The Supreme Court in Oubre v. Entergy Operations, Inc., 522 U.S. 422 (1998), held that an ADEA plaintiff does not have to tender back (offer to return) consideration paid in settlement of a claim as a condition to challenge that settlement in court. Today, the Sixth Circuit (in a 2-1 decision) extends that ruling to Title VII and Equal Pay Act (EPA) claims.
The Sixth Circuit affirms a jury award in an ADA case of $27,565 in back pay and $250,000 in compensatory damages, awarded to a dollar-store clerk who was fired for grabbing orange juice from the store fridge twice during diabetic episodes. The panel notes, among other things, that the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation can itself be direct evidence of discrimination.
Two opinions this week highlight the power of retaliation claims: in each case, the principal discrimination claim failed on summary judgment, yet the retaliation claim was remanded for trial.
The Sixth Circuit holds that full-time, in-office attendance is not a per se "essential function" for purposes of the ADA, and must be established just like any other element of the claim. The court vacates summary judgment and remands a claim brought under the ADA, Title VII, and the FMLA that the employee needed a reduced schedule to accommodate her post-partum depression and separation anxiety.
The U.S. Supreme Court held in CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 563 U.S. 421 (2011), that a summary plan description (SPD) is not enforceable as a plan document. The Sixth Circuit holds, though, that a court has equitable power to order a benefit plan reformed to agree with the language of the SPD, and that it is not necessary to find fraud by the employer to do so.
The Sixth Circuit affirms a $350,000 jury award for a police officer who was transferred far from her home, in retaliation for complaining about sex harassment. The court rejects a bid by the department to reduce the award, finding that the jury's calculations of back and front pay - and award of compensatory damages for pain and suffering - are supported by the record.
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 Sixth Circuit affirms a jury verdict for an in-house lawyer in Tennessee, including $92,000.00 in compensatory damages and $18,184.32 in backpay. The court holds that the jury could have found that the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (and state law) duty to accommodate, by failing to allow a ten-week period of telecommuting during the lawyer's pregnancy bedrest.
The Sixth Circuit, in a split decision, remands a Title VII retaliation case for a new trial on back pay, and reconsideration of prejudgment interest - holding that the winning plaintiff was conclusively entitled to a greater recovery. It's a reminder to lawyers: whether you're trying a back-pay claim to a jury (as in this case) or to a judge, make sure to offer W-2s or other evidence to substantiate the amount, and to argue methodically for prejudgment interest.
An employer that deliberately, or with gross negligence, misinforms employees about potential retirement benefits - inducing them to remain with the company - may find itself on the hook to compensate those employees for lost opportunities. In this case, the Sixth Circuit affirms an ERISA judgment against a manufacturer and its retirement plan for equitable estoppel, breach of fiduciary duty, and an anti-cutback violation of ERISA.