This week, two U.S. Courts of Appeals publish decisions about whether religiously-oriented employers were exempt from Title VII owing to alleged religious-liberty rights: a Methodist hospital wins in the Second Circuit, while a funeral home loses in the Sixth Circuit.
The Sixth Circuit affirms a jury verdict for an in-house lawyer in Tennessee, including $92,000.00 in compensatory damages and $18,184.32 in backpay. The court holds that the jury could have found that the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (and state law) duty to accommodate, by failing to allow a ten-week period of telecommuting during the lawyer's pregnancy bedrest.
The Sixth Circuit, in a split decision, remands a Title VII retaliation case for a new trial on back pay, and reconsideration of prejudgment interest - holding that the winning plaintiff was conclusively entitled to a greater recovery. It's a reminder to lawyers: whether you're trying a back-pay claim to a jury (as in this case) or to a judge, make sure to offer W-2s or other evidence to substantiate the amount, and to argue methodically for prejudgment interest.
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.
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.
The Sixth Circuit holds, in an opinion that potentially expands remedies for Title VII claimants, that a back-pay award may include amounts that an employee could have earned from alternative employment, had the employer not engaged in discrimination or retaliation. Nonetheless, the court holds that the employee in this particular case failed to prove that she suffered such damages.
The Sixth Circuit affirms a $300,000 judgment for the male victim of same-sex harassment under Title VII. The panel underscores the imperative for employers to be vigilant against complaints of sexual contact, even when the conduct (in a male-dominated workplace) might be characterized by some as "horseplay."
A long-running disparate impact case challenging promotions of firefighters to the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain is remanded by the Sixth Circuit for a third trial to award back pay, and the panel reassigns the case to a new judge for good measure. The panel has valuable things to say about how to calculate monetary make-whole relief. It also affirms injunctive relief, and appointment of a monitor, to purge the city's violation.
How much credence must a district court give to an employer's argument in a Title VII retaliation case that the employee was terminated not for his protected activity, but because of his tone of voice, insubordination and "unprofessional behavior" in making his complaints. The Sixth Circuit reverses summary judgment (in part), holding that such generalized reasons so closely related to a protected activity cannot be resolved by a judge and must be evaluated by a jury.
Upholding a jury verdict in favor of a former U.S. Bancorp certified financial planner, the Sixth Circuit adopts the majority rule under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) that - for a retaliation claim - employees need only show that they had an objectively reasonable belief, based on a totality of the circumstances, that they were reporting actionable fraud to a supervisor under § 1514A(a)(1). The panel rejects a standard, previously adopted in a nonprecedential opinion, that the employee's complaint "must definitively and specifically relate to one of the six enumerated categories" of fraud by "approximat[ing] the basic elements" of the fraud claim.