As state and local economies reopen, employers across the country are cautiously welcoming employees back to their jobs, fearing a resurgence of the COVID-19 outbreak. For returning workers, the workplace will be different from before, including the extent to which their privacy will be protected, especially medical and health information.
In recent weeks, the White House released guidelines for reopening the nation's economy, largely punting to state and local officials to assess whether they are sufficiently prepared to stay ahead of the COVID-19 spread and when to reopen non-essential businesses. In anticipation of bringing employees back to the workplace, the administration has also instructed employers to "develop and implement appropriate policies" to keep workers and patrons safe from contagion. That may be easier said than done.
The Second Circuit reminds courts that it is not necessary for a Title VII harassment plaintiff to prove specifically that there was physical contact, that their work performance suffered, or that they were personally targeted for harassment to prove that there was a "severe or pervasive" hostile work environment.
The Seventh Circuit's opinion contains useful guidance for employees suffering disability discrimination and harassment. One key takeaway: plaintiffs should not be quick to assume - in charging, pleading and proving a hostile-work-environment claim - that harassment always constitutes one continuing violation. "[A] substantial passage of time without incident known to the employer, a change in the employee's supervisors, [or] an intervening remedial action by the employer" may break the chain.
Although it is a commonplace that employers do not violate Title VII simply by shortcutting their own internal disciplinary systems, that is not necessarily the case if the disciplinary proceeding itself is motivated in part by gender or racial stereotypes. Today, the Second Circuit holds that a coach stated a plausible claim that his employer relied on "invidious stereotypes and credit[ed] malicious accusations" while investigating a Title IX harassment complaint filed against him by a student.
The Second Circuit, in an ADEA hostile work environment and retaliation case, reminds district court judges that they are not to weigh or evaluate credibility of evidence submitted on summary judgment. Among other things, the district court forgot that "[i]t was required to disregard the contrary statements from [defendant's witnesses] that a jury would not be required to believe."
The Eighth Circuit affirms a $250,001 judgment - $1 compensatory and $250,000 punitive damages - for a black "deckhand on the Cora, a barge that dredges sand from the Arkansas River," whom a jury found suffered a racially hostile work environment caused by his foreman.
Sex harassment is often conflated with sexual misconduct, yet belittlement of and failure to cooperate with women at work - no less than sexual comments or physical grabbing - violates their rights as well. The First Circuit sends such a case back for trial, also addressing when a non-employer may be liable for retaliation.
A reminder from the Fifth Circuit: a shift transfer can be a materially adverse action for retaliation purposes. "[A] retaliatory shift change that places a substantial burden on the plaintiff, such as significant interference with outside responsibilities or drastically and objectively less desirable hours, can dissuade an employee from reporting discrimination."