An Arab-American Muslim woman from Morocco alleges that she suffered years of ethnic and religious harassment by the company's Chief Financial Officer, and was then fired 75 minutes after complaining about it. The Fourth Circuit reverses summary judgment on her Title VII and § 1981 complaint, in a blockbuster, 46-page opinion that straightens out several wrong turns that district courts take when ruling on dispositive motions.
The Fourth Circuit for a second time holds that a district court erred in refusing class certification in a Title VII (and § 1981) case involving denial of promotion on the basis of race. Six years ago, a 2-1 panel ordered certification of a class of black employees denied promotions. Brown v. Nucor Corp., 576 F.3d 149 (4th Cir. 2009). Another 2-1 panel, with two of the same judges authoring the majority and dissenting opinions (totaling 154 pages!), today reverses the decertification of the same class.
The Fourth Circuit en banc finally undoes an enduring wrong by overruling Jordan v. Alternative Resources Corp., 458 F.3d 332 (4th Cir. 2006), and holding that an employee remains protected by Title VII's anti-retaliation section (and § 1981) when complaining about race harassment, even if the offending conduct has not yet ripened into a hostile work environment.
Social anxiety disorder is a recognized disability, and employers need to consider work assignments with that disorder in mind. The Fourth Circuit holds that a district court erred by dismissing a claim (on summary judgment) against a public-sector employer that fired an employee instead of assigning her away from public-oriented, customer service duties. It also observes that a recent Supreme Court decision should make summary judgment for defendants more difficult to obtain.
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.
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."
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).
A hidden difficulty many American employees face is that a huge amount of their retirement income - an estimated $4 trillion - is in 401(k) plans, too many of which are managed by individuals indifferent to (or not competent to advance) the interests of future retirees. In this Fourth Circuit case, the district court found the fiduciaries of the retirement plan in breach of their duty of prudence by their arguably poor timing in liquidating a company-stock fund when its shares were in a trough, without performing a reasonable investigation, but excused them from paying any relief to the participants. The court holds (2-1) that the judge erred in insulating the fiduciaries from remedying that breach, concluding that the fiduciaries had the burden of proving that a prudent fiduciary would have made the same decision.
As the U.S. Courts of Appeals finally begin to decide disabilities cases governed by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), we'll begin to see transformational decisions like this one. Contrary to prior case law, the Fourth Circuit holds that an employee's temporary condition - here, "broken legs and injured tendons [that] render him completely immobile for more than seven months" - may constitute a disability.