What's New

Free Workers’ Compensation Clinic in English and Spanish

On January 31, the Workers’ Rights Disability Law Clinic will host a free Workers’ Compensation clinic. Volunteer Workers’ Comp attorneys from Worksafe will provide free counseling on Workers’ Comp issues. Spanish-speaking attorneys will be available.

Workers’ Compensation clinic
Tuesday, January 31; appointments beginning at 6:30 pm
Ed Roberts Campus adjacent to the Asby BART Station
3075 Adeline St., Berkeley, CA 94703

The clinic is by appointment only; please call 415-864-8848.

NLRB rules that employees are entitled to bring employment-related claims as class or collective actions, in court or arbitration proceedings

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—the federal decision-making body that oversees relations between labor unions and private employers—recently declared that employees must be allowed to pursue their workplace grievances through collective or class-wide actions, whether it be through litigation or arbitration.

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Federal Judge Denies Government Motion to Dismiss in Defense of Marriage Act Case

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected the federal government’s request to dismiss the constitutional claims of gay and lesbian state workers who, together with their registered domestic partners, are excluded from equal access to California’s Long-Term Care Program.

Judge Claudia Wilken issued the ruling in Dragovich v. CalPERS, a class action lawsuit challenging federal and state laws including the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which regulate state-sponsored long-term care plans. These laws permit employees and an array of family members to join such plans, including opposite-sex spouses, but exclude the spouses and registered domestic partners of gay and lesbian workers.

“Registering as domestic partners is the only legal status currently available to gay and lesbian couples in California,” said Claudia Center of Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center. “These couples have agreed to take on all of the obligations of marriage, and are entitled to fair and equal treatment from the federal government.”

Read the news release

Girls playing soccer

February 1: National Girls and Women in Sports Day

February 1, 2012, marks the 26th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day! The team staffing Fair Play for Girls in Sports, a project of Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, joins coaches, parents, park and recreation departments, school districts, and athletic leagues across the country in celebrating the many positive benefits that girls and women gain from playing sports.

This year’s national Girls and Women in Sports Day also marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX—the law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational and school sports programs receiving federal funding. Over the past 40 years, Title IX has enabled millions of young girls to play sports on a level playing field. But there is more work to be done. Despite the fact that Title IX has been operative for four decades, girls today receive 1.3 million fewer opportunities to participate in athletics than do boys.

Similarly, girls have been granted the right under California law (AB2404) to equality in athletic opportunities in programs sponsored by their local Parks and Recreation departments. But the promise of this law too has not been realized.

Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center launched Fair Play for Girls in Sports to ensure that girls in grades K–12 have the full benefit of these two laws. If you think girls who are enrolled in your local high school or who participate in your local Parks and Recreation department sports programs are not being given an equal opportunity to play and you would like additional information about these laws, you can contact us at 877.593.0074.

To learn about the work we are doing on behalf of girls in low-income communities visit our Fair Play for Girls in Sports page. You can also visit us on Facebook, for all of the latest news on girls in sports.

Home Depot Agrees to Enhance Sign Language Interpreters for California Workers

Groundbreaking Settlement A Model for Providing Equal Opportunity

A major settlement has been reached between Home Depot and deaf and hard of hearing workers in California who claimed they were discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Final approval of the class action settlement was entered by United States District Court Judge Lucy Koh on February 2, 2012.

As part of the settlement, Home Depot will provide sign language interpreters at key workplace events such as interviews, trainings, performance review meetings, disciplinary meetings, safety meetings and mandatory store-wide meetings. Home Depot has also agreed to ensure that visual alarms for emergencies are in place at retail stores where class members are employed and to provide technology devices to improve communication with deaf and hard of hearing associates. Home Depot has further agreed to ensure that class members are eligible for forklift training and certification on an equal basis as their non-disabled counterparts, provided minimum safety requirements may be maintained.

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Girls playing soccer

High School Girl Athletes Win Major Title IX Class Action Case in U.S. District Court Against Sweetwater Union School District

In a potentially precedent-setting decision, Judge James M. Lorenz of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on Thursday ruled in favor of a group of female athletes in a Title IX class action lawsuit against the Sweetwater Union High School District. The judge determined the school district unfairly favored boys’ sports over girls’ sports at Castle Park High School (CPHS) by giving the boys better athletic facilities, resources and opportunities. The parties are to submit the proposed compliance plan within 45 days of the filing of this order.

The case, Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School, et al., was filed in 2007 by the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, California Women’s Law Center, and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP. The student plaintiffs sued for injunctive relief under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, which bars sex discrimination in education, including athletic programs.

Duran v. U.S. Bank: the California Court of Appeals Decision Is Not the Death Knell of Overtime Class Actions

Steven G. Zieff

Legal Aid Board Member Steven Zieff describes the ramifications of the recent Duran decision, including its potential impact on the rights of low-income workers.

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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.

Unlawful Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers and Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities

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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