I received a severance agreement, should I contact an employment lawyer?

As lawyers representing employees, we are often asked when it is a good idea to have a lawyer review a severance agreement. The short answer is: almost always.

First, any severance agreement that releases legal claims (virtually all of them do) requires an employee to know whether they have any legal claims that they are giving up by signing the agreement. It is impossible to know the value of what you may be giving up without having a thorough evaluation of potential legal claims.

Second, most severance agreements are not clearly written and require employees to waive or limit rights that employees may not even understand. Frequently, severance agreements seek broad restrictions on the right to seek employment at other companies, to speak openly and truthfully, to pursue administrative claims, or to assist others who may seek legal action against a former employer, just to name a few examples. These terms limit the rights that employees otherwise freely enjoy.

Third, initial severance offers are frequently just that—an initial offer. Employers may be willing to negotiate the severance amount or offer other terms in addition to separation pay. The potential for negotiating terms of a severance agreement (including the total monetary payout) is well worth seeking sound legal advice.

The expertise of an experienced employment lawyer is valuable in understanding all of the terms in a separation agreement as well as in deciding how to respond to a severance offer. Nearly every severance agreement includes language that the employer encourages the employee to seek consult an attorney. That language exists for a reason. You can be assured that the company was advised by a lawyer; do not miss the opportunity and to seek sound legal advice of your own.

You must also act quickly, because nearly every severance offer has a time limit upon which an employer may withdraw the offer.

If you have received a severance agreement or have questions about your employment or separation from employment, contact Teske, Katz, Kitzer & Rochel today.

Equal Pay Laws Necessary Tool In Fight Against Gender Pay Gap

The “me too” and “time’s up” movements focus primarily on sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. But the movements have also raised awareness of a problem that has persisted throughout U.S. history: gender pay disparity.

The gender pay gap is the gap between what men and women are paid. It refers to the average annual pay of all women compared to the pay men, when variables are taken into account (like equal jobs, amount of time worked, etc). Currently, the gender pay gap across the U.S. is 80%. That means that for every hour worked, a woman will be paid 80% of what a man is paid for the same work. In Minnesota, the pay gap is 82%.

This pay gap violates the law, yet it persists. By highlighting these laws and aggressively enforcing them in the courts, proponents of fair pay and women’s continue to work toward eliminating sex discrimination in employment.

The federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) requires that employers pay the same amount of compensation to every worker, regardless of gender or sex. That is, women and men should be paid the same amount for the work that they perform.

The EPA was signed into law in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. In passing the EPA, Congress stated its intent to eliminate sex discrimination because the gender pay gap:

  • depresses wages and living standards for employees necessary for their health and efficiency;
  • prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources;
  • tends to cause labor disputes, thereby burdening, affecting, and obstructing commerce;
  • burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and
  • constitutes an unfair method of competition.

Minnesota has a similar law with similar protections. Under Minnesota’s “Equal Pay for Equal Work Law,” employers cannot pay workers of one sex less than employees of another sex. Minn. Stat. § 181.67. Similar to the EPA, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Law prohibits differential pay when employees of different genders are performing work that requires equal amounts of skill, effort, and responsibility, and done under similar working conditions.

Most employees across the country are protected by the EPA, though there are important exceptions. In Minnesota, most employees are also protected by the Equal Pay for Equal Work Law.

If you have questions about pay disparity or discrimination, contact the experienced employment lawyers at Teske, Katz, Kitzer & Rochel today to discuss further.

 

Phillip Kitzer Participates on #MeToo Panel at FBA National Conference

On September 14, 2018, TKKR Employment Attorney Phillip Kitzer spoke on a panel sponsored by the Labor & Employment Section of the FBA at the Federal Bar Association’s National Conference in New York City. The panel, titled “#MeToo: Implementation and Administration of an Effective Anti-Harassment Policy,” discussed various legal issues arising out of the #MeToo movement, including addressing complaints in the workplace, effective training of employees and management, responding to EEOC charges, and recent tax law changes involving settlements of claims involving sexual harassment and abuse. The panel was moderated by Donna Currault of Gordon, Arata, Montgomery, Barnett LLC in New Orleans, LA, and included the Hon. Lisa M. Smith, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York, and Mary A. Smith, Principal at Jackson Lewis, P.C. 

Employment Attorney Phillip Kitzer Presents on Sexual Orientation Discrimination in San Juan, Puerto Rico

On August 3, 2018, TKKR partner Phillip Kitzer presented at a half-day advanced labor and employment law seminar in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Mr. Kitzer presented on the changing law related to LGBT discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The presentation covered the history of “sex discrimination” since the bill’s passage, reviewed seminal cases such as Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, and discussed recent watershed cases such as Hively v. Ivy Tech. Commt. College of Indiana and Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. In Hively, the 7th Circuit (en banc) found that sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination, and therefore prohibited under Title VII. In Zarda, the 2nd Circuit (en banc) held the same.

The seminar was co-hosted by the Puerto Rico Chapter and the Labor and Employment Law Section of the Federal Bar Association. Mr. Kitzer currently serves as a board member for the Labor and Employment Law Section.

Phillip Kitzer & Brian Rochel Present on Disability and Leave Laws at Minnesota CLE

On July 24, 2018, TKKR attorneys Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel presented a webcast sponsored by Minnesota CLE as part of the Workers’ Compensation series. The webcast, titled The Intersection of Disability, FMLA and Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Laws, addressed the complicated employment issues that arise for employers and employees when dealing with a work-related injury, disabilities, and need for FMLA-protected leave of absences. The presentation focused on various theories of liability under each of the statutes, including new theories that have developed in the past several years.

Phillip and Brian are both experienced litigators and have each represented hundreds of employees throughout their careers. If you have questions about your rights under disability laws or have questions about workers’ compensation retaliation or the FMLA, contact our office for a consultation today.

 

Free Speech in the Workplace?

Many people mistakenly believe that an employee cannot be fired for exercising their rights to free speech. For most employees, that is simply not true.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution generally protects citizens from government retaliation for speech. It provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Private employers, however, are not prohibited by the First Amendment from terminating the employment relationship based on speech. In fact, many employers do terminate employees for engaging in “free speech.” Because nearly every state in the country is an “at-will employment” state, employers are generally entitled to terminate the employment relationship “at will,” or for any reason they wish. While there are exceptions to the “at-will” doctrine (such as race discrimination or firing someone for certain types of whistleblowing), firing an employee for what they say outside of work is usually not illegal.

In the private sector, unions have historically provided the “rights” that many employees believe they have at work. When unions negotiate contracts on behalf of many employees, they usually negotiate that employers are limited in the reasons they can terminate an employee. Likewise, certain high-level employees are often provided employment contracts that restrict the reasons for terminating an employee. But because only around 6% of private-sector employees belong to unions, and very few employees have an employment contract, most employers can legally terminate an employee because of what they say outside of work.

Ask Juli Briskman. Ms. Briskman became famous for a photograph taken of her when she gave the President a one-finger salute as he drove past in his motorcade. Her employer, Akima LLC, terminated Ms. Briskman’s employment for violating the company’s social media policy. Ms. Brisman sued Akima by arguing that a public-policy exception should exist to the at-will employment doctrine. But the Virginia Court dismissed her case for failure to state a legal claim.

Similarly, a white nationalist was fired from his job as a welder and mechanic after appearing in the New York Times at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The company, Limestone & Sones Inc. posted a statement on its Facebook page stating they “would like to take this time to assure our friends and customers that we do not condone the actions of people involved in this horrific display that has taken place in Charlottesville.”

This is not to say that employers can never be held liable for terminating an employee for “free speech.” Many states, including Minnesota, prohibit an employer from terminating an employee for reporting, in good faith, violations of the law to the police. While some employers may feel tempted to retaliate against an employee for speaking with the police about its own policies or practices, such retaliation would likely violate the law. Likewise, an employer who terminates an employee for protesting race discrimination may itself face a lawsuit for race discrimination.

If you have been fired for engaging in “free speech,” and would like to know more about your rights, contact an attorney at Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel today.

Super Lawyers Names Vildan Teske a Top 100 Lawyer and Top 50 Women Lawyer, and Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel Rising Stars

We are excited to announce that, once again, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partners have been named to the annual Super Lawyers and Rising Stars lists. Vildan Teske has been named one of the Top 100 Lawyers and one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Minnesota. This is a very high distinction reserved for the top attorneys under the Super Lawyers rating system–and is especially impressive given that there are more than 25,000 attorneys in Minnesota. 

Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel were both again named to the list of Rising Stars honorees as well. Vildan Teske was named a Super Lawyer in the “Class Action/Mass Torts” category, while Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel were named Rising Stars honorees in the “Employment Litigation: Plaintiff” category.  

Each year, only a select few attorneys are honored as Super Lawyers or Rising Stars. Only 5% of the attorneys in Minnesota are recognized as Super Lawyers, and only 2.5% of attorneys are named as Rising Stars (for attorneys in their first 10 years of practice or under the age of 40). The award is based on a combination of  objective criteria,  peer nominations, and a blue ribbon panel review

For individual profiles and to see Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel’s firm profile, visit the Super Lawyers website. To view the full digital Super Lawyers magazine with the complete list, click here.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel is proud of all of its attorneys, and grateful to the legal community for this recognition.

Brian Rochel Presents at NELA’s 2018 Annual Convention

On June 28, 2018, Brian Rochel presented along with co-panelists Kathy Butler and David Schlesinger at the National Employment Lawyers’ Association’s (NELA) 2018 Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

Brian, Kathy and David’s panel, entitled “Outside-The-Box Discovery Tools: Getting Creative with Discovery in The Era of Proportionality,” focused on practical tips and advice for employee advocates.

Brian is an experienced litigator, representing hundreds of workers in lawsuits throughout his career. That work frequently includes fights over discovery—documents and evidence that plaintiffs need to prove their cases.

If you have questions about employment litigation or employment law please contact us and we will be happy to help you.

Brian Rochel Moderates Panel on Proving Damages at Employment Law Institute

On May 21, 2018, Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partner Brian Rochel presented a continuing legal education seminar to his peers at the Upper Midwest Employment Law Institute. The Employment Law Institute, billed as “the Nation’s best employment law conference,” is a program that attracted approximately 1,400 lawyers and employment law professionals. Rochel, together with his co-panelists Anna Prakash, Sheila Engelmeier and Kaarin Nelson Schafer, presented a session entitled “What’s the Harm? – Evaluating and Proving Damages.” The discussion focused on methods of proving damages in trial of employment law claims, as well as presenting damages in settlement and pre-litigation contexts.

Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel’s attorneys regularly practice employment law on behalf of employees. If you have questions about employment law, or would like to learn more about damages and remedies available to employees, contact us today.

Phillip Kitzer Presents on Panel at Minnesota FBA Federal Practice Seminar

On April 27, 2018, Phillip Kitzer joined co-panelists Judge Jeffrey Keyes and Judge Hildy Bowbeeron a panel titled “Representing Clients in Mediation” at the Minnesota chapter of the Federal Bar Association’s (FBA) 44th Annual Federal Practice Seminar. Moderated by Antone Melton-Meaux, the panel discussed various techniques and considerations in mediating cases and representing clients in mediation.

The Federal Practice Seminar is an annual event hosted by the Minnesota chapter of the Federal Bar Association and features wide-ranging topics for legal practitioners.