The Fourth Circuit cautions employees (and their counsel) that taking actions to support an EEOC charge are not "protected activities" under the "participation" clause of Title VII's anti-retaliation section if they violate state law. Here, the court affirms summary judgment in a case where the employee copied and delivered confidential personnel files to the EEOC, in violation of North Carolina law.
The Fourth Circuit reverses summary judgment in a Title VII retaliation case, where the plaintiff's direct boss allegedly declared that she "wanted someone of a different race" in the job, then proceeded to subject her to "constant surveillance, badgering, and criticism." When the plaintiff "told the City that she intended to file a formal grievance" about the hostile work environment, the defendant fired the plaintiff the very next day.
The panel majority reverses and remands judgment for the state in an Equal Pay Act case. It agrees with the Third and Tenth Circuits that the employer's burden on its affirmative defense is to show not only that a "factor other than sex" could have motivated a pay differential, but actually did motivate it. The dissenting judge would impose a higher burden of proof on the EEOC when it enforces the EPA against a state agency, citing the Tenth Amendment.
The fourth Circuit affirms a jury verdict and back-pay relief of $586,860 in favor of the EEOC, in a Title VII religious accommodation case where the employer stubbornly "belie[ved] that it could rely on its own understanding of scripture to limit the scope of the accommodation it offered" an employee who, because of his Christian faith, refused to use a hand scanner.
An Arab-American Muslim woman from Morocco alleges that she suffered years of ethnic and religious harassment by the company's Chief Financial Officer, and was then fired 75 minutes after complaining about it. The fourth Circuit reverses summary judgment on her Title VII and § 1981 complaint, in a blockbuster, 46-page opinion that straightens out several wrong turns that district courts take when ruling on dispositive motions.
The Fourth Circuit for a second time holds that a district court erred in refusing class certification in a Title VII (and § 1981) case involving denial of promotion on the basis of race. Six years ago, a 2-1 panel ordered certification of a class of black employees denied promotions. Brown v. Nucor Corp., 576 F.3d 149 (4th Cir. 2009). AnThere 2-1 panel, with two of the same judges authoring the majority and dissenting opinions (totaling 154 pages!), today reverses the decertification of the same class.
The Fourth Circuit en banc finally undoes an enduring wrong by overruling Jordan v. Alternative Resources Corp., 458 F.3d 332 (4th Cir. 2006), and holding that an employee remains protected by Title VII's anti-retaliation section (and § 1981) when complaining about race harassment, even if the offending conduct has not yet ripened into a hostile work environment.
Social anxiety disorder is a recognized disability, and employers need to consider work assignments with that disorder in mind. The Fourth Circuit holds that a district court erred by dismissing a claim (on summary judgment) against a public-sector employer that fired an employee instead of assigning her away from public-oriented, customer service duties. It also observes that a recent Supreme Court decision should make summary judgment for defendants more difficult to obtain.
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.