NYC Litigation Blog

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Protections for Unpaid Interns Under New York Law

Whether in college, transitioning from one career to another or just trying to get your foot in the door, the unpaid internship has become quite popular.  These situations benefit the employer and the intern in that the employer receives free labor while the intern gains valuable experience in the industry they aspire to work in.  Colleges and graduate schools push unpaid internships and some even require them before allowing students to graduate.  Unfortunately, interns are often abused and are afraid to speak up because they do not want to ruin their chances of getting a job.  New York State has now enacted a law that protects interns from these abuses.

Previous case law issued by a Federal District Court in 2013 made unpaid interns exempt from protections for on the job discrimination and harassment.  The new legislation, actually an amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law, makes certain employment laws relating to discrimination, retaliation and harassment applicable to unpaid interns.  This law overturns the previous case law and goes into effect immediately.  The law specifically defines interns as unpaid individuals whom the employer is not required to hire after the internship, that are being closely supervised, do not replace regular employees and that are being trained to make them more employable in the future.  It focuses on discrimination and sexual harassment against interns making these acts specifically illegal.  It also makes it clear that even though these laws apply it does not mean that an employment relationship has been created.  Although New York is not the first state to enact these types of laws, and New York City recently put a similar statute in place, the law will surely make the experience of an unpaid internship much more valuable to those who decide to participate in one in New York.

If you feel you are currently being discriminated against, harassed or retaliated against at your unpaid internship you need the advice of an experienced employment law attorney to navigate the new law and decide whether you have a claim.  Call New York City attorney Thomas M. Lancia at (212)964-3157 for a consultation.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two Recent Lawsuits Challenging New York City Teacher Tenure Laws

In June of this year, a California court issued a decision striking down teacher tenure laws in the state as unconstitutional.  The basis of the decision was that teacher tenure laws violate student’s rights to an education as they allow incompetent educators to keep their jobs.  Tenure laws are job protection laws that sometimes make it nearly impossible to remove a poorly performing teacher from the system.  Based on the California case, two lawsuits have been filed by parent organizations challenging New York City tenure laws.

In New York City, teachers are eligible for tenure after three years of employment.  Once they gain tenure, they can only be punished or fired for poor performance after going through the City disciplinary system.  Some reports have shown that it can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in city resources to remove a teacher through the disciplinary system.  One study showed that in a ten-year period only 12 teachers were removed on the basis incompetence.

The pending lawsuits, including one by the New York City Parents Union, allege that the current system is not working and that it keeps ineffective teachers in the system violating the constitutional right to an education held by students.  They also allege that laying off teachers with the least seniority first in a bad economy, regardless of their skills, is bad policy.  The plaintiffs seem to be particularly focused on how tenure laws affect low-income and poverty stricken schools and students.  

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), a union that represents a large number of New York City educators, entered a memo opposing the lawsuit and waging support for tenure laws as necessary job protections for teachers.  An attorney for UFT characterized the lawsuits as misleading stating that the proposition that even incompetent teachers will not lose their jobs is incorrect.

For teachers that are capable, knowledgeable and experienced, tenure laws can be a great protection against unsubstantiated claims by students and parents.  If you are a teacher and are involved in a matter where tenure issues are present, or you have any other employment law issue you would like to discuss, call New York City attorney Thomas M. Lancia at (212)964-3157 for a consultation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Beastie Boys Win Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

Copyright infringement cases have always been common among recording artists.  Artists in the hip-hop genre have traditionally been more prone to these types of suits as the borrowing of hooks and beats is widespread. Musicians such as David Bowie and Rick James have been involved in copyright infringement.  More recently, work by the musical group LMFAO has been the subject of this type of litigation.

The Beastie Boys have recently made and won a claim of copyright infringement.   After group member Adam “MCA” Yauch passed away in 2012, Monster Beverage Inc., the company that produces Monster energy drinks, put out a video with a compilation of Beastie Boys tracks played by DJ Z-Trip.  A download of these songs was also issued along-side the video.  The video was sponsored by Monster and the download was available through their site.
Unfortunately for them, Monster overlooked one important factor before issuing the video and download.  The Beastie Boys have traditionally been against the use of their music in a commercial capacity.  Adam “MCA” Yauch was particularly against this as evidenced by a specific clause in his Last Will and Testament.  So, the remaining members of the group, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovits, brought suit seeking $2.5 million in damages.  The court eventually found for them and awarded $1.7 million.  The group members seemed to be pleased with the ruling.

Using someone else’s copyrighted work without permission often results in a legal problem.  In a case where the owners of the copyright are openly against the use of their work, one should be exceptionally careful.  Copyright infringement is a very serious matter that often involves very complicated issues.  In order to get the best possible outcome in these types of cases, it is important to obtain the representation of an experienced intellectual property attorney.

Thomas M. Lancia is experienced in the litigation of copyright infringement cases.  He represents clients who are claiming copyright infringement or are accused of it.  If you have a copyright infringement issue, call Thomas M. Lancia at (212)964-3157 for a consultation today.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Shift in Federal Employment Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin. What Title VII does not cover is employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The issue of rights of LGBT citizens has been growing over the last few years, especially in the context of same-sex marriage. Now President Obama intends to formalize LGBT rights in the workplace.

Many states have legislation making it illegal to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But, the Federal government does not. Therefore, members of the LGBT community are still vulnerable to employment discrimination on a Federal level. President Obama is planning on signing an Executive Order making this type of employment discrimination by Federal contractors illegal. It is important to realize that this Executive Order will not make this type of employment discrimination illegal for all employers. It only applies to Federal Contractors i.e. those who enter into contracts to do work for the Federal government.

All of the details of the executive order are not known at this time and are most likely not finalized. Writers also don’t know when the Executive Order will be finalized or signed by President Obama. But, it is likely that the Executive Order will be very similar to a recent employment discrimination Senate Bill of the same nature that was offered up but failed due to a Republican led house.

The proposed Executive Order has been applauded by LGBT rights organizations. But, these organizations are not totally happy with it. They think that the country needs a more comprehensive bill that would cover more than Federal contractors. In essence, they want Federal legislation that makes employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity that applies to all employers.

Thomas M. Lancia, Esq. is experienced in representing victims of employment discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability and sexual orientation. If you or someone you know has been the victim of this type of discrimination, call Thomas M. Lancia PLLC at (212)964-3157.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Religious Discrimination in Employment Is Not Always What You Might Think

If someone asked you to explain employment discrimination due to religion (which is illegal under state and federal law), you might cite a situation where an employer learns of an employee’s religious beliefs that they find to be offensive or unreasonable. As a result, the employer takes action against the employee. It doesn’t always work that way.

A lawsuit filed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)  against a company not far from New York City, in Syosset, earlier this month showcases a different form of religious discrimination. It’s something employers need to be aware of, especially if they want, or feel a need, to share their faith.

The EEOC claims health network United Health Programs of America, Inc., and its parent company, Cost Containment Group, Inc., violated federal law when it forced employees to take part in religious activities in the workplace. It also alleged the defendants fired employees who opposed such activities (resulting in another legal claim for retaliation). If true, these alleged acts would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on religion and retaliation. According to the complaint, defendants provide customer service on behalf of insurance providers.

The EEOC alleges that the defendants:

  • Coerced employees to participate in ongoing religious activities since 2007.
  • This included group prayers, candle burning and discussions of spiritual texts.
  • These practices are part of a belief system that the defendants' family member created, called "Onionhead" or “Harnessing Happiness.”
  • Employees were told to wear Onionhead buttons, pull Onionhead cards to place near their work stations and keep only dim lighting in the workplace.

The New York Daily News, citing the complaint, reports that a Cost Containment official, allegedly the leader of Onionhead practices at the company, is accused of retaliating against three employees who balked at attending one-on-one sessions to discuss "divine plans" and "moral codes." As part of these religious practices, employees allegedly needed to say “I love you” to other employees and management.

These practices were not work-related, according to the EEOC, and when employees opposed taking part in these religious activities or did not participate fully, they were terminated.

Robert D. Rose, regional attorney of EEOC's New York District Office, is quoted in an EEOC press release as stating, "Individuals are free to practice religion or not in line with their own personal beliefs. Employers are not permitted to dictate this area of workers' lives. Workplace pressure to conform to the employers' spiritual or religious practices violates federal employment law."

If you own or manage a business in New York City and your religion is part of the work atmosphere, or are an employee uncomfortable with your employer’s religious practices or attempts to convert you, contact my office so we can discuss your situation and talk about what is, and is not, allowed under the law.

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