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.
The Sixth Circuit reviews and affirms a $75,000 jury verdict for a job applicant whose employment background check was negligently performed, but vacates an award for punitive damages, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The case involves a scenario where an applicant's common first and last names triggered a false criminal report.
In a bid to restore common sense to the adjudication of Title VII and other employment cases, a panel of the Seventh Circuit (with the acquiescence of the full court) decisively overrules both the "convincing mosaic" and "direct vs. indirect" methods of proof. It urges instead the straight-forward application of the anti-discrimination standard: whether the plaintiff "would have kept his job if he [or she] had a different ethnicity, and everything else had remained the same."
The Fifth Circuit reverses summary judgment in a pregnancy discrimination case, decided under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act ("TCHRA"). The panel holds that the plaintiff presented a genuine dispute of material fact about each of two reasons that the employer - a law firm - gave for her termination. The opinion reminds employers that simply keeping records of an employee's supposed violations is not enough to avoid a trial, and that the plaintiff's own testimony about the records deserves equal dignity.
The dubitante judicial opinion affirms a result, but casts suspicion on the underlying law or basic fairness of the decision. Two recent, split Title VII opinions fall into this category. The Seventh Circuit declined to overrule its decades' old precedent holding that Title VII does not cover sexual-orientation discrimination, and the D.C. Circuit applied its case law that denials of lateral transfers are generally not "adverse employment actions." Yet both opinions sow the seeds for future challenges to these questionable and unfair outcomes.
The existence of a formal anti-harassment policy in the workplace does not guarantee results for the employer if it does not do the important work of publicizing and training on the policy. The Fifth Circuit reverses summary judgment (in part) owing to a factual dispute about whether a school board did what it needed to do to make its policy a reality. It's an important case on the application of the first prong of the Faragher-Ellerth defense against supervisor-harassment liability.
Here's another case involving a joint-employer relationship between a staffing agency and one of its clients. The Fifth Circuit reverses summary judgment, holding that There was a genuine dispute about whether the staffing agency should have known that the client asked it to reassign an employee for age-biased reasons.
One pernicious "stereotype is the idea that men are better suited than women for positions of importance or leadership in the workplace." Here, the First Circuit reverses summary judgment in a federal-sector Title VII case, citing (among other things) a male supervisor's allegedly hostile tone and emphasis on the word "she" when he acted to block the only woman in the office from performing her job. Oh, and There's a baseball bat in the case, too.
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.
Here's a nice, short decision affirming a judgment of $25,200 in compensatory damages and $65,274.64 in back pay for an ADA plaintiff fired because of his insulin-dependent diabetes. The court underscores that the question of "essential function" under that statute is a factual one for a jury to resolve. And the court also holds that starting a business, even one that fails, is a valid method of mitigating damages.