Social anxiety disorder is a recognized disability, and employers need to consider work assignments with that disorder in mind. The Fourth Circuit holds that a district court erred by dismissing a claim (on summary judgment) against a public-sector employer that fired an employee instead of assigning her away from public-oriented, customer service duties. It also observes that a recent Supreme Court decision should make summary judgment for defendants more difficult to obtain.
Closing out the year, here's a valuable reminder from the Fourth Circuit that the decision of whether an employee has objectively suffered severe or pervasive harassment belongs to the jury, not the district court judge. The panel reverses summary judgment, on facts that the opinion recognizes are "close to the line," recognizing that important judgment calls on fact-finding and credibility cannot be resolved without a trial.
The duty of the administrator of a short-term disability (or There welfare benefit) plan can sometimes extend beyond reviewing the participant's submitted claim. The Fourth Circuit holds that it can also be an abuse of discretion for the administrator to disregard "readily available material evidence of which it was put on notice." Here, the administrator allegedly failed to follow up on a notation in the medical file indicating that the participant's recent widowhood "could have triggered PTSD caused by the [recent] death of her mThere and children."
Should a pregnant employee be treated the same as a non-pregnant employee with a similar work limitation? The Supreme Court will hear argument on that simple yet hotly contested question on December 3, 2014 in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., on appeal from the Fourth Circuit. 707 F.3d 437, 441 (4th Cir. 2013).
A hidden difficulty many American employees face is that a huge amount of their retirement income - an estimated $4 trillion - is in 401(k) plans, too many of which are managed by individuals indifferent to (or not competent to advance) the interests of future retirees. In this Fourth Circuit case, the district court found the fiduciaries of the retirement plan in breach of their duty of prudence by their arguably poor timing in liquidating a company-stock fund when its shares were in a trough, without performing a reasonable investigation, but excused them from paying any relief to the participants. The court holds (2-1) that the judge erred in insulating the fiduciaries from remedying that breach, concluding that the fiduciaries had the burden of proving that a prudent fiduciary would have made the same decision.
As the U.S. Courts of Appeals finally begin to decide disabilities cases governed by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), we'll begin to see transformational decisions like this one. Contrary to prior case law, the Fourth Circuit holds that an employee's temporary condition - here, "broken legs and injured tendons [that] render him completely immobile for more than seven months" - may constitute a disability.
A recent ERISA case from the Fourth Circuit reaffirms that, sometimes, it is appropriate for a district court to consider evidence outside the administrative record in deciding whether the plan administrator abused its discretion in denying benefits. Here, the court upholds a judgment in the beneficiary's favor holding that she was erroneously denied early retirement benefits that she only belatedly learned were available to her.
One of the difficulties of enforcing participants' statutory rights under ERISA, heretofore, has been the lack of effective make-whole remedies. But in the wake of last term's CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 131 S. Ct. 1866 (2011), participants have remedial options not previously available to them for breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Fourth Circuit reverses summary judgment in a case where a participant had been allowed to pay for years for dependent life insurance that (evidently) she was not entitled to receive.
The employer's affirmative defense to sexual harassment claims - recognized by the Supreme Court in Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998), and Burlington Indus. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998) - does not apply if a supervisor's harassment culminates in a "tangible employment action," defined as a significant adverse change in employment status. In a rare court of appeals opinion presenting this issue, the Fourth Circuit reverses summary judgment and holds that to compel an employee either to sign a severance agreement or be fired may constitute such a tangible employment action.
May the federal government be sued in state court on a Title VII claim? Remarkably, the statute contains no provision for exclusive federal jurisdiction over such claims, and the Fourth Circuit splits 2-1 over whether there is concurrent jurisdiction.