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 Tenth Circuit produces a clear circuit split on an issue now poised for Supreme Court review: must a ADA plaintiff challenging an employer's failure to reasonably accommodate a disability prove an adverse employment action? The panel splits two-to-one on this issue, in favor of the employer.
An employee fired during her pregnancy should get a Title VII trial, holds the Tenth Circuit, where one of the putative decision-makers reportedly told the plaintiff "[w]hat, you're pregnant too?," and said "I don't know how I'm going to be able to handle all of these people being pregnant at once" and "I have too many pregnant workers, I don't know what I am going to do with all of them."
The Tenth Circuit reverses summary judgment in a Title VII religious accommodation case, holding that a jury must decide both (1) whether the employer offered a reasonable accommodation to two Seventh Day Adventist employees who could not work Friday nights or Saturdays, by allowing them to swap shifts with willing co-workers; and (2) whether further accommodating their Sabbath observance would cause undue hardship.
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."
The Tenth Circuit reviews an ADA claim of a deaf applicant for technician at a plasma-donation center. It holds that a health-care provider cannot fend off an analysis of whether a proposed accommodation for a disabled employee is reasonable simply by arguing that any risk to patients, however infinitesimal, is unacceptable.
While ERISA does not provide a limitations period for most claims, it does impose a three-year limitations period after discovery of a breach of fiduciary duty, plus a six-year period of repose. Yet the statute also provides that "in the case of fraud or concealment, such action may be commenced not later than six years after the date of discovery of such breach or violation." The Tenth Circuit examined this quoted language today, and remanded parts of a class action to be reconsidered under this provision.
Employers have often argued that the Equal Pay Act does not apply if the male and female comparable employees spend significant amounts of time on different tasks. Yet the Tenth Circuit today affirmed that if a female employee performs addition al duties beyond a male comparator, that fact does not defeat the employee's prima facie case under the EPA.
The Tenth Circuit addresses two issues of interest to those who regularly represent employees, especially those in the federal sector. First, the panel holds - in a widening circuit split - that a claim of constructive discharge under Title VII accrues not at the time that an employee quits, but when the last act of alleged discrimination by the employer occurs. In the federal sector, this significant because of the narrow 45-day window for complaining about discrimination. Second, the panel holds that a threatened suspension without pay may, even if it does not materialize, constitute a "materially adverse action" for a Title VII claim of retaliation.
The Tenth Circuit today issued a terribly important read for people interested in fighting workplace sex harassment. The panel reverses summary judgment in a Title VII case where a woman jail employee was (allegedly) sexually assaulted by a sergeant, repeatedly, and yet failed to complain immediately for fear of losing her job. While not a complete win for the employee, the opinion points the way to Theres trapped in similar workplace dilemmas.