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San Francisco Employment Law Blog

What's the ministerial exception to a wrongful termination claim?

The Supreme Court of the United States just handed down another blow that weakens the federal protections employees have against wrongful termination. Citing the "ministerial exception," the SCOTUS rejected the claims against two California religious schools who were accused of discrimination and illegal termination of their employees.

What's the ministerial exception? Basically it's a rule that says religious institutions aren't bound by the same laws as other employers when it comes to their right to hire and fire their ministers. Given the inherent freedom of religion that is so valued in this country, that may sound reasonable -- until you realize that it means:

  • A church can fire a minister because they're black (maybe because the congregation is largely white)
  • A church can fire a minister who becomes disabled or develops an illness (for example, someone who contracts AIDS due to a long-ago needle stick)

Wrongfully terminated? That's not always the case

California has some of the most worker-friendly labor laws in the country, but that doesn't mean that California employees always understand the various nuances of those laws. For instance, many people get confused about wrongful terminations. They may think that they are protected from being fired from their jobs even when that is just not the case.

In truth, employers can and do fire their employees every day for many reasons — or no reason at all. Of course, there are reasons protected under the state and federal anti-discrimination laws for which it's illegal to fire a worker. If such was the case with your termination, you may have a legitimate case of wrongful termination.

How the Employment Retirement Income Security Act applies to you

Most workers may have heard about the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), yet few know its role. If an employee has heard of this federal law, then it's likely because they have had problems in receiving information about or gaining access to health insurance, retirement or other job-related welfare benefits.

ERISA requires group benefits plan administrators, such as retirement or employer-sponsored health insurance program managers, to provide employees with specific information about their accounts or policies on demand.

Workplace accommodations for lupus

You've been having increasing problems with your health, but the lupus diagnosis you were handed threw you for a loop. That's when you realized that there was going to be no quick fix for your condition.

With any chronic condition, it can be difficult to keep working without adjustments -- but you probably have a right to ask your employer to make any reasonable accommodations you need.

What makes a seemingly simple termination unlawful?

To most people, getting fired from a job always feels wrong or unfair, but in many of these cases, the termination is perfectly legal. Other times, your boss may have acted unlawfully when letting you go from your job. The problem for most is knowing when a firing is legal and when it is a case of wrongful termination.

Consider your feelings after your termination. Did you feel embarrassed or perhaps even hurt? These emotions are normal and may not indicate any wrongdoing on the part of your employer. However, if you felt wronged, blindsided or even ambushed, you may want to dig a little deeper, especially if your job performance was exemplary throughout your employment.

Caste-based discrimination alleged in California

What does a 2,000-year-old caste system in India that once divided people into stratified social layers have in common with a workplace discrimination case in California in 2020? Possibly everything, according to a new lawsuit filed by the state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

According to the lawsuit, tech conglomerate Cisco, which is headquartered in Silcon Valley, permitted two of its supervisors to engage in discrimination against one of their engineers based on caste. The discrimination victim, an engineer, was born into India's Dalit class. Dalits are commonly referred to as "untouchables," and are the lowest on the rung of castes.

Think you're about to be fired illegally? Don't do these things

Your boss has clearly had it in for you for a while. Although the quality of your work hasn't changed a bit, your once-stellar performance evaluations have suddenly turned dismal and you suspect that you're about to be fired.

It's unfair. You also suspect that it's illegal. Maybe you turned down the boss's romantic overtures right before things got bad, or maybe you filed a report with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about some unsafe condition in the workplace.

SCOTUS ruling protects transgender rights

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a landmark ruling that many say is a bigger benefit to LGBTQ people than the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that granted same-sex couples marriage equality.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that firing someone who is transgender or homosexual because they're not conforming to the gender norms assigned to them by birth and social convention is, in fact, discrimination based on sex. The majority decision points out that it's impossible to separate the concept of gender (and gender roles) from sex.

Here's what you can do to be an ally to African-Americans at work

Racial discrimination is a big problem, and it won't end until enough people band together and make it clear that it's unacceptable in any form, in any situation.

Do you want to know what you can do to be an ally to African-Americans and other people of color at work in the face of racial discrimination? Here's how you can help:

  1. Sponsor others: Use your voice to boost the standing of your African-American colleagues among your co-workers and peers by talking about their contributions, goals and achievements.
  2. Act as a champion: If you're in a leadership position, use it to bring African-American workers into visible positions by directing questions their way, including them as speakers or team leaders and recommending them for advancement.
  3. Become an advocate: If you're already part of an inclusive circle, use your status to bring African-American co-workers and other minority groups into the fold. Invite them to meetings, introduce them to your peers and advocate for their inclusion.
  4. Stand up and speak up: No matter what your position, you can voice your dissent if you see acts of racism at work or hear racists comments. Being both a visible and vocal ally can give employees who are experiencing racism some much-needed support.

What's casual racism at work?

Overt racism at work is usually pretty easy to spot. It includes things like co-workers who use racial slurs and bosses who give the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs to employees of a certain race while reserving the "nice" jobs for those of another.

Casual racism, however, can often be covert. It's less about the conscious belief that one race is better than another than actions that rise out of one person's subconscious sense of racial superiority (or subconscious belief in another race's inferiority).