Tag Archives: Title VII

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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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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Fifth Circuit Holds Lactation Discrimination is Unlawful Sex Discrimination

The E.E.O.C. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) issued a press release about an important decision coming from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In this decision, the court held that the company unlawfully discriminated against a female employee when they fired her.  In this case, the female employee was lactating or expressing milk.  The female employee asked her employer if she would be able to pump breast milk at work.  The company then fired the employee.

The court relied on the Title VII of Civil Rights Act, which was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1987.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provided that a company could not discriminate against a female worker on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the argument that “pregnancy-related conditions” ended on the day the mother gave birth.  In its decision, the court explained that lactation was a physiological condition distinct to women who have undergone a pregnancy.  In other words, women, not men, lactate or express milk.  Therefore, a company discriminates based on sex when it fires a woman for lactating.

via Fifth Circuit Holds Lactation Discrimination is Unlawful Sex Discrimination.

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EEOC wins over $1.5 million in sexual harassment case

The EEOC has issued a press release announcing a big victory for sexual harassment cases.  These cases are often dismissed.  For instance, according to EEOC 2011 statistics, the EEOC received 11,364 sexual harassment complaints.  Of these, 53% were found to have no reasonable cause.  This is an increase from 2010, where the percentage was of 50.1%.  Since 1997, the percentage of cases dismissed has been in an upwards trend.

In the EEOC case against New Breed Logistics (Civil Action No. 2:10-cv-02696-STA-tmp), the jury awarded $177,094 in back pay, $486,000 in compensatory damages, and $850,000 in punitive damages.

Following the 7-day trial, the jury found that the warehouse supervisor subjected 3 temporary workers to unwelcome sexual touching and lewd, obscene and vulgar  sexual remarks at the company’s Avaya Memphis area warehouse facility.  Further, the jury found that a supervisor fired the three temp workers because they complained about the harassment.

 

via Jury Awards More Than $1.5 Million in EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Suit against New Breed Logistics | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – JDSupra.

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Successor Liability does not cover federal claims

Teed v. Thomas & Betts Power Solutions, LLC (7th Cir. 2013) held that  a buyer of a company’s assets can’t rely on state law to keep  a seller’s violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) from transferring to the buyer of the Seller company’s assets.  This standard has been previously applied to the LMRA, NLRA, Title VII, ADEA, and FMLA.

The Seventh Circuit explained that federal labor law claims are governed by federal common law, not state law.  Further, the court explained that employees do not have the power to stop an owner from selling the company.  Therefore, the buyer (successor) is stuck with the seller’s (prior owner) liability regardless of what the contract states.

To determine whether successor liability will apply, the Seventh Circuit considered the following multi-part balancing test:

  1. Whether the successor had notice of the pending law suit;
  2. Whether the predecessor would have been able to provide the relief sought in the lawsuit before the sale;
  3. Whether the predecessor could have provided relief after the sale;
  4. Whether the successor can provide the relief sought in the suit (if not successor liability is a phantom); and
  5. Whether there is continuity between the operations and work force of the predecessor and the successor – which favors successor liability because nothing really has changed.

via Buyer Beware of Successor Liability For FLSA Claims | Sands Anderson PC – JDSupra.

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Sup. Ct. will hear retaliation mixed motives case

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar to address mixed motives in retaliation cases.

The question the Supreme Court will address is:

Whether the retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and similarly worded statutes require a plaintiff to prove but-for causation (i.e., that an employer would not have taken an adverse employment action but for an improper motive), or instead require only proof that the employer had a mixed motive (i.e., that an improper motive was one of multiple reasons for the employment action).

(emphasis added).

Plainly, the Supreme Court will opine about who has the burden of proof (who has to prove that retaliation was/or-is-not improper).

  • If the worker has to prove that the retaliation was improper, the worker has to show that the employer retaliated only due to the improper motive/reason (i.e. filing a lawsuit, making a complaint with HR, having a disability, due to race, gender, religion, etc.).
  • If the employer has to prove that the tangible employment action (i.e. discipline, firing, transfer, demotion) was not retaliation, the employer has to show that the improper motive/reason was part of many reasons.

The SCOTUSblog file with links to documents is here.

via Workplace Prof Blog: SCOTUS grants cert in retaliation mixed motives case.

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Who is a “supervisor” in a sexual harassment case? Supreme Court will decide

On November 26th, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Vance v. Ball State University (11-556) coming from the 7th Circuit.  The issue in this case centers around the word “supervisor.”

In Faragher/Ellerth, as decided by the Supreme Court, the Court stated there is vicarious liability when the sexual harasser is the victim’s supervisor.  In other words, if the harasser is the supervisor, the employer is immediately liable unless two exceptions (described in Faragher/Ellerth) are met.

The issued posited to the Supreme Court is whether the supervisor liability rule is limited to those who have the authority to direct and oversee the victim’s daily work, or limited to those who have the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline.

What’s so interesting about this case, you may ask?  The fact that courts all throughout the US are split on this definition.  Will this definition be broadly construed, narrowly construed?  If so, what would the consequences be of this decision.  Will sexual harassment claims be significantly reduced?  Will attorneys think of these claims as incredibly risky, and be less likely to pursue these claims?

As it is, civil rights have traditionally been limited.  The purpose of Title VII is to be broadly construed in order to provide civil rights protection.  The purpose of Title VII appears to be eaten away slowly.  It really does remind me of ADA before Congress enacted the ADAA.

In the ADA situation, Courts continuously narrowed the definitions and limited the extent to which a disability was covered by the Act.  Under the ADA, a disability was not covered if medical treatment reduced its impairment whereby the impairment was no longer significant.  When the ADAA was passed, Congress sternly pointed out to the extent the Courts had gone out of their way to prevent coverage under the Act for disabilities. In the ADAA, Congress specifically pointed to Supreme Court cases narrowing coverage under the Act.

Is it time for Congress to act once again?

via Vance v. Ball State University : SCOTUSblog.

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EEOC Guidance on Title VII, the ADA, and Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking

The EEOC has issued a new fact sheet explaining how employment decisions related to employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking might violate Title VII or the ADA. From the fact sheet:

Because [Title VII and the ADA] do not prohibit discrimination against applicants or employees who experience domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking as such, potential employment discrimination and retaliation against these individuals may be overlooked.  The examples provided in this publication illustrate how Title VII and the ADA may apply to employment situations involving applicants and employees who experience domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The examples cover ways that treating victims in a particular way might constitute either disparate treatment, disparate impact, or retaliation. It’s a good summary.

via Workplace Prof Blog: EEOC Guidance on Title VII, the ADA, and Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking.

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8th Circuit Reinstates Reverse Discrimination Verdict In Favor of White Employee

Sanders v. Lee County Sch. Dist. No. 1, ___F.3d____ (8th Cir. Feb. 28, 2012), demonstrates that Title VII applies to all races, include white employees. The Eighth Circuit held that a federal district court erred in overturning a jury’s verdict in favor of a white former employee that claimed the majority African-American school board constructively discharged her from her position as the Arkansas school distict’s financial coordinator. The panel also reversed the lower court’s ruling overturning the jury’s award of punitive damages. However, it remanded the issue of punitive damages to district court, along with the issue of attorney fees, to the lower court.

via Adjunct Law Prof Blog: 8th Circuit Reinstates Reverse Discrimination Verdict In Favor of White Employee.

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