AOC in employment-law news: the Architect of the Capitol loses two Title VII appeals in the past week, both cases involving claims of denial of promotions due to national origin. Both shared the detail that supervisors allegedly mocked the plaintiffs because of their accents.
The D.C. Circuit holds (2-1) that a group of fired social workers (SWAs) and social service assistants (SSAs) had - contrary to the district court's ruling - sufficiently identified a "particular emploment practice" susceptible to challenge for its adverse racial impact under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)(1)(A)(i). The case is remanded for further consideration of whether the plaintiffs established a statistical racial disparity.
Federal courts seldom pause on the second stage of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting test, whee the employer proffers its allegedly legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking adverse action against an employee. But in this case, the D.C. Circuit holds that it is not enough for the employer to simply advance a facially-neutral process without showing how it was specifically applied to the employee. This case could have special application in promotion and other processes involving large numbers of people and subjective criteria.
The D.C. Circuit holds that even facially benign statements about an employee - in a given context - can constitute evidence of discriminatory intent. The panel finds that a supervisor's alleged compliment to a Black employee for "speaking well," and later telling the same employee that he was not a "good fit" for the organization, might be evidence of racial stigmatizing. It also discusses that an employer's "honest belief" must also be reasonable under the circumstances.
The dubitante judicial opinion affirms a result, but casts suspicion on the underlying law or basic fairness of the decision. Two recent, split Title VII opinions fall into this category. The Seventh Circuit declined to overrule its decades' old precedent holding that Title VII does not cover sexual-orientation discrimination, and the D.C. Circuit applied its case law that denials of lateral transfers are generally not "adverse employment actions." Yet both opinions sow the seeds for future challenges to these questionable and unfair outcomes.
The D.C. Circuit, in a Title VII race-discrimination case, hands down a mixed decision for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee. It reverses summary judgment on her challenge of a suspension, holding that she was entitled to a trial where There was evidence that the lower-level decision maker who prompted the action made racially-biased remarks, especially one directed at the plaintiff. Yet it affirms dismissal of her termination claim, concluding that the plaintiff failed to exhaust the exacting administrative requirements that apply to federal-sector workers.
In two recent federal-sector race discrimination decisions, the D.C. Circuit - while ruling in the employer-agency's favor - issued opinions that may be even more useful for employees in future cases. Both opinions criticized short-cuts sometimes used by district courts to improperly weigh summary judgment records.
The D.C. Circuit addresses an all-too-common scenario where the employer - without apparent explanation - arguably comes down hardest on the Black employee rule-breaker. The court reverses summary judgment in a case involving nurses, where the Black nurse was allegedly singled out and fired for violations of protocol during a single shift.
In the past eighteen months, there have been favorable decisions from the Second and Sixth Circuits about unconventional work scheduling as a reasonable accommodation. The D.C. Circuit joins those courts with a new Rehabilitation Act decision holding that the Department of Agriculture should have considered a flextime schedule for an employee under treatment for depression.
Courts sometimes get confused about who, in our American system of civil justice, gets to decide whether an adverse employment decision was taken because of the employee's age. That decision belongs to a jury. So even if the employer might have had a very good and non-discriminatory reason for eliminating a position, when the principal decision maker also tells the terminated employee that "you didn't come here to work, you came here to retire," it is the jury - not the judge - that is allowed to decide whether it's age discrimination.