On Friday, Jan. 30, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, New York heard arguments addressing the legality of unpaid internship programs. The city expects to hear the court’s decision later this year. It seems inevitable that the pending decision will set a precedent for future internship organization that could reverberate across the state and possible the nation.

The suit has to do with two prior cases brought against companies by former interns. One case involved allegations against Fox Searchlight Pictures; the other involved allegations against the publishing behemoth Hearst Corporation, owner of magazines like Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. The Fox interns won their case; the Hearst interns lost theirs.

Both cases concern a critical 1947 Supreme Court ruling that once dictated criteria for unpaid railroad training. The judge in the Fox case used the criteria as a strict standard, while the judge in the Hearst case saw the criteria as a broad set of best-practice guidelines. The appeals court will determine which ruling is lawful.

These spotlight cases have encouraged other interns to bring similar lawsuits against diverse companies. Allegedly, many of these companies have required interns to maintain duties similar to employees without the benefit of fair compensation. Companies around the country have been reevaluating their internship programs — or removing them altogether — as a response to this intense legal action.

Internships can serve a purpose in terms of offering young people and newcomers to a field an opportunity to engage in apprenticeship. A Fortune.com article on the controversy argues for a “balance between both sides,” so youth can gain experience without worrying about being exploited. Many students and young graduates, for instance, are not in a position to take unpaid internships while struggling to pay bills.

If you feel like you’ve been doing the work of an employee without receiving fair compensation, you are not alone. At best, current laws regarding unpaid internships currently constitute a gray area. The federal appeals court decision will clarify how companies need to compensate their interns. Contact a New York discrimination attorney to learn more about the ongoing court battles and how they might affect you.

If you need assistance with a harassment, discrimination or wage and hour case, call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.

Alexandra Marchuk recently sued her former law firm, Faruqi & Faruqi, and one of its partners, Juan Monteverde, for sexual harassment, alleging that she had been assaulted and subjected to a hostile workplace environment. Her case went to trial on January 12, and the jury reached a verdict on Thursday, February 5, after just a 24-hour deliberation.

The jury did not grant Marchuk’s request for $2 million in damages. Instead, jurors awarded her $90,000 in compensation and lost pay and $50,000 in punitive damages for employment discrimination. Notably, the jury did not award damages for emotional distress or discrimination under federal law.

Win, Lose or Draw?

Lawyers for each side quickly took to the media to declare victory. Defense attorneys claimed that the jury’s relatively small award reflected a lack of conviction in the plaintiff’s position. The plaintiff’s side, however, emphasized that the jury still dinged Faruqi & Faruqi for $140,000, all told, and found that discrimination did, indeed, occur at the law firm. Case observers also note that, although Faruqi & Faruqi escaped having to pay out millions of dollars in damages, the high profile harassment case has likely damaged the firm’s reputation and will likely negatively impact recruitment efforts, marketing, and client relations.

Marchuk and her legal advisor have said that they will consider appealing the verdict. They claim that several key pieces of evidence had been excluded from consideration and that other victims of harassment and discrimination at the firm have not been heard. Marchuk’s attorney seems determined to take the case through the appeals process to ensure that the court hears all relevant evidence.

Discrimination and harassment leave thousands of workers throughout New York City and beyond feeling voiceless and alone. Managers and other authority figures do not have the right to treat you unfairly.

Are you confused about your rights in the workplace? Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP right now at (866) 348-7394, or email the team at info@jhllp.com, to explore what you can do about an employer whom you suspect has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), New York Labor Laws (NYLL) or other labor laws.

For several years, our New York wage and hour lawyers have been on the vanguard of a movement agitating for better treatment and fairer pay for restaurant workers. New reports about recent claims against McDonald’s suggest that discrimination, harassment, and wage and hour violations may be even more widespread in the industry than critics have suspected.

The fast food industry is an enormous job engine, currently responsible for 9% of private sector jobs in the U.S., employing 5.5 million women and 5.1 million men. A recent Mother Jones piece investigating the restaurant industry, based in part on information from the Economic Policy Institute, revealed some shocking statistics:

  • Median wage for all forms of payment (tip, tipshare, and flat rate) has stalled at $10/hour for the last 15 years. Non-restaurant U.S. workers, meanwhile, earn a median wage of $18.
  • The median wages for managers at fast food restaurants stands at $15.42/hour; and many of these managers complain about limited opportunities for advancement and upward mobility.
  • Gender and cultural divisions persist. Men, for instance, hold higher-paying positions in restaurants than do women. Hispanic and black workers, meanwhile, have a disproportionate share of the lowest paying positions (e.g., cashiers, dishwashers, and cooks).
  • Undocumented workers account for an astonishing 15.7% of the industry.
  • Restaurants provide only 14.4% of workers with health insurance, and even fewer workers (8.4%) have pensions.
  • Unions in the restaurant industry cover just 1.8% of workers; some workers’ rights advocates suggest that wide-scale unionization could lead to a meaningful increase in overall wages and cut way down on the practices that lead to discrimination, harassment and wage and hour issues.
  • The poverty rate for those who work in the restaurant industry is almost three times higher than the total poverty rate in the nation.
  • Needless to say, many workers in the restaurant industry have to work excessive hours; and these employees often still do not make enough money to rise above the poverty line.

So what can be done about these issues?

The Mother Jones report offered several potential solutions, many of which involve legislative action to enforce fair working standards for restaurant workers. Some solutions proposed include increasing overtime rates, providing for sick days for workers, and updating labor laws.

Are you confused about your rights in the workplace? Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP right now at (866) 348-7394, or email the team at info@jhllp.com, to explore what you can do about an employer whom you suspect has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), New York Labor Laws (NYLL) or other labor laws.

Our New York employment attorneys have been fascinated by the implications of a political appointment in neighboring Pennsylvania. The state’s new governor, Tom Wolf, a self-identified progressive, has nominated a transgender woman, Dr. Rachel Levine, to be the state’s Physician General. Dr. Levine has identified herself as a woman for 5 years.

Dr. Levine recently spoke with reporters at the Washington Blade about her career. Administrators at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center have been supportive of her transition; and the hospital has established clear and effective policies to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression.

As Physician General for Pennsylvania, Dr. Levine will oversee critical health initiatives and policy work for the state as well as continue her work as a private physician. She’ll serve in an advisory capacity for the Secretary of the Department of Health and for the governor. At Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Dr. Levine serves as the chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders and the vice chairwoman for Clinical Affairs for the Department of Pediatrics.

Dr. Levine’s appointment is welcome news both for the LGBT community and for civil society as a whole. Social psychology studies that have probed the root causes of discriminatory attitudes suggest that “lack of familiarity” with certain groups of people can lead to negative attitudes about those people, hostility and stereotyping. Over the past fifteen years, our country has made enormous strides when it comes to accepting and understanding LGBT Americans – although we have an enormous way to go – in part because we’ve collectively become more culturally familiar with LGBT.

Dr. Levine’s ascension to a position of prominence in the medical community will hopefully catalyze more productive conversations and ultimately help to reshape our culture and curtail gender based discrimination at the workplace. Fortunately, NYC and New York State have among the strongest legal protections for transgender individuals in the country.

If you need assistance with a harassment, discrimination or wage and hour case from a qualified and experienced New York employment law firm, call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.

The Obama administration’s recent push for stronger labor laws has sparked an intense national conversation over what constitutes fair treatment and fair pay for workers.

Federal agencies, supported by the administration, recently brought a major case against McDonald’s, which we discussed in detail in a previous blog post. The fast-food giant has been charged with labor-law violations and coercive tactics to silence employees. Critics claim executives exploited and extended labor elections to deny union formation among McDonald’s employees. Some dubious company practices, like monitoring employees’ email accounts for hints of union organizations in off-hours, have now stopped. The case has the potential to influence labor regulations concerning pay, overtime, and healthcare.

The suit against McDonald’s is just one piece of important news, though. Promising new technological advances may soon streamline the processes by which workers can enforce and collect back pay. Additionally, legislation proposed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may improve the way employees who work over 40 hours a week are compensated. If such legislation passes, more workers will qualify for time-and-a-half pay for overtime.

Advocates at the NLRB have set their sites on the following major targets for change:

  • Benefits. Employers currently classify 10–30% of the middle class as “independent contractors” to avoid obligations to provide healthcare and other protective benefits. A push for worker’s rights could lead to coverage for more of these individuals.
  • A decrease in government subsidies. NLRB studies suggest that improvements to worker payment systems and structures could ultimately decrease the number of people who must resort to filing for government assistance.
  • Higher worker satisfaction. Poor job satisfaction leads to a diminished bottom line for companies. By improving labor environments and ensuring fair payment for a fair day’s work, we could see an increase in employee satisfaction… which in turn (somewhat ironically) could encourage employees to work harder for their companies.

Whether any substantial labor legislation (or executive orders affecting labor concerns) will pass any time soon is anyone’s guess. However, if you’re worried about your own work environment — and you suspect that your employer has committed discrimination, retaliation or a tip pool violation – seek the advice of the New York labor employment lawyers at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP. Please call us at (866) 348-7394 for a free appraisal, or email info@jhllp.com.

Wal-Mart recently made headlines by instituting a wave of minimum wage increases in several states. In 2014 alone, retail workers in 13 states saw a bump in base wages. As the nation’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart’s wage increases will impact more than 1,400 stores and likely lead to cascading effects through local economies.

On one hand, Wal-Mart’s moves are clearly in the right direction. On the other hand, critics suggest that the company has not done enough to increase wages. When private employers pay workers less than a living wage, workers often must turn to government assistance. Taxpayers then pick up this bill, essentially subsidizing low-paying private employers.

Wal-Mart says it hopes to simplify its payment systems. It plans to change its pay structure by lumping cashiers, cart pushers, and maintenance workers into one payment class. However, the retailer will also narrow the gap between low-paying and high-paying positions. One Wal-Mart manager explained the company’s reasoning: “Essentially… wage compression at the upper level of the hourly associate is going to help absorb that cost of the wage increase at the lower level.”

As an employee, you want to ensure your employer is treating you fairly. Here are three potential red flags that might warrant the counsel of an experienced New York wage and hour law firm:

  • You’re paid with debit cards. Some employers distribute debit cards instead of offering direct deposit or paychecks. Employees should have a choice. There are fees associated with debit cards that can reduce your paycheck.
  • You believe your employer is violating tip rules. If you work in a restaurant, pay attention to how the tip money is distributed among your co-workers. Are managers or or kitchen staff included in the tip pool? Have other workers complained to you in private about dubious practices?
  • After coming under pressure for underpaying its workers, your employer has suddenly reinvented its payment categories. Pay attention to your workload, job description, and pay scale during times of upheaval. When a company makes a decision to merge pay grades, it could freeze wages or engage in unfair or even illegal tactics.

Call the Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP team today at (866) 348-7394 to discuss your retaliation, harassment, discrimination or wage and hour case.

New York employment lawyers, restaurant owners, and employees throughout the country are watching with baited breath as pivotal litigation unfolds against McDonald’s. The civil rights suits filed against the fast food giant stem from employee complaints over workplace bullying, which claimants allege took place after they requested higher pay and better working conditions. The allegations include discrimination, threats, and reduced hours for broaching the subject of better wages and working conditions.

The media has called the suit the “fight for $15,” a reference to a push from labor advocates to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour. Currently, the minimum wage in New York is $8.75. While New York’s rate is technically above the federal standard for minimum wage by 55 cents, critics say this $8.75 figure is woefully inadequate to cover living expenses in New York City, even for those who work 40-hour weeks.

The fast food corporation is attempting to pawn the claim off on franchisee owners, but it appears that intense litigation may be headed for McDonald’s corporate office. That litigation is expected to begin in March, and case watchers believe it will likely lead to a long legal process.

The New York Times reported that the overarching theme of “unionization without retaliation” has been spreading from this one isolated case to other industries. So how should an employee – at a restaurant or other service business – advocate for fairer wages and working conditions?

In New York, workers are generally legally entitled to the following:

  • Pay for any authorized breaks less than 20 minutes.
  • Overtime pay at time-and-one-half.
  • Prevailing Wage (union level) for construction workers on government funded projects.
  • A discrimination and harassment-free workplace.
  • A safe work environment.

Large corporations and restaurants, such as McDonald’s, may have the resources to fight back against labor rights advocates and quash attempts to increase the minimum wage. However, the allegations against McDonald’s are serious, and this case could herald exciting (and long overdue) changes to fast food industry practices… and labor practices in other industries as well.

Seek the advice of a qualified New York employment lawyer if you have questions regarding your rights as an employee. Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP for a free evaluation today at (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.

Our New York wage and hour attorneys strive to pay attention to trends in the labor market not only to help our clients understand their situations in context but also to measure the fundamental forces driving employers to raise wages or, conversely, to withhold wages and tips from workers.

To that end, we were fascinated by a powerful New York Times editorial from early December: “Employers Will Have To Raise Wages. They Just Don’t Know It Yet.”

The piece includes some seriously head scratching data from the Labor Department. Reports from October 2014 found that employers had been trying to fill nearly 5 million job vacancies. Curiously, though, the unemployment rate has stagnated; it remains relatively high at 5.8%, and that figure doesn’t even take into account the veritable army of freelancers and under-employed laborers who fly under the radar of these types of statistical analyses.

The number of open positions has gone up substantially since the end of the Great Recession of 2008, but we haven’t witnessed a concomitant boom in hiring. Why?

Maybe we’re just witnessing statistical noise that doesn’t mean much?

Possibly, but consider that the number of open positions has jumped by 125 percent since 2009, but the number of hires is only up 33 percent over that period.

Are employers just being super finicky? Or is there a deeper economic explanation for this anomaly? When analyzing The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers, the New York Times editorial proposed the following theory: “during the recession, employers got spoiled. When unemployment was near 10 percent, talented workers were lined up outside their door. The workers they did have were terrified of losing their jobs. If you put out word that you had an opening, you could fill the job almost instantly. That’s why the ratio of job openings to hires fell so low in 2009. As the economy has gotten better the last five years, employers have had more and more job openings, but have been sorely reluctant to accept that it’s not 2009 anymore in terms of what workers they can hire and at what wage.”

It could also be that employers are genuinely struggling to decide whom to hire… or that new technologies have changed efficiencies in a way that’s reduced urgency to hire. For instance, maybe some employers are using outsourcing or software as effective “stop-gap solutions” for certain labor needs. So while they technically might have positions open, they might not need to fill those positions as quickly as they once did.

The team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum can help you understand and deal with wage and hour violations, discrimination, harassment, or retaliation by employers. Call us now at 1-866-348-7394 or email us at info@jhllp.com for assistance.

Many citizens seek to file class action lawsuits every year in response to perceived wrongdoings that have racial, religious, or gender related elements. Here are 3 tips every person must keep in mind before he or she sets out to file a class action suit.

1. Know What a Class Action Lawsuit Is

A class action suit is loosely defined as a lawsuit filed by a group of people who believe their rights were violated in some way. During this type of suit, a judge will decide the rights of several people at once. For example, if all the African-American and Hispanic tenants in an apartment building believe a landlord has treated them unfairly by because they are non-white, they might file a class-action suit. The judge’s responsibility would be to decide what the whole group is entitled to from the landlord under existing laws.

Before a group files a class action suit, it must choose what type of suit it seeks to file. For example, a consumer class action can be brought when people collectively believe they’ve sustained injury from a company’s practices. In contrast, an employment suit occurs when a group of employees file based on Labor Code violations, such as workplace discrimination.

2. Determine How Many People are Needed

It takes only one person to start a class action. In New York, where the statute iof limiations for overtime is six years, the rule of thumb is that if 40 people worked in one of the affected positions over that period of six years, there are enough people for class treatment. Thus, if there is high turnover, a company employing 15 people at any given time might easily be a class defendant. This gives the attorney a quick and efficient way to establish that many people have been injured in similar ways or suffered similar damages. Generally, a single person files as plaintiff on behalf of the group. However, a class action case can have more than one plaintiff, if the attorney believes doing so will strengthen the case.

3. Choose the Right Attorney

It is best to  choose an attorney with a great deal of class action experience in the type of suit that will be filed. The plaintiffs should also ask the attorney how many cases similar to theirs have been filed recently. Finally, plaintiffs should ask whether their attorney will be the “lead” attorney or a subordinate. Plaintiffs should always know the lead attorney and feel comfortable contacting him or her with questions or concerns.

If you need insight into a possible wage and hour, discrimination or harassment case, contact a New York employment lawyer with Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (866) 348-7394 or info@jhllp.com for a free consultation.

Actor and comedian Chris Rock and reporter Frank Rich first appeared together in 1996 on Bill Maher’s show Politically Incorrect. They were recently reunited for two New York lounge conversations during Rock’s promotion of the upcoming movie Top Five, which he wrote and directed.

During the conversation reported on the Vulture website, Rock had several controversial things to say about the 2014 midterm elections that were deemed “a fiasco for Obama.” For example, he said Republicans “have no problem being victims” and that colleges have become “too conservative” for his comedy acts.

Rock also observed how America could improve equality for minority groups. Rock said, “If people knew how rich, rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” Whether or not riots are imminent, there are a few things more fortunate people can do to increase equality.

One of the most unequal places in America is the restaurant industry. People in food service are often maligned for being unskilled or uneducated, and they must also deal with unjust job stressors. For example, some restaurants require waiters and waitresses to participate in unfair “tip pools,” in which non-tipped employees (e.g. managers) illegally share in the tips. Many food service workers and their advocates say this defeats the purpose of “fair wage for fair work.”

Federal, state, and local governments are also currently debating raising the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour. Although some claim this would affect employment and that younger workers don’t need to be paid minimum wage, the U.S. Department of Labor has found these complaints have no basis in reality. For restaurant servers in particular, “minimum wage” is a relative term; their tips plus regular hourly wages often do not equal the federal minimum.

Finally, citizens can help increase equality and awareness of inequality through the fair and ethical usage of social media. Many people post stories of racially-based injustices on Facebook and Twitter every day but often don’t double-check the stories or delve into the history of alleged incidents of discrimination. If people make educated choices about what and how they post on social media, discrimination incidents could become less sensationalized. Thus, we will be more likely to take them seriously, and we will be closer to achieving equality as a nation.

If you need insight into a possible wage and hour, discrimination or harassment case, contact a New York employment lawyer with Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (866) 348-7394 or info@jhllp.com for a free consultation.