Here's a very important reminder that even a single verbal incident of racial harassment can constitute a hostile work environment, especially if it involves one of the most inflammatory words in the American English idiom. The D.C. Circuit, in a pro se appeal, reverses summary judgment on § 1981 harassment, retaliation and discrimination claims by an African-American Fannie Mae employee, finding a single use of the n-word sufficiently severe to present a triable issue of fact.
An important part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 was reforming the practice of "backloading" pensions - in other words, having the lion's share of contributions come at the end of the employee's career, resulting in smaller retirement payouts. This D.C. Circuit decision, affirming a ruling that the Hilton Hotel pension plan violated the anti-backloading rule, furnishes an important lesson to all persons enrolled in such "defined benefit" plan: keep an eye on your benefit statements.
In the space of ten days, two circuits issue decisions rejecting a "sole cause" jury instruction under different federal acts. The en banc Sixth Circuit unanimously sweeps away prior circuit law requiring proof under the ADA that disability was the "sole" cause of the discrimination - vacating the jury's verdict under such an instruction - though the judges ultimately divide over what the correct causation standard ought to be. In the D.C. Circuit, the panel rejects a "sole factor" instruction in a Title VII case, distinguishing a prior published decision, but affirms the defense verdict on the ground that the jury charge was overall correct.
When you're litigation counsel for a major employer, it is recommended that you do not email the following: "the 11th floor . . . staff in the area of conference room 11E [are advised] to use caution about what they say in halls or open offices," for "[c]ertain people who will be in 11E have a way of twisting and publicizing their litigation induced hallucinations." The D.C. Circuit holds in a pro se appeal that a complaint describing this and other hostile behavior stated a claim for retaliatory harassment under Title VII, reversing a district court order dismissing the complaint.
Employment-law litigators are well-familiar with the provisions of Title VII and other federal employment statutes that penalize retaliation against an employee who files a lawsuit. But the D.C. Circuit reminds us today that there is another pair of federal civil rights statutes that can cover the same claim, the post-Civil War laws 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(2) and 1986. The court holds that the district court erred in dismissing these claims before trial.
Two decisions issued today demonstrate the challenge employers face in managing claims of retaliation. If the summary judgment records in these cases are to be believed, the decision-makers were all-too-eager to announce their intention to get even with employees who made complaints of discrimination.
To close out the week, how about a case where the employee - an FBI agent stationed in Saudi Arabia in the wake of 9/11 - was accused of wearing Saudi national clothing, thus "creating the impression he had 'gone native,'" and commissioning Saudi colleagues to find him a "suitable wife"? The agent complained that the charges were trumped-up retaliation for his complaints of race discrimination. The D.C. Circuit, remanding the case, discusses the scope of the national-security exception to employment law.
Updated through June 3, 2019