Undocumented workers are entitled to protection under Title VII and other federal employment laws, but many fear filing charges and lawsuits because they risk exposure, termination, and deportation. The Fifth Circuit addresses the delicate balance between the public interest in enforcing anti-discrimination laws and the right of an employer under federal discovery procedures to obtain evidence that is potentially important to its defense.
The Fifth Circuit reverses summary judgment in a pregnancy discrimination case, decided under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act ("TCHRA"). The panel holds that the plaintiff presented a genuine dispute of material fact about each of two reasons that the employer - a law firm - gave for her termination. The opinion reminds employers that simply keeping records of an employee's supposed violations is not enough to avoid a trial, and that the plaintiff's own testimony about the records deserves equal dignity.
The existence of a formal anti-harassment policy in the workplace does not guarantee results for the employer if it does not do the important work of publicizing and training on the policy. The Fifth Circuit reverses summary judgment (in part) owing to a factual dispute about whether a school board did what it needed to do to make its policy a reality. It's an important case on the application of the first prong of the Faragher-Ellerth defense against supervisor-harassment liability.
Here's another case involving a joint-employer relationship between a staffing agency and one of its clients. The Fifth Circuit reverses summary judgment, holding that there was a genuine dispute about whether the staffing agency should have known that the client asked it to reassign an employee for age-biased reasons.
The Fifth Circuit affirms that an employee interviewed as part of a company's internal investigation into sex harassment complaints is protected under the "opposition" prong of the anti-retaliation section of Title VII. Yet it also holds that the witness must manifest at least a "reasonable belief" that what she witnessed rose to a violation of that act.
Taking sides in a widening split in the circuits, the Fifth Circuit holds that an independent contractor - here, a pediatrician working on an United States Air Force base - can bring a claim for disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 against the clinic where she practiced.
Courts in Title VII retaliation cases continue to wrestle with what constitutes a "materially adverse action" under Burlington N. and Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006). While accepting an employee's voluntary resignation may not itself be an adverse action, the Fifth Circuit here holds that an employer's refusal to honor an employee's rescission of a resignation may be deemed materially adverse.
It's not often that we get published federal appellate decisions from fully-tried Title VII cases, but here's one from the Fifth Circuit that (among other things) reviews an award in a retaliation case for "future reputational harm." The panel substantially affirms the $127,000 award, though it remands the case for reconsideration of remittitur in light of the plaintiff abandoning one of his damages theories on appeal.
Two decisions this week address racially-hostile work environment claims involving unusual circumstances. The Fourth Circuit addresses the employer's duty to address anonymous race harassment, here a death threat left in a company mailbox. The Eighth Circuit addresses harassment of an African-American supervisor by her Somali staff. Both result in reversals of summary judgment on Title VII and § 1981 harassment claims.
The Fifth Circuit reverses its beginning-of-the-year, 2-1 decision in Wooten, now holding (3-0) that the plaintiff's complaint - while "admittedly light on factual details" - was sufficient under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 to state a claim of discrimination and retaliation under the ADEA. Thus, the complaint was sufficient to support entry of default judgment against a non-appearing employer.