Category Archives: discrimination

Debate on Same-Sex Marriage Case at the Sup. Court

The National Constitution Center will host a debate on June 2nd at 6:30pm EDT (which is available to be streamed free) on same-sex marriage and the Equal Protection Clause.  You can watch the video here.

The excerpt is:

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides: “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

And now, the Supreme Court is poised to answer the question of whether this Clause requires States to license marriages between two people of the same sex. The best guess is that the Court will decide the question in late June. Does the Equal Protection Clause require States to license same-sex marriages, or will they decide that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

via The Equal Protection Clause Does Not Require States To License Same-Sex Marriages – IQ2 Debates.

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Is Attendance An Essential Function Of The Job?

In E.E.O.C. v. Ford Motor Co., 2014 WL 1584674 (6th Cir. 2014), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed on the issue of essential functions of a job under the American Disabilities Act.  Specifically, whether physical presence was one of these.  The Sixth Circuit remanded the summary judgment decision because it found that there is a genuine issue of whether this was the case.  The Court noted that courts should consider that while physical presence is required for some jobs, it is not required for all positions.

In this case, the plaintiff suffered of irritable bowel syndrome, which often made her unable to control her bowel. The plaintiff requested accommodations by allowing to telecommute. Since this was denied, the plaintiff had to take FMLA leave, which caused her to miss work and her work suffered.  Consequently, she was terminated.

It reasoned:

When we first developed the principle that attendance is an essential requirement of most jobs, technology was such that the workplace and an employer’s brick-and-mortar location were synonymous. However, as technology has advanced in the intervening decades, and an ever-greater number of employers and employees utilize remote work arrangements, attendance at the workplace can no longer be assumed to mean attendance at the employer’s physical location. Instead, the law must respond to the advance of technology in the employment context, as it has in other areas of modern life, and recognize that the “workplace” is anywhere that an employee can perform her job duties. Thus, the vital question in this case is not whether “attendance” was an essential job function for a resale buyer, but whether physical presence at the Ford facilities was truly essential. Determining whether physical presence is essential to a particular job is a “highly fact specific” question.

Id. at *6 (emphasis added).

The reach of the opinion is unclear.  The Court also noted:

It is important, at this juncture, to clarify that we are not rejecting the long line of precedent recognizing predictable attendance as an essential function of most jobs. Nor are we claiming that, because technology has advanced, most modern jobs are amenable to remote work arrangements. As we discussed above, many jobs continue to require physical presence because the employee must interact directly with people or objects at the worksite. See, e.g., Melange, 482 F. App’x at 84 (custodian). We are merely recognizing that, given the state of modern technology, it is no longer the case that jobs suitable for telecommuting are “extraordinary” or “unusual.” Vande Zande, 44 F.3d at 545; Smith, 129 F.3d at 867–68. When we decided Smith in 1997, we responded to the world as it then existed; however, in the intervening years, communications technology has advanced to the point that it is no longer an “unusual case where an employee can effectively perform all work-related duties from home.”

Id. at *11 (emphasis added).

This decision is interesting in many different levels.  First, the use of technology is being considered as a reasonable accommodation. Second, it adds to the trail of cases focusing on electronic communications.

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SCOTUS considers whether union neutrality agreements violate Labor Law

The U.S. Supreme Court considered whether “neutrality agreements” between unions and employers violate federal labor law.  Neutrality agreements are contracts between labor unions and employers under which the employers agree to support a union’s attempt to organize its workforce.

In Unite Here Local 355 v. Muhall, the Supreme Court will decide whether these agreements are a “thing of value.”  This definition matters because under Labor Law the exchange of things of value between a labor union and an employer are a felony.  Further, it is a crime for a union to request, demand, receive or accept or agree to receive or accept, any payment, loan, or delivery of any money or other thing of value prohibited by the statute.

Under the agreements, businesses help labor unions in organization efforts in exchange for labor peace, the New York Times reports. The Washington Post offers some examples: An employer might grant access to employee lists or agree to remain neutral in exchange for union concessions, such as giving up the right to strike.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that it was a “thing of value” because it includes tangibles and intangibles.  In other words, while the employer and the union can agree on the ground rules, the assistance in this case would constitute payment.

The assistance the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals referred to was as follows.  The casino (employer) agreed to allow union access to worker information and casino grounds, and to allow a unionization vote by cards collected from workers, rather than a secret ballot. The union agreed to refrain from picketing or striking during the union drive.

It is important to note that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals failed to take into consideration whether there was monetary value.

What is mind boggling is the fact that neutrality agreements are not only common, but they help avoid conflict and encourages the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.  The preamble of the National Labor Relations Act supports labor peace and the encouragement of the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.

The outcome of this contentious and heavily litigated case remains unknown.  The Supreme Court, specifically Justice Roberts, focused on the card-check portion of the neutrality agreement.  Justice Kagan focused on how the benefits bargained by the union benefit employees and unions.

via SCOTUS considers whether union neutrality agreements are improper ‘thing of value’.

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Vets discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

The ABA is supporting legislation to allow veterans who were discharged under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to request a change in their military records.

“Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” H.R. 2839, will ensure that veterans who were discharged solely because of their sexual orientation and did not receive an “honorable” characterization of service can have the opportunity to request their characterization be upgraded. In addition, those who did receive an honorable discharge would be able to remove any reference to sexual orientation from their records by requesting a review.

This bill was introduced on July 25, 2013 and was referred to committee.  Since July 25, 2013 there has been no movement.  The ABA President’s letter, dated November 21, urges the subcommittee to take action.

via Vets discharged under Dont Ask, Dont Tell should be allowed to seek change in records, ABA says.

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Follow up: Rulings Against Sheriff Arpaio

A while back images where shown of Sheriff Arpaio, from Arizona, having 220 immigrants march in a line with shackles.  (One story here).  This story, among others, prompted lawsuits against Arpaio. The first case granted an injunction against Arpaio and the Sheriff’s Office.  The second case ruled that the Human Smuggling Act (which allowed the arrest and prosecution of immigrants).

It is interesting to point out that these decisions came before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision (Oct. 8, 2013), discussed here, which held Arizona S.B. 1070 was void and preempted.

In Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres v. Arpaio, No. CV-07-02513-PHX-GMS (D. Ariz. Oct. 2, 2013), U.S. District Court Judge Snow granted an injunction and listed reforms in which Arpaio and the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office must comply with.  This list includes, for example:

  • Supervisors shall provide effective supervision necessary to direct and guide Deputies.  Some of these include, for example: Respond to certain arrests; confirm the accuracy and completeness of Deputies’ daily reports;and hold Deputies accountable.
  • Supervisors enforcing Immigration-Related laws will directly supervise law enforcement activities.
  • Appointment of a federal independent monitor;
  • Hiring a Community Liaison Officer who is a sworn Deputy fluent in English and Spanish; and
  • Video recorder in every patrol car to record every traffic stop.

In We are America v. Maricopa County Bd. of Supervisors, No. CIV 06-2816-PHX-RCB (Sept. 27, 2013), U.S. District Court Judge Broomfield enjoined Arizona’s Maricopa Migrant Conspiracy Policy.

Sheriff Arpaio created this policy based on the Human Smuggling Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-2319 which allowed for the arrest and prosecution of immigrants for “conspiring to transport themselves within Maricopa County.”

District Court Judge, like the reasoning of the 9th Circuit a few days later, ruled that the statute was preempted by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq.

The court also certified the class, which included “all individuals who pay taxes to Maricopa County and object to the use of county tax revenues to stop, detain, arrest, incarcerate, prosecute or penalize individuals for conspiring to transport themselves, and themselves only, in violation of Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-2319 [Human Smuggling Act].”

via Courthouse News Service.

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Discrimination for being “unmanly”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (en banc) ruled that an iron worker who was subjected to gay slurs and simulated sex because he failed to conform to the employer’s male stereotypes was discriminated against under Title VII.

In EEOC v. Boh Bros. Constr. Co., No. 11-30770 (5th Cir. Sept. 27, 2013), the  court reviewed the jury’s findings and awarded damages.  The Fifth Circuit found that taking the case as a whole, a jury could have found that the employee was harassed because he did not fall under the “manly-man stereotype.”

This case arose when a worker, Kerry Woods, was subjected to sex harassment.  Woods was often sexual derogatory terms regarding Woods’ sexuality.  In addition, the superintendent also exposed himself when Woods was going to the bathroom, and made sexual innuendo comments to Woods.  When these actions were brought to the employer, the superintendent told the general superintendent that he didn’t care for Woods because he was “different” and “didn’t fit in.”

After trial the jury found that this verbal and physical harassment occurred daily.  The jury awarded Woods $200,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.

via Harassed for being unmanly? En banc court sees Title VII violation; dissent sees clean-talk enforcer.

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Clicking ‘like’ is protected by First Amendment, 4th Circuit says

The ABA Journal has an interesting case regarding Facebook and its “likes.”  If you use Facebook, it is very likely that you have “liked” a page, a comment, a photo, etc.  The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a “like” is protected under the First Amendment.

In Bland v. Roberts, No. 12-1671  (4th Cir. Sept. 23 2013), six plaintiffs allege that because their support for the Sheriff’s opponent, the Sheriff retaliated by choosing not the reappoint them. One of the plaintiffs had “liked” the opponent’s Facebook page.

The First Amendment application for a public employee is interesting. In order for a public employee to enjoy First Amendment protection and show that the employer violated the First Amendment, the employee has to show 3 items.

  • (1) the employee was speaking as a citizen upon a matter of public concern rather than an employee about a matter of personal interest;
  • (2) the employee’s interest in speaking upon the matter of public concern outweighed the government’s interest in providing effective and efficient services to the public; and
  • (3) the employee’s speech was a substantial factor in the employer’s termination decision

Furthermore, the degree of the protection depends on whether the political affiliation or political allegiance is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office.  Here, the three deputies were trained as jailers and had never made an arrest.  In other words, their political support for the Sheriff’s opponent may not a requirement for their performance of their duties.  This speech includes a “like” on Facebook.  The 4th Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings.

via Clicking ‘like’ is protected by First Amendment, 4th Circuit says.

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Fair Labor Standard Act and Individual Liability

In Torres et al. v. Gristedes Operating Corp. et al., Case No. 11-4035 (July 9, 2013), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a mayoral candidate, a supermarket owner, and an executive can be individually liable for settlement payments arising of a Fair Labor Standard Act class action.

In this case, the parties settled the class action.  A class action is a discrimination case brought by a few plaintiffs on behalf of many employees.  All of the members who agreed to be part of the class (the individuals who were discriminated against) receive their part of the settlement.  In order for a fair disbursement, the Judge must adopt the settlement.

Under the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay $3.5 million to the class.  However, the defendants defaulted on the payments.  The judge’s order allowed the class to enforce the settlement.  Defendants, who sought to change the settlement, stated that they were not bound by the settlement because they were not “employers.”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.  The Court noted that the defendants exercised “operational control” that affected the class’ employment.  For example, based of their decisions, the employees’ wages were affected.  Because defendants were employers, defendants were bound by the settlement.  Based on this decision, defendants now have to pay the owed money.

via Labor Employment Law Blog: Second Circuit Imposes Individual Liability on New York Mayoral Candidate for Fair Labor Standards Act Settlement.

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Safe Act for Victims of Domestic Violence of Sexual Assault

On October 1, 2013, the “Safe Act” becomes effective.  The Safe Act provides 20 days of unpaid leave to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  The employer can require that this unpaid leave be covered under FMLA, New Jersey FMLA, vacation, or personal leave.

The purpose of the Safe Act is to provide New Jersey victims with time to deal with matters related to an incident of domestic abuse or sexual assault.  The Safe Act covers:

  1. The employee,
  2. The employee’s child,
  3. The employee’s parent,
  4. The employee’s spouse,
  5. The employee’s domestic partner, or
  6. The employee’s civil union partner.

Within 12 months of the incident, the Safe Act’s purpose is to provide the victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault can:

  • Seek medical attention for, or recover from, physical or psychological injuries;
  • Obtain servies from victim services organization;
  • Obtain psychological or other counseling;
  • Participate in safety planning, temporarily or permanent relocate, or undertake other actions to increase safety;
  • Seek legal assistance or remedies; or
  • Attend, participate in, or prepare for court proceedings.

If the employer violates the Safe Act, the employee can ask for the following remedies: (1) Reinstatement; (2) compensation for lost wages and benefits; (3) an injunction; (4) attorney’s fees and costs; (5) civil find of $1,000 to $2,000 for a first time violation; and (6) a fine of $5,000 for any subsequent violations.

via Labor Employment Law Blog: New Jersey Provides Unpaid Leave to Victims of Domestic Violence.

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Targeting Union Employees For Layoffs Violates The First Amendment

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals brings an interesting labor decision.  In State Employee Bargaining Coalitation v. Roland, ___F.3d___( 2d Cir. May 31, 2013), the court found that targeting Union employees for layoffs violates the First Amendment (freedom of association).

In this case, the employer employed around 50,000 people.  75% of these employees were members of the Union, and 25% were not.  In December 2002, the employer fired only Union employees.  No non-Union employees were fired.

It is important to note that an employer can manage the size of their work force.  However, the employer cannot target a protected group (here, employees who associated themselves with the Union).  The reason for this is because by targeting a protected group, the effect is to inhibit employees from their freedom to associate.

Under the Constitution, in order for the employer to not violate the Constitution it must show that they used the less restrictive means to accomplish their interest and must be narrowly tailored to achieve their goals.

The following are the pivotal facts of this case.  The employer’s interest was to manage their economical situation.  However, the laying off those Union employees had a minimal effect on their budget.  In fact, these Union-only lay offs were not included in the Balanced Budget Plan.  Further, the facts showed that because both Union and non-Union employees had the same health care and pension benefits there was no reason why only the Union employees were targeted.

via Adjunct Law Prof Blog: Targeting Union Employees For Layoffs Violates The First Amendment.

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