In June of 2023, a federal court holds that offensive song lyrics in the workplace can amount to workplace harassment, the Supreme Court made it easier for employers to compel arbitrations, and a Pennsylvania construction company is hit with significant prevailing wage violations. To find out more, see the details below.
Federal Circuit Court holds Rap Lyrics May Sustain Sex Harassment Case
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a discrimination lawsuit against an apparel manufacturer, S&S Activewear LLC, alleging the creation of a hostile work environment due to explicit rap music played in a Nevada warehouse. The court panel ruled that the “sexually demeaning and violent language” present in the music could support the former workers’ case. The trial court’s dismissal of the Title VII suit was deemed erroneous. The judges emphasized that the music’s pervasive nature could potentially constitute sex discrimination under Title VII, even if both men and women were offended. The decision aligned with previous rulings from other circuit courts, establishing that widespread sights and sounds can amount to sex discrimination. The appeals panel directed the district court to reconsider the motion to dismiss, highlighting that auditory and visual harassment need not be targeted at a specific individual to taint the workplace. The case, brought by eight former workers (seven women and one man), alleged that S&S Activewear allowed “sexually abusive and misogynistic” music to play in the facility, fostering a toxic environment. The case is Stephanie Sharp et al. v. S&S Activewear LLC, case number 21-17138, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Supreme Court Reinforces Employer’s ability to Compel Arbitration
In a recent 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it easier for employers to enforce arbitration agreements in legal disputes. The decision, made on June 23 in Coinbase Inc. v. Bielski, states that a district court must suspend its proceedings while an appeal on the question of arbitrability of a dispute is underway. The case itself combined two class-action lawsuits against Coinbase, involving alleged violations of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and deceptive sweepstakes practices. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the majority, commented that allowing pre-trial and trial proceedings to continue during the appeal would undermine the efficiency and cost-saving benefits of arbitration. To that end, the ruling is expected to alleviate the financial and procedural burdens on parties involved in litigation, allowing them to await a decision from an appeals court without engaging in costly legal battles. The decision has been praised by proponents of employment arbitration agreements, highlighting the value proposition of such agreements.
Pennsylvania Appellate Court Affirms Construction Co. Violated Prevailing Wages
A panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that a construction company, Scott Pangallo Contracting, is financially responsible for unintentionally violating the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act. The three-judge panel affirmed the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Appeals Board’s decision that the company violated the act by not paying the correct prevailing wages to workers involved in a renovation project. The panel rejected Pangallo’s argument that the public body involved in this case, the Clearfield County Recreation and Tourism Authority, should also be held responsible for the violations. However, the panel stated that the law does not allow for penalties to be imposed on public bodies, only on employers. Therefore, the panel concluded that it cannot order penalties against the public body. The Department of Labor and Industry had given Pangallo the opportunity to adjust the wages owed by submitting a check for the underpayments, but Pangallo appealed the decision. The case highlights the limitations of the prevailing wage law and the responsibility of employers to ensure proper payment to workers. The case is Pangallo et al. v. PWAB, case number 526 CD 2022.
Jeff Burke is an attorney at MacElree Harvey, Ltd., working in the firm’s Employment and Litigation practice groups. Jeff counsels businesses and individuals on employment practices and policies, executive compensation, employee hiring and separation issues, non-competition and other restrictive covenants, wage and hour disputes, and other employment-related matters. Jeff represents businesses and individuals in employment litigation such as employment contract disputes, workforce classification audits, and discrimination claims based upon age, sex, race, religion, disability, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment. Jeff also practices in commercial litigation as well as counsels business on commercial contract matters.