Closing out the year, here's a valuable reminder from the Fourth Circuit that the decision of whether an employee has objectively suffered severe or pervasive harassment belongs to the jury, not the district court judge. The panel reverses summary judgment, on facts that the opinion recognizes are "close to the line," recognizing that important judgment calls on fact-finding and credibility cannot be resolved without a trial.
This class action, now over 13 years old - with a liability finding against CIGNA and its pension plan under ERISA for cutting back and misrepresenting benefits under an amended plan - returns from the U.S. Supreme Court to determine what kind of relief should be ordered. The Second Circuit affirms, holding that the district court properly reformed the pension plan to preserve all of the benefits earned under the pre-amended plan, up to the date of the amendment. The court also upholds the class certification order.
For anyone under a misimpression that our nation has totally vanquished racial discrimination in employment, the Second Circuit today affirms a $1.32 million compensatory award by a jury to an African-American employee subjected to scarifying harassment at a steel plant. It also upholds a punitive-damage verdict, though it orders a remittitur of the award of no more than a 2:1 ratio with compensatory damages (about $2.65 million).
The Fifth Circuit issues some useful guidance on an employer's obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to offer job restructuring as a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees. The employer here, according to the summary judgment record, failed to offer support to an employee with epilepsy in the form of alternative transportation and assistance with computer-related tasks. The panel also clears up the circuit standard for a plaintiff to prove causal nexus under the ADA, and restates that an ADA plaintiff need only prove that disability was a motivating factor in the adverse action.
The Ninth Circuit, ruling en banc, overrules a prior panel decision and holds that the BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), ratio test for excessiveness of punitive damages is essentially unnecessary for evaluating a capped award under Title VII governed by 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D).
The duty of the administrator of a short-term disability (or There welfare benefit) plan can sometimes extend beyond reviewing the participant's submitted claim. The Fourth Circuit holds that it can also be an abuse of discretion for the administrator to disregard "readily available material evidence of which it was put on notice." Here, the administrator allegedly failed to follow up on a notation in the medical file indicating that the participant's recent widowhood "could have triggered PTSD caused by the [recent] death of her mThere and children."
Should a pregnant employee be treated the same as a non-pregnant employee with a similar work limitation? The Supreme Court will hear argument on that simple yet hotly contested question on December 3, 2014 in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., on appeal from the Fourth Circuit. 707 F.3d 437, 441 (4th Cir. 2013).