Ousted Homestead official proceeds in case

Legal representation for the city of Homestead, Florida, attempted to block legal action taken by its former deputy city manager in a case where workplace harassment has taken center stage. However, just recently, a judge in Florida permitted the trial to move forward and lawyers on both sides can continue gathering evidence to build a case.

The legal action was initially filed in September of 2011 and detailed tales where fellow city officials violated the former deputy city manager’s trust. The woman was fired from her duties in 2009, but at the time, claimed that she was being sexually harassed by the now former city manager. The ousted woman told city officials that she would not pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit if they agreed to pay her severance.

Despite the agreement, city officials still released romantic text messages between the woman and the city manager. This, according to the woman and her lawyers, infringed on her privacy and defamed her.

The opposition argues that the text messages, which were dug up by a third party investigator hired by the city, should be public record because they had to do with business. The defense stated that because the city manager was the woman’s superior, it affected everyday business.

Furthermore, the woman might have hurt herself by providing conflicting accounts of the supposed sexual harassment while on the job. When the former city manager decided to sue Homestead for wrongful termination, the woman was presented as a witness. She stated that she was not offended by the manager’s romantic text messages.

Sexual harassment on the job should never be misinterpreted or used as a bartering tool. The outcome of this suit will have a lot to do with whether the woman was genuinely harassed while employed with the city.

If the woman was taken aback by the romantic text messages, she should have spoken up right away and took her manager to task. Like many others, perhaps she was worried about retaliation and feared losing her job.

Source: The Miami Herald, “Homestead ex-employee’s lawsuit moving forward,” Christina Veiga, July 31, 2012

Hollywood city attorney sues over police officers’ pensions

Employee rights can be a contentious subject for some people, particularly when it comes to employee benefits. Illegal or unfair treatment by an employer sometimes requires legal intervention. In these cases, it helps to have an attorney who is familiar with employment law and who can devise creative solutions to disputes between companies and their employees. This is true even if voters elect the employer and the employees are public servants, such as law enforcement officers.

The city commission in Hollywood, Florida, is currently in a legal dispute with the city’s police force over the now-defunct Deferred Retirement Option Program, otherwise known as DROP. In September 2011, city residents voted to eliminate the program as part of an overall effort to drastically change public employee pensions and save the city $8.5 million.

However, Hollywood’s police officers contend that the elimination of DROP was illegal. From their viewpoint, once a person has contributed to a retirement system, he or she is entitled to the benefits of that system upon meeting the eligibility requirements. The officers assert that benefits cannot be taken away from the person without his or her consent.

In addition to suing the city, the board of Hollywood Police Officers’ Retirement System voted to admit a police sergeant into DROP. The officer is the first to become eligible for the program after it was dissolved last year. In retaliation, the city commissioners gave approval to a city attorney to file a lawsuit against the board. According to the attorney, the issue comes down to whether the pension is considered a retirement benefit or a change in employee status.

The city of Hollywood is in a tight spot. While the commissioners are sympathetic to the plight of city employees who were cut out of the program just as they became eligible for it, Hollywood is trying to bridge a budget gap of $38 million. It is clear that city employees will need a tough attorney on their side who is able to fight for their employee rights and negotiate the best deal for them.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, “Hollywood OKs lawsuit over cop’s entry into defunct retirement program,” Tonya Alanez, July 18, 2012

NFL players find strength in numbers

More than 80 pending complaints brought by former NFL players have recently been consolidated into a master complaint in a federal district court. The claims allege the NFL hid information, perhaps in violation of employment related agreements, linking football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries.

The players accuse the NFL of turning a blind eye to known health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results, such as long-term brain damage and cognitive decline. They believe the NFL should have taken a preventative approach and imposed safety regulations governing player conduct on and off the field.

Most employers are not required by law to offer health-related benefits to their employees, although the practice of providing health-related benefits is fairly common. However, when employees are members of a union that has entered into a collective bargaining agreement, those benefits may become a matter of law.

In the case of this dispute, the NFL players are members of a labor organization called the National Football League Players Association, or NFLPA, which represents all players in matters concerning wages, hours, and working conditions. The NFLPA also ensures the terms of the CBA are met and negotiates and monitors retirement and insurance benefits.

Although the former players may not be expressly accusing the NFL of violating any specific provisions of the collective bargaining agreements, they do accuse the NFL of voluntarily assuming — and then neglecting — a duty to investigate, study, and truthfully report the medical risks associated with mild traumatic brain injury in football.

Employment contracts are not specific to union jobs, although most employees would prefer to have a union representative or attorney by their side if forced to negotiate the terms of their own employment contracts. If you are facing an employment negotiation, don’t delay in contacting an attorney. An attorney can ensure your rights are protected.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, “NFL brain injury lawsuit includes 2,138 players,” Maryclaire Dale, June 7, 2012