Dear valued clients and supporters: This month's newsletter will focus on: (1) the EEOC’s declaration that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal; (2) the New York State Wage Board's unanimous vote to raise the minimum wage for restaurant workers in the fast food industry to $15 an hour; and (3) the Second Circuit's decision in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., providing valuable clarity on the question of whether interns are "employees" -- and therefore entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.
Sexual Orientation and the Workplace
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is at the heart of Federal anti-discrimination law. It prohibits employers with at least fifteen employees from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Sexual orientation discrimination is not expressly included on the list and several federal courts, both at the district court and appellate level, have previously held that the statute’s ban on sex discrimination did not encompass sexual orientation discrimination. But on July 15, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a ruling finding that sexual orientation discrimination is “associational discrimination on the basis of sex.” Thus, adverse actions taken by employer on account of an employees sexual orientation will now be considered illegal by the EEOC and LGBT employees will have an independent, stand-alone basis to lodge a discrimination complaint before the EEOC under Title VII. It is too early to know how courts will view this new development, and of course most employers are also governed by State and local laws that may already prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Minimum Wage and Fast Food Industry Workers
The New York State Wage Board recently recommended raising the minimum wage for restaurant workers in the fast food industry to $15 an hour. In the event the Wage Order is accepted by the Commissioner in its current recommended form, the mandate would apply to all workers in fast-food restaurants that are part of chains with at least 30 outlets. More specifically, the change will apply to workers who cook, clean, serve customers, make deliveries, or perform routine maintenance work as part of their day-to-day duties. The proposed Wage Order, if implemented as is, will apply to all fast food restaurants associated with a chain of 30 or more outlets, irrespective of how many restaurants the individual employer owns. The proposal, once officially published, will then be followed by a 15-day public comment period. Comments will be accepted online and by mail. Based on those comments, the Commissioner may accept, reject or modify the Board's recommendations and file a Wage Order. The Wage Order must be filed within 45 days once the report is filed. The Order is then subject to an additional regulatory process thereafter. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as the process progresses, but if you have specific questions about how this may affect you as an employee or an employer, please contact us.
Interns v. Employees
In Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., the action was brought by former production interns who worked on the Oscar-winning movie Black Swan, as well as a publicity intern at the company’s New York corporate office, all of whom were unpaid. The interns argued they should have been classified as employees and, thus, should have been compensated for their efforts. The law surrounding this issue has been unclear for several decades due to the guidance offered by the U.S. Department of Labor and conflicting interpretations by courts across the country, making it difficult for an employer to know how to comply. The Second Circuit, which covers New York, observed in Glatt that the question of an intern’s employment status is a highly individualized inquiry and not subject to a bright line rule. To assess whether interns are “trainees” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) (and therefore “exempt” from overtime and minimum wage rules) or “employees" (and therefore entitled to the laws’ protections), the court adopted what it calls the “primary beneficiary” approach. Under the "primary beneficiary" test, there are at least seven independent factors that should be analyzed under the new approach to determine whether the position is truly an internship or an employment situation. Employers are advised to fully understand their obligations under Glatt prior to hiring an intern.
A more in-depth article on this issue, including the seven factors under the primary beneficiary approach will be posted here on our website shortly and readers are encouraged to follow us on Twitter (@lloydpatelllp) and Facebook to receive updates on this and other issues throughout the month.