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Providence Employment And Whistleblower Law Blog

Emotional Damages Awarded For Retaliation Cases

Good news for those who would file retaliation claims – increasingly, courts are allowing plaintiffs to secure compensation for emotional damages. This is a new development that so far has been allowed in the 5th, 6th and 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the trend establishes precedent that has the potential to spread to other circuit courts.

No damages cap

Age Discrimination Becomes Harder To Prove

Those who seek to bring age discrimination lawsuits already face a higher bar of proof than those pursuing race or gender discrimination lawsuits. That’s because plaintiffs must prove that age was the primary motivating factor of an adverse employment decision, not just a contributing factor. But now, after the Supreme Court declined to hear an age discrimination case claiming age discrimination in the hiring process, the bar for winning these types of cases just got even higher.

Applicants not protected

Your employer must take certain steps against sex harassment

A previous post here discussed the fact that, under certain circumstances, an employer in Rhode Island may be held liable for sexual harassment that occurs to an employee. As readers might remember, this is usually the case when the harasser is an agent of the company, or a supervisor or other superior. One reason for this is that the law requires that employers take certain measures to prevent sexual harassment in the first place, as even monetary compensation cannot undo the emotional stress and humiliation that generally is felt by harassment victims.

The first thing that all Rhode Island employers that have more than 50 employees must do to combat sexual harassment is to institute a written policy on the subject. This statement must clearly articulate a policy against such activities, must state that sexual harassment is illegal and that no one can retaliate against an employee for reporting harassment or cooperating in its investigation.

What is a "qui tam" lawsuit as it relates to whistleblowers?

While Latin may be a "dead language" for most purposes, but parts of it are still in use in certain professions. Doctors often learn Latin names for diseases or parts of the body, while in the legal profession Latin terms still prevail in describing certain doctrines and types of suits. One of these that is likely not familiar to most Rhode Island residents is "qui tam."

Qui tam is a shortened form of a Latin phrase that basically means something to the effect of "one that sues on behalf of both himself and the king." While this may seem odd, when the type of case it is used for is described, it will make sense. Qui tam suits are those in which a private individual stands to gain even though the actual injury that is the basis of the lawsuit occurred to the government.

Filing an employment discrimination claim in Rhode Island

A recent post here discussed the basic idea behind employment discrimination claims in Rhode Island. The post touched on the state statute that forbids discrimination based upon traits such as race, ethnicity, sex, color or religion. It also discussed the fact that employers may not discriminate in any part of the employment process, from hiring, to promotions and salary, to termination due to complaints about discrimination. However, what happens when a Rhode Island resident has been discriminated against? How do those individuals go about enforcing their rights under the law?

When it comes to both state and federal employment discrimination, there is a requirement that victims exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a civil lawsuit. This means that the person alleging discrimination must first go through the existing governmental structures that are in place to rectify discrimination. To do so, the victim would file a claim with either the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, or the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, or RICHR. When filing with either one of these agencies, victims may notify the agency that they would like to cross-file with the other agency, and both will take up the case. Because state and federal claims exist under different bodies of law, this may be a good way to cover all bases.

What is "at-will" employment in Rhode Island?

The movement of workers around the labor force is a fact of modern life, and one reason for it is a legal doctrine known as "at-will" employment. This doctrine stands for the principle that, absent a promise otherwise, either party in an employment relationship may terminate such relationship at any time for practically any or no reason. This means that the majority of employees in Rhode Island could face termination of their employment at any time, unless they have a contract with their employers that they will only be fired "for cause."

While, in general, this means that an employee can be fired for no good reason, there are certain rights that employees do have that protect them from being terminated for certain reasons. If an employee is fired for one of these reasons, he or she may have an action for wrongful termination against the employer.

Who is responsible for workplace sexual harassment?

Some people forget that for many years women were considered to be unfit for many jobs in this country. Up until the last 30 years or so, females, if they worked, were expected to be teachers, nurses or secretaries, for the most part. While there were exceptions, of course, this set of societal norms created an atmosphere that many individuals are still fighting today.

It is illegal in Rhode Island for anyone to make unwelcome sexual advances to another person with the express or implied meaning that career advancement, hiring or other benefits may be attached to acceptance of such advances, or if those advances create a hostile work environment for the victim. When this does occur to an employee in Rhode Island, there may be a basis for a civil lawsuit to recover damages for the behavior and any loss of wages or benefits that were the result of it. But, who is responsible for these damages?

Why do whistleblowers need protection?

The term "whistleblower" may or may not be familiar to Rhode Island residents. In a legal context, a whistleblower is someone who has reported some form of wrongdoing, usually by an employer. As might be expected, most organizations or agencies do not react well to having their "dirty laundry" exposed to examination, either by the pubic or regulatory authorities. Because of this, the federal government, as well as many states, have enacted laws that are meant to protect these whistleblowers.

Originally, most whistleblower protection laws were aimed at encouraging people to come forward when they were aware of problems within governmental agencies, or with governmental contractors that were costing the public money. The idea was that people would be more likely to report overcharging of government entities or other financial improprieties if they were not worried about having their careers destroyed in the process. Later, many states, including Rhode Island, enacted laws that were meant to protect workers, even in some private sector jobs, from retaliation for complaining about safety hazards, sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination. But, why do these individuals require protection?

Deep Breath: Lincare Owes $20 Million Over Respiratory Care Fraud

Lincare, a subsidiary of Linde AG, will be paying $20 million after being found guilty of overbilling the U.S. government for respiratory care equipment, including oxygen tanks. Former employees of Linde brought the fraudulent activity to light under the False Claims Act.

Lincare characterized its activity as a billing error. The Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Massachusetts, however, disagreed. The lawsuit charged Lincare with:

What are the Rhode Island employment discrimination laws?

Most Rhode Island residents understand that the U.S. Constitution bans the government form discriminating against certain people based upon certain characteristics they possess. Unfortunately, for a long period of our country's history, the same did not apply to private entities such as clubs and businesses. However, as the 20th Century ground on, Americans began to recognize that many of these private organizations had as much power over people's lives as the government, and in many cases, were more likely to interact with them on a daily basis. Throughout the latter half of that century, many states began instituting laws that restricted discrimination by employers on the basis of certain characteristics.

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