Is It Time to Update Your Electronic Communications Policy? If you're the Mayor of Detroit, the answer is "Yes"

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn May 16, 2008In: Electronic Monitoring, Employee Handbooks, Newsworthy

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Delaware businesses must have a written electronic-monitoring policy if they want to monitor phone, e-mail, or computer usage by employees. Delaware law requires employers to get either a signed consent from employees or to have a message conveying the policy that is shown to the employee each time he logs on to the computer. And even in states without such laws, unless you have a written policy that communicated to employees, you stand to risk a privacy claim. The key is to ensure that your employees do not have a "legitimate expectation of privacy" in their use of your electronic systems.

And that's where your policy comes in. Current is the key. The modern trend in electronic-communications policies has been to include provisions specific to blogging, cell-phones, and text messaging. We often counsel clients to improve their policies to reflect the state of technology. It seems that we have a lot in common with the Mayor of Detroit, Maybe Kwame Kilkpatrick.

Mayor Kilpatrick has implemented a new policy that text messages sent on city-owned devices are considered private. As you may recall, Kilpatrick and his ex-top aide face perjury charges for testimony they gave during a whistleblowers' trial that they didn't have a romantic relationship. Sexually explicit text messages have contradicted that testimony. Kilpatrick's lawyers say federal law protects the release of such communications. The policy began Thursday, April 16, 2008.

Past policy had been that electronic communications were public. The mayor's office said in a statement Thursday that city policies are always subject to change. Hmmm. I suppose that employers might want to ensure privacy in electronic communications is preserved instead of eliminated Especially if they have something to keep very private.

Go to source web page: Crain's Detroit Business

3d Circuit Denies Attorney-Parents Request for Fees in IDEA Case

Posted by Michael P. StaffordOn May 15, 2008In: Cases of Note, Public Sector

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The Third Circuit has ruled that attorney-parents cannot recover fees for legal services performed on behalf of their children in administrative hearings or judicial proceedings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") .  Although the IDEA contains a fee-shifting provision for parents who are "prevailing parties," it does not apply to fees for parents representing their children in legal proceedings.  Previously, in Woodside v. School Dist. of Philadelphia Bd. of Educ., 248 F.3d 129 (3d Cir. 2001), the Third Circuit had held that parents serving as an attorney cannot recover fees for administrative proceedings under the IDEA.  The Pardini decision clarifies that the bar to fee recovery is equally applicable in judicial proceedings.

How to Tap Into the Millennial Market - Part 1

Posted by Maribeth L. MinellaOn May 15, 2008In: Generations: Boomers, Xers, and Millennials

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Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Millennials

The HR world has been abuzz with discussion about the generational dynamic between the aging baby boomers and the Web 2.0 world of Millennials. This five-part series is designed to give the rest of us some perspective.

A "Millennial," demographically speaking, is a person born after 1980. They are the youngest members of today's workforce. Experts estimate that by 2010, Millennials will outnumber both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials (a/k/a "Gen Y") are our society's "digital residents," which means that they have enjoyed the luxuries of digital technology their entire lives, including the massive world of video games. Their digital residence has given their generation characteristics employers never seen before.

Some sociologists believe that as a result of their residence in the digital world (think instant messaging, Facebook, and MySpace), Millennials are significantly peer-oriented and constantly seek instant gratification. The bottom line: Millennials don't necessarily buy into the idea that in order to succeed at work, you need to get in early, stay late, and consistently work hard.

These characteristics can make it difficult for employers to adapt how and who they recruit, and how they manage and retain their new human resource. In short, Millennials are changing the way employers do the business of, well, employment. The next three installments provide tips on how your organization can tap into Millennial talent.

For more insight on Millennials and how they fit into your organization, consider the text "Millennials Incorporated" by Lisa Orrell. Ms. Orrell hosts the blog "Lisa's Generation Relations Blog." And, on May 20, 2008, will host Dr. Diane Gayeski, contributor to the Wall Street Journal and consultant to some of America's top employers, in an audio conference titled "Are you ready for the Millennials? What HR Needs to Know to Recruit and Manage the IPod Workers."

The focus of the next post in this series is Recruiting Strategies for the Next Generation.

DelaWELL, Delaware's Health-Management Program for Public Sector Employees, Wins National NASPE Award

Posted by William W. BowserOn May 14, 2008In: Delaware Specific, Wellness, Health, and Safety

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Congratulations to the State of Delaware for winning the 2008 National Association of State Personnel Executives (NASPE) Eugene H. Rooney Jr. Award for its DelaWELL program.

DelaWELL is the State government's comprehensive health-management program for all full-time state, school district, charter school, and higher-education employees and pre-65 retirees. Spouses and dependents over the age of 18 who are covered under the state group health plan are eligible also.

DelaWELL encourages participants to live a healthy lifestyle as a way of controlling health-care costs. The program offerings are quite impressive:

  • Confidential, online or paper-based Health Risk Assessment
  • Onsite Biometric Health Screenings to include blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose testing with review of personal results with a Health Coach
  • Weight Watchers® offerings to assist employees in their weight management efforts
  • Cardio Health Assessments available to employees only, first-come basis, 600 slots available
  • Personalized Lifestyle & Disease Management Coaching Programs- delivery options include phone based, mail and online programs.
  • Online Health Resources (Health and Safety Education Centers, Self-Care Resources, Wellness Library, Drug Database, Health Quizzes and Calculators, Recipes, Daily Health News, Quarterly Newsletter and Much More)
  • Onsite Health Seminars, Events & Activities
  • Health Education Campaigns/Communications/Incentives
  • Unlimited Access to a HelpLine

Delaware will receive the award during the awards banquet on Tuesday evening, July 15, during NASPE's 2008 annual meeting. in Oklahoma City.

Information on the DelaWELL is available here.

[H/T to the Capital Comment Blog]

For previous posts on Wellness at Work, use this link.

Overtime Lawyer Champion for the Middle-Class Worker?

Posted by Scott A. HoltOn May 14, 2008In: Cases of Note, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Wages and Benefits

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Overtime lawsuits are the hottest employment lawsuit trend.  Nevada lawyer Mark R. Thierman is a demigod in this corner of the legal world.  Thierman has won hundreds of millions of dollars from companies in unpaid wages.   Beginning in the mid-1990's, Thierman filed the first in a series of lawsuits against California employer after having spent most of his career as a management-side employment attorney. 

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires the payment of overtime and minimum wage for most workers. About 115 million employees—86% of the workforce—are covered by federal overtime rules, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Plenty of wage and hour lawsuits are filed on behalf of the traditional working class, be they truckers, construction laborers, poultry processors, or restaurant workers. In fact, some would say that wage and hour suits have generated a cottage industry for plaintiffs' lawyers.  But no one has been more successful than Thierman in collecting overtime for employees who are far from the factory floor or fast-food kitchen.

His biggest settlements over the last two years have been on behalf of stockbrokers, many of whom earn well into the six figures. Thierman has teamed up with other lawyers to extract settlements totaling about a half-billion dollars from brokerage firms, including $98 million from Citigroup's Smith Barney and $87 million from UBS Financial Services Inc. (As is typical in settlements, the companies do not admit liability.) With those cases drawing to a close, he and other attorneys already are pursuing new claims on behalf of computer workers, pharmaceutical sales reps, and accounting firm staff. has a great article titled, "Wage Wars," detailing Thierman's Robin-Hood style ventures and the wave of overtime litigation sweeping major corporations across the country.  Since 2000, overtime litigation has exploded nationwide. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce decried the "FLSA litigation explosion" and its having become the "claim du jour" for plaintiffs' attorneys.

Thierman shrugs at such concerns. The alternative, in his view, would be to have the laws enforced by a government bureaucracy.  Thierman professes to be helping the little guy: "I'm interested in the middle class—those are my folks."


[H/T to George's Employment Blawg and the Ohio Employment Law Blog]

Four Justices Recuse Themselves: Justice denied is justice denied

Posted by Sheldon N. SandlerOn May 14, 2008In: Delaware Specific, U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

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Yesterday four members of the Supreme Court had to recuse themselves from a case, and as a result, no decision could be made. Apparently the Justices have not heard of the “rule of necessity.” That rule of thumb says, in essence, that if a court is unable to decide a case because the justices have conflicts, it is more equitable to have a judge with a conflict rule on the case, rather than leaving it undecided. A Supreme Court Justice should be able to render an objective decision even though he or she has some stock in one of the litigants. While not the optimum situation, that is far preferable to saying to the adversaries that the lower court decision is unreviewable.

Restaurant Chain Dishes Out $1 Million in Settlement of EEOC Claims of Gender Discrimination

Posted by Teresa A. CheekOn May 13, 2008In: EEOC Suits & Settlements, Gender (Title VII)

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Restaurants and hospitality organizations, beware--news of another seven-figure EEOC settlement with casual-dining franchise, Razoo's Cajun Cafe restaurants.

Male Bartenders Given Preference by

The EEOC announced on May 7, 2008 that it had settled a class-wide discrimination case filed against Razzoo's, a chain of Cajun restaurants, with 11 locations in the Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston areas.

According to the EEOC, Razzoo's had a policy favoring women for bartender positions. The EEOC alleged that the restaurant sent managers a plan calling for an 80-20 ratio of women versus men bartenders. The Commission also cited an informal policy that did not allow male bartenders were to work "girls-only" events.

Razzoo's agreed to split $775,000 among a class of affected male servers, bartenders and applicants, and to spend the other $225,000 either to hire a human resources consultant or to set up an in-house human resources department.

Good idea.

Bad Employees Risk Being Blacklisted in Britain

Posted by Teresa A. CheekOn May 13, 2008In: Background Checks, Hiring

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Delaware employers are immune from being sued for providing (honest) information to a reference request. The State law gives employers extra incentive to actually respond to such checks with more than name, rank, and serial number. And that's a good thing.

Reference checks are an essential hiring tool for most employers. Hiring managers often complain about the lack of disclosure they receive in response to their reference requests. And it's estimated that up to one-third of all resumes contain inaccurate information. One British organization has found their own solution to often-restricted access to information about job applicants.

Blacklisted Employees.

In Britain, an employer association has taken some creative steps to address what most be some serious headaches in the reference-check system. The organization is creating a National Staff Dismissal Register that will consist of an encrypted list of high-risk employees, identifying employees who were discharged for dishonesty or for damaging their employer's property, for example.

Member companies will be able to search the list by name, address, birth date, previous employer and national insurance number. The list is expected to be usable by the end of the month.

Employee and human rights organization advocates worry that employees may find themselves unable to obtain work because, unbeknownst to them, they are on the list because of false accusations or errors, with no way to be certain and no appeal. Employers, on the other hand, look forward to the possibility of reducing losses due to employee theft and negligence.

If they were in Delaware, of course, they might find that such extremes are unnecessary. The full text of the Delaware statute (19 Del. C. Sec. 709) is available on the State of Delaware's website.

[H/T: Workplace Prof Blog]

More at BBC News

Termination Because of Interracial Marriage Found to Constitute Race Discrimination

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn May 13, 2008In: Delaware Specific, Purely Legal, Race (Title VII)

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Racial discrimination comes in many forms and, following a recent opinion from the Second Circuit, discrimination due to an employee's interracial relationship is one of them.


Employment discrimination laws prohibit employers from making decisions based on race, gender, religion, disability, and certain other characteristics.  Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, these laws have addressed discrimination based on the characteristic of the employee.  But lately there has been an increase in cases of "associational discrimination." 

Associational Discrimination 101

In this new genre of discrimination law, the focus is not on the characteristic of the employee, but on a person or persons with whom the employee associates.  In other words, let's say that your parents were Jewish and all of their friends were Jewish but you had converted to were Christianity in college. 

And let's say that your employer fired you--not because he thought you were Jewish, but because of your association with your Jewish friends and family.  That is an example of associational discrimination.  The discrimination stemmed not from your religion but from the religion of the people with whom you associate. 

A recent case from the Second Circuit--the first of its kind--held that associational violation occurs when an employee is fired for his interracial marriage.

Holcomb v. Iona College (2nd Cir.)

Facts of the Case

The case is Holcomb v. Iona College, decided on April 1.  Holcomb was a basketball coach at Iona College in New York. He claimed that a college official, Brennan, tried to prevent Holcom's wife, who was Black, from attending public alumni functions , and that Brennan had made racially derogatory comments about some of the Black players. 

Another college official, Petriccone, also made offensive racial comments about Black players in the basketball program.  As the Second Circuit put it, "Colleagues at Iona testified to Petriccione’s record of what might, charitably, be called racial insensitivity. Egregiously in this respect, Petriccione is said to have referred to a Nigerian employee at the Alumni Giving Office as a 'jungle bunny' and an 'African princess.'  When that member of staff applied to his office for the position of Assistant Director of Annual Giving, he remarked:  '[W]hat does she think she is coming from a hut in Africa and thinking she could apply for this job?'”

In addition, when Petriccione found out that Holcomb was marrying an African-American woman, he allegedly made a comment so offensive comments that it won't be posted here. 

Iona College eventually fired Holcomb, explaining that his termination had to do with his poor job performance. After the district court granted summary judgment to the college,the Second Circuit remanded on appeal.

The Court's Decision

The court's discussion set forth the associational-discrimination analysis. Here is the play-by-play:

  1. Protected Class. The Court held that Holcomb was a member of a "protected class" under Title VII.  Although Holcomb was not Black, his wife was, and there was evidence that his interracial marriage was the reason for his termination. 
  2. Interracial Association.  The Court reasoned that, "where an employee is subjected to an adverse action because an employer disapproves of interracial association, the employee suffers discrimination because of the employee’s own race." All the district judges in this circuit to consider the question, including the district court in this case, have reached that conclusion."
  3.  Pretext Evidence.  As noted above, there was plenty of evidence from which the Court could conclude that the reasons given for Holcomb's termination were a mere pretext for race-based discrimination.  Another piece of evidence to support Holcomb's claim was that O'Driscoll, the white staff member who replaced Holcomb, was the only white member of the staff without a Black girlfriend or wife. 


This decision from the Second Circuit does not necessarily address a novel issue of law.  Associational discrimination had previously been addressed by district courts within the Circuit.  But the clarity of the Court's opinion in Holcomb very clearly sets the groundwork for similar future claims.

"Are You My Lawyer or the Janitor?" The lawyer's dress-code pendulum swings back.

Posted by Sheldon N. SandlerOn May 12, 2008In: Delaware Specific, Dress & Attire

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Some recent reports about law firms trying to persuade associates to dress better, and even hiring coaches for them, are a reminder that the pendulum seems to have swung back from the days when even old timers were "dressing down" to try and "connect" with the wealthy young techie entrepreneurs.

I, for one, am pleased to see a move toward more moderate dress.

Dress Code in Moderation

There has been silliness on both sides of the continuum. Some years ago, the Delaware Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, issued an edict that lawyers appearing before it had to wear white shirts. So much for sartorial creativity.

But if I were seeing a lawyer, I'd feel more confident if he or she were wearing a white shirt than jeans or running pants. While I don't think we need to force associates to pore over "Dress For Success," I think that dressing up a bit is a step in the right direction, both for the lawyer's self-image and the clients' confidence in the attorney. Maybe ties can be optional, especially in the summer, but there's nothing like a suit or at least a sport jacket to establish a tone of authority (deserved or not).

Don't Get Schooled: Summer's the time for a refresher on Delaware child labor laws

Posted by William W. BowserOn May 12, 2008In:

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Teen job applicants are coming to a workplace near you. As the school year winds down, here is a refresher on the legal limits Delaware employers should understand when hiring youths. Delaware employers must abide by both state and federal child labor laws. In addition, unlike most civil rights statutes, almost all employers, regardless of size, must comply with these laws - even family businesses, with some limited exceptions.

Dunce's Cap

Limitations on scope of work performed

Federal and state laws and regulations operate together to impose a complex set of limitations on employing minors (children under 18 years of age). There are prohibitions on the type of work minors may perform as well as the number of permissible hours they may work. Permissible work for employees between the ages of 14 and 18 encompasses work in retail, food service, and gasoline stations (as long as they don't have a significant repair facility).

Hours of work

Minors under the age of 16 cannot work more than 4hours per day when school is in session, 8 hours per day when school is not in session, 18 hours per week when school is in session for a full week, or six days per week.

In addition, they cannot work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m., with the exception that they may work until 9 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day. Minors under the age of 18 must have at least 8 consecutive hours of nonwork time per day and cannot spend more than 12 hours in a combination of school and work hours per day.

No minor may work more than 5 hours continuously without a half-hour break.

Employment certificate

Every employee under the age of 18 must have an employment certificate. The certificates are issued by the Delaware Department of Labor (DDOL) and the superintendent or authorized designee of each school district. You must keep such certificates on file and make them accessible to the DDOL on request. The DDOL offers a sample certificate

Workers' compensation may not protect you

It's also worth noting that illegally employed minors who are injured on the job are not necessarily limited to their workers' compensation remedies. A minor or his or her estate may elect to sue under a theory of negligence and/or wrongful death in the event of a serious or fatal injury rather than pursue workers' compensation remedies. Accordingly, the risk of employing a minor illegally lies not only in incurring civil penalties and damage to reputation, but also in significant increases for potential personal injury liability.

Don't Get Schooled

Many employers find out about child labor laws the hard way: They get sued for thousands of dollars in civil fines. Don't be one of them. Conduct your own child labor audit and contact the DDOL or your legal counsel if you have any questions about compliance.

Hiring Teens for Summer Jobs: Safety & Compliance Tips from the DOL

Posted by Teresa A. CheekOn May 12, 2008In: Harassment, Sexual

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Summer means an influx of teen workers for many employers. Teen employees bring with them a unique set of legal issues of which businesses should be aware. Here are some ways to get ready for this year's youth initiative.

Teens in the Workplace

Department of Labor

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has published a web page that's loaded with information and suggestions to help employers keep their teen-aged workers safe and to keep themselves in compliance with child labor laws this summer. Not all employers are aware of state and federal restrictions on the activities in which teens are permitted to engage at work. Alert employers will want to review this page, click on the links, and plan the steps they will take to decrease the risk that their teen employees will be injured at work.

The Delaware Department of Labor (DDOL) also has information about state child labor laws available in booklet form. A brief summary is available on the DDOL's website.

Sexual Harassment Awareness

Employers should also take steps to address the special vulnerability of teen workers to sexual harassment. As an item on this blog noted a few weeks ago, an ABA Journal story reported that the number of teen-aged workers filing sexual harassment charges is on the rise. Teen workers are often part-time or seasonal, and may be in the workplace for the first time. They tend to fall between the cracks when it comes to training. Many restaurants, movie theaters and retail stores have teen-age supervisors and managers as well as workers. Teens tend not to realize that the standard of conduct at work is different from what's permissible in a social setting.

Bottom Line

To minimize their risks, employers who hire teen-agers must make a strong effort to educate them (and their supervisors) about harassment, retaliation and workplace safety in a meaningful and understandable way.

How Easy Is It to Ask Off-Limit Interview Questions? As Easy as Buying a Stuffed Toy Schnauzer

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn May 12, 2008In: Interviewing, Pregnancy (Title VII)

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Interviews are the usual starting line for pregnancy-discrimination suits and, more recently, FRD claims. I often get questions from clients or seminar attendees about the perils of interview questions.  A common theme is why is it that they shouldn't ask candidates about their family, i.e., spouse, kids, etc. 



It seems natural. "Oh, I see you volunteer at the North East community center.  My kids take swimming lessons there.  Do your kids take any classes there?" Heck, I can give you a real-life example that happened to me last week. 

I was at the local greeting-card store.  As I was checking out, the [female] employee looks up and says enthusiastically, "Do you have any little ones at home?" 

I nearly choked on my Lifesaver.  I kid you not.  (No pun intended, really).  I stood there, mouth open, speechless. 

She turned around and grabbed a toy Schnauzer from a counter lined with little stuffed animals.  "You get one of these for free for a purchase of $20 or more."  I lifted my chin off the ground and nodded while she stuffed the toy toy (ok, pun intended) into my shopping bag. 

The employee was probably all of 23 years old.  She had no intention of forming opinions of me based on my answer to to her question.  She was just trying to give me the free toy.  But the question caught me off my guard. 

I can almost guarantee that if you went back to the store and asked her about it, she would have positively no idea who I was--one of many customers she'd seen that night.  She certainly would not recall what she'd said to me. 

It's that easy.  Despite best intentions, it is so easy for an interviewer to ask a question that leads to a lawsuit.

5 Steps Away From a Failure-to-Hire Lawsuit

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn May 11, 2008In: Interviewing

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Pregnancy Discrimination, Maternal Profiling, Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD), and Mother's Day.  A natural combination.  You can add one more to that list.  Off-limit interview questions. 


When I teach seminars about best hiring practices, I usually get at least a few dirty looks when I talk about interview questions that should be avoided.  Employers and HR professionals often comment that interviews should be conversational to put the candidate at ease so the interviewer can get to know the "real" candidate.  Not a good idea.

Here's why:

  1. Every candidate that you interview except one is going to be rejected.  Remember that.  Every candidate except one goes home a loser. 
  2. No one thinks they're a loser.  No candidate who made it as far as the interview thinks that they shouldn't get the job. Of course they should get the job! 
  3. When rejected, blame-shifting is inevitable.  Do the logic.  If they were sure they were hiring-material but they don't get hired, what can be the explanation?  Someone else made a mistake. (Namely, you, The Employer).
  4. The interview becomes the target.  Well, what else is there?  The candidate had only one face-to-face interaction with The Employer--the interview.  Every word, every gesture, every question is analyzed to try to find what went wrong. 
  5. Lawsuit. 

Sure, nobody likes a story with a sad ending.  But "it's for your own good," ok? 

Interviewers (often untrained in employment discrimination) are just trying to make the candidate feel natural and at ease.  They want to know whether the interviewee will be a good fit, whether they have the technical skills needed, whether they understand the job's requirements, etc.  They aren't angling for prohibited information. 

But when a candidate doesn't get hired, every question becomes suspect and the potential starter for a discrimination lawsuit. 

For those of you who want to know how to solve this problem, the best way to find out is to attend one of our seminars, especially those on lawful interviewing.  For now, I'll say this: Every interviewer at every interview for every candidate should (no, must) use a script of pre-prepared questions.  And that script should be the same one used by every other interviewer for every other interview (at least for the same position). 

Autonomy in interviewing is a bad idea.

Mom Always Said You Were Bright, So Prove It: What’s your Pregnancy Discrimination I.Q.?

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn May 10, 2008In: Pregnancy (Title VII)

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Take the Pregnancy Discrimination Quiz at HR Hero and find out.

The website says this about the quiz:

Pregnant employees and those returning from maternity leave have rights regarding their employment. Check your knowledge of these rights by deciding how you would handle certain scenarios and then choosing the best answer.

The quiz was written by our own Adria Martinelli, who co-edits the Delaware Employment Law Letter with William W. Bowser and Scott A. Holt


Last month, Adria presented an audio conference on pregnancy discrimination, Pregnancy in the Workplace: Managing FMLA, ADA, and PDA Issues.  Adria also co-presented with Bill Bowser another terrific audio conference on pregnancy discrimination, Managing Pregnant Employees.  For more information about the conferences, see