Discrimination Suits in the News: Giant Corporations

April 25, 2016

No one should have to wake up in the morning and wonder, “Am I going to be discriminated against today?” Unfortunately, giant corporations such as Uber, Walmart, or McDonald’s, have been accused of doing just that.

These giant corporations are all defending employment discrimination lawsuits. In the case O’Connor v. Uber (a class action lawsuit in California), Uber drivers are fighting to prove that Uber is unlawfully denying employment rights to their drivers. Drivers for Uber work a flexible schedule—and get to drive when and where they want. Simultaneously, Uber app users save expensive taxi fare and avoid the hassle of flagging down a cab. The company benefits greatly from this model as well. To date, Uber has not been required to compensate drivers for mileage, gas costs, additional insurance, or any other work related expense. They’ve also dodged the expense of providing employee related labor protections (such as, minimum wage, overtime, workers’ comp, or other benefits.)

The plaintiffs in O’Connor v. Uber claim that Uber is operating as an employer without providing employee related protections. Uber requires a level of customer appreciation for the independently contracted drivers. Part of the driver evaluation includes the state and condition of a driver’s vehicle— even though Uber does not compensate for wear and tear. If the drivers do not meet the company’s standard, they could be terminated. This makes Uber a high-risk job for those using the income to support a family. So, if the plaintiffs can prove that Uber should be characterized as an employer, Uber could be required to compensate employees for expenses as far back as the company’s inception in 2009.

Walmart (perhaps the largest corporation in the US) is also in the midst of a big employment lawsuit. For nearly ten years Walmart has been embroiled in a discrimination case that the Ninth Circuit Court Appeals recently ruled could go forward. Much litigation has centered on whether the current plaintiffs’ (a group of former and current female employees) are representative of a class of employees who faced similar circumstances and treatment. Currently, women maintain 70% of Walmart’s hourly jobs, but only make up 33% of the management positions. The lawsuit alleges gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The suit points to statistics that show that men earn more than women in every region and that the salary gap, currently in favor of men, is widening. If the corporation cannot prove that they have done everything necessary to provide equal opportunities for women, they could be facing an enormous monetary judgment in favor of the employees.

McDonald’s is another corporation being sued by their employees for discrimination. Ten employees at a McDonald’s in Virginia claim that they were being both racially discriminated against and sexually harassed by a franchise manager. Normally a lawsuit like this would only involve the the McDonald’s stored but plaintiffs are trying to hold the McDonald’s Corporation responsible for the actions of their franchisees. They claim the corporation failed to investigate claims of discrimination and take reasonable steps to remedy discriminatory actions. The lawsuit suggests that the restaurants, although franchises and in theory independent, were actually largely controlled by McDonald’s Corporate. This is because Corporate has the power to set and enforce company policies. Also, the plaintiffs claim they complained to corporate McDonald’s after the firing and that the corporation failed to take any action to address their complaints or reinstate their employment.

The plaintiffs, nine of whom are African American and one who is Hispanic, allege wrongful termination, racial, and gender discrimination. The female plaintiffs allege they were subjected to groping and other forms of sexual harassment. The minority plaintiffs’ claim mostly white employees replaced them because the manager viewed one of the stores as “the ghetto store”, and believed there were “too many black people [working] in the store.”

These lawsuits are ones to watch as they could affect employees and corporations throughout the America.

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