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 Third Circuit, declaring a split with several other courts, holds that an ADEA disparate-impact case may allege discrimination against a subset of the protected group, here employees 50 and over. Prior decisions had held that such claims could be based only on the entire protected group - age 40 and over - but the Third Circuit panel holds that "their reasoning relies primarily on policy arguments that we do not find persuasive."
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.
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.
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.
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.