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.
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.
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.
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.
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.