The Seventh Circuit decides a couple of useful things in this Title VII and § 1983 national-origin discrimination, harassment, and retaliation case, set in a City of Chicago firehouse. First, it holds that even petty activity such as lunch-stealing may constitute part of a hostile work environment when the entire pattern of conduct is considered together. Second, even such tedious activities as constantly shifting an employee from site to site, and intensively challenging fitness for duty after medical leave, may constitute materially adverse employment actions.
The Second Circuit today decides two EEO legal issues that were open in that court. First, it holds that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 allows claims against public employers for retaliation towards workers who oppose race discrimination in employment. Second, it clarifies the pleading standard for Title VII claims, holding that a plaintiff need only plead facts which show that "(1) the employer took adverse action against him, and (2) his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor in the employment decision."
In an organization otherwise blanketed in paper, it raises eyebrows when the employer's complaints about a worker's performance find no support in the records. The Seventh Circuit vacates summary judgment in this pro se case, and remands for a trial of Title VII and § 1983 claims, where the performance-based reasons offered for a black teacher's termination were at odds with the employer's files and were bolstered mostly by sharply-disputed witness testimony.
Lawyers who represent employees in the state and local public sector know that, for sex discrimination and harassment claims, they can bring suit under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The former law was passed specifically to combat sex discrimination, while the latter attacks discriminatory practices by way of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. Yet while section 1983 has some specific advantages to employees - there is no administrative prerequisite to file a charge with the EEOC, the limitations period is longer, there is individual liability, and legal relief is uncapped - there are also some distinct disadvantages, such as overcoming qualified immunity. So, in this case, the Second Circuit holds that in contrast to Title VII, a plaintiff must show that each individual defendant was personally motivated by gender in order to establish liability. On this basis, the panel mostly reverses denial of qualified immunity for several individual police officers charged with sex harassment and discrimination.
Can a job transfer originally requested by an employee constitute an "adverse employment action" (for purposes of Title VII, the ADEA and § 1983)? The Sixth Circuit panel in this case split over the issue, 2-1. The panel majority holds, in reversing summary judgment on this issue, that such a transfer may be "adverse" to the employee when the terms and conditions of the transfer are inferior to what the employee originally sought.
A divided Second Circuit panel, reviewing a judgment from a jury trial, recognizes a Due Process/First Amendment right-of-intimate-association claim for two people engaged to be married (a right of "betrothal"). The court affirms liability and $304,775 in back pay (plus $5000 in punitive damages) for a plaintiff who the jury found was assaulted and harassed - and ultimately terminated from his job - because his cross-racial engagement to an African American woman.
Several federal circuits have held that state (and other public) employees cannot seek relief for age discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because the ADEA supposedly provides the exclusive remedy for such claims. Yet the Seventh Circuit steps surprisingly out-of-line, and holds that § 1983 claims may be brought to vindicate the federal constitutional right of Equal Protection against arbitrary age-based classifications, independently of the ADEA. It further holds that state agency heads cannot necessarily hide behind qualified immunity to avoid a lawsuit.
A district court needs to be reminded that Title VII and § 1983 protect different (if overlapping) interests in a government workplace, that an employee can elect a remedy under either or both, and that a § 1983 claimant need not pursue the administrative prerequisites for Title VII.
The Eleventh Circuit declares that transsexualism is a protected classification under the federal Equal Protection Clause, and holds that "a government agent violates the Equal Protection Clause's prohibition of sex-based discrimination when he or she fires a transgender or transsexual employee because of his or her gender non-conformity." The result is affirmance of summary judgment for the employee.