Maryland’s Montgomery County Joins Jurisdictions Increasing Minimum Wage to $15.00

Montgomery County, Maryland, where the minimum wage already is $11.50, is set to join two states (California and New York), the neighboring District of Columbia and at least six local jurisdictions (Flagstaff (Arizona), Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Jose, SeaTac and Seattle) that have enacted legislation increasing the minimum wage for some or all private sector employees to $15 over the next several years.

On November 7, 2017 the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed Bill 28-17, which increases the minimum wage for “large employers” — those with 51 or more employees in the county — to $15.00 by July 1, 2021, with intermediate increases to $12.25 on July 1, 2018, $13.00 on July 1, 2019, and $14.00 on July 1, 2020.

The bill also increases the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2023 for “mid-sized employers,” those who (1) employ 11 to 50 employees; (2) have tax exempt status under IRC Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; or (3) provide “home health services” or “home or community based services,” as defined under federal Medicaid regulations and receive at least 75% of gross revenues through state and federal medical programs.

The bill additionally increases the minimum wage to $15.00 by July 1, 2024 for “small employers” — those with 10 or fewer employee (including non-profits and Medicaid funded home health and home or community based service providers of that size) — with intermediate increases to $12.00 on July 1, 2018, $12.50 on July 1, 2019, $13.00 on July 1, 2020, $13.50 on July 1, 2020, $14.00 on July 1, 2022 and $14.50 on July 1, 2023.

Notably, the rates of increases  is considerably slower than in the neighboring District of Columbia, which is already at $12.50 and will reach $15.00 on July 1, 2020 for all private sector employers.

In addition, the bill includes an “opportunity wage” that allows payment of a wage equal to 85% of the County minimum wage to an employee under the age of 20 for the first six months of employment.

The bill further adopts provisions to automatically adjust the minimum wage rate (1) for large employers annually starting July 1, 2022 to reflect average increases in the CPI-W for Washington-Baltimore for the previous year, and (2) for mid-sized and small employers starting July 1, 2024 and 2025, respectively, to reflect the same CPI-W increase for the previous year, plus one percent of the previous year’s required minimum wage, up to a total increase of $0.50, until the rate is equal to the amount for large employers. An employer’s size is calculated as of the time it first becomes subject to the law, and it remains subject to the applicable schedule regardless of the number of employees employed in subsequent years.

In addition, the Director of Finance must make certifications by January 31 of each year from 2018 through 2022 regarding certain reductions in county private employment, negative growth in the gross domestic product, or whether the U.S. economy is in recession. If certain targets are for that year, for no more than two times.

The bill specifically addresses concerns the County Executive expressed in vetoing a prior version of the bill that passed by a narrow majority in January 2017, by postponing the prior effective dates for large and small employers by one and two years, respectively; increasing from 26 to 51 the number of employees required to be a larger employer; creating a new mid-size employer category of 11 to 50 employees and defining a small employer as one with ten or fewer employees; and adding non-profits and Medicaid funded home health and home health services providers with more than ten employees to the extended schedule for mid-size employers. The County Executive has stated that he will sign the bill.

Notably, it is likely that an effort will be made in the upcoming state legislative session to further increase the state minimum wage, already at $9.25 and set to go to $10.10 on July 1, 2018.

This post was written by Brian W. Steinbach of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.,©2017

For more Labor & Employment legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

US Attorney General Jefferson Sessions Issues New Guidance On Transgender Employees

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions issued new guidance reversing the federal government’s former position that gender identity is protected under Title VII.

In a memo sent to the heads of all federal agencies and the U.S. attorneys, the attorney general stated that as a matter of law, “Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se.” The memorandum further stated the DOJ will take the position in all pending and future matters that Title VII does not protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or transgender status.

Sessions’ memo explains Title VII expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex but makes no reference to gender, and that courts have interpreted “sex” to mean biologically male or female. Sessions concluded employers may differentiate on the basis of sex in employment practices, so long as the practices do not expose members of one sex to disadvantageous terms or conditions of employment to which the other sex is not exposed. The memo highlighted sex-specific bathrooms as such an example. Sessions explained while Title VII prohibits “sex-stereotypes,” insofar as that sort of sex-based consideration causes disparate treatment between men and women, Title VII is not properly construed to proscribe employment practices that take into account the sex of employees, but do not impose different burdens on similarly situated members of each sex.

This guidance reverses and withdraws previous guidance by Attorney General Eric Holder in a December 15, 2014 memorandum in which Holder stated Title VII prohibits employers from using “sex-based considerations,” such as gender identity, in employment decisions. Sessions’ memo also runs contrary to the current position of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which treats discrimination against an employee on the basis of gender identity, including transgender status and sexual orientation, as violations of Title VII.

Currently, there is a split of authority in the courts on whether sex discrimination under Title VII includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex stereotyping, and thus prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely have to resolve the issue in the future, but may issue some relevant guidance this term in the Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. case (involving issues of a school district’s obligations to a transgender student).

While it is now the position of the Department of Justice that Title VII protections do not extend to transgender individuals, employers should still be careful to avoid discrimination on the basis of gender identity, as the law is still unsettled. As Attorney General Sessions’ memorandum notes, there are still federal statutes that prohibit discrimination against transgender persons, and states and localities may have additional protections. Moreover, the EEOC could still bring suit against employers who engage in transgender discrimination.

This post was written by Allison L. Goico & Hayley Geiler of Dinsmore & Shohl LLP. All rights reserved., © 2017
For more Labor & Employment legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Is Bullying Harassment?

California is oft thought of as a trailblazer in the arena of sexual harassment law. Because California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act mirrors Title VII, practitioners and employers in other states often look to California cases and laws regarding sexual harassment for guidance.

One area that has created a stir nationwide is California’s latest addition to its statute regarding mandatory sexual harassment training for supervisors. The state now mandates training on the subject of “abusive conduct,” otherwise known as bullying, in addition to training on sexual harassment avoidance. While “abusive conduct” is not illegal in and of itself, this addition to the law’s training requirements has created speculation as to whether legislation may be coming down the pike deeming bullying illegal.

Add to this discussion a new California appellate court decision, Levi v. The Regents of the University of California. In that case, the plaintiff was a neuro-ophthalmologist who claimed that the department chair sexually harassed  her by standing above her and banging his fists on his desk while threatening to fire her and by yelling at her on various occasions.  She also presented evidence of the department chair engaging in similar hostile and intimidating conduct against various co-workers.  The court, however,  refused to accept the plaintiff’s invitation to characterize “bullying” as harassment, and held that because there was no evidence that this conduct was because of the plaintiff’s gender, there was no harassment under the law.

Of course, bullying in the workplace is something that employers should seek to eliminate and prevent for a variety of reasons, such as fostering an inclusive work environment, keeping morale levels high, and ensuring that everyone works to their potential. However, the Levi case makes it clear that the kind of conduct we think of as bullying is not currently illegal harassment in most jurisdictions. Nevertheless, California’s recent sexual harassment regulations make it clear that companies must provide training regarding abusive conduct and avoiding bullying behavior.  The question remains – what does the future hold, and will the California legislature decide to codify its anti-bullying stance?

This post was written by Krista M. Cabrera of Foley & Lardner LLP © 2017
For more Labor & Employment legal analysis go to The National Law Review

U.S. State Department Contractor to Resolve Allegations of Improper Vetting with $5 Million Settlement

On September 14, 2017, Pacific Architects & Engineers Incorporated (PAE) settled a whistleblower lawsuit alleging the company did not follow proper vetting procedures for its personnel that performed and billed work to the U.S. State Department. The $5 million settlement resolves allegations without any determination of liability of contract violations.

PAE is a company originally incorporated in California in 1955. The company first served the rebuilding of Japan after WWII and has since grown to participate in projects and government contracts globally. In 2007, already a contractor with the U.S. State Department, PAE was assigned the task of training U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and conducting extensive background checks and documentation for those in high-risk positions. Reporting the names, nationalities and background information on contract employees in these positions was a requirement of the contract for work between PAE and the U.S. government.

After its investigation, the U.S. Justice Department alleged that “PAE was aware of these contractual requirements but did not comply with them for extended periods.”

Robert Palombo, the former PAE manager, filed this whistleblower lawsuit against his employer alleging that this was the case and that PAE continued billing for work done under the contract.

PAE, however, contends that “The invoices specifically identified the names of employees for whom the lawsuit alleges that requisite notice was not made. The employees whose background investigations were allegedly inadequate were not involved in any security incidents or injuries. The services called for under the contract were provided in full.”

Without admitting fault or liability, PAE has decided to settle these allegations of improper vetting by paying the U.S. government $5 million, $875,000 of which whistleblower Robert Palumbo is entitled to receive.

This post was written by Tycko & Zavareei Whistleblower Practice Group of Tycko & Zavareei LLP © 2017

For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review