Mark P. Carey is the owner of Carey & Associates PC, a Southport-based law firm specializing in employment discrimination litigation. In this edition of Suite Talk, Business Journal reporter Phil Hall discusses the issues that dominate Carey’s legal focus.
What do you see as the state of today’s workplace discrimination environment?
“It’s probably been the most crucial time since the 1964 Civil Rights Act passage. The system is broken – the laws don’t protect employees the way that they should. The employers game the situation to their benefit and the employees are left, in essence, reporting to HR and seeking solace and comfort from HR. But that’s not HR’s role. They have to seek out people like myself from the outside.
“I don’t feel the law is helping individuals the way it was intended, and it has been further manipulated by the courts. One-third of all cases in the federal district courts are employment cases and there is a conservatism by the federal judges against employees. In 2017, there were only five employment cases that went to trial out of the hundreds that are filed in the year, so the odds are not great for an employee in federal court — they fare much better in state court.”
What are the most prevalent complaints that you are receiving from people who feel they were the subject of workplace discrimination?
“When a woman gets pregnant, the reaction by an employer is the opposite of congratulations. If you are pregnant a second or a third time, the reaction is anything but congratulations. The reaction is simply: you are not worthy, you are going to take time away, we are going to have to find a replacement and what a big fiasco this has been for us. On top of that, the employer makes outrageous statements about the employees that became pregnant — that their brains have somehow changed. You cannot believe the nonsense. The employers make it a terrible time, period.”
What about age discrimination? As the baby boomers get older and more millennials and Gen Z members come into the workplace, are more older workers being targeted?
“Employers get rid of workers in their 50s and 60s for the sake of money — younger workers make less money and many are more tech savvy. No one is doing anything to stop the flow and tide of discrimination cases that are happening. The law itself is ineffective and no one is crying foul. No state or federal agency is doing anything about it and it is continuing to occur as the boomers find themselves in what is called long-term unemployment. After all, retirement isn’t at 65 anymore.”
The #MeToo movement called attention to workplace harassment and was a dominant subject for the past couple of years with many high-profile cases involving politicians, media figures and entertainers. But is it relevant in the everyday workforce?
“With #MeToo, we had people being called out without any fear of reprisals. It was amazing because when was the last time that happened? I can’t recall that happening in the employment setting.
“It prompted employees to realize they actually have a voice. We’ve seen instances of Google and Microsoft employees banding together without unions and bringing complaints to management and causing management to do something. The psychology of the relationship between the employer and employee is changing — that has never happened.”
Within Connecticut, there is a new effort to put paid medical and family leave into law. What is your view of this issue? And how do you respond to business owners who say it will increase operational costs?
“It is the right thing to do. It’s not a political statement. As for the business response, it is the same as workmen’s compensation insurance. If you are going to permit people to come into work and give you the benefit of their services, it is the cost of doing business. Without a better explanation from the business side of the argument, that is just a sound bite to put out there.”
Many companies claim they are trying to build a more diverse workforce. Is this a serious claim?
“It is a rubber stamp to put up as a defense whenever there is a lawsuit. I got a response back from an employer that included their employment manual and put out this whole ‘We’re diverse this that and the other.’ But I was like, ‘Wait a minute, you have discrimination happening in your workforce. How do you explain that?’
“It is like a fig leaf for their defense against litigation. If it was true, statistics would have shown complaints have gone down. They haven’t — they’re increasing, with more cases being filed every single year.”