Few employees and executives have been spared the impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Whether because of illness to themselves or family members, childcare or school closures, or disruption in the workplace, it has been anything but business as usual for the majority of the workforce. However, individuals who find their ability to work impacted because of health concerns or caregiving responsibilities related to the coronavirus may have protections under the law.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201, hereinafter "the Act"), signed into law Thursday by the President, provides two new, important worker protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both go into effect April 2, 2020 (fifteen days after enactment) and expire December 31, 2020.
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.
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.
In a potentially important development for family-responsibilities discrimination law, the Eleventh Circuit upholds a $161,319.92 award for a woman who was forced to quit police work because the city would not accommodate her breastfeeding.
Two years ago, when Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced he was taking paternity leave to spend time with his wife and newborn daughter, it was hailed as a breakthrough for paid family leave. Soon after, a rush of press releases from Twitter, Netflix, Microsoft, IKEA, American Express, Amazon and other well-known companies announced more generous policies. Men, they said, would be encouraged to take parental leave as well.
The Third Circuit on Tuesday took up the issue of causation, and the amount of proof a plaintiff must present, under two federal anti-retaliation laws. In Egan, the panel holds that employees may pursue FMLA retaliation claims under a mixed-motive theory, as supported by a Department of Labor regulation. In Carvalho-grievous, the court announces a lowered bar for establishing Title VII retaliation at the prima facie stage.
One way that an employee can circumstantially prove discrimination is by showing that the employer offered shifting and inconsistent rationales for its adverse action. The Fifth Circuit returns this ADA and FMLA retaliation case back for a jury to decide on just that rationale.