News

LAWSUIT CHALLENGES NONPROFIT’S DENIAL OF BENEFITS TO EMPLOYEE’S SAME-SEX SPOUSE

Baltimore, Maryland (June 12, 2020): In a lawsuit filed today in Maryland federal court, a married gay employee challenges the Catholic Relief Service’s withdrawal of health insurance benefits for his husband. "John Doe," filing under a pseudonym because of fears of harassment, alleges that he came to work for CRS after the organization promised that its employee benefits covered all an employee’s dependents, including same-sex spouses. CRS later reneged on that promise and canceled his husband’s insurance coverage because he and his husband are both men.

Mr. Doe filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the federal Equal Pay Act, as well as under Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act and Equal Pay for Equal Work Act. In addition, Mr. Doe alleges breach of contract, misrepresentation, and retaliation claims.

In addition to facing discrimination in hiring and promotion, gay and bisexual men earn 11% to 16% less than similarly qualified heterosexual men. Allowing employers to discriminate in benefits exacerbates the wage gap even further. CRS explicitly does not require its employees to comply with the Catholic faith, and Mr. Doe’s job is not ministerial.

"Despite the legalization of gay marriage, discrimination against LGBT families continues," said Shannon Leary of Gilbert Employment Law, who represents Mr. Doe. "Employers have no right to define who your family is differently for straight people than for gay people. The sex of your spouse makes no difference to how well you do your work and is not your employer’s business."

Maryland’s Fair Employment Practices Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on both sex and sexual orientation. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether Title VII protects gay and lesbian employees from discrimination on the basis of sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has held that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, and federal appellate courts have split on the question. The Supreme Court has found religious organizations exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirements to provide health insurance coverage for contraception if contraception is contrary to their religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, Mr. Doe only seeks coverage of medical procedures that are already covered by CRS’s employee insurance.

According to Regina Kline, of Brown Goldstein & Levy, LLP, who also represents Mr. Doe, "CRS argues that Catholic principles forbid homosexual relationships. But Mr. Doe is not asking the church to marry him or to fund any health procedure it forbids. CRS’s religion does not prohibit taking the labor of openly LGBT people – it can’t be an excuse not to pay them fairly for that labor. The Church similarly opposes in vitro fertilization but could not refuse coverage to an employee’s dependent child who happened to be conceived through IVF."


Gel Client Prevails On Air21 Whistleblower Retaliation Claims

On September 26, 2019, the Department of Labor's Administrative Review Board ("ARB") affirmed the Administrative Law Judge's finding that a charter aircraft safety whistleblower, and GEL client, prevailed on his claims under the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century ("AIR 21"). The ARB decision upheld a July 7, 2017, 103 page decision, by Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Scott R. Morris, finding Superior Air Charter d/b/a Jetsuite Air ("Jetsuite") (partially owned by JetBlue), fired the charter aircraft whistleblower for informing the National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB") of unsafe flying practices, and faulty brake systems, which resulted in several runway overruns, including a 2011 Sedona, Arizona accident. JetSuite did not appeal the decision and it became final on November 25, 2019. There is also a pending suit for damages under California's state whistleblower law, where a federal court found that the state law claims are not pre-empted by federal law. The Administrative Law Judge's decision can be found here: https://www.oalj.dol.gov/DECISIONS/ALJ/AIR/2015/YATES_COLIN_W_v_JETSUITE_2015AIR00028_(JUL_07_2017)_134651_CADEC_SD.PDF. The ARB's decision can be found here: https://www.oalj.dol.gov/PUBLIC/ARB/DECISIONS/ARB_DECISIONS/AIR/17_061.AIRP_SLIP_OP.PDF


GEL Attorneys Speak at National Employment Law Conferences

GEL attorneys are speaking at multiple national conferences across the country this summer.

Senior Associate Attorney Michal Shinnar recently spoke at the National Employment Lawyers Association ("NELA") 2019 Conference in New Orleans, LA. The NELA Conference is the largest annual meeting of plaintiffs' employment attorneys and brings together professionals from around the country to discuss the most pressing issues facing employment attorneys.

Ms. Shinnar spoke during the "Anatomy of an Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") Accommodation Case" session, in which she and other panelists presented an in-depth look at recent case law developments in federal courts across the country, and shared insights and strategies for bringing a successful accommodation case.

Several GEL attorneys will speak at the upcoming EXCEL conference in Atlanta, GA, sponsored by the EEOC's Training Institute. EXCEL is the nation's premier training conference for EEO attorneys and practitioners.

Counsel Julie Gold Rook and Senior Associate Attorney Alexis Tsotakos will be discussing the challenges and complexities related to performance improvement plans. Senior Attorney Nicole Diaz will be providing practical expertise on preparing witnesses for depositions and hearings. Managing Partner Deryn Sumner will be presenting on recent EEOC case law related to sanctions. Finally, President and Principal Gary Gilbert will be discussing advanced issues related to damages that arise during the litigation and settlement negotiations.

Additionally, Managing Partner Deryn Sumner and President Gary Gilbert will also be presenting at the FDR Training in Philadelphia, PA. This training covers a wide variety of EEO-related topics, and brings together industry and agency leaders from around the country.

At FDR, Mr. Gilbert will be speaking in the Opening Plenary, as well as in a number of panels including "Helping Managers Stay out of EEO Trouble", "Advanced Issues in Reasonable Accommodations", and "Proving and Defending Compensatory Damages Claims". Ms. Sumner will also present at all of the aforementioned panels, as well as conduct two sessions of "Advanced EEO Case Law Review.


VA Whistleblower Testifies Before Congress

Gilbert Employment Law represents Dr. Minu Aghevli in her claims of whistleblower retaliation against the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA). On June 25, 2019, Dr. Aghevli, who is the Coordinator for the Opioid Agonist Treatment Program at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation about the whistleblower retaliation which the VA subjected her to she after she reported institutional efforts to artificially reduce waitlist numbers. Her testimony, and the retaliation she has faced since making disclosures, was the subject of a recent article in USA Today found here. Just days after the publication of the USA Today Article and one day before she was scheduled to testify before the House Committee, the VA proposed Dr. Aghevli's removal. Additional press coverage about Dr. Aghevli can be found here and her hearing testimony here.