Maddie Johnston recently obtained a favorable ruling from the Missouri Appellate Court on behalf of one of her clients, a Missouri law firm. Maddie represented the law firm in a legal malpractice lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Franklin County, Missouri. In essence, Plaintiff alleged that her attorney wrongfully withdrew from her case after she was unable to pay any more legal fees. On behalf of her client, Maddie prepared and filed a Motion to Dismiss, as well as a counterclaim for damages equal to the amount in unpaid fees owed by the plaintiff/former client. On the date of the bench trial, the trial court granted the defendant law firm’s Motion to Dismiss and moved forward with a bench trial on the law firm’s counterclaim. After presenting evidence that 1) Plaintiff breached her contract with the law firm by failing to pay her legal fees, and 2) Plaintiff unjustly retained the benefit of “free” legal services, the Court entered judgment on behalf of the law firm and ordered Plaintiff to pay her outstanding legal bills. Thereafter, the Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal and an appellate brief with the Eastern District Court of Appeals seeking to overturn the trial court’s decision. After full briefing, on August 25, 2020, the Appellate Court ruled in favor of Maddie’s client and dismissed the appeal.
COVID-19 presents new legal issues to examine at the upcoming IMX conference in St. Louis September 30. In this Session, Stas Levchinsky of FOX SMITH LLC examines case law arising from other illnesses and diseases that have come up in Jones Act and other maritime cases to help get a glimpse of what the future may hold. Items covered will include employers’ precautions, expectations and responsibilities, maintenance and cure, and how to mitigate against potential liability claims. For more info, please visit: https://inlandmarineexpo.com/.
Ryan Mohr will present at the 2020 Missouri Bar Solo and Small Firm Conference. Ryan will be teaming up with Scott Schaffer, Chief Information Security Officer of Blade Technologies to address the group on ESI Rules and Cybersecurity for attorneys. The conference will be held August 20-22, 2020 at Margaritaville Resort in Osage Beach. For more information, visit https://mobarcle.mobar.org/item/2020-solo-small-firm-conference-358456
First and foremost, we hope this email finds you and yours safe and healthy. The current COVID-19 crisis has affected all of us in many ways and the same is true for our businesses. Suddenly we found ourselves transitioning our employees to respond to shelter-in-place orders and trying to navigate the myriad of ever-evolving requirements and guidelines, all while trying to meet the challenges of running our businesses.
Now, as many states are reopening, we find ourselves in a similar position. But with reopening and phased reintegration of employees there are new concerns, challenges and potential liabilities. Our analysis and work thus far has identified three primary areas that should be addressed as we navigate this “new normal”:
• Challenges associated with the employee-employer relationship during a pandemic
• Data Privacy and Security Policies and Procedures
• Insurance Coverage, Claims, and Gaps
The implications of these areas are more apparent when we look at the current legal landscape and consider business interruption, the rapid deployment to enable remote work placing a greater volume of confidential information outside the workplace, and concerns that employees may have workplace-related COVID claims.
We want you to know you’re not alone in this. We are here to help you.
We know your time is valuable and as a special thank you, on June 30, 2020, Meggie, Bart and I will be hosting a live video conference from 12:00p-1:00p (CDT) for Fox Smith clients, to discuss in more detail some areas of concern and potential liabilities that have been generated by the current crisis, and how to address them. To RSVP for this discussion simply reply to this email.
For more information or if you currently have concerns you would like to discuss please contact Ryan Mohr, Meggie Gentzen or Bart Sullivan.
US Supreme Court: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
are protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court held in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Court’s opinion actually arises from three separate cases: (a) Zarda v. Altitude Express, (2) Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, and (3) EEOC/Stephens v. R.G. & G.R. Funeral Homes. In each of the cases, the plaintiffs claimed they were fired in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the Zarda case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the EEOC/Stephens and Bostock cases, the Sixth and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal came to the opposite conclusion, finding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act did not prohibit employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their gender identity (EEOC/Stephens) or their sexual orientation (Bostock). Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with the Second Circuit and held that sexual orientation and gender identity were protected classes under Title VII.
How did the Court come to this decision?
The Court determined that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII makes it “unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). The Court found that the term “sex” in 1964 only referred to the biological distinctions between male and female; however, because discrimination on the basis of a person’s homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender violates Title VII. The Court reasoned that when an employer fires an employee “for being homosexual or transgender,” that employer “fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
What are the practical consequences for an employer?
This decision immediately provides legal protections to an employee’s sexual orientation and gender orientation or expression under federal law. Employers may now face Title VII liability for adverse employment actions where the motivating factor behind such a decision is the employee’s status as a transgender or homosexual person.
How does it affect me as an employer?
To the extent they do not already, Employers should immediately update their EEO policies to cover both sexual orientation and gender identity. Employment policies that delineate protected categories, especially the primary non-discrimination or equal opportunity policy, should now include the terms, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” or “gender identity.” Additionally, employers should modify their employee training and orientation programs to adequately reflect this significant change in the law.
The impact of this decision, and the potential impacts on your business will be ever changing over the next few weeks and month(s). This document is not meant to be exhaustive, but only a primer on certain issues which may affect employers. If you have questions about implementing a policy or a specific situation which arises in your workplace, please call the lawyers at Fox Smith, LLC at 314-588-7000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Ron Fox was recently named to a three year term on the Board of Trustees for Whitfield School. Whitfield School is an independent, coeducational college preparatory day school for grades 6–12, located on a 26–acre campus in suburban St. Louis.
Ryan Mohr and Sarah Mangelsdorf will present at the 2020 Missouri Bar Solo and Small Firm Conference. The conference will be held August 20-22, 2020 at Margaritaville Resort in Osage Beach. The duo will be addressing the group on ESI Rules and Cybersecurity for attorneys.
Tom Smith wins defense verdict in injury claim tried in St. Louis City Circuit Court. Plaintiff alleged serious and permanent injuries from an auto accident in which plaintiff’s vehicle was struck from behind by defendant’s car. Although defendant accepted responsibility for the accident, defendant contested the nature and extent of plaintiff’s injuries as well as cause and necessity of plaintiff’s medical treatment. Although plaintiff offered testimony from the medical provider regarding plaintiff’s medical treatment, plaintiff opted not to submit any medical bills. Plaintiff sought recovery for past and future pain and suffering and requested the jury award $250,000. The jury found in favor of defendant.
Stas Levchinsky returned to Fox Smith, LLC in 2020. Stas has extensive trial and appellate experience and focuses his practice on maritime and admiralty law, as well as commercial defense litigation. Prior to private practice, Stas served as Director of the White Collar Crime and Fraud Unit for the St. Louis City Circuit Clerk. He has tried over 30 jury trials and 20 bench trials, including a Jones Act wrongful death case.
Richard Korn and Meggie Gentzen are defending a not-for-profit organization in an employment discrimination case brought under the Missouri Human Rights Act in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri. After the lawsuit was filed, they filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the fact that the plaintiff had obtained a right-to-sue from the EEOC, but not the MCHR. The trial court, inclined to grant the motion, allowed the plaintiff time to request a right-to-sue from the Commission. Richard and Meggie lodged objections with the Commission on the basis that the Plaintiff’s request was untimely. The Commission agreed and denied the plaintiff’s request. The plaintiff then filed a Writ of Mandamus in the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri asking the court to compel the Commission to issue a right-to-sue. After the issue was fully briefed and argued, the court denied the plaintiff’s request for a Writ. A great result and likely a quick ending to the case!