This week in Homebase News we cover the Supreme Court showdown over LGBTQ employment rights, a robot that can make 300 pizzas in an hour, mapping tech’s impact on retail businesses, and more. Read below to get the details on these stories and other happenings involving local businesses and hourly workers.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over LGBTQ Employment Rights

A test of whether or not a federal law banning sex discrimination in employment applies to LGBTQ employees hit the U.S Supreme Court Tuesday. 

The question of whether employers are allowed to terminate employees because they are gay or transgender was posed in two separate cases brought forth by LGBTQ workers. Gerald Bostock said he was fired from the child-welfare coordinator position he held for 10 years after he joined a gay softball team, and transgender woman Aimee Stephens said she was fired from her funeral home director position not long after she announced she was having sex reassignment surgery. 

Justice Neil Gorsuch said Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of discrimination “because of sex” or “on the basis of sex,” seems to favor the workers, but he questioned if “the massive social upheaval” of ruling in favor of the plaintiffs should be considered by the court. 

The ruling could largely affect approximately 1 million workers who identify as transgender and 7.1 million gay, lesbian and bisexual workers in the U.S., according to the Williams Institute at UCLA. 

Pizza-Making Robot Can Serve up 300 Pies an Hour

A Seattle-based startup recently unveiled a robot that can assemble hundreds of pizzas quickly with little help from us humans. 

Picnicformerly Otto Robotics and Vivid Roboticsreleased a platform that makes up to 300 12-inch pizzas in an hour, which is much faster than it would take restaurant staff members to perform the same work. 

The startup’s robot differs from other frozen-pizza-making machines in that it’s small enough to fit in the average restaurant kitchen, and  comes with both fresh ingredients and recipes that can be easily customized. The dough prep, sauce making and baking of the pizza is also left to the humans of the restaurant to avoid that robotic flavor. 

The platform works like this: a pizza order is entered into a digital queue, and the robot begins making the pie as soon as the dough is in the right place. A vision system also works to correct the pizza if it’s off-center, and data is sent to Picnic via an internet connection so the system can be improved. 

Growing Number of Retailers Using Mapping Tech to Improve Experience

A growing number of national retailers are integrating mapping technology into their existing apps or equipping their employees with handheld devices containing integrated location features to streamline today’s shopping experience. recently looked at five retailers who are fundamentally changing the way customers interact with their stores through mapping technology. For example, Home Depot’s app uses AR-enabled in-store navigation to provide shoppers with more information on products and even find their way through the large stores. 

Digital wayfinding screens are attractively presented visual maps that are being used by fashion retailers such as Nordstrom to bring a personalized experience to customers without forfeiting the “aesthetic DNA” of the upscale store. They direct customers where to go and also act as a concierge service to quickly relay information. 

Proposed DOL Rule Would Allow Required Tip Pooling

A recently proposed rule from the Department of Labor would allow restaurant owners to require tipped employees to pool their tips and share them with back-of-the-house employees. 

Under the new rule, employers would not be able to keep the tips or reward managers with the funds. Supporters of the rule say it would give employers more flexibility, but some lawmakers and workers’ advocates argue that it has some concerning aspects. 

“This rule establishes once and for all an appropriate balance, and ends arbitrary and capricious regulations,” Angelo Amador, regulatory counsel for the National Restaurant Association, said. “We commend the U.S. Department of Labor for providing much needed regulatory clarity.”

The rule, which is a result of a 2018 law passed by Congress that prevents business owners from skimming tips but allows more tip-sharing practices, also allows employers to pay tipped staffers the subminimum wage for non-tipped side work as long as it’s “contemporaneous with, or within a reasonable time immediately before or after” tipped work.

National Employment Law Project Government Affairs Director Judy Conti said the guideline’s vagueness opens up the possibility of abuse. 

“We worry very much that this allows employers to take advantage without having any sort of guidance that they also need in order to ensure they’re doing the right thing,” she said.