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Covington Man Wins $1 Million in Race Discrimination Case Against Ex-Employer

Randy Freking

A Covington man has been awarded $1 million by a U.S. District Court jury in Covington in a civil rights case that stretched out over three years.

Clinton Burton, 42, was awarded the judgment against the Massachusetts-based debt-collection company Zwicker & Associates for incidents that occurred at its call center in Hebron. He was fired from his management job in 2010.

Burton, who is African-American, said now he can put the incident behind him and focus on getting his life back.

“I’ve been through a lot these last three years trying to prove my wrongful termination and intimidating culture that existed at Zwicker, and that I was treated unfairly despite my strong track record,” said Burton, a collections manager with the company.

“More important, I pray that they and other companies who treat employees so unfairly learn their lesson, correct their wrongs and do what is right in the workplace so others don’t suffer.”

Evidence in the wrongful-termination lawsuit included a documented tape recording of a racial slur by a Zwicker & Associates human resources department employee and testimony from co-workers. Burton’s attorney, Barbara Bonar, said several jurors told her they were appalled by the comments from employees to Burton.

“We are very happy with the results and appreciate the jury’s recognition of the offensiveness of this type of work environment,” Bonar said.

Randy Freking, Burton’s co-counsel, called the judgment a significant verdict vindicating the rights of African-Americans to be free from a hostile work environment.



Pete Rose Reinstated by Major League Baseball

Randy Freking

In an Easter gift to baseball fans, Major League Baseball Commissioner confessed he has been wrong for 20 years and has rescinded the lifetime ban on baseball’s Hit King, Peter Edward Rose, aka “Charlie Hustle”.  Appropriately, Mr. Selig took his action on Opening Day Eve and the Reds are expected to name Rose to replace current manager Dusty Baker, and Rose is planning to return as a part-time player to enhance his statistics.

According to the announcement from Selig, Pete will now be eligible for the Hall of Fame, and Selig promised to throw the weight of his office behind Rose’s election.

In a 60 Minutes interview, Selig commented:  “Mr. Rose – then the preeminent player/manager in baseball – signed an agreement in 1989 in good faith that was intended to assist MLB, and he was assured by the then Commissioner that one year would be the length of his banishment from baseball. Our goal was to avoid the Reds from becoming a dynasty under Mr. Rose’s leadership throughout the 1990s, and we certainly accomplished that purpose. After over 20 years, it is now time to recognize that Cincinnati deserves a baseball dynasty because it is the greatest baseball town in the world.”

Employment lawyers in Cincinnati rejoiced, noting that all discipline should fit the alleged crime. One advocate said “if a suspension doesn’t fit the crime, you should serve no time.” This seems appropos to Mr. Rose’s situation.

Your friends at Freking and Betz wish you a happy April Fool’s Day.


“Queen Bee Syndrome” in 2013??

Randy Freking

The “Queen Bee Syndrome” – originally coined in the 1970s – is getting more and more attention as female executives have made controversial decisions (Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer)and published controversial books (Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg).  It has long been believed that women who have reached positions of power would be a mentor to those females who followed, but many believe that something has gone wrong in the professional sisterhood.

Four decades ago, an article in Psychology Today found that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, this syndrome is alive and well.

The theory is that this generation of queen bees are no less determined to secure their hard-won places as alpha females.  It is indeed ironic: the very women that have complained for decades about unequal treatment now perpetuate many of the same problems by turning on other females.

In employment discrimination cases brought by females, employers often invoke a defense that is disingenuous: that women cannot discriminate against other women.  Just like the fact that older managers can discriminate against older employees, these recent studies demonstrate that anyone can act upon either conscious or subconscious biases, even if those biases are against members of their own “protected class.”

For more information, read the Wall Street Journal article The Tyranny of the Queen Bee and the related article “Office Conflict: Women and the Catty Trap.”


Yahoo! Telecommuting Ban Bad for Business

Randy Freking

Yahoo’s just announced edict that it will no longer allow employees to telecommute is bad for its business and a reversal of recent trends making it easier for families to balance work/life demands. It’s a strange policy change for a technology company from Silicon Valley. It is estimated that 1 in 10 Americans do some form of telecommuting, and it is recognized as a good business practice by many forward thinking companies.

In addition, the policy change may be unlawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act if it applies to persons with disabilities. Under the ADA, companies – even Yahoo – must “reasonably accommodate” employees’ disabilities. In some cases, telecommuting is the most reasonable accommodation for employees who are unable to work at a specific location due to a disability.

After deciding to put more pressure on working families, let’s hope Yahoo doesn’t choose to apply the policy in a way that reverses trends that have made it easier for the disabled to earn a living.

For more information about the ban, click here.


UC President’s Contract Not Really for 10 Years

Randy Freking

There has been much written about the new contract for the President of the University of Cincinnati, Santa Ono.  The headlines say “Ono receives ten year contract!” (See Fox 19 article; WLWT article.)

A ten year employment contract would be way out of bounds in private industry, and much more so in the public sector. However, while the contract says it has a ten year term, Section 15 of the Contract allows the University to terminate President Ono “without cause” at ANY time, and provides him one year severance. (To read the contract, click here.) Thus, while President Ono may feel secure for 10 years, his agreement is really for one year in terms of compensation. So, if he is terminated without cause (for example, U.C. finds someone else) in 2014, he will be paid for one year thereafter – not until 2022.

This is a relatively common misunderstanding for employees with contracts. What is important is not the stated term (“we are giving you a five year contract”); what is important is how long you get paid if the employer decides to end the contract early “without cause”.