After three trips to the district court - and a side visit to the U.S. Supreme Court - the Second Circuit issues a liability judgment in this ERISA matter, dating back to 1989. It holds the Xerox retirement plan liable as a matter of law for miscalculating retirement benefits and for misinforming class of their rights under the summary plan description (SPD). The case is remanded yet again to the district court for entry of remedy. Notably, the Second Circuit puts real teeth in the ERISA requirements in 29 U.S.C. §§ 1022 and 1054(h) that a plan must accurately inform participants of plan terms and of any amendments.
Here's a potentially important case for disabled persons and their advocates residing in the Second Circuit (NY, CT and VT) and elsewhere. A panel reverses summary judgment in a case involving a city professional employee with schizophrenia under medication, holding that accommodations such as flex-time and unsupervised work may be reasonable in some instances. In this particular case, the record reflected that the employee had been so accommodated for ten years before a supervisor suddenly and inexplicably called an end to it.
This week, the Second Circuit issued two opinions that at least partially reversed summary judgment in Title VII harassment and retaliation cases. In the first, Desardouin, the panel returned a sex harassment claim that concerned sexual comments made to the plaintiff weekly by her supervisor over a two to three month period. In the second, Summa, the court held that under Title VII (and Title IX, governing educational institutions), it can be a protected activity under the statute's anti-retaliation provisions to complain of even a single incident of alleged harassment.
Between the holidays, the Second Circuit published a decision that might serve as a warning to employees to keep abreast of their companies' data-use policies. Depending on the jurisdiction, violation of company policies may also violate state law that protect data privacy - and such violations can get you in trouble, even remotely. The court holds that the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut had long-arm jurisdiction over the plaintiff's former employee in Canada, because she e-mailed herself data from servers located in Waterbury, Connecticut.
It was a long-time commonplace in federal case law that a mere threat to terminate an employee was not a "materially adverse action" under employment discrimination law. But at least under the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII, the Second Circuit seems to have recognized that such a threat may be actionable in light of Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006). The court also holds that a hostile response to an harassment complaint can itself constitute retaliation.
After a jury found that Defendant KarenKim, Inc. ("KarenKim") had subjected a class of female employees to a sexually hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and New York State Law, the EEOC moved to alter the judgment to impose broad injunctive relief against KarenKim to ensure that the pervasive sexual harassment that had occurred would not continue which included barring the re-hire of the sexual harasser, Allen Manwaring. The district court denied the EEOC's request in its entirety and the EEOC appealed. The Second Circuit found that such injunctive relief was necessary to address the "cognizable danger" of an employer "engaging in 'recurrent violations' of Title VII."
Here's a case that addresses the vexing question, "What happens when a key fact witness in a Title VII/ADEA trial - the defendant's decision maker - dies before he/she can offer testimony?" The Second Circuit's answer is that the employer in those circumstances can rely on circumstantial evidence, here a folder of resumes that the decision maker reviewed when making the hiring decision at issue. So holding, the court affirms a jury verdict for the school district, allowing the paperwork to stand in the place of live testimony about the reasons why the plaintiff was not hired.
The Second Circuit issues in important decision today in the fields of Title VII sex harassment and retaliation. The panel affirms a jury verdict of $5200 for a Title VII and New York state law hostile work environment claim, holding that the employer cannot raise a defense under Faragher/Ellerth when the harasser is also a senior executive "alter ego" of the employer. But the panel also affirms dismissal of a Title VII retaliation claim, for an HR executive engaged in an internal investigation of the harassment, holding that the "participation" clause does not cover an internal investigation of a complaint of discrimination before an EEOC charge is filed.
The Second Circuit reverses summary judgment in a Title VII same-sex harassment suit, finding that three intimate touchings over a five-month period by a supervisor may constitute a hostile work environment, and that the employer's defense it responded appropriately to the employee's oral complaints of harassment needed to be tried to a jury. The court reaffirms that while a workplace inevitably involves personal intrusions and employees surrender some autonomy, "giving up control over who can touch their bod[ies] is usually not one of them."
In this long-lived appeal, involving an antitrust tying claim against the American Express Company, the Second Circuit reaffirms its prior holding that an arbitration clause preventing class-action litigation of a medium-dollar claim may be unenforceable if its practical effect is to prevent the plaintiffs from vindicating their statutory rights.