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New Pregnancy Discrimination and Accommodation Amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act

Effective January 1, 2015 the pregnancy discrimination and accommodation amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) became law, requiring many employers in the state to update or change their policies with respect to expecting and new mothers in the workplace.

Coverage Highlights: All private, non-religious employers in Illinois, regardless of the number of employees, are covered by the pregnancy amendments to the IHRA. The amendments to the IHRA establish, for the first time, pregnancy as a legally-protected class and define the term "pregnancy" broadly to include: "pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth." Accordingly, the amendments apply to employees and applicants who are expecting and who recently gave birth.

Wooten v. McDonald Transit Associates, Inc., No. 13-11035 (5th Cir. Jan. 2, 2015)

Over the long holiday weekend, the Fifth Circuit issued the first EEO case of the year, one that points up an important federal pleading lesson in the era of Iqbal and Twombly. To wit, if you anticipate seeking a default judgment, make sure that your discrimination complaint is as complete as possible. The Fifth Circuit holds (2-1), in a matter of first impression, that deficiencies in a complaint cannot be cured by live testimony in a default judgment hearing. The court concludes, in the present case, that while the plaintiff presented a plausible case of age discrimination at the hearing, the complaint itself was insufficient to support the judgment.

Walker v. Mod-U-Kraf Homes, Inc., No. 14-1038 (4th Cir. Dec. 23, 2014)

Closing out the year, here's a valuable reminder from the Fourth Circuit that the decision of whether an employee has objectively suffered severe or pervasive harassment belongs to the jury, not the district court judge. The panel reverses summary judgment, on facts that the opinion recognizes are "close to the line," recognizing that important judgment calls on fact-finding and credibility cannot be resolved without a trial. 

Amara v. CIGNA Corp., No. 13‐447 (2d Cir. Dec. 23, 2014)

This class action, now over 13 years old - with a liability finding against CIGNA and its pension plan under ERISA for cutting back and misrepresenting benefits under an amended plan - returns from the U.S. Supreme Court to determine what kind of relief should be ordered. The Second Circuit affirms, holding that the district court properly reformed the pension plan to preserve all of the benefits earned under the pre-amended plan, up to the date of the amendment. The court also upholds the class certification order.

Turley v. ISG Lackawanna, Inc., No 13-561 (2d Cir. Dec. 17, 2014)

For anyone under a misimpression that our nation has totally vanquished racial discrimination in employment, the Second Circuit today affirms a $1.32 million compensatory award by a jury to an African-American employee subjected to scarifying harassment at a steel plant. It also upholds a punitive-damage verdict, though it orders a remittitur of the award of no more than a 2:1 ratio with compensatory damages (about $2.65 million).

EEOC v. LHC Group, Inc., No. 13-60703 (5th Cir. Dec. 11, 2014)

The Fifth Circuit issues some useful guidance on an employer's obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to offer job restructuring as a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees. The employer here, according to the summary judgment record, failed to offer support to an employee with epilepsy in the form of alternative transportation and assistance with computer-related tasks. The panel also clears up the circuit standard for a plaintiff to prove causal nexus under the ADA, and restates that an ADA plaintiff need only prove that disability was a motivating factor in the adverse action.

State of Arizona v. ASARCO LLC, No 11-17484 (9th Cir. Dec. 10, 2014) (en banc)

The Ninth Circuit, ruling en banc, overrules a prior panel decision and holds that the BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), ratio test for excessiveness of punitive damages is essentially unnecessary for evaluating a capped award under Title VII governed by 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D).

Harrison v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 13-2379 (4th Cir. Dec. 5, 2014)

The duty of the administrator of a short-term disability (or other welfare benefit) plan can sometimes extend beyond reviewing the participant's submitted claim. The Fourth Circuit holds that it can also be an abuse of discretion for the administrator to disregard "readily available material evidence of which it was put on notice." Here, the administrator allegedly failed to follow up on a notation in the medical file indicating that the participant's recent widowhood "could have triggered PTSD caused by the [recent] death of her mother and children."

Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc.: The Supreme Court's Opportunity to Enforce Existing Anti-Pregnancy Discrimination Laws

Should a pregnant employee be treated the same as a non-pregnant employee with a similar work limitation?  The Supreme Court will hear argument on that simple yet hotly contested question on December 3, 2014 in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., on appeal from the Fourth Circuit.  707 F.3d 437, 441 (4th Cir. 2013)

Stuart v. Local 727, Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters, No. 14-1710 (7th Cir. Nov. 14, 2014)

The Seventh Circuit today reverses dismissal of a union member's complaint that she was discriminated against in job referrals because of sex, in violation of Title VII. The court observes that she was not obliged to file an EEOC charge the first time she suffered discrimination, and was timely provided that she suffered one denial or more during the 300-day period before filing. The panel also notes that a failure of an applicant to register formally and repeatedly for openings does not necessarily bar a Title VII action.

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