Many clients visit or call asking me to evaluate problematic business contracts or rental agreements. Often my they are surprised about what the contract terms actually mean. Worse, there are times we discover the contract or other party’s promises are fraudulent.
Please learn this lesson from my experience with so many clients: Don’t be cheap at the beginning of a deal – Visit me, Lic. Jim Browne, to review the business contract, home purchase or lease before you sign it.
At Goodin Abernathy / Legalmente Hablendo Indy, many of our Hispanic clients admit they wanted to avoid using an attorney to save money. I understand that idea – it’s reasonable to think that way. But ALL those same clients acknowledge that if they spent a little money for a legal review before entering their agreement, it would have saved them a lot of frustration, time and money.
Many Latinos enter Rent-to-Own contracts with the idea they are slowly buying their house. The concept, as they understand, uses their rent money to pay off the house. Before signing one of these agreements, make sure the seller also legally owns the house. Do they have the legal authority to sell you the property? Last year I saw an example involving total fraud. The seller did not own the property and collected my client’s $6,000.00 down payment. When they tried to move in, the locks were changed so they contacted the seller. He lived out of state and they did not have his address. He wanted more money for them to move in. Surprisingly, the young couple paid more money. Then, the seller asked for even more money and that is what finally made them think it was a scam. You should meet the seller in person and have their address. If they do not live in the same town or state where you are buying the property, take further steps to verify the ownership. You can check the county government’s records to match the seller’s name with the property’s title. Check if there are other mortgages, liens or taxes owed on the property. If there are, you need to make sure the seller is paying those obligations. If not, the seller will have your money and the lender will keep your house. You can find more information about rent to own fraud here: What you need to know about rent-to-own deals. Then see me for a specific review of your situation.
Business Lease Agreements
Individuals and small companies usually rent office space. One type of rental agreement, or lease, includes the terms for a “Triple Net” obligation. This means the renter makes a monthly payment. Then, at the end of the year, the landlord charges the renter additional money for other costs like property taxes, insurance, mowing, maintenance repairs, snow removal and other costs. This usually amounts to three or four times the cost of the monthly rent. If my clients don’t pay, the landlord changes the locks and denies them access to their equipment or business supplies.
Kitchen Table Contracts
Frequently, individual sellers and buyers sign a short contract over the kitchen table. My buyers think the contract is sufficient to protect their financial investments. Usually the agreement fails to address equipment inventory, describe the payment plan or handle many other practical terms they should have requested for a reliable purchase. Rarely do kitchen table contracts succeed.
Loans to Friends and Family
Monthly we get calls where a client asks if he can legally collect the money he lent a friend or family member. The first question is – Did you put the loan in writing? If not, the borrower may try claiming it was a gift. Besides friends and family, I see this a lot with individuals trying to buy or start restaurants. They will invest money to become owners but not have a written agreement. Usually they lose their money and are left empty handed. Get a written loan agreement signed. It should have terms like the length of the loan, repayment plan, interest, penalties, default provisions and litigation costs.
My clients who are subcontractors start jobs expecting to get paid. Sometimes, they do not ask for written terms and hope to get paid. During the job, they pay for materials and equipment, travel and the cost of their own workers. Then when the job is finished, the contractor that hired them claims the property owner or general contractor did not pay – and often that’s a lie. These contractors frequently disrespect my Hispanic clients, threatening litigation or immigration problems. I also see this a lot with apartment complexes. They hire my clients to paint, clean or remodel many, many units. The apartment managers change and the new managers avoid paying the money owed. Or, the apartment managers claim the work was poorly done.
You work hard for your money and envision improving a future for you and your family. Protect yourself against the risk of loss.
Paying for a legal review BEFORE you enter a contract protects you against much larger heartache and financial loss later. Our legal review will be simple and communicated in terms you understand. We will help you think through the contract language that protects your business. Then, if you need me, I’ll help you negotiate the contract for a better result.
Contact Attorney, Jim Browne, by phone at (317) 843-2606 or submit an e-mail inquiry through our website.
Jim Browne: Hey, welcome to Goodin Abernathy. I’m attorney Jim Browne. We have a new member to our group, Garrett Lewis. He is a young attorney, and I thought we would spend a little time with him so you get to know who he is and what he can do for you. Come on in, Garrett.
Garrett Lewis: Alright, glad to be here Jim.
Jim Browne: Where are you from, Garrett?
Garrett Lewis: So, I’m actually from the South Bend area. I practiced there for a couple years before moving down here.
Jim Browne: What time of law did you focus on?
Garrett Lewis: We did Real Estate; we did Torts, which is contracts, defamation, things like that; and intellectual property, which is sort of copyrights, trademarks and patents.
Jim Browne: Do you have a typical client that you helped with the intellectual property?
Garrett Lewis: Yea, we dealt with small businesses. We had a few global businesses that we worked with and a lot of individual clients with patents and trademarks.
Jim Browne: What about people with inventions?
Garrett Lewis: All, all the time.
Jim Browne: Awesome.
Garrett Lewis: Yea, some that we knew weren’t going to anywhere right out of the gate and some that where very successful.
Jim Browne: Well, what’s that? I mean is that employment law type of work?
Garrett Lewis: Yea predominantly. Yep.
Jim Browne: And you are helping clients – individuals with their questions about discrimination? Tell us about that for a second.
Garrett Lewis: Yeah, so it sort of depends – when it comes to the ADA – businesses, for example, have legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations and….
Jim Browne: so, there are seven core areas – age, race, religion, sexual discrimination, physical disabilities – those are things that you’re focusing on?
Garrett Lewis: Correct
Jim Browne: Great. You’ve already had a jury trial in that area… and what court was it in?
Garrett Lewis: So that was actually in the southern district in the…
Jim Browne: A federal court?
Garrett Lewis: A federal court, yea.
Jim Browne: And that trial, what was it about?
Garrett Lewis: So, that case was about a woman who was working at a grocery store for about 12 years and because of her chronic conditions and disabilities, she needed to be able to use a chair, as necessary.
Jim Browne: And the new employer said “No, you can’t use the chair.”
Garrett Lewis: That’s exactly right.
Jim Browne: So, it’s something probably a pretty easy fix.
Garrett Lewis: It was a very easy fix.
Jim Browne: You had a nice result with that jury trial?
Garrett Lewis: We did.
Jim Browne: You where able to learn some things.
Garrett Lewis: Yes.
Jim Browne: Give me one thing that stood out to you about that process.
Garrett Lewis: Well, first thing is you know maybe as a last resort everybody paid attention on the jury, which was nice – and whereas outside of the court room, Covid has sort of made remote working a little bit more convenient, inside the courtroom it’s made it much more of a challenge.
Jim Browne: I understand, so you’re preparing and you’re going to teach us old guys what to do about those technological challenges right?
Garrett Lewis: Yep.
Jim Browne: Well, I’m glad you’re on board Garrett. If you have questions about any of those areas of law please call us at Goodin Abernathy. A lot of your questions can be answered by phone, and we really care about the quality and responsiveness of our work, so please call us at 317-843-2606. You’ll get in touch with whichever attorney probably best suits the area of law you’re looking for, and we appreciate you tuning in to Goodin Abernathy.
I often receive calls from potential clients who are confident that they have been victims of discrimination or harassment, or that they have been wrongfully terminated, yet they may not be aware of the legal meanings of those terms. The law protects employees from discrimination and harassment based on Race, Color, Sex, National Origin, Age (over 40), Disability, Pregnancy, and Genetic Information. To be clear, Indiana is an “at will” employment state. That simply means that most of us work at the will of our employers. Stated another way, we can be fired for any reason (or no reason at all) just not a discriminatory reason. For example, there is nothing illegal about an employer firing an employee based on the quality of his or her work. But, it would be illegal to fire an employee based on their race or age, or gender. Rare is the case where an employer will actually say, “I am firing you because you are too old.” Therefore, we might have to infer the reason, based on other factors. Does your boss suggest that you are too old for the job? Do they ask you questions like, “When are you going to retire?” These types of things might suggest that age was a factor in your termination, even though the employer’s stated reason for firing you was because of “poor work performance.”
There are some really good resources available, through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), that explain what is meant by wrongful termination, and how those laws apply to employees. The EEOC is the federal agency that is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the United States. In fact, most discrimination claims must first be filed with the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit against the employer. This process is known as “exhausting your administrative remedies.” Below are some links to some very useful information as it pertains to different types of Discrimination and Harassment:
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. For more information on what constitutes harassment, you can go to the EEOC’s site by clicking the link below:
Another type of prohibited activity is Retaliation. To be illegal, the retaliation in the employment context must be related to a “protected activity.” For example, if you complained to your Human Resources department that you were being discriminated against based on sex, and then you were immediately fired for engaging in that protected activity, that would be considered retaliation. Below is some useful information to help you understand what types of retaliation are prohibited by employers: https://www.eeoc.gov/retaliation
Lastly, we often get calls about how to collect unpaid wages. If the amount is less than $6,000, the best way to collect those wages is by filing an Online Wage Claim with the Indiana Department of Labor (“IDOL”). Below is a link to the IDOL’s Online Wage Claim Form along with instructions for how to proceed. It the amount is greater than $6,000, we suggest that call us for a free consultation with one of our attorneys that is familiar with Indiana’s Wage Claim and Wage Payment Statutes.
Hi. My name is Chip Clark, and I am a partner at Goodin Abernathy, where I focus primarily on the rights of employees.
On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, holding that federal law prohibits employment discrimination against LGBTQ workers.
Interestingly, conservative Justice, Neil M. Gorsuch, wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling, stating:
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
The case concerned Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex. The question for the justices was whether that last prohibition — discrimination “because of sex”— applies to many millions of gay and transgender workers.
Justice Gorsuch wrote that it did.
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,”
Gorsuch goes on to say,
“It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
The court considered two sets of cases. The first concerned a pair of lawsuits from gay men who said they were fired because of their sexual orientation: Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., No. 17-1618, and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623. The second was based on gender identity. In that case, Aimee Stephens, was a funeral director working near Detroit when she was fired in 2013 after announcing she would begin living as a woman. Sadly, Aimee died in May at the age of 59, not living to see her heroic contribution to this landmark decision. Her willingness to stand up to her employer now makes it it illegal for employers to terminate an employee based on gender identity.
In 27 states, there are no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, according to Freedom For All Americans, a bipartisan campaign to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. An employee in one of these states conceivably could be fired for being gay or transgender – and would have no guaranteed rights against it.
In 21 other states, plus the District of Columbia, employees had full protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodation.
There are 8.1 million LGBTQ workers ages 16 and older in the USA, according to the institute. About 3.9 million of those work in those 27 states.
What About Discrimination in Small Businesses with Fewer than 15 Employees?
Unfortunately, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act only prohibits employment discrimination by employers with 15 or more employees.
Conceivably, a business with fewer than 15 employees in certain parts of Indiana could still legally fire somebody on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, unless there is a city or county ordinance prohibiting such discrimination.
Here, in the City of Indianapolis, we have had an ordinance that prohibits such discrimination since 2005. Other Indiana communities have laws to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity, so there still remains a patchwork of laws if your employer has fewer than 15 employees.
What Should Workers Do If They Are Fired Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity?
If you’re fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the first call you should make is to an attorney who knows and understands this area of the law. We can assist you with filing a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the local agency that enforces state or local anti-discrimination laws. This is the first step in filing a lawsuit in Federal or State Court against an employer who discriminates.
If you have questions about your rights as a member of the LGBTQ community, please call me for free, no obligation, consultation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a Resolution mourning the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery last week. In the resolution, the EEOC committed the agency to redouble its efforts to address institutionalized racism, advance justice, and foster equal opportunity in the workplace.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
The anti-discrimination laws provide a limited amount of time to file a charge of discrimination. In general, a person needs to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180-calendar day filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. The rules are slightly different for age discrimination charges. For age discrimination, the filing deadline is only extended to 300 days if there is a state law prohibiting age discrimination in employment and a state agency or authority enforcing that law. The deadline is not extended if only a local law prohibits age discrimination.
Once the Charge is filed, it is sent to your employer, and they are given an opportunity to investigate the allegations and file a response. The employer may conduct the investigation internally, or, they may choose to hire an outside attorney to investigate the allegations in your Charge. The employer’s response is referred to as their “Position Statement.” Usually, the Position Statement filed by your employer will deny the allegations in your Charge, and may state other non-discriminatory reasons for any adverse employment action that has been taken against you. For example, the employer may state that you were a bad employee, that you missed too much work, or you did not follow instructions. If this is the case, the EEOC may ask you to provide additional evidence to support your claim of discrimination or harassment.
Once both sides have had an adequate opportunity to state their respective positions, the EEOC may move forward with an investigation.
WILL THE EEOC HELP ME SETTLE MY CASE?
If both sides agree, the EEOC may refer your case for a settlement conference, also called “mediation.” The EEOC has mediators on staff who will help both parties to resolve your dispute.
If both parties don’t agree to mediation, or if mediation is unsuccessful, the EEOC will move forward with an investigation into the allegations in your Charge of Discrimination. They can interview witnesses and request documents from either party to assist with that investigation.
HOW LONG DOES THE EEOC PROCESS TAKE?
Currently, an EEOC investigation can take up to 1 year. However, If the EEOC does not complete its’ investigation within 180 days after you filed your Charge, then you can request that they issue a Right to Sue letter. The Right to Sue letter allows you to file a lawsuit against your employer. It is very important to remember that you cannot file a lawsuit against your employer until you have received the Right to Sue letter from the EEOC.
Upon receipt of your Right to Sue Letter, you have 90 days in which to file a lawsuit against your employer. If you don’t file suit within 90 days, your claim will be barred.
What should I do if I feel I am the victim of harassment or discrimination?
The most important thing to do if you believe you are the victim of harassment or discrimination is to report it to your employer, preferably in writing. If you don’t report, your employer can always deny that they knew that any harassment or discrimination was occurring. Many employers have a handbook which should contain the company’s policies and procedures for reporting discrimination, harassment, or a hostile work environment. If you report harassment or discrimination, and your employer does not remedy the situation, please call me for a free consultation.