Everyone knows about the recent Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges with regard to gay marriage. Last year, President Obama entered an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In recent years, there has been a gradual acceptance that discrimination against transgender individuals constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex prohibited under federal law Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now, for the first time, EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the federal agency charged with enforcing discrimination laws, held in a July 15, 2015 decision that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily involves discrimination on the basis of sex and is unlawful under Title VII.

The significance of this decision is that employers cannot rely on the fact that Congress never added “sexual orientation” as a protected class to federal anti-discrimination laws which expressly name race, color, religion, sex and national origin as bases for protection.  Sexual orientation discrimination is now a subset of sex discrimination.

In reviewing the many claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, courts have consistently held that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.  However, discrimination on the basis of what is referred to as “gender stereotyping” has been recognized, most notably in the 1989 Supreme Court decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.  There, the plaintiff claimed that she was denied a promotion because her employer found that her actions and conduct were not sufficiently feminine. The Court upheld her claim, stating that Title VII applied to discrimination because of gender, not just biological sex. 
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On July 6, 2015, the Department of Labor proposed changes to the manner in which overtime pay is calculated for executive, administrative and professional employees.  These employees, collectively referred to as white collar workers, have been exempt from overtime pay protections for many years.  To be considered exempt, the employees must meet certain minimum tests related to their primary job duties and be paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 a week ($23,660 a year), which amount was last updated in 2004.

Now, the Department of Labor proposes to update that salary level to $921 a week or $47,892 annually. These amounts represent calculations based on 2013 statistics; the adjusted levels as projected for 2016 would be $970 a week or $50,440 per year.

These changes are to the rules interpreting the exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act and can be enacted and approved without Congressional action.  However, there is a 60-day comment period (through September 4, 2015) during which individuals, corporations and other organizations can express opinions which could result in changes to the rule that is ultimately adopted.  It is not clear whether or when these proposed changes will become effective, and what actions opponents will take to try to block implementation.  Because these are regulations under the FLSA, not the statute itself, these rules will not be voted on by Congress.

If the rule is adopted and a worker would otherwise meet the definition of an executive, administrative or professional employee but earns less than $47,892 per year, that employee would have to be paid time and a half for hours worked over 40 per week.  In addition, in order to prevent the salary level requirements from becoming outdated, the Department of Labor proposes to automatically update the minimum salary levels on an annual basis.
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Tonight I am speaking at the Pipeline Informational Event sponsored by Lancaster County Conservancy and Lancaster Farmland Trust.  I have been told that some property owners mistakenly believe that if they fail to accept the offer that is made to them or to negotiate an agreement with the pipeline company, their property can be taken

Last Wednesday, I attended an excellent program sponsored by the Penn State Cooperative Extension, “Making Sense of Natural Gas Pipelines and Right-of-Way Agreements”.  Over the years, I have represented both condemnors and condemnees and was interested to hear how the acquisition process works with the pipeline proposed by Williams in Lancaster County.  I learned many practical and tactical considerations that landowners and their attorneys can use to their benefit.

What is commonly referred to as the “Williams Pipeline” (part of the Atlantic Sunrise Expansion Project to be built by Williams’ subsidiary, Transco) is an interstate pipeline and, therefore, acquisition of the property necessary to construct the pipeline is governed by federal law, not state law.  (Other pipelines, called gathering and distribution lines, are regulated under state law.) 

A natural gas company, such as Williams, is required to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  This process is currently underway and comments on the potential environmental effects, reasonable alternatives and measures to avoid or lessen environmental impacts can be submitted to the FERC on or before August 18, 2014.  Because the comment period is limited, in order to preserve rights, landowners and other stakeholders are advised to act now.  The FERC issued a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement which includes information as to how to comment. 


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The deadline for challenging your 2014-2015 Lancaster County property assessment is August 1, 2014.  Appeals filed after August 1, 2014 won’t be heard until 2015 and won’t take effect until 2016.  And if you are relying upon an appraisal to support your appeal, the written appraisal report must be filed with the Lancaster County Assessment Office by August 15, 2014.  This means the time to act is now.

How do you know whether an assessment appeal is warranted?  We look at the current assessment, the common level ratio, the current total tax millage rate and evidence of current fair market value.  Current assessments and property account numbers are posted online. (The property account number, and in some cases, the assessment, is listed on recently issued school district real estate tax notices.)  The common level ratio (CLR) is the factor applied to the assessment that converts the assessed value into fair market value. As of July 1, 2014, the common level ratio increased to 1.26. Total tax millage rates now include 2014-2015 school district taxes.     

Property owners should multiply their assessment by the CLR (1.26) to see if the fair market value is accurate. For example, an assessment of $100,000 implies a fair market value of $126,000 [$100,000 times 1.26]. 


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