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May 2012 Archives

Lewis v. Humboldt Acquisition Corp., No. 09-6381 (6th Cir. May 25, 2012) (en banc); Ponce v. Billington, No. 11-5117 (D.C. Cir. May 18, 2012)

In the space of ten days, two circuits issue decisions rejecting a "sole cause" jury instruction under different federal acts. The en banc Sixth Circuit unanimously sweeps away prior circuit law requiring proof under the ADA that disability was the "sole" cause of the discrimination - vacating the jury's verdict under such an instruction - though the judges ultimately divide over what the correct causation standard ought to be. In the D.C. Circuit, the panel rejects a "sole factor" instruction in a Title VII case, distinguishing a prior published decision, but affirms the defense verdict on the ground that the jury charge was overall correct.

Smith v. Bray, No. 11-1935 (7th Cir. May 24, 2012)

Periodically, a case comes along that reminds us that Title VII and § 1981 are not exactly identical statutes. The Seventh Circuit holds, in a case of first impression, that an individual employee (here, a human-resources executive) with a retaliatory motive may be individually liable under § 1981 for causing the employer to retaliate against an employee who complained about race harassment. In this case, though, the plaintiff ultimately fails to overturn the district court's summary judgment against his claim on the merits. The panel also criticizes the district court's refusal to allow the employee to respond to evidence raised by the employee in a reply brief.

Hamilton v. Southland Christian school, Inc., No. 11-13696 (11th Cir. May 16, 2012)

An employer who fires an employee expressly because she became pregnant before marrying the father obviously violates the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. And it did not help the employer, in this case, that it asserted the "ministerial exception," as recently declared in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical LuTherean Church & Sch. v. EEOC, 132 S.Ct. 694, 706 (2012).

Townsend v. Benjamin Enterprises, Inc., No. 09-0197 (2d Cir. May 9, 2012)

The Second Circuit issues in important decision today in the fields of Title VII sex harassment and retaliation. The panel affirms a jury verdict of $5200 for a Title VII and New York state law hostile work environment claim, holding that the employer cannot raise a defense under Faragher/Ellerth when the harasser is also a senior executive "alter ego" of the employer. But the panel also affirms dismissal of a Title VII retaliation claim, for an HR executive engaged in an internal investigation of the harassment, holding that the "participation" clause does not cover an internal investigation of a complaint of discrimination before an EEOC charge is filed.

Redd v. New York State Division of Parole, No. 10-1410 (2d Cir. May 4, 2012)

The Second Circuit reverses summary judgment in a Title VII same-sex harassment suit, finding that three intimate touchings over a five-month period by a supervisor may constitute a hostile work environment, and that the employer's defense it responded appropriately to the employee's oral complaints of harassment needed to be tried to a jury. The court reaffirms that while a workplace inevitably involves personal intrusions and employees surrender some autonomy, "giving up control over who can touch their bod[ies] is usually not one of them." 

EEOC v. Service Temps Inc., No. 11-10262 (5th Cir. Apr. 26, 2012)

Here's yet another jury verdict in favor of a worker, in a seldom-seen case of a frustrated job seeker barred from applying for a job on account of deafness. The Fifth Circuit affirms liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, injunctive relief and the award of damages: $14,400 in back pay, $20,000 in compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, and $68,800 in punitive damages.

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