When two employees fight, employers face the challenge of making the discipline fit the crime - and, also, avoiding racial or There bias. The Sixth Circuit calls out management in one such case today, concerning a black plaintiff fired supposedly for engaging in a fight, while the white employee in the same fight was disciplined only belatedly.
The Sixth Circuit chalks up a big win for the EEOC, affirming a jury verdict for four employees awarding compensatory and punitive damages totaling over $1.5 million. The court upholds the rule that telling a sexually-harassing supervisor to cut-it-out is protected "opposition" activity under Title VII, and will support a claim for retaliation. The opinion also highlights the kind of trouble employers can get into when they fail to treat temporary employees as a full-fledged part of the workforce.
So far, There has been relatively little case law on the question of when, under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer's medical examination may be deemed job-related and consistent with business necessity under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A). The Sixth Circuit - nearly two years to the day after its first opinion in this long-running case - remands the claim a second time for a jury trial on this issue.
"At issue in this case is whether a telecommuting arrangement could be a reasonable accommodation for an employee suffering from a debilitating disability." The Sixth Circuit, in a 2-1 split opinion, holds that the EEOC is entitled to a trial on behalf of an employee with irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS") for ADA discrimination and retaliation. The panel majority holds, in the course of its analysis, that a four-day-a-week telecommuting schedule might be considered a reasonable accommodation.
Here's a nice, simple reminder for HR professionals and laid-off employees: that when an employer can not line-up behind a single reason (or even a single decision maker) for a termination decision, and instead keeps changing its mind, the reason lurking beneath may well be discrimination. The Sixth Circuit sends an age-discrimination claim back for trial where the employer allegedly switched stories midstream, from contending that the employee's job was eliminated to arguing that the termination was based on a negative performance evaluation.
The Sixth Circuit sends back for trial an ADA and Family and Medical Leave Act case, where the employee - returning from medical leave, but still experiencing health difficulties - was forced to work beyond his medical restrictions. He was allegedly told by a Vice President of the company, shortly before his termination, that (1) the employer was not covered by the FMLA, and (2) the employee was a "liability" to the company. The panel holds that there is sufficient evidence that the company, while employing fewer than the necessary fifty employees mandated by the FMLA, was an "integrated employer" with a larger affiliated company.
In a dramatic turnabout for the plaintiff, the Sixth Circuit not only reverses summary judgment in this ADA case - holding that There was a genuine dispute of material fact whether a monocular firefighter could perform the essential functions of his job - but then disqualifies the original district court judge in the case on the grounds of appearance of partiality, when that judge arbitrarily limited plaintiff's discovery and then scolded him (groundlessly) for violating a court order.
A Sixth Circuit case addresses the occasional issue of whether Title VII supports "sex-plus" claims - in this case, a claim that she suffered discrimination specifically as an African-American woman. The panel agrees that such a claim can be made, and that the employee may point to treatment of non-African-American women as comparable employees. The case also goes to show the importance of email traffic in discrimination cases.
Can a job transfer originally requested by an employee constitute an "adverse employment action" (for purposes of Title VII, the ADEA and § 1983)? The Sixth Circuit panel in this case split over the issue, 2-1. The panel majority holds, in reversing summary judgment on this issue, that such a transfer may be "adverse" to the employee when the terms and conditions of the transfer are inferior to what the employee originally sought.
The Sixth Circuit reverses summary judgment in an ADA case involving the operation of heavy equipment with a prosthetic leg. The court holds that it is prospectively for a jury, not a judge, to decide whether hauling such equipment to the worksite is an "essential function" of the job. The case highlights that formal job descriptions can sometimes differ markedly from in-the-field practice.