Late last year, to protect hospitality workers from sexual harassment and assault, the Chicago City Council passed what is known as the “Hands Off Pants On” ordinance.  This legislation requires all Chicago hotels to:

  1. provide a “panic button” for employees working alone;
  2. adopt an effective anti-sexual harassment policy; and
  3. face real “teeth” such as fines

Recent laws in North Carolina and Mississippi and the subsequent backlash are all over the news.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ogberfell v. Hodges making gay marriage legal across the country is not even a year old.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals very recently rule in favor of the right of transgender high school students to use bathrooms for the gender with which they associate.  LGBTQ rights are at the forefront like never before.  Employment discrimination is no exception.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has recently filed two separate suits in Pennsylvania and Maryland district courts challenging the long-held belief that Title VII does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
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On April 1, 2016, new regulations from California’s Fair Employment and Housing Council will go in effect. These new regulations state that “[e]mployers have an affirmative duty to create a workplace environment that is free from employment practices prohibited by the Act,” and require changes in employment policies. As a result, employers should carefully review their existing policies to ensure compliance with these new standards and act quickly to make any needed changes before April 1.
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Can you terminate an employee for participating in an internal investigation at your company that is not connected with a formal EEOC proceeding?

Recently, in Townsend v. Benjamin Enterprises, Inc., the Second Circuit joined five other federal appellate courts in answering this question with a “yes.”  The Court held that participation in an internal employer investigation not connected with a formal EEOC proceeding is not protected activity under the participation clause contained in Title VII.  So, an employee participating in an internal investigation is not protected from being terminated in retaliation for such participation.  However, even if such a termination is not unlawful, it is still not a wise or productive decision for any company.
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