobs. City officials and union leaders have even resumed negotiations to try and save some workers from unemployment.

The Council voted 5-0 to remove nearly one third of the Fire Department and close a one half of the Police Department. Residents, firefighters, police officers, government employees, and business owners pleaded to the Council, stating that many families may face potential homelessness as a result of the layoffs.

Most Common Cause Of Death For Philadelphia-area Workers: Homicide

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, one out of five Philadelphia-area workers died in 2009 as a result of a homicide, typically from a shooting. The U.S. Department of Labor revealed that homicide is the leading cause of death while on the job in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. 84 on-the-job fatalities occurred in the city in 2008, which dropped to 66 deaths in 2009.

13 out of the 66 on-the-job deaths were homicides, while 11 resulted from fatal falls to lower levels. 10 of the 2009 deaths occurred from a highway incident. Exposure to toxic substances, getting struck by a vehicle, or getting caught in equipment were other common reasons for death while working. Homicides are the most common way many have died in nine out of the ten largest cities in the United States.

McFadden's Bar Settles Discrimination Lawsuit

We have talked about the ongoing suit involving bartender Michael Bolden, who accused McFadden's bar of racial discrimination. Bolden, who is also a Community Legal Services attorney, claimed the Philadelphia-based bar provided him with fewer shifts and made him work far from the main bar because he is black.

McFadden's was also accused of closing down its "Alternative Wednesdays" night because it did not want to attract "nonwhite" patrons. The bar denied all the allegations of racism and claimed Michael Bolden was not outgoing enough to serve at the main bar, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. McFadden's also said complaints from law enforcement officials and neighbors about unruly patrons made them cancel "Alternative Wednesdays."

Not Earning Enough? Try The Underearners Anonymous Program

Two dozen men and women in New York have developed a 12-step program called Underearners Anonymous (UA). If you find yourself struggling to pay rent or buy food in Philadelphia, this fellowship group may diagnose you with "a compulsive addiction to low-paying work."

Take Jean, who is incredibly well-spoken and has a master's degree from Colombia University. She earned $10,000 a year as a freelance writer and found herself falling behind on rent. She decided to get a job at Staples to try and earn more, but she admitted to enjoying the few responsibilities that came with the minimum-wage job. Still suffering from poverty, she joined UA.

Health Insurance And Benefits In Philadelphia

Health insurance and benefits are rather common in many Philadelphia businesses and companies. Some employers may provide workers with benefits that include medical, dental, disability, and life insurance, but most are not required by law to offer health-related benefits to workers. But once an employer offers health insurance and benefits, health plan rules and federal anti-discrimination laws come into play to protect employees' rights under those plans.

A Philadelphia employment lawyer can explain in detail the regulations and laws related to protecting the interests of employees and their beneficiaries with health benefits. If an employer decides to provide its workers with benefits, those health plans must comply with specific standards under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Philadelphia Re-entry Programs Help Ex-Cons Find Jobs

Ex-offenders like Reuben Jones from North Philadelphia have a difficult time finding a job after they have been released from prison. Jones, 46, served 15 years in jail for charges of aggravated assault and was released from state prison in 2002. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, he left the Dallas State Correctional Institute wiser, cooled down, remorseful, and eager to find a job.

At the time of his release, the re-entry programs in Pennsylvania offered him nothing. They would implement job-skills training but never offer any actual employment. Reuben Jones found work during the first few years of his release as supervisor for a Philadelphia Prevention Point syringe-exchange mobile until he was fired due to personal conflicts. His status as an ex-offender kept him from getting hired elsewhere, leaving him without enough money and unemployed.

Wellness Programs Help Reduce Health Insurance Costs

Philadelphia-area workers tend to have better and more expensive health coverage than other employees in the nation. A survey by Mercer L.L.C., a benefits-consulting firm, revealed that employers are struggling to reduce premiums as health insurance costs continue to increase, averaging out to nearly $10,073 for every employee in Philadelphia.

With high costs for health insurance, employers everywhere have been more inclined to shift more insurance costs onto employees. Some are requiring larger co-pays or deductibles, while others are making employees pay a larger share of the premiums. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, many companies have started to provide wellness programs in the workplace and offer workers an incentive to be involved.

Obama's Two-Year Federal Pay Freeze Causes Union Uproar

After proposing a two-year freeze on federal pay, President Obama is receiving backlash from union allies who are now accusing him of going behind the backs of federal employees to reduce the country's deficit. Fox News reported unions are claiming the proposal only decreases the deficit by a fraction but has an inevitably destructive effect on the middle class' livelihood.

Obama said the two-year freeze on civilian federal pay will help save $2 billion this fiscal year and $28 billion during the next five years. The break on pay raises would apply to all civilian federal workers, such as veteran hospital employees and Border Patrol agents. The freeze would also include those in the Department of Defense, but military personnel would not be affected.