What's New

Department of Labor Making Progress in Disability Employment Rights

Patricia A. Shiu, former Director of Programs at Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center and current director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, is pushing for big changes in the way that federal contractors make their hiring and employment decisions.

Proposed regulations spearheaded by Director Shiu will require that federal contractors collect information about employees and applicants with disabilities, and take affirmative measures designed to bring the proportion of persons with disabilities in workforces and job categories to at least seven percent.

“What gets measured gets done,” said Ms. Shiu in a recent Wall Street Journal article “And we’re in the business of getting things done.” (Subscribers to the Wall Street Journal can read the article.)

Legal Aid joined comments submitted by the Bazelon Center on behalf of 27 major disability organizations supporting the regulations and seeking to make them even stronger.

View Legal Aid's comments on the proposed regulations.

View a copy of the Bazelon Center's letter.

Although pregnancy discrimination has been illegal for decades, many women continue to be fired after they inform their employers that they are pregnant.


Legal Aid Senior Staff Attorney Sharon Terman recently testified on this issue at a public hearing held by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Washington, D.C. Terman was one of 15 experts who told the Commission that discrimination against pregnant women and workers with caregiving responsibilities remains a significant problem.

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Carol Vigne

Federal Extensions of Unemployment Insurance Benefits Authorized—But Shortened—for Unemployed Californians

Carol Vigne, LAS-ELC Staff Attorney

Late last month, Congress and President Obama extended federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, previously set to expire at the end of this month, through the end of February 2012. While the renewal of federal UI is a tremendous relief to the approximately 1.1 million Californians who depend on these benefits to survive while looking for work, the bill does not go far enough to address unemployed workers’ needs.

Currently, California provides UI benefits for 26 weeks, and the federal extension provides up to an additional 73 weeks of benefits, for a total maximum of 99 weeks, through four separate extension tiers and an additional extension because of the state’s high unemployment rate (known as Fed-ED). This renewal of federal UI benefits for the next 10 months comes with a price: it gradually reduces the total number of weeks unemployed Californians will be able to receive UI benefits in the coming year. The bill provides a potential maximum of 99 benefit weeks through August 2012 and 93 benefit weeks through December 2012 (assuming California’s unemployment rate remains high and Californians will continue to be able to file Fed-ED extensions). The last effective date that Californians can file an initial extension or move to the next tier is December 23, 2012; the Fed-ED extension, available after all tiers have been exhausted, has a filing deadline of December 30, 2012.

What does all this mean? Well, assuming all eligibility requirements are met, anyone in California who has been collecting UI since approximately June 2011 could still collect all 99 weeks of benefits. But, starting this week, a Californian who begins a UI claim now could only collect 26 weeks of benefits and an additional 20 weeks under the first tier of the federal extension. Then it gets even worse: a Californian who starts a UI claim after July will not be able to collect more than 26 weeks of benefits because all of the extensions will have expired by then.

Although the gradual reduction of weeks will avoid the shock of an abrupt cut, unemployed workers are more likely than before to exhaust their UI benefits before securing new employment due to the abbreviated timeline. The shortened supply of benefits is especially worrisome because in recent years the median number of weeks workers are unemployed has doubled, with a large number of workers spending more than a year searching for work. Approximately half of Californians collecting UI are using the federal extensions. Going forward, those federal extensions will gradually become unavailable to people who become unemployed, adding more people to the 625,000 unemployed workers in California who have already run out of all available benefits, having exhausted the 99 week maximum. Unemployed workers are ultimately left to hope that the economic recovery is sustained, job growth continues, and they are able to find a job before their benefits run out. The clock is ticking.

UI benefits, available to workers who were separated from their last jobs through no fault of their own, remain as critical now as they have ever been. At Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, we are working to ensure that all workers can access UI benefits when they need them. Roughly half of callers to our nightly Workers’ Rights Clinics have questions about their rights to UI benefits; our Claims Project is representing more clients at UI appeal hearings than ever before. Many think of UI benefits as a safety net, but for most of our clients, they are a life line. UI benefits—ranging between $40 and $450 a week, with an average weekly benefit amount of $292 in California—are the difference between being able to pay rent and becoming homeless; being able to put food on the table and going hungry, being able to make ends meet and crossing the poverty threshold.

For answers to how the new federal extension may affect your claim for UI benefits, call our Workers’ Rights Clinic at 866.864.8208.

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Enforcement of Family Medical Leave Act Weakened by Supreme Court

Today, in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, the Supreme Court held that state workers cannot sue for money damages for violations of the “self-care” provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Enacted in 1993, the FMLA allows eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave (1) to care for their own serious health condition, (2) to care for a seriously ill family member, or (3) to bond with a new child.

The Court previously held that Congress validly allowed states to be sued for violations of the “family care” provision of the FMLA, since that provision was based on evidence that family medical leave policies discriminated based on sex. In today’s decision, the Court ruled that Congress lacked the power to abrogate states’ immunity.

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New Employment Law Clinic for Low-Wage Workers to Open in Fresno

Central California Legal Services (CCLS), Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, and Lang, Richert & Patch, with support from the Mexican Consulate in Fresno, Team Up to Provide Free Legal Services in Central Valley.

The CCLS/Legal Aid Workers’ Rights Clinic devoted to the employment issues of low-wage workers will open its doors at 2115 Kern Street, Suite 1, in downtown Fresno on April 18. It will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. People in need of assistance may either call 559-570-1200 to make an appointment or come to the office during those hours.

Founded by Central California Legal Services (CCLS), Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center (Legal Aid), with the support of the local law firm of Lang, Richert & Patch, and the Consulate of Mexico in Fresno, the Clinic,—the first of this collaborative in the Central Valley—will provide free legal assistance to low-wage workers who are subjected to illegal practices on the job.

Read the news release

Decision in Brinker v. Superior Court: Employers May Not Interfere with Workers’ Right to Meal Breaks

On April 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court issued its much-awaited decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, clarifying an employer’s obligations to provide hourly—or non-exempt—workers meal and rest periods.

On the central question of what it means to provide meal periods, the Brinker decision concluded that “an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.” The Court reasoned that requiring an employer to police its workers’ breaks would contradict the principle that the employer relinquishes all control during breaks. The Court clarified further than an employer cannot impede breaks by pressuring workers against taking breaks, create incentives to forego breaks, or encourage skipping breaks. In doing so, the Court reaffirmed the long-standing principle that California’s workers are “entitled to uninterrupted half-hour [meal] periods in which they are relieved of any duty or employer control and are free to come and go as they please.”

David Lopez

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez Visits Legal Aid

David Lopez, General Counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), visited the offices of Legal Aid on Wednesday March 21, 2012. Lopez, the first field staff attorney to be appointed as the EEOC’s General Counsel, spent an hour and a half with Legal Aid staff, government representatives and community advocates outlining his mandate and program for the Commission and answering questions about how the Commission can be supportive to those working against discrimination in the workplace. Joining Lopez for his presentation was Regional Attorney William Tamayo from the San Francisco EEOC office.

Legal Aid Supports Department of Labor Proposal to Strengthen Protections for Domestic Workers; Calls on Administration to Ensure Funding

The U.S. Department of Labor is currently considering proposed regulations that will improve working conditions for domestic workers across the United States. These regulations would place more workers who provide home care to persons with disabilities, including aging person, under the protections of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, the mechanisms for providing in-home care to disabled persons in the community are complex and underfunded. This raises the concern that these regulations will trigger unintended consequences unless the Administration takes additional steps.

Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center has submitted comments endorsing these proposed regulations. We have also requested one clarification and set forth additional steps required to achieve fair and just results for both the domestic worker community and the disability community.

Two Legal Aid Attorneys on The Fast Track

We are pleased to announce that Tamika L. Butler and Rachael Langston were selected by the editors of The Recorder as two among 50 Lawyers on the Fast Track. The list recognized attorneys who have practiced 10 years or less and who have demonstrated “substantial accomplishments as leaders, lawyers and community members.”

Read more about Fair Play for Girls in Sports.

Read more about our Gender Equity and LBGT Rights Programs.

Read more about our Disability Rights Program.

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Equal Pay Day: U.S. Women Still Earning 20% Less than Men

April 17, 2012, marked “Equal Pay Day” in the United States.

On average, women earn less than men and therefore they must work one day longer a week to earn  the same pay.  That’s why Equal Pay Day is recognized yearly;  it is to demonstrate concretely that it takes one day more per week for the average earnings of women to catch up to those earned by men in a similar job 

Today, women earn 81.2 cents for every dollar men earn.  The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women who were full-time workers had median weekly earnings of $669, nearly 20% less than men’s median weekly earnings (based on 2010 data).  Broken down by race, the gap is even larger.  Latina women earn $508 per week as compared to $850 per week for White men.  Similarly, African-American women earn $592 per week and Asian women earn $773 per week.  While Equal Pay Day is designed to highlight wage discrimination involving women, Latino and African-American men also earn less than White men.  Latino men earn $560 a week as compared to $850 per week for White men.  African-American men earn $633 per week.          

Women are already suffering economically in these difficult economic times, and their challenges are even greater because of the harms caused by pay discrimination.

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