Monday, September 24, 2018
Business

In Florida's tough economy, worker discrimination complaints abound

More Americans than ever filed job discrimination claims last year. But Florida workers outpaced most of the country, registering 8,088 private sector complaints of workplace discrimination, harassment, retaliation and the like with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

That number made Florida No. 2 behind only Texas — and way ahead of larger California and New York — for the sheer number of EEOC complaints filed in 2011.

What made Florida such a workers' hell for so many, just behind Texas? It's no coincidence that both the Lone Star and Sunshine states boast minimal worker protection laws, with employers pretty much able to fire someone at will. California, almost twice the size of Florida in population, had fewer EEOC complaints because the state has extensive worker protection laws.

Some top Tampa Bay employment lawyers confirm the volume of worker complaints are up in the wake of a historic recession.

Wolfgang Florin, an attorney with Palm Harbor's Florin Roebig, a law firm very active in defending employees in workplace matters, says he is not surprised to see an uptick in the number of EEOC filings with the downturn in the economy.

"Our state has a large population of both older workers and minorities, both groups obviously protected by the civil rights laws," he says. The good news, Florin suggests, is that the large number of EEOC filings should decrease this year as people return to the workforce. The bad news, Florin says, is "the same discriminatory animus" seen so often in layoffs, termination and downsizing scenarios will now be present — and much harder to identify — in the hiring decisions around our state.

"The difference from a legal perspective is that it is much easier for employers to hide or mask discrimination in the hiring process than it is in the termination process," he says.

There's the rub. It would be unfortunate to cheer any decline in the overall reduction in workplace claims as the Florida economy improves if it really means discrimination is simply better disguised.

St. Petersburg labor and employment attorney Phyllis Towzey says she has seen more people filing EEOC charges or contacting lawyers after they have been terminated or suffered cutbacks in their work hours.

But she has not seen an actual uptick in viable discrimination cases. When companies lay off workers, those targeted look for reasons why they were chosen, she says. Often they believe it may have been based on age, race, disability or other protected status.

"More often, it's simply economics," Towzey says.

And she offers another scenario. With higher unemployment, employers may be less tolerant of workers who don't perform up to expectations. These days, it's much easier to fill positions with qualified (and even overqualified) individuals.

That's one reason so many workers are putting in the extra hours and even smiling at the boss more often these days.

By almost any measure, the Tampa Bay workplace is not lacking in acrimony. This past week's tale of Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner's admitting he sent dozens of pornographic emails to his human resources director, then fired her, is only the latest headline. In recent months, the area courts have been awash in worker lawsuits ranging from allegations of sexual harassment (most often women working in restaurants, it seems), employee loss of freedom of speech, racial, age and ethnic discrimination, and retaliation by management.

Workplace lawsuits often are settled out of court. Frequently, those settlements are confidential. When 15 older employees were laid off at Superior Uniform in Seminole, they sued the company in 2010 for age discrimination. The suit was settled confidentially.

Other cases grab national attention. Tampa's OSI Restaurant Partners, parent of the Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain, was ordered in 2010 to pay $19 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the EEOC alleging that company systematically stymied women from advancing to lucrative management ranks.

Florida's landed at No. 2 in EEOC complaints for three years in a row. Let some other state rise in the ranks in 2012.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Struggling against Red Tide, a Redington Beach liquor store is too small to qualify for local aid

Struggling against Red Tide, a Redington Beach liquor store is too small to qualify for local aid

REDINGTON BEACH — Mark Wilson hasn’t had a customer for hours.As the only liquor store on his stretch of Pinellas County beaches, Wilson is used to a steady stream of tourists from the nearby condos and hotels. Other beachfront businesses affected by...
Published: 09/25/18
Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers is its dropping its brand name in exchange for something slimmer: "WW." The company says the new logo - coupled with the tagline "Wellness that Works" -- puts an emphasis on overall health and well being, with less...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Tampa Bay sounds like a home seller’s dream market — even compared to other locales statewide. According to a recent study by SmartAsset, four of the top 10 easiest places to sell a home in Florida are in the bay area. Northern Hillsborough County ac...
Published: 09/24/18
Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Just in time for fall, pump prices are finally declining. Gas prices in Florida averaged $2.72 per gallon Monday, down from $2.74 per gallon a week ago, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Tampa Bay prices were even lower at $2.63 per gallon, down...
Published: 09/24/18
SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

Satellite radio provider Sirius XM said Monday that it would acquire music streaming service Pandora Media for $3.5 billion in a bid to corral listeners who do not want to pay for premium channels.Pandora rose to success by providing tailored radio s...
Published: 09/24/18
Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortnite’s popularity

Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortnite’s popularity

TAMPA — As a mutual fund wonder-boy, hedge fund manager and real estate investor, Jeff Vinik has long displayed a sense for knowing when to put money into the next big thing, and his latest bet on e-sports may be no different.Vink recently bought nea...
Published: 09/24/18
Hernando Business Digest for Sept. 28

Hernando Business Digest for Sept. 28

BrieflyEMPLOYERS NEEDED FOR JOB FAIR: Pasco-Hernando State College, CareerSource Pasco Hernando, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and Hernando County Office of Economic Development are seeking employers to participate in the Open for A...
Published: 09/24/18
Solar farm land price is $6.8 million, including $4.4 million to state Sen. Wilton Simpson

Solar farm land price is $6.8 million, including $4.4 million to state Sen. Wilton Simpson

Tampa Electric Co. has said its Mountain View Solar project near Dade City represented a $75 million investment in alternative energy. The investing began in earnest last week when the utility paid more than $6.8 million for 382 acres in the rural co...
Published: 09/24/18
Dear Penny: I spent everything ending a bad relationship. Can I treat myself?

Dear Penny: I spent everything ending a bad relationship. Can I treat myself?

Dear Penny, I just made one of the hardest decisions of my life and ended the relationship I had been in since my early 20s. After a decade in a bad relationship, I’m super excited to be single again. The problem is my wardrobe. Over the past few yea...
Published: 09/24/18
Nearly half of cellphone calls will be scams by 2019, report says

Nearly half of cellphone calls will be scams by 2019, report says

Nearly half of all cellphone calls next year will come from scammers, according to First Orion, a company that provides phone carriers and their customers caller ID and call blocking technology.The Arkansas-based firm projects an explosion of incomin...
Published: 09/23/18