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Houston Legal Blog

Is your trademark too similar to a registered mark?

One important factor in the creation of a new business is finding a way to get the public excited about it. You have a product or service you want to offer, and attracting customers is critical to your success. Undoubtedly, you ruminated about the best mark for your trade, something that would be easy to recognize and be memorable.

Protecting your trademark includes registering it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once you decide on the mark you will give your product or service, you will want to ensure no other entrepreneur infringes on your trademark to draw customers away from you. Applying for registration is the first step. The problem arises when the USPTO refuses to register your mark because of its similarity to another trademark.

Employers don't need to pay for FMLA breaks

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), frequent breaks taken by an employee that is covered by FMLA are considered uncompensated time. This is because they are not being taken for the benefit of the employer. The DOL cited the fact that FMLA leave is unpaid when handing down its decision. Therefore, companies in Texas and throughout the country don't need to pay employees when they take a break because of a serious health condition.

However, there is a caveat to that ruling. Employers are still responsible for paying for any breaks offered to other employees in the company. Therefore, if a company gives all its employees a paid 15-minute break, even those who take extra breaks must be compensated for at least one of them. The ruling by the DOL may help employers better determine when they are within their rights to reduce pay for those who need breaks or are absent because of health issues.

Retailer agrees to settlement in discrimination lawsuit

Some black or Latino Texas residents who applied for but were rejected from a job at Target after a background check might be eligible to reapply for those jobs or could receive a payout. This agreement was part of the settlement by Target after a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of job applicants. The settlement is still pending court approval.

The lawsuit was filed on April 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for people who have been turned down for a job since May 11, 2006. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund brought the complaint, which centered on two plaintiffs who had progressed in the hiring process but were then denied jobs because of old convictions. The lawsuit argued that Target's broad-based approach to screening violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it was a practice that disproportionately affected black and Latino applicants.

Independent contractors are largely unprotected at work

Today's workforce in Texas is rapidly changing with an increasing number of people engaging in contract work. While there are many more people who are working as independent contractors, the laws that protect people against workplace discrimination and harassment have not caught up to the changes.

Contractors are not protected under the federal laws that protect workers against discrimination and harassment. If they face discrimination or harassment at their jobs, they have little recourse. Some states, including New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, have extended protections against discrimination and harassment to contract workers. In most states, however, independent contractors are largely unprotected.

3 questions to ask when considering business partners

A partnership is one of the different business entities you could choose to create when forming your own company. You may feel that this option best suits your needs in terms of business goals, liability and overall governing of your company. Of course, in order for such an arrangement to work in the best interests of everyone involved, a partner needs to be chosen carefully.

As you consider your business partner candidates, some individuals may immediately come to mind for various reasons. You may have a friend who has expressed interest in your venture, or maybe you feel that your spouse would be an asset to your company. However, because partnerships can often make or break businesses, you may want to take a variety of criteria into consideration.

NFL team faces discrimination suit from ex-cheerleader

Some Texas football fans might be aware that in the past few years, several NFL teams have been sued by cheerleaders. In 2013, the Oakland Raiderettes sued for overtime pay and the case ended in a $1.25 million settlement. The Buffalo Bills and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have also been sued for violating wage laws. A former cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints has alleged in a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the team discriminates against its cheerleaders by requiring them to follow rules that the players are not also required to follow.

The New York Times did an investigation into the case and found that the Saints have several rules for their cheerleaders that do not apply to players. They including keeping private social media accounts and blocking NFL players, leaving any unapproved events that an NFL player attends and significantly limiting conversations with players. They were also not permitted to post photos of themselves in Saints gear.

Company reputation and discrimination lawsuits

Many Texas employees have to deal with hostile and discriminatory workplaces. In some cases, the situation may become so severe that a worker decides to file a discrimination lawsuit. As a serious legal step, filing a claim can be intimidating to many people. This is particularly true in cases where the employer is very well known and has a positive image.

Being concerned about suing a major company with a positive public image is not unreasonable. In fact, research has shown that such companies are less likely to lose in a legal conflict over discriminatory behavior. This is sometimes known as the "halo effect" as the company's reputation could potentially protect it against even substantiated charges of discrimination and bias.

Certain actions may help you avoid discrimination claims

As an employer, you come in contact with numerous individuals throughout your day. You may need to conduct interviews for new employees, interact with current employees and ensure that everyone remains on task and up to par. Of course, as an employer, you likely also have the task of handing out punishment and contending with other disciplinary actions that may prove necessary.

While you certainly believe in handling your job with the utmost professionalism, you likely have found yourself in difficult situations involving employees. Some workers may feel disgruntled over being chastised for poor performance or may simply have poor work ethic altogether that makes dealing with them more difficult. Nonetheless, you must do your job. Unfortunately, if someone does feel that you treated him or her unfairly, that employee may attempt to claim that you, a supervisor or co-worker discriminated against him or her.

Court says religion does not excuse workplace discrimination

Texas readers may be interested to learn that a federal appeals court recently ruled that employers cannot use religion as an excuse to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The decision, which was handed down by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 7, is the first of its kind.

The case before the court involved a transgender woman who was fired from a Michigan funeral home in 2013. According to court documents, the woman was terminated soon after informing her boss that she was transgender and would soon begin her transition from male to female. A lower court ruled that allowing the woman to continue working at the funeral home would have encroached on the owner's sincere religious beliefs. However, in a unanimous decision, the appeals court ruled that Title VII protects transgender workers from sex-based discrimination, whether or not that discrimination is based on religious beliefs.

My work day ended with a termination I don't feel was justified

It was a day like any other day. You went to work, and like you always do, you actually did your job and did it well. At the end of the day, your manager asked to speak with you. The words "terminated, effective immediately" came out of his mouth. He gave no real reason, and now you are wondering if there was justification in making this decision.

Numerous Texas residents have lost their jobs for reasons they can't quite understand or do not feel justify termination. It is okay to question the ending of employment in order to determine if a wrongful termination claim would benefit your situation.

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