Supreme Court Rules that Title VII Protections Extend to LGBTQ Workers

Cases have grappled with the scope of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Since its passage, many administrative agency and litigation cases have tackled the question of whether Title VII applies to workers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ).  On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion, ruled that the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The landmark ruling confirms that individuals may bring suit against an employer if an employer fires or otherwise discriminates against them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. If the employment decision about the worker was based, in part, on sexual orientation or gender identity, that in itself is enough legal justification for the employee to file a claim.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the court, stated that from the time of Title VII’s adoption, “a straightforward rule emerges: An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex.”  Applying this rule, the Court stated “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

Effects of the Supreme Court Ruling for Employers

The effects of this ruling for employers will be most impactful in states that do not have statutes protecting LGBTQ workers. The Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law estimates that nearly half of the 8.1 million LGBTQ workers in America currently reside in states that lack such protections. New Jersey has some of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the country. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) already protects workers who are transgender or who do not appear traditionally feminine or masculine. Pennsylvania’s laws are not as broadly written, but the state Human Relations Commission issued guidance years ago that aligns with, but pre-dates today’s Supreme Court ruling.  The ruling by the Supreme Court will likely be somewhat more significant on employers in the Keystone state, but the ultimate message to employers is that discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity are prohibited.

Impact on Religious Institutions

The court declined to address what impact the ruling would have on religious institutions.  The Court did state that the ruling of the Court today was not directed at religious institutions since the question was not raised.  Additionally, the Court acknowledged the existence of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its prohibition on the federal government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion unless there exists a compelling governmental interest.  The Court stated that “because the RFRA operates as a kind of super statute, displacing the normal operation of other federal laws, it might supersede Title VII’s command in appropriate cases.”   Courts in the past have upheld the decisions of religious institutions to follow the dictates of their beliefs when making employment decisions, even if the decision would otherwise be considered discriminatory on the basis of sex.  Today’s decision, however, does not make a ruling on that issue.

If you are an employer or religious institution with concerns about the latest Supreme Court decision regarding Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, contact the legal team at MacMain Leinhauser. We have experience guiding employers in all aspects of employment law, including discrimination and harassment. For an initial consultation, call us at 484-318-7106 or fill out our online contact form. We gladly assist employers throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey from our office in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

How Can My Small Business Address Issues Regarding COVID-19?

Owning and operating a small business can be exciting and financially rewarding. Many entrepreneurs enjoy independence, control, and opportunity for financial gain. Rewards come with risks, however, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed small businesses to unforeseen difficulties and challenges. Over the years, MacMain Leinhauser has provided counsel to many small business owners. Today, we are prepared to help our clients with very challenging small business issues that many are facing during the current COVID-19 outbreak.

The Face of Small Business has Changed

 The scene along a typical American business district in June 2020 is starkly different than it was just a few months ago. In many business districts, foot traffic is way down, and some long-established shops have closed their doors. Even as some businesses begin to reopen under new restrictions, no one knows when business as usual will return. According to a survey conducted by the Small and Medium Business Group, small businesses employing less than 20 employees have been hit the hardest. They were the first to stop hiring subcontractors, lay off workers, or reduce hours. The survey also reported that the retail, restaurant, and personal service sectors have suffered the most.

The negative impact on the American economy cannot be overstated. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), businesses with less than 500 employees account for nearly half of the employees in the United States. Main Street America (MSA), a network of over 1,600 commercial districts comprising of approximately 300,000 small businesses, recently conducted a survey that projected millions of small businesses closing permanently if the COVID-19 pandemic continued into the summer and beyond. The survey also revealed that small business owners cite the need for financial assistance and penalty-free extensions on expenses to stay open.

Addressing the Challenges

There are options that businesses can explore to stay afloat temporarily, including deferring tax payments, examining existing insurance policies for clauses pertaining to business continuity/business interruption coverage, and applying for various types of SBA loans and debt relief. SBA-backed programs include the following:

  • Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): Temporarily expands the existing SBA 7(a) program that provides loan forgiveness for retaining employees
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL): Provides up to $10,000 to businesses currently experiencing economic difficulties
  • SBA Express Bridge Loans: Provide up to $25,000
  • SBA Debt Relief: For businesses that currently have SBA 7(a) loans

Because these measures provide only temporary relief, more may be needed for a company to remain afloat. In the long-term, small businesses may want to examine the specific underlying causes of their vulnerability and enlist the help of professionals to restructure the way they do business.

Specific Areas to Address

 The SBA has identified key areas of vulnerability that small businesses may encounter as the pandemic unfolds, including the following:

  • Access to capital. Businesses may benefit from exploring additional options for accessing capital, including SBA-backed loans for different purposes and businesses.
  • Supply chain problems. Strategies for addressing potential supply chain shortfalls include maintaining adequate inventory on hand when possible, renegotiating contracts with suppliers, and diversifying distributor sources.
  • Deep-cleaning and facility remediation. One key to staying in business during the pandemic is frequent and thorough cleaning of surfaces. Businesses need to enlist the use of cleaning services that are qualified to conduct deep cleaning on a regular basis.
  • Compliance with regulations to protect workers. Some states and municipalities are issuing mandates that workplaces provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and institute other measures to ensure the safety of workers as businesses reopen.
  • Formulation of social distancing policies. Small businesses need to make it clear to staff and customers any changes in policies regarding on-site, wearing PPE, the use of breakrooms or bathrooms, and any other measures deemed necessary for compliance with social distancing guidelines.
  • Response to changes in market demand. Depending upon the nature of the business, a company may need to refocus operations and marketing strategies to make a profit in the stay-at-home environment. This may include online ordering systems or using social media or other means to attract customers.

Recent Developments

 America’s Small Business and Development Centers (SBDC) are continually updating a national joint study on the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses. Data from the mid-May 2020 study indicated the following:

  • Nearly half of small businesses that obtained an SBA loan feel they will qualify for loan forgiveness
  • More than half of small businesses are operating at 50 percent capacity or less
  • More than 60 percent of small businesses are concerned about a second wave of COVID-19

If the pandemic continues, small businesses seeking to stay in operation may want to enlist the assistance of a small business attorney to respond to the new environment and institute changes to adapt. Matters in which professional legal counsel can be of great benefit during these uncertain times include the following:

  • Preparing a return to work plan for your staff and a re-opening plan for your customers.
  • Reviewing qualifications required for PPP loan forgiveness
  • Reviewing insurance policies to determine eligibility for business continuity coverage
  • Assisting with employment and human resources matters, such as unemployment insurance for furloughed workers and policies for returning back to work safely
  • Reviewing contracts with supply chain partners and/or cleaning services
  • Renegotiating lease agreements for businesses or retail space
  • Drafting measures to protect the business from liability if workers or customers contract COVID-19
  • Answering questions concerning potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in requiring employees with COVID-19 symptoms to leave the workplace

Small business owners may have been hesitant in the past to reach out for legal assistance. Today in the face of COVID-19, the very survival of a business may depend upon skilled legal guidance. We are available to provide the support needed to continue operating successfully.

The small business attorneys at MacMain Leinhauser have helped many small businesses in the past with serious legal issues, and we stand ready during the pandemic to help new and existing clients with unforeseen challenges. If you have legal questions arising from the impact of COVID-19 on your business, reach out to us today by calling 484-318-7106 or fill out our online form for an initial consultation. We are able to conduct meetings via phone or videoconference. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia and Chester County, from our office in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Understanding Contract and Labor Disputes

Contract and labor disputes in corporations can take on many forms. Owners, managers, and workers must understand how these disputes occur, what issues they might involve, and how they will resolve them. Businesses and employees could be embroiled in these situations at any time, and it is best to anticipate future labor issues, work together, and call in an attorney when needed.

What Types of Labor Disputes Exist?

Businesses might not know how to qualify a labor dispute. Managers and employees cannot effectively negotiate the terms of a contract if they do not know what the problem is. Identifying the difficulty is one of the keys to negotiation. If the two sides are not negotiating on the same terms, they will never come to a resolution. Labor disputes include:

  • Disputes over the interests involved in a contract: This is a common disagreement. One side may want to have an equal share of the money made by the company and want to raise the percentage they earn. Because this is a familiar dispute in American media, it is easy to see everything that is involved. These interests can also include pay increases, bonuses, increased vacation time, paid time off, raises, and even retirement benefit contributions.
  • Disputes over rights provided to workers: Workers’ rights include Workers’ Compensation, hazard pay, working conditions, opportunities for advancement, and even the ability to unionize.

Most contracts will involve both of these disputes in one way or another. Employees must sit down with management to determine what to negotiate. Because these negotiations can be complicated, it is best to have a lawyer present.

What Causes Contract and Labor Disputes?

Businesses may wonder what causes contract disputes, or employees may want to organize their colleagues around a singular cause. The following issues may contribute to the decision of your workforce to see representation or to collectively bargain:

Economics: Employee pay, benefits, raises, and the economic conditions under which the company works are often a key to labor disputes. For example, employee perception of the company’s overall profitability or cashflow in relation to employee pay may cause workers to be dissatisfied, believing they are not compensated fairly. Conversely, management and employees might disagree over the wording of a contract revision during a recession as workers are asked to take pay cuts, give up raises, and forgo pension contributions.

Managerial issues: These could be clerical problems that are reflected in employee paychecks or work that is difficult for everyone in the office. Managers that are ineffective communicators, inadequate tools, clothing, or protective gear for workers are all issues that could be addressed by owners and may come up in bargaining.

Political cause: Changes in the political climate can cause a business to experience difficulty. Workers or managers might adhere to a particular ideology that might alter the trajectory of the business. A city or county might pass new wage laws, and the two sides will need to negotiate a contract implementing those new rules.

Psychological reasoning: The perceived motivations of people on the job could cause a friction in the workplace that leads to a labor dispute.  While these motivations are difficult to judge, they could become part of a heated contract dispute if unclear or not addressed.

Who Can Prevent Contract and Labor Disputes?

Owners, managers, and workers can help prevent labor disputes by taking affirmative action, such as:

  • Ensuring work areas are clean and organized.
  • Everyone within the organization, up to and including the CEO, should be held accountable for the work they must do.
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to apply for and receive promotions or raises to positions they are qualified to hold. Likewise, all job opportunities should be posted so that anyone can apply.
  • Ensure that managers and ownership have a positive working attitude and a good working relationship with the employees. This is one of the best ways to avoid organization in your workplace and to make labor negotiations effective where a union exists.
  • Review all salaries and bonuses annually to ensure they are aligned with industry standards or averages.

A simple audit of a business will reveal problems that can be solved quickly and avoid a union organization campaign. Employees join a union for many reasons, but most often because they believe they are not being treated fairly by their employer.  Most employees would prefer to avoid going on strike, hold up the productivity of the business, or create needless animosity. If both sides work well together, union organization could be averted and most contract disputes can be avoided.

How Can Both Parties Resolve Labor and Contract Disputes?

Most labor disputes can be resolved using the following styles of conflict resolution. Every business is different, and each company should work closely with its counsel and employees to determine which method will help both sides achieve their goals:

  • Employee Policies and Training: A company with effective employee management policies and relationships can avoid union organizing altogether.  Hiring and training good managers and executives to address employee concerns, establish industry appropriate pay rates and reasonable expectations for employees and are the best way to avoid union organization altogether and have a productive workforce.
  • Grievance management: Companies, even those without a union, can implement and use a grievance management model to hear and address each grievance from employees. If grievances are handled property and the employees are treated consistently, then this process can avoid many labor disputes.
  • Collective bargaining: If a union is formed, a clear and well-crafted Collective bargaining agreement will set the tone for employee and management interactions. Bargaining can be used to resolve issues and also alleviate employee concerns over the workplace issues.
  • Mediation: When bargaining is ineffective or stalled, sometimes a mediator can lead the parties into a conversation and offers solutions. Mediators often resolve problems for both sides while helping them write a new contract.

The experienced legal team at MacMain Leinhauser help businesses resolve contract and labor disputes. Call us today at 484-318-7106 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Our offices are located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and we serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and New Jersey.