A regular theme on this blog is for lawyers to keep an eye on remedies at all times. A pair of non-precedential Eleventh Circuit cases arising from the same trial illustrate the point. In the first, a fully-tried Title VII sex harassment case ends with a liability verdict against the employer, but with $0 in damages. Yet creative lawyering saves the day, preserving prevailing-party status by obtaining a reformation of the employee's personnel file. In the second, the panel remands for reconsideration of attorney's fees in light of an unaccepted Rule 68 offer of judgment.
Here's a cautionary tale from the Sixth Circuit about disabilities discrimination: just because an employee is medically restricted in some aspect of their job does not automatically translate into a covered "disability" for purposes of the ADA. The court affirms summary judgment here, holding that the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADAAA") - while it liberalized other parts of the statute - did not change the definition of "working" as a "major life activity."
The D.C. Circuit holds (2-1) that a group of fired social workers (SWAs) and social service assistants (SSAs) had - contrary to the district court's ruling - sufficiently identified a "particular emploment practice" susceptible to challenge for its adverse racial impact under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)(1)(A)(i). The case is remanded for further consideration of whether the plaintiffs established a statistical racial disparity.
While somewhat out of the lane of employment law, this Title III ADA case - about whether a restaurant ought to have accommodated a parent's request to allow a child to bring his own food on a field trip - has some good general lessons for disability-discrimination law.
The Fourth Circuit holds (2-1) that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find liability under the ADEA for a 60-year-old plaintiff with over 30 years of service fired for an arguable, possibly spurious reason. The panel majority uses the occasion to tweak the oft-cited truism that courts do not sit as "super-personnel departments."
Federal courts seldom pause on the second stage of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting test, whee the employer proffers its allegedly legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking adverse action against an employee. But in this case, the D.C. Circuit holds that it is not enough for the employer to simply advance a facially-neutral process without showing how it was specifically applied to the employee. This case could have special application in promotion and other processes involving large numbers of people and subjective criteria.
When a former supervisor - later reassigned - tells an employee that they were not promoted because "[y]ou're not white" and "you're not female," can the statement be used to prove a discriminatory motive over a hearsay objection? A panel of the Ninth Circuit holds 2-1 that the statement is admissible against the employer as a party admission.
The Second Circuit, in an ADEA hostile work environment and retaliation case, reminds district court judges that they are not to weigh or evaluate credibility of evidence submitted on summary judgment. Among other things, the district court forgot that "[i]t was required to disregard the contrary statements from [defendant's witnesses] that a jury would not be required to believe."
In ERISA cases, a lot can come down to the standard of review that a court applies to a plan administrator's decision. In this case, the Tenth Circuit holds that the plan required the court, not the plan administrator, to decide ultimately whether the participant should have been classified as a "sales personnel" entitled to a higher level of disability benefits.
The original Title VII was centered on injunctive relief, principally putting protected-class employees to work. So this Fifth Circuit case is a valuable one, reminding us of the roots of the law and why reinstatement remains the presumptive remedy in discrimination cases.