The hospitality industry often provides interesting fact patterns in employment discrimination lawsuits.  And unfortunately, those interesting fact patterns tend to surface with some regularity. The following are summaries of recent employment lawsuits against hospitality employers. Such cases can be instructive to hospitality employers as they strive to minimize the risk of being subjected to similar claims. (For the complete article containing extended summaries and more cases, plus suggestions for employers to implement to avoid future liability, click here.)

The Way You Look Tonight – Employee in Midst of Sex Change Properly Terminated

In Creed v. Family Express Corp., 2009 WL 35237 (N.D. Ind. 2009), a preoperative male-to-female transsexual alleged that her discharge for dress code violations was a pretext for intentional gender discrimination.

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim finding that a dress and grooming policy applicable to all workers and that favors neither males nor females does not constitute prohibited sex stereotyping. The court found that the employer’s dress and grooming policy did not take male or female mannerisms into account, but rather applied only to physical appearance.

Hi! We’re From the EEOC and We’re Here to Help – Investigation Leads to Tough Consent Decree

In EEOC v. Landwin Mgmt., Inc., CV-07-06169-SJO and CV-07-05916-PA. (C.D. Cal. Jan. 29, 2010), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued a California hotel management company, claiming the company discriminated against non-Chinese food servers in hiring banquet staff and permitted sexual harassment of female housekeepers. The employer settled, entering into a three-year consent decree with the EEOC, which included $500,000 in damages and agreeing to a myriad of corrective measures, including retaining a monitor/consultant named by the EEOC to assist with recruiting, hiring, training, revision of policies and record-keeping procedures!

The aggressive nature of this EEOC investigation underscores the need for hospitality employers to take truly proactive measures, such as making efforts to ensure their workforce is representative of the demographics of their applicant pool, reviewing and revising EEO policies at least annually, and conducting harassment prevention training on an annual basis.

MySpace is Your Space . . . and Not Your Employer’s – Accessing Employee Web Account Leads to Employer Liability

In Pietrylo v. Hillstone Restaurant Group d/b/a Houston’s, 06-5754, (D.N.J. Sept. 25, 2009), the District Court of New Jersey upheld a jury verdict in which a restaurant was found liable for violating the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA). The violation occurred when the company’s managers intentionally accessed a “chat group” on an employee’s MySpace account without having received authorization from the MySpace member. Further, the court upheld the jury’s finding of malicious conduct, which supported an award of punitive damages.

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