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Home > Employment Law Update September 2022

Employment Law Update September 2022

Employment lawsuits have been as active as ever in September 2022.  Among them are interesting cases affecting a prominent ride-sharing company, the U.S. military, and the government agency in charge of investigating discrimination claims in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  My analysis and insights are below.

Ride-hailing Giant Lyft Facing Flood of Lawsuits Over Sexual, Physical Assaults

Lyft Inc. was on the receiving end of 13 lawsuits filed in California state court this month alleging that the company’s systemic failure to conduct thorough background checks and screenings exposed both drivers and passengers to sexual and physical assaults.  The plaintiffs’ legal counsel have revealed that they also filed arbitration demands on behalf of other assault victims, and therefore the full number of claims against Lyft is unclear.

In the lawsuits, eleven passengers and two drivers, all female, from eleven states filed separate actions in San Francisco Superior Court asserting negligence, vicarious liability, misrepresentation and other claims against Lyft. The passengers claim that Lyft has been aware of a sexual predator crisis among its drivers for years but failed to take adequate measures to conduct background checks and monitor its drivers.  The claims by the drivers similarly allege failures on the part of Lyft to ensure the safety of drivers from predatory passengers.  The lawsuits describe disturbing acts of unwanted solicitations, groping and sexual assault.

Lyft released its first-ever Community Safety Report in October 2021, which stated that during the three-year period from 2017 to 2019, Lyft received reports of 4,158 sexual assaults, ranging from nonconsensual touching or kissing to rape.  Lyft nevertheless asserts that from 2017 to 2019, over 99% of trips occurred without any reported safety incident, with the safety incidents referenced in the report accounted for just 0.0002% of all trips.  The company also defended its driver screening procedures, saying it requires an initial and annual background checks, and continuous criminal and driving record monitoring, among other things. Lyft said it developed in-app safety features that allow riders and drivers to share their location with family and friends, connect directly with Lyft Support, and quickly and easily access emergency assistance from the Lyft app.  

​​​​​​​Sikhs Denied Bid To Start Marine Corps Training With Uncut Hair and Beards

A federal judge has refused to allow three Sikhs prospective recruits to start basic training with uncut hair and beards pending an appeal over related U.S. Marine Corps policy, saying doing so could negatively affect the Marines’ “national security mission.”

The three plaintiffs had filed suit in April, saying the Marine Corps had wrongly refused to accommodate their requests to keep their hair and beards, and carry other articles of faith. According to the complaint, maintaining uncut hair, including uncut facial hair, is an essential part of the Sikh religion.  During basic training, the Marine Corps requires recruits to comply with uniform grooming standards including shaved heads and beards, which it asserts is necessary to ensure that Marines are prepared to think as a team before thinking as individual and to serve in extreme environments.  The plaintiffs noted in their arguments for the injunction that the Marine Corps already allows certain recruits to maintain beards for medical reasons and female recruits not to shave their heads.

The court concluded that the public interest and balance of equities had weighed in favor of the Marine Corps at the preliminary stage of the case.  The plaintiffs subsequently said they would appeal the denial of their injunction.

Jury Clears Pa. Human Relations Commission In Staff Atty’s Retaliation Suit

The state agency charged with policing discrimination in the workplace, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”), has been cleared of allegations of unlawful retaliation brought by African American former employee.  In a somewhat ironic series of events, the PHRC had entered into a settlement agreement in the employee’s earlier discrimination lawsuit in 2017 in which the PHRC was supposed to, among other things, create a diversity committee.  Following the settlement, the employee claimed that the agency was not following through its obligations.  In the same timeframe, the employee, a former staff attorney, was terminated from employment, and the employee brought a second lawsuit alleging unlawful retaliation for his complaints about the agency’s alleged failure to follow the settlement.  The agency defended by asserting that it let the employee go because he sent an email from his work account containing sexually suggestive material and forwarded confidential work documents to his personal email.

A jury in the Middle District of Pennsylvania found the PHRC’s arguments more persuasive and ruled in favor of the PHRC.  The case is Cooper v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, case number 1:19-cv-02230, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.



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.