The end of the year often brings a haul of decisions, when the courts of appeal clear their dockets for year's-end. Here's a short, to-the-point decision, reversing summary judgment on an ADEA and ERISA case where the district court judge misapprehended a controlling Supreme Court decision.
The Eleventh Circuit holds (2-1) that hiring guidelines that target employees a few years out of college, or that discourage hiring of employees with too much experience, may violate the ADEA if they have a disparate impact on hiring employees age 40 and over. The majority also holds that equitable tolling of the limitations period for filing an EEOC charge does not necessarily depend on concealment or fraud by the employer.
A Florida federal jury holds a union and county liable for retaliation against two employees for complaining about race discrimination. The Union argues on appeal that retaliation -- in the form of exposing the plaintiffs' names, complaint and projected cost of defense -- is constitutionally-protected free speech. The Eleventh Circuit affirms the verdict, nevertheless, holding that misleading and coercive speech amounting to a "call for reprisal" is not protected under the First Amendment.
As recently noted here (see entry for January 26, 2014), the U.S. Courts of Appeals are just now deciding the next generation of disabilities-discrimination law cases governed by the 2008 Americans With Disabilities Act amendments (ADAAA). Here, the Eleventh Circuit notes - in a case reversing summary judgment for an employee in chronic pain - that some of its prior, more restrictive case law must now be reconsidered. (And, as an added bonus, the employee also earns a reversal of his age discrimination claim.)
The panel majority in this Eleventh Circuit appeal reverses summary judgment in an ADA and Florida state law claim. It holds that FedEx possibly imposed an impermissible qualification standard on a job applicant with diabetes, by insisting that he pass a federal Department of Transportation medical certification for a mechanic's position that was not otherwise subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).
When does a human-resources executive truly speak for the corporation? This oft-ignored, yet critically important question occupies this Eleventh Circuit decision today, which remands a Title VII national-origin case to the district court for an evidentiary ruling on this issue. The lower court must now rule whether a remark allegedly made by the employer's HR director - that the Korean management of the company "refused to even consider American candidates" for an assistant accounting manager vacancy - may be admitted as evidence. One judge files a partially dissenting opinion on the remand.
The Eleventh Circuit takes a state university to task, in the very first lines of its opinion, for permitting a race (and gender) hostile environment to persist in one of its departments: "The facts of this case should greatly concern every taxpaying citizen of the State of Alabama, especially because it involves a public institution largely funded with tax dollars paid by the people of Alabama." The panel affirms a jury verdict in favor of There plaintiffs for harassment and retaliation, plus a cumulative award of over $1 million.
Not all of the protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act are limited to disabled persons. The AD also protects employees from undergoing unconsented medical exams, unless the employer can show that the exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity (42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A)). In this Eleventh Circuit case, the panel holds that an employee does not need to be disabled to have standing to bring suit under this section. The panel, nonetheless, affirms summary judgment for the employer, finding that it made out its job-related/business-necessity defense as a matter of law.
In this ADEA case, the Eleventh Circuit affirms the simple truth under employment discrimination law that when the decision-maker later (reportedly) disavows the very reasons that the employer gives for firing an employee, this circumstance presents a witness credibility issue that cannot be decided on paper alone, and only a jury can properly resolve.
While private-sector employees need merely comply with certain administrative prerequisites in order to file a Title VII civil action (principally, the filing of a timely EEOC charge), federal sector employees must fully exhaust all administrative remedies before they commence suit. The distinction, as illustrated by today's Eleventh Circuit decision, can pay important dividends. The panel here reverses judgment as a matter of law against a pro se applicant for a job at the U.S. DOT, and holds that the agency is barred from collaterally attacking an adverse finding on limitations in federal court that it lost and did not challenge before the EEOC.