A Ninth Circuit panel holds, in a Title VII and Oregon state law case, that an employer's breaking into a work locker constitutes a materially adverse employment action. The panel also splits - 2-1 - over whether the employer failed to take appropriate steps to stop alleged racial harassment, and whether it disproportionately punished the plaintiff by firing him (for leaving the workplace) while taking no action against the harasser.
The D.C. Circuit holds that even facially benign statements about an employee - in a given context - can constitute evidence of discriminatory intent. The panel finds that a supervisor's alleged compliment to a Black employee for "speaking well," and later telling the same employee that he was not a "good fit" for the organization, might be evidence of racial stigmatizing. It also discusses that an employer's "honest belief" must also be reasonable under the circumstances.
May an employer deny employment to a Black applicant who would not cut her dreadlocks? A decision by the Eleventh Circuit yesterday goes to the very core of the anti-discrimination statutes: what does it mean to discriminate in employment on the basis of "race"? The panel unfortunately holds that "race" under Title VII is limited to "immutable" physical characteristics, rather than cultural and other traits associated with race. In so doing, it potentially creates a rift between two major federal race-discrimination statutes, Title VII and § 1981.
The D.C. Circuit, in a Title VII race-discrimination case, hands down a mixed decision for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee. It reverses summary judgment on her challenge of a suspension, holding that she was entitled to a trial where there was evidence that the lower-level decisionmaker who prompted the action made racially-biased remarks, especially one directed at the plaintiff. Yet it affirms dismissal of her termination claim, concluding that the plaintiff failed to exhaust the exacting administrative requirements that apply to federal-sector workers.
Is there Title VII "race" discrimination if the two competing candidates identify as "white"? The Second Circuit holds that this scenario may state a claim where one of the candidates is deemed to be of "Hispanic" ethnicity.
The Tenth Circuit reverses summary judgment and remands in a section 1981 case involving harassment of a call-center's only black employee. The panel reminds district courts and litigants that even non-racial remarks, against a backdrop of racially-offensive chatter, may constitute harassment. It also notes that "whether a workplace environment is sufficiently polluted for purposes of a § 1981 claim should not be based on whether an alleged harasser possessed the motivation or intent to cause discriminatory harm or offense."
A long-running disparate impact case challenging promotions of firefighters to the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain is remanded by the Sixth Circuit for a third trial to award back pay, and the panel reassigns the case to a new judge for good measure. The panel has valuable things to say about how to calculate monetary make-whole relief. It also affirms injunctive relief, and appointment of a monitor, to purge the city's violation.
The Second Circuit holds that racially-biased comments by a decisionmaker - even if not specifically concerning the adverse employment decision - may be circumstantial evidence of a biased motive if it is related in some way to the employee's performance. The panel also holds that denial of tenure to a public school teacher is an adverse employment action, even if the teacher is invited to continue to working.
When two employees fight, employers face the challenge of making the discipline fit the crime - and, also, avoiding racial or other bias. The Sixth Circuit calls out management in one such case today, concerning a black plaintiff fired supposedly for engaging in a fight, while the white employee in the same fight was disciplined only belatedly.
The Fifth Circuit issues yet another reminder, in today's Title VII decision, that an employer who stoutly refuses to offer any explanation for a decision to deny a promotion takes a strong chance of having to justify its actions at a jury trial.