This week, two U.S. Courts of Appeals publish decisions about whether religiously-oriented employers were exempt from Title VII owing to alleged religious-liberty rights: a Methodist hospital wins in the Second Circuit, while a funeral home loses in the Sixth Circuit.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides that eligible employees may be entitled to leave to care for relatives with whom they had an in loco parentis relationship as a child. The Second Circuit holds that where the plaintiff requested leave to care for a sick grandparent, who raised him has a child, the employer had a duty to inquire further about the relationship before denying leave.
Today's Two-fer Tuesday in the Second Circuit: a pregnancy discrimination case is returned for retrial, in light of the intervening decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1338 (2015); and a panel holds that a state human-resource professional's opposition to changes in the EEO complaint-reporting procedures is not a "protected activity" under Title VII.
Is There Title VII "race" discrimination if the two competing candidates identify as "white"? The Second Circuit holds that this scenario may state a claim where one of the candidates is deemed to be of "Hispanic" ethnicity.
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."
Addressing an issue that has sowed uncertainty among federal courts, the Second Circuit holds that a Title VII plaintiff satisfies the Rule 8 pleading standard of "plausibility" under the Supreme Court's Iqbal decision simply by alleging the prima facie elements of her case. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), remains good law, and the plaintiff need not anticipate the defendant's furnishing of a non‐discriminatory justification for its action in the complaint. The panel also rejects application of a so-called "manager rule" that would preclude a retaliation claim by an EEO director who opposes discrimination in the course of her duties.
The Second Circuit holds that racially-biased comments by a decision maker - even if not specifically concerning the adverse employment decision - may be circumstantial evidence of a biased motive if it is related in some way to the employee's performance. The panel also holds that denial of tenure to a public school teacher is an adverse employment action, even if the teacher is invited to continue to working.
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).
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.