While somewhat out of the lane of employment law, this Title III ADA case - about whether a restaurant ought to have accommodated a parent's request to allow a child to bring his own food on a field trip - has some good general lessons for disability-discrimination law.
The Fourth Circuit holds (2-1) that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find liability under the ADEA for a 60-year-old plaintiff with over 30 years of service fired for an arguable, possibly spurious reason. The panel majority uses the occasion to tweak the oft-cited truism that courts do not sit as "super-personnel departments."
The Fourth Circuit, while mostly affirming summary judgment, holds that the plaintiff - a former employee of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - presented a genuine dispute of material fact on a claim of interference with Family and Medical Leave Act rights. The plaintiff complained that the agency failed to notify her of the right to medical leave when she presented as depressed in the workplace, complained about depression, and requested leave.
As often as discrimination cases turn on hostility towards protected-class employees, it pays to remember that the same laws apply no less to discrimination motivated by other reasons, such as misguided paternalism. Here, the Fourth Circuit sends a case back for a trial where a hospital believed that 28-year-veteran employee could no longer safely navigate its campus.
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.