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Areas of Practice » Employment and Labor » Private Sector Employees

Private Sector Employees and Government Contractors

At The Federal Practice Group Worldwide Service, we represent private sector employees from the District of Columbia and Maryland, including government contractors, in a broad spectrum of employment law related claims, to include the following areas:

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. The District of Columbia Human Rights Act and Maryland Human Rights Act, as well as local ordinances such as the Human Relations Acts of Montgomery County and Prince Georges County, also apply.

Discrimination based on race/ethnicity or national origin

Federal and state law protects individuals from race discrimination in the workplace as well as discrimination based on national origin. Federal laws, such as the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, explicitly protect against race discrimination, as do local laws such as the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the Prince Georges County Human Rights Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act. Race discrimination was also outlawed under the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Discrimination based on age

Federal, state, and local laws protect employees and job applicants from age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") is a federal law that protects employees from discrimination that results in a loss of pay, such as discrimination in hiring, promotions, pay increases, and terminations. In addition to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, other laws protect older employees from unfair treatment, including the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act ("OWBPA") and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). Age discrimination is also prohibited by the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the Prince Georges County Human Rights Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act.

Discrimination based on gender/sex

Where sexist behavior results in a loss of income or opportunities, such as in hiring, promotions, pay, benefits, and termination, it is against the law. Other unlawful sex discrimination includes when sexism or sexual entreaties rise to the level of a hostile work environment or sexual harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against sex discrimination in employment. The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying women less than men for equal work. State and local laws such as the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the Montgomery County and Prince Georges County Human Rights Acts provide legal protections from sex discrimination and cover smaller employers.

Discrimination based on pregnancy

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against women because of pregnancy. Employers may not subject pregnant women to different standards for determining leave and benefits than they apply to other employees. Employers are also forbidden from refusing to hire or from firing a woman because she is pregnant. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is one of several laws, including the Family Medical Leave Act and local laws such as the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, that protect the rights of pregnant employees.

Discrimination based on religion

Religious discrimination is the treatment of an employee differently because he or she belongs to a particular religious organization or holds particular religious beliefs. The law extends to people from all religions and or the religion of a close family member or associate. Freedom from religious discrimination is protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by state laws such as the District of Columbia Human Rights Act and Maryland Human Rights Act, as well as by local ordinances such as the Human Relations Acts of Montgomery County and Prince Georges County.

Disability Discrimination

The law protects people with disabilities from discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities. To be protected, an employee generally must be a "qualified individual with a disability," which means that the person is qualified for the job and has a disability as defined by the law. There are three possible ways to have a disability recognized under the law:

  • If you have a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity
  • If you have a history of a disability
  • If your employer believes you have an impairment that is long lasting and not minor

Even if you do not have a disability, the law may protect you from discrimination based on your relationship with a person with a disability.

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and your employer has treated you less favorably on the basis of your disability, your employer may be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, by state laws like the District of Columbia Human Rights Act and Maryland Human Rights Act, as well as by local ordinances such as the Human Relations Acts of Montgomery County and Prince Georges County.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Employees are protected against sexual orientation discrimination by the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, which explicitly outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as well as the Montgomery County Human Rights Act. Executive Order 13087, which prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation within administrative agencies of the federal government. In some cases, Title VII can protect individuals from discrimination where stereotypical gender roles result in unfair treatment of gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals.

The prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County extends to more than just tangible employment actions. For instance, the law also protects against harassment based on sexual orientation. Under the law, employees may be protected against the use of slurs, epithets, and other hostile behavior based on sexual orientation when committed by the employee's co-workers, supervisors, clients, or customers, when it create a hostile work environment. The law forbids harassment that is so severe or pervasive that employees' working conditions are changed.

Retaliation

It illegal to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against employees and applicants for employment because they have filed a complaint of discrimination or because they participated in a lawsuit or an investigation concerning employment discrimination. Retaliation means any action that would reasonably deter a reasonable employee from

Negotiating, drafting and reviewing employment contracts

Employment contract disputes can arise in the course of employment or after employment is terminated. Often, employment contracts are drafted by the employer and are intended to protect employer's rights. Many employment contracts fail to protect the rights of employees. We can assist you in drafting, reviewing, or asserting your rights before you enter an agreement or after a dispute arises. Before you enter into an employment contract that may affect your salary, benefits, severance package, or future ability to work, you should review your rights and obligations with an experienced employment contracts attorney. We will review all of your options and alternatives and assist you in negotiating an employment contract agreement that safeguards your rights.

Severance packages

We will examine the details and documents of your employer's severance package offer and advise you on whether the offer is adequate based on your time of service, years of experience, and other mitigating factors. We can help in explaining your rights and responsibilities under any arrangements you may be asked to sign in exchange for the severance package, and may suggest more aggressive compensation based on your personal factors.

Non-compete and non-disclosure agreements

Disputes regarding wages and hours, non-compete and non-disclosure agreements, or other contractual obligations between the employer and the employee are not uncommon. If you have entered into an employment contract and now face a dispute, we can assert your rights in or out of court. Whether you are interested in protecting your job, challenging an obligation, or asserting your rights against an employer who has breached the terms of the contract, we will work to resolve the dispute and protect your interests. We review these agreements, as well as executive pay package contracts, to ensure that a legally binding document is in place.

Wage claims and equal pay claim

Federal and state wage and hour laws are designed to ensure that workers are paid for the hours they work and to ensure workers are paid above a minimum wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act entitles many workers to the minimum wage and payment of overtime wages at least 1.5 times the ordinary wage for time worked over 40 hours in a work week. Additionally, state laws require that individuals must be paid in a timely manner or their employers are subject to legal action. State wage and hour laws can provide additional protections above and beyond those provided by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. For example, the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law allows employees to recover up to three times the unpaid wages and commissions, along with attorneys' fees. The District of Columbia also has laws requiring the prompt payment of wages earned and allow employees to take action and recover for a failure to timely pay employees.

Wrongful termination

Although an employee is generally considered to be employed "at will" and can be discharged by an employer for any reason or for no reason at all, most states have adopted public policy exceptions to protect employees who disclose criminal, illegal, unethical or unsafe practices. In addition, the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine protects employees who refuse to engage in illegal conduct.

In the District of Columbia, an employee may sue an employer for wrongful discharge if the employer terminates the employee for: (1) refusing to engage in illegal conduct, (2) exercising a statutory right, or (3) reporting an employer's or a co-worker's illegal conduct.

In Maryland, an employee has a cause of action for wrongful discharge when the employee's termination contravenes a clear mandate of public policy. Maryland and federal legislative enactments, and administrative regulations can serve as a source of the public policy. A complaint alleging the tort of wrongful discharge must contain a substantial degree of particularity. An employee alleging wrongful discharge in violation of public policy must bring a claim within 3 years of the alleged wrongful termination. A prevailing employee may be awarded lost pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) issues

State and federal family and medical leave acts help to protect individuals who must take leave to care for family or themselves. Employees enjoy protection for family and medical leave, and from retaliation by employers when employees take leave. The right to take leave is protected by the Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FLMLA) as well as state laws like the District of Columbia Family Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA). Washington, D.C. has its own FMLA law which provides covered employees with up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave during a two year period. The DCFMLA has different requirements than the federal statute, and it provides broader coverage and protections than federal law. An employee must file suit within 1 year of the DCFMLA violation. Unlike under the federal FMLA, the DCFMLA allows employees to take leave to care for someone with whom they are in a committed relationship. The Maryland Flexible Leave Act provides employees of employers with 15 or more employees with the ability to use paid leave that has been earned by the employee for an illness in the employee's immediate family.

FILING A CHARGE

As with other parts of Title VII, an employee must file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days from the date of event that constitutes discrimination (300 days if your state has its own sex discrimination law and agency that handles discrimination complaints) in order to not lose their right to file a lawsuit on a claim. After the EEOC investigates the charge and issues a "Notice of Right to Sue" the employee must file their lawsuit in court within 90 days. Other laws, such as the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, may allow an individual to file suit without first going to the EEOC.

Private Sector Employers

Similarly, for employers in the private sector, employee disputes can be the most difficult and complex part of running a business. The Federal Practice Group Worldwide Service handles employment disputes and investigations including:

  • Workplace and Sexual Harassment Investigations
  • Mediation/ADR
  • Negotiating Contracts
  • Employment and Severance Agreements
  • Covenants Not to Compete
  • Discrimination Cases
  • Reviewing/Preparing Employee Handbooks and Employment Manuals
  • Preventative Counseling and Legal Compliance
  • Litigation and Appeals