AOC in employment-law news: the Architect of the Capitol loses two Title VII appeals in the past week, both cases involving claims of denial of promotions due to national origin. Both shared the detail that supervisors allegedly mocked the plaintiffs because of their accents.
Federal courts seldom pause on the second stage of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting test, whee the employer proffers its allegedly legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking adverse action against an employee. But in this case, the D.C. Circuit holds that it is not enough for the employer to simply advance a facially-neutral process without showing how it was specifically applied to the employee. This case could have special application in promotion and other processes involving large numbers of people and subjective criteria.
When a former supervisor - later reassigned - tells an employee that they were not promoted because "[y]ou're not white" and "you're not female," can the statement be used to prove a discriminatory motive over a hearsay objection? A panel of the Ninth Circuit holds 2-1 that the statement is admissible against the employer as a party admission.
The Eleventh Circuit heightens the probability of Supreme Court review of a long-festering circuit split: just how "similarly situated" must a Title VII plaintiff be to a comparator employee in the workplace to establish a prima facie case of discrimination? The en banc court holds 9-3 that a plaintiff must demonstrate, at the first stage of the analysis, that she and the comparators were "similarly situated in all material respects."
The Eighth Circuit affirms a $250,001 judgment - $1 compensatory and $250,000 punitive damages - for a black "deckhand on the Cora, a barge that dredges sand from the Arkansas River," whom a jury found suffered a racially hostile work environment caused by his foreman.
A Black employee who is denied a transfer and told by her supervisor that another manager "wanted a Korean in that position" - and is then fired a week after complaining about race discrimination - presents a triable case of Title VII discrimination and retaliation, so holds the Eleventh Circuit.
In the ceaseless struggle over what is meant by "similarly situated," an Eleventh Circuit splits over whether the plaintiff - a Black woman detective with a heart condition - presented enough evidence that two white male officers who failed a physical-fitness requirement were treated better. The case also considers, for an ADA claim, whether receiving a Taser shock or pepper spraying in training was an "essential function" of the job.
A Ninth Circuit panel holds, in a Title VII and Oregon state law case, that an employer's breaking into a work locker constitutes a materially adverse employment action. The panel also splits - 2-1 - over whether the employer failed to take appropriate steps to stop alleged racial harassment, and whether it disproportionately punished the plaintiff by firing him (for leaving the workplace) while taking no action against the harasser.
The D.C. Circuit holds that even facially benign statements about an employee - in a given context - can constitute evidence of discriminatory intent. The panel finds that a supervisor's alleged compliment to a Black employee for "speaking well," and later telling the same employee that he was not a "good fit" for the organization, might be evidence of racial stigmatizing. It also discusses that an employer's "honest belief" must also be reasonable under the circumstances.
May an employer deny employment to a Black applicant who would not cut her dreadlocks? A decision by the Eleventh Circuit yesterday goes to the very core of the anti-discrimination statutes: what does it mean to discriminate in employment on the basis of "race"? The panel unfortunately holds that "race" under Title VII is limited to "immutable" physical characteristics, rather than cultural and other traits associated with race. In so doing, it potentially creates a rift between two major federal race-discrimination statutes, Title VII and § 1981.