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February

Can You Be Fired for Having Your Period at Work?

'Every woman dreads getting period symptoms when they're not expecting them,' said Alisha Coleman, 'but I never thought I could be fired for it.' It's not a legal question often asked, but Coleman should know better than most. She was fired from a 911 call center in Georgia, allegedly after experiencing heavy menstrual symptoms related to the onset of menopause while at work. With help from the American Civil Liberties Union, she is now suing her former employer, the Bobby Dodd Institute, for gender discrimination. "I don't want any woman to have to go through what I did," Coleman stated. Working Woman According to her suit, Coleman was experiencing symptoms of premenopause at the time of her firing, which can include "irregular and unpredictable sudden onset menstrual periods, which could be heavy at times." In August of 2015, Coleman "unexpectedly experienced a sudden onset of her menstrual period that resulted in her accidentally leaking menstrual fluid on her office chair." She reported the event to her supervisor, who advised her to leave the premises to change clothing. Soon after her supervisor and HR Director warned her "that she would be fired if she ever soiled another chair from sudden onset menstrual flow." In April of 2016, some menstrual fluid unexpectedly leaked onto the carpet when Coleman got up to walk to the bathroom. Despite immediately cleaning the spot with bleach and disinfectant, Coleman was terminated, allegedly for her failure to "practice high standards of personal hygiene and maintain a clean, neat appearance while on duty." Workplace Legal Protections Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended the Civil Rights Act, barring discrimination of "women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions." The question Coleman's lawsuit raises is whether either or both laws apply to women undergoing menopause. The Bobby Dodd Institute argued against that proposition in its motion to dismiss the suit, and said Coleman wasn't targeted for being female. A district court judge agreed and dismissed her case in June, ruling it was not clear that Coleman's treatment for "excessive menstruation was treated less favorably than similar conditions affecting both sexes," or that "male employees who soiled themselves and company property due to a medical condition, such as incontinence, would have been treated more favorably." The ACLU took up her case, filing an appeal on her behalf. "Employers have no business policing women's bodies or their menstrual cycles," said Andrea Young, ACLU of Georgia executive director in a statement. "Firing a woman for getting her period at work is offensive and an insult to every woman in the workplace ... That's wrong and illegal under federal law. We're fighting back." Related Resources: Find an Employment Lawyer in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Pregnancy Discrimination Warning Signs (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 5 Reasons You Can't Be Fired From Your Job (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) When Can You Sue for Wrongful Termination? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Los Angeles Settles Cyclist’s Pothole Injury Lawsuit for $6.5M

Peter Godefroy was riding his bicycle on Valley Vista Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, California two years ago when struck a pothole, crashed his bike, and suffered "severe traumatic brain injury and numerous broken or fractured bones throughout his body." Godefroy sued the City of Los Angeles, claiming poor lighting and even worse maintenance led to a simple pothole becoming a "concealed trap for bicyclists." The L.A. City Council settled that lawsuit last week, voting 11-0 to approve granting Godefroy $6.5 million in damages. It's the second such settlement this year, after the council also awarded $4.5 million to the family of a man killed after he was thrown from his bike when he hit uneven pavement in the city. Bike Suits Bicycle accidents are sadly more common than you would hope. And if you don't have cycling insurance (yes, those policies do exist), you may be wondering about your legal options. In a crash scenario, hopefully the other party -- whether it be a driver in their car, a business-owned vehicle, another cyclist, or even a pedestrian -- will be insured and that will cover your injuries. If not, you may have to file a lawsuit in order to recoup medical bills and lost wages. Most cycling accidents can be treated just like car accidents: exchange insurance information with the other party or parties, document the accident and any injuries as thoroughly as possible, and consider contacting the police if there are serious injuries or property damage. And the work doesn't stop the day after an accident -- make sure to track initial ambulance or hospital bills, additional or ongoing medical expenses, and lost work or wages as well as future income. City Liability It may sound daunting, but you can sue city hall. You may have to file a claim of injury with the city before filing a civil lawsuit to give the city a chance to compensate you or respond to the claim, and you'll have to do so within specific statutes of limitation. If the city fails to respond or denies your claim, you can move on to a full-blown lawsuit. As a general rule, municipalities are responsible for maintaining roadways (including bike lanes and sidewalks) so that they're safe for cyclists, and can be held liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on public roadways. If a city or municipal entity fails to exercise reasonable care in keeping the roadways in good repair, they can be found liable for injuries that occur. However, in order to prove a city was negligent in repairing the road, you would also need to prove the city had or should have had notice of the dangerous condition and failed to fix it. If you're considering a bike injury lawsuit against a city, talk to an experienced attorney first. Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Severely Injured Cyclist Settles Broken Sidewalk 'Launch Ramp' Case for $4.84M (FindLaw's Injured) San Diego Cyclist Injured by Pothole Gets $235K Settlement From City (FindLaw's Injured) NYPD Accused of 'Hit and Lie' on Cyclist (FindLaw's Injured)
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Do You Need to Actually Drive a Car to Be Guilty of Theft?

It's a question that only raises more questions: Can a person who locks himself in another person's car without permission be convicted of vehicle theft? Who is this person? How'd they get into the car? Isn't the whole point of stealing a car, you know, to drive it away? But the Minnesota Supreme Court has an answer: Yes. To Drive or to Take? According to prosecutors, the owner of the vehicle left it idling in his driveway one winter morning to warm up, when Somsalao Thonesavanh knocked on his front door. The owner called 911, but by the time an officer arrived, Thonesavanh had locked himself in the car, still in the driveway. Police eventually persuaded him to leave the car, placed him under arrest, and charged him with motor vehicle theft. Under Minnesota's vehicle theft statute, someone is guilty of theft if he or she "takes or drives a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner or an authorized agent of the owner, knowing or having reason to know that the owner or an authorized agent of the owner did not give consent." Clearly Thonesavanh didn't "drive" the car; but did he "take" it? One Too Many Words The Minnesota Supreme Court admitted that the word "takes" in the statute is ambiguous, but decided it could clear up that ambiguity, agreeing with prosecutors that "all that is required to 'take' a motor vehicle is to adversely possess it." How does one adversely possess a car? The court cited the state's simple robbery statute, which requires only temporary control over property to count as theft. The court also pointed to a perhaps esoteric aspect of judicial decision-making: canons of interpretation. One such canon -- the one against "surplusage" -- "favors giving each word or phrase in a statute a distinct, not an identical, meaning." If the justices held that "takes" has the same meaning as "drives," one of those words would be extraneous, so lawmakers must have intended one of those words to have a different meaning. So yeah, lock yourself in someone else's car in Minnesota? You can be guilty of vehicle theft. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) MN Supreme Court: Car Doesn't Have to Move to Be Stolen (Minnesota Public Radio) Grand Theft Auto vs. Joyriding: Which Crime Depends on Time (FindLaw Blotter) When Does Borrowing Become Stealing? (FindLaw Blotter)
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DeVos Plans to Dismantle Standards for Campus Sexual Assault Investigations

Donald Trump's new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans to rescind a six-year-old policy issued by Barack Obama's administration that advised colleges and universities on how to handle sexual assault allegations on campus. "Washington has burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate," DeVos told a crowd at George Mason University. "That's why we must do better, because the current approach isn't working." But DeVos wasn't as clear about what the new approach would look like as she was about rebuking the old approach. So where does that leave victims, alleged abusers, and schools trying to meet their legal obligations? Out With the Old In 2011, Obama's Department of Education issued what is known as a "Dear Colleague" letter, addressing the requirements of colleges and universities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in regards to sexual violence on campus. Schools must "take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence," including a prompt investigation of any incident the school knows of or reasonably should know of, and apply a "preponderance of evidence" standard to determinations based on sexual harassment allegations. According to DeVos, this system "has failed too many students." "Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved," she said, adding, "That's why we must do better, because the current approach isn't working." In With What Now? What the new approach will be, however, isn't immediately clear. DeVos announced plans to "launch a transparent notice-and-comment process" to formulate new guidance on sexual assault investigations, presumably to standardize procedural elements and protections across all schools. One of the issues that many, including the American Bar Association, have highlighted in prior critiques is the lack of due process protections for both victims and accusers in on-campus hearings, along with the lack of uniformity in schools' reporting, investigating, punishment, and appeals processes. "We can do a better job of making sure the handling of complaints is fair and accurate," DeVos promised, but how that job will be done remains to be seen. Related Resources: DeVos Announces Plan to Revamp Obama Administration Guidance on Campus Sex Assault Investigations (ABA Journal) Columbia Settles Title IX Lawsuit Filed by Student Accused of Rape (FindLaw's Decided) University May Raise Tuition to Fund Sexual Assault Investigations (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Are Schools Using Student Privacy Laws to Cover up Crimes? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Burglar Who Targeted Senior Citizens Gets 327 Year Sentence

A burglar in San Francisco has just been sentenced to 327 years to life for a string of home invasion robberies against local senior citizens. The convicted burglar, 60 year old German Woods, targeted vulnerable seniors, many of whom didn't speak English, or did so poorly. Woods' modus operandi included lying in wait for seniors that lived alone to return home, then as they were entering their homes, he would attack, forcing them into and ransacking their homes. The charges against Woods go back to 2014. Between then and 2016, he committed numerous burglaries, and was ultimately convicted in July 2016 on 17 different counts, including some charges for elder abuse. Penalties for Burglary While burglary is often equated with theft or robbery, it is a little bit different. Burglary is actually just the unlawful entry into any structure with the intent to commit a crime. As such, when it comes to a burglary conviction, the penalties will generally depend upon the severity of the crimes associated with the entry into another's home or business. For instance, a burglary with the intent just to trespass is going to be punished much more leniently than a burglary with the intent to attack another person or steal valuable property. Additionally, the intended crime does not have to be completed for a person to be charged with burglary. Consecutive or Concurrent Sentencing When a defendant is convicted on multiple counts or charges, judges often have several options when it comes to sentencing (though sentencing guidelines, statutes, and case law often limit those options somewhat).However, one of the primary decisions a judge can make is whether a convict will serve multiple count sentences consecutively or concurrently. For instance, if a defendant is convicted on 4 counts, and is sentenced to 25 years for each count, a consecutive sentence means he must serve 100 years behind bars, while concurrent sentencing means he would be out in 25. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) 5 Tips to Prevent Daytime Burglaries (FindLaw Blotter) What is Looting? (FindLaw Blotter) Penalty for Gun Store Robbery (FindLaw Blotter)
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Judge to Allow Jury to Decide If ‘Brain Dead’ Teen Is Alive

Jahi McMath was thirteen years old when a routine tonsillectomy went wrong and left the teen brain dead. After the surgery in 2013, she was pronounced dead, and the county coroner even signed a death certificate a month later. However, Jahi was never taken off life support. Her parents insist that she is still alive, based upon their Christian faith, regardless of the fact that she has been declared brain dead. While Jahi has been kept on life support, her parents have pursued a medical malpractice claim against the hospital as a result of the surgery. But, unlike typical medical malpractice claims where the plaintiff is either alive and injured, or dead, the court is sending that issue to the jury to decide. What's Life Anyway? Jahi's mother believes that it is her duty to keep fighting for her daughter. Despite knowing that her daughter has a severe and irreparable brain injury, she sees her daughters fingers twitch, and sees her react to unpleasant smells, and this clearly give her hope for the future. In short, whether Jahi is deemed to be alive or dead by the jury will impact the size of the potential jury verdict. If Jahi is found to still be alive, her parents will be able to seek damages for future medical care, and other damages that they would not be entitled to seek on behalf of a deceased child.State of Life California doctors were able to secure an order from the court to withdraw life support, however, before that could happen, Jahi was moved to New Jersey. The state of New Jersey is the only state where religious beliefs that do not accept brain death as actual death will prevail over medical opinion. Jahi's current doctor testified that not only has her body not started deteriorating, but that she has started puberty and even began menstruation. He testified that she is in a "minimally responsive state." Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Jahi McMath Case: What Is Brain Death? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman's Husband Sues Hospital (FindLaw's Injured) Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman Taken Off Life Support (FindLaw's Injured)
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Is Police Body Cam Footage Public Record?

Over the past few years, more and more police departments have adopted the use of officer body cams. The devices attach to an officer's uniform and record what the officers do while on duty. However, there is no uniform law of the land when it comes to the public's right to access the footage from the body cams. Depending on the local jurisdiction, or state, different standards are used for the release of the footage. Some will only allow the footage to be released publicly as part of a criminal or civil trial (as the law requires the disclosure then), while others allow the recordings to be released on YouTube (after private and identifying information is edited out). Video for the People, Not of the People The purpose of police body cams is to engender the public's trust. The idea is essentially that officers will be less likely to not follow the rules, and will be more likely to do everything exactly by the book, if there is a video record of all their actions. These cams can also provide evidence of corrupt police practices, at least when the corrupt officers are not selectively recording with their body cams. The recordings are not just of public civil servants (police officers), but the individuals they encounter are, naturally, caught on camera too. This complicates public disclosure as private individuals have privacy rights, even when they are out in public. Those privacy rights can be violated by allowing the public unfettered access to the footage. A simple example involves a traffic stop. If an officer is not careful when handling a pulled over driver's documents, or the footage is not redacted/edited before it is released publicly, a person's driver's license number, address, height, birth date, and (alleged) weight, could all be captured by a body cam. Who's Watching? Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of police body cam footage, it would likely be impractical, or a drain on police resources, for all of it to be reviewed. Instead, generally, departments review the footage when necessary to review high profile incidents, arrests that lead to prosecutions, or sometimes when officers need help to remember what happened for their reports. Also, when complaints against officers are made by the public, or other officers, the body cam footage can be reviewed. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Police Body Cameras: What Defendants, Victims Need to Know (FindLaw Blotter) Body Cams Embraced, But Who Will Have Access to Footage? (FindLaw's California Case Law) How Does the iPhone's New 'Cop Button' Work? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Defense Secretary Puts President Trump’s Transgender Ban on Hold

In the wake of President Donald Trump's proclamation that openly transgender individuals be discharged from the military, in addition to the lawsuits, there has been some pushback from an unexpected source: the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis. After sources reported that the general was appalled by the president's proclamation, soon after, he came out with a plan that effectively puts the ban on hold. While socially, and politically, transgender rights are a polarizing and controversial issue, it may not be possible to read anything more than prudence into Mattis's actions. Making a sweeping change like this to the military requires careful planning and assessment. What's Mattis's Hold Up? The general, reportedly, has instituted the hold on implementing the newest ban in order to study the effects and strategically plan how to actually do it (and potentially even whether to do it at all). Although the president, in a series of Tweets, claimed to have met with his generals prior to implementing the ban, no general has corroborated this claim. As such, not only was the general caught off guard, but the new policy's effects had not been studied prior to the implementation. While it may be too soon for those on either side of this issue to celebrate, LGBT advocates are pleased that there is at least some relief from the abruptly announced policy that would have uprooted many people's lives. Constitutional Challenges and Civil Rights Laws The lawsuit by the ACLU that challenges the transgender military ban argues that there is no military basis for the ban. According to the ACLU's complaint, "The Trump Administration has provided no evidence that this pronouncement was based on any analysis of the actual cost and disruption allegedly caused by allowing men and women who are transgender to serve openly."The Trump administration also faces a lawsuit from Lambda Legal that challenges the constitutionality of the transgender ban. Lambda Legal's lawsuit alleges "the Ban and the current accessions bar violate the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment and the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment," and "are unsupported by any compelling, important, or even rational justification."Although the new administration has taken a position that transgender individuals should not be protected under civil rights laws, there has been a steady trend in the law to protect transgender individuals. The number of states, and even federal courts, that have recognized transgender individuals as belonging to a protected class, and thus protected by civil rights laws, keeps growing. Related Resources: Trump Administration Rescinds Guidance on Bathroom Use for Transgender Students (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) The Rise of Anti-Anti-Discrimination Laws (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) California's Gender Neutral Bathroom Bill (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Here's the Latest on Trump Immigration Reform Efforts (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Can I Sue for a Heatstroke Injury?

Heatstroke is one of the more common causes for injuries over the summer. It occurs when a person's body temperature rises above 104 degrees due to sun/heat exposure. A person suffering from heatstroke requires immediate medical care. If left untreated, it can damage a person's brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. Fortunately, individuals can usually prevent heatstroke by finding ways to cool down before it's too late, such as finding some shade, hydrating, even jumping in a pool, or just taking a shower. However, it is not always possible to prevent heatstroke, and sometimes, another person, or business entity, could even be liable for it. Below, you'll find three examples of when a person might be able to sue due to a heatstroke injury. 1. Employees Without Climate Control In the employment context, employers are required to maintain safe working conditions for their employees. In non-climate control environments, this requires ensuring employees have sun protection, the ability to stay hydrated, and are able to get relief from the heat. Even when an employer makes every effort to prevent employees from suffering a heatstroke, if it happens on the job, the employee will likely be able to qualify for workers' compensation. 2. Kids and Supervision When children play outdoors during the summertime, generally, whoever is supervising the children could potentially be liable if a child is injured due to overheating in the sun. This is due to the fact that preventing it is as easy as making sure kids drink water and don't stay in the sun too long. During heat waves, schools will often hold recess indoors to mitigate this risk. Day care facilities, after school programs, recreational sports coaches, schools, and even individual babysitters and other parents can be held liable if a child in their care is injured. 3. Outdoor Activities and Events Businesses and event organizers can also face liability to individuals that suffer heatstroke at their events or on their premises. Generally, if there are outdoor features, or it is an outdoor event or business, consumer safety is important. Events need to make sure that there are heat relief areas that can help cool people down and help people hydrate. Businesses need to be cautious with outdoor activities and ensure they monitor, or minimally warn, consumers for heat injury. Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) How to Avoid Heat Stroke: Elderly at Risk With Temperatures Soaring (FindLaw's Common Law) Fan Sues Dallas Cowboys for Burned Butt (FindLaw's Injured) NYC Inmate 'Baked to Death' in Hot Jail Cell: Report (FindLaw's Injured)
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Amazon Eclipse Glasses Caused Permanent Blindness, Lawsuit Claims

The solar eclipse that crossed the U.S. on August 21, 2017 was more than just a rare event, it was an economic boon for the makers of solar eclipse viewing glasses. But Amazon, which sold millions of pairs of these glasses, is now facing a class action lawsuit as a result of at least two pairs not working. The injured couple claims that they purchased the glasses off Amazon's marketplace in order to view the eclipse and that they used the glasses as instructed to view the eclipse. After viewing the eclipse using the glasses, they started seeing spots and experiencing pain in their eyes, headaches, blind spots, sensitivity and distortion. Sadly, the warnings about not having the proper eye-protection were not just a ploy to sell the eclipse glasses at incredible mark-ups. Vacation Eclipses Emails Notably, one week before the totality event, Amazon issued a recall on several types of eclipse viewing glasses due to some third-party sellers being unable to verify that the glasses were manufactured according to international safety standards. It sent emails to the affected customers warning them not to use the glasses. Unfortunately, for the couple that filed suit, they did not see the email until it was too late. Like many other eclipse tourists, they left days ahead of the event, and Amazon's email was not received by them until August 19, just two days before the eclipse. Their lawsuit specifically states that the email was "too little, too late." Amazon's Liability Whether Amazon will ultimately be held liable is yet to be seen. However, this case is similar, at least in legal theory, to the lawsuit filed against the online retailer as a result of the teen that suffered a severe head injury due to an allegedly defective sword. When it comes to product liability claims, a court can hold every party that had a hand in distributing or making the product liable. The couple suing here are seeking refunds for the eclipse glasses, as well as compensation for past and future medical expenses and lost wages, and other losses (likely including pain and suffering). Interestingly though, the couple has only gone after Amazon, and not the actual manufacturer of the glasses. Related Resources: Can You Sue If You're Hit by a Delivery Truck? (FindLaw's Injured) Zappos, Amazon Sued Over Hack (FindLaw's Common Law) Climbing Wall Injuries: Who's Liable, When to Sue (FindLaw's Injured)
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