Author Archives: Seth L. Laver

Isolated Racial Slur Triggers Hostile Work Environment Claim

One strike, you’re out? The isolated use of a racial slur may be enough to establish a hostile work environment claim. While the Second Circuit did not squarely answer the question in the affirmative, in Daniel v. T & M Prot. Res., LLC, the court allowed the claim to proceed. To establish a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must show: that the workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation that was sufficiently severe to alter the conditions of the work environment and that a specific basis exists for imputing the conduct that created the hostile environment to the employer. So what does severe or pervasive mean in this context? Can an isolated incident rise to the level of pervasive?

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Hiring Decisions and the NFL Draft

You can learn a lot about reputational harm and hiring decisions from the NFL. A college football player potentially lost millions recently as his draft stock tumbled in the wake of a rape investigation weeks before the NFL Draft. Granted, the player was selected in the first round, but at a lower pick than originally projected. Reportedly, numerous teams called the player within 48-hours of the disclosure of the investigation to hear his version of events. Some teams reportedly administered a polygraph test to the player. But what's enough? What steps must an employer take to investigate potential employees? A related question: what's the potential reputational cost to the employer? These are critical employment decisions.

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Debt Collectors Earn Win on FDCPA Claim for Stale Debt

Debt collectors recently won an important victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that filing a stale claim in bankruptcy court does not run afoul of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “FDCPA”). Although the Opinion does not affect a debtor’s potential claim for sanctions under frivolous filing rules, it does remove at least one potential avenue for recovery.

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PA Supreme Court: Attorneys Still on the Hook

Attorneys are expected to act as zealous advocates for their clients. As such, attorneys often pursue claims on behalf of their clients even when the legal theory of recovery is unclear or the facts developed in discovery favor a defense verdict. In some cases, however, attorneys may pursue recovery even where they know that the claims are without merit or the theory of liability is contrary to an established rule of law. When an action is clearly frivolous, the defendants may be entitled to bring an action of their own against both the plaintiffs and counsel for wrongful use of judicial proceedings.

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Reasonable Accommodation Tested by Principal

Is it reasonable for an Assistant Principal to return to her job if she has medical restrictions that prohibit her from interacting with potentially unruly students? The 7th Circuit examined this situation in Brown v. Milwaukee Bd. of Sch. Directors, which addresses “reasonable accommodations” under the ADA. Of course, the ADA requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” that will allow a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of her job. So what is a reasonable accommodation? It depends on the company, the essential functions of the job, and the medical restrictions of the applicant or employee.

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When There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: Allegations of Harassment Can Point to Liability

The recent departures of high-profile executives and the flurry of harassment lawsuits provide plenty of teaching moments for employers. Notably, these very public exits and lawsuits are a prime example of why employers must act decisively when complaints of harassment arise in the workplace. Unfortunately, this situation is all too familiar for some employers. Some employers may be tempted to overlook the conduct of top performers even though it may open the door to liability. However, it is critical that allegations of harassment be taken seriously and that prompt investigations are conducted by employers. Sometimes it's necessary to bring in third-parties to conduct a thorough investigation particularly if higher level executives are involved or if there is a pattern of troubling allegations.

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Arbitration Clauses Put to the Test in LTC Suits

Arbitration agreements are relatively common in nursing home agreements but often are not enforced by courts. One basis courts rely upon in refusing to enforce arbitration agreements are state court rules that require certain claims to proceed to trial. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear the appeal of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision requiring a survival claim to proceed to arbitration, despite a local rule that requires trial for such claims. The decision provides some clarity on how courts will assess clashes between the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and contrary state laws at a time when clarity is needed on this topic in light of the recent decision by CMS (Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services) to postpone its ban on arbitration agreements in nursing homes.

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Don’t Be a Halfway Law Partner

It is not uncommon for attorneys to join forces to defray costs. This often means sharing office space, support staff, and equipment. Some attorneys take this a step further, advertising themselves as a partnership even if their practices remain separate. Such arrangements should be made with caution, however, as they may lead to vicarious liability among the so-called partners.

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What’s a “Communication” under the FDCPA?

The five-day rule under the FDCPA, which requires a debt collector to provide the precise amount owed within five days of its initial communication with a borrower, often operates as a trap to debt collection firms. The lack of a statutory definition for “initial communication” means that courts are free to interpret what will qualify, leaving debt collection firms to make their own determinations as to what will sufficiently protect them from later lawsuits based on this section of the statute. Although pleadings are still a widely acknowledged exception, many states do not include pre-foreclosure notices.

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Employer Guidance on Mental Health Disorders

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one in five US adults experiences mental illness in a given year. In a recent article authored by PL Matters contributor Dove A.E. Burns, the “prevalence of these disorders has a significant impact upon the workplace and upon employers and their accommodation policies and procedures.” The New York Law Journal article evaluates the EEOC’s publication titled “Depression, PTSD & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights.” The article also considers what the EEOC's guidance means for employers navigating the ADA landscape.

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