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Daily Developments in EEO Law Archives

EEOC v. St. Joseph's Hospital, Inc., No. 15-14551 (11th Cir. Dec. 7, 2016)

Courts are split over whether, under the ADA, employers who are able to reassign incumbent employees to accommodate their disabilities must do so outside of a normal competitive, "best-qualified" application process. The Eleventh Circuit this week joined the fray, holding that employers do not need to abandon a so-called "best-qualified" policy for filling vacancies, even as a reasonable accommodation.

Gracia v. SigmaTron Int'l, Inc., No. 15-3311 (7th Cir. Nov. 29, 2016)

The Seventh Circuit affirms a jury award of $50,000 compensatory and $250,000 punitive damages in a Title VII retaliation case. The jury could have found, based on conflicting testimony, that the employer fired the plaintiff just two weeks after she filed an EEOC sex-harassment charge, based on an unsubstantiated complaint - reported by the alleged harasser himself - of a minor work-rule violation.

DeJesus v. WP Co. LLC, No. 15-7126 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 15, 2016)

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.

Deschamps v. Bridgestone Americas, No. 15-6112 (6th Cir. Oct. 19, 2016)

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.

Cazorla v. Koch fords of Mississippi, LLC, No. 15-60562 (5th Cir. Sept. 27, 2016)

Undocumented workers are entitled to protection under Title VII and other federal employment laws, but many fear filing charges and lawsuits because they risk exposure, termination, and deportation. The Fifth Circuit addresses the delicate balance between the public interest in enforcing anti-discrimination laws and the right of an employer under federal discovery procedures to obtain evidence that is potentially important to its defense.

Ernst v. City of Chicago, No. 14-3783 (7th Cir. Sept. 19, 2016)

It's rare for a federal court of appeals to toss a defense jury verdict in an employment-discrimination case, and rarer still for the panel to order entry of a judgment in favor of a plaintiff. Yet both things happened in yesterday's Seventh Circuit decision, which held that a group of female paramedic applicants proved they were unlawfully screened out of employment due to an unreliable physical-skills entrance examination.

Lawler v. Peoria school District No. 150, No. 15-2976 (7th Cir. Sept. 16, 2016)

One way that employers go wrong under disability-discrimination laws is writing off an employee with diagnosed mental disabilities as simply a difficult personality or a poor "fit" for the job. Here, a special-education teacher with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - who was denied a transfer to a less-stressful position and fired for supposedly creating "so much unnecessary drama" with co-workers - will have a trial, thanks to a recent Seventh Circuit decision.

EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, No. 14-13482 (11th Cir. Sept. 15, 2016)

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.

Smith v. LexisNexis Screening Solutions, No. 15-2329 (6th Cir. Sept. 13, 2016)

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.

Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., No. 15-2574 (7th Cir. Aug. 19, 2016)

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."

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