In a recent blog post, on Hamilton & Griffin on Rights, Outten & Golden LLP associate Nina Frank discusses recent studies which have found that anti-bias training and sexual harassment awareness training can not only be ineffective, but can actually backfire, resulting in defensiveness and a solidification of discriminatory beliefs. Mindfulness - and mindfulness meditation - should be taken seriously as a tool to combat our knee-jerk reactions to being confronted with our own privilege. Mindfulness can guard against the tendency to become defensive or guilt-ridden, two automatic reactions that can derail meaningful discourse and progressive change.
Here are two employment cases about second-chances. A plan participant who filed an ERISA claim too late under a contractual limitations period is rescued by a decision that the plan violated its duty by not telling the participant about the shortened deadline. The EEOC wins a second opportunity to advance claims on behalf of a class of female victims of harassment, in the wake of Mach Mining, LLC v. EEOC, 135 S. Ct. 1645 (2015).
In the first-published federal court of appeals EEO decision of 2016, the Eighth Circuit (in a 2-1 decision) reverses summary judgment in a sex harassment case. The plaintiff - a woman truck driver - was forced to share close quarters with a male co-worker for a week-long trip. The panel majority holds that a jury could find that the employer could have taken greater steps to prevent the harassment.
The Tenth Circuit reverses summary judgment and remands in a section 1981 case involving harassment of a call-center's only black employee. The panel reminds district courts and litigants that even non-racial remarks, against a backdrop of racially-offensive chatter, may constitute harassment. It also notes that "whether a workplace environment is sufficiently polluted for purposes of a § 1981 claim should not be based on whether an alleged harasser possessed the motivation or intent to cause discriminatory harm or offense."
Addressing an issue that has sowed uncertainty among federal courts, the Second Circuit holds that a Title VII plaintiff satisfies the Rule 8 pleading standard of "plausibility" under the Supreme Court's Iqbal decision simply by alleging the prima facie elements of her case. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), remains good law, and the plaintiff need not anticipate the defendant's furnishing of a non‐discriminatory justification for its action in the complaint. The panel also rejects application of a so-called "manager rule" that would preclude a retaliation claim by an EEO director who opposes discrimination in the course of her duties.
Two decisions this week address racially-hostile work environment claims involving unusual circumstances. The Fourth Circuit addresses the employer's duty to address anonymous race harassment, here a death threat left in a company mailbox. The Eighth Circuit addresses harassment of an African-American supervisor by her Somali staff. Both result in reversals of summary judgment on Title VII and § 1981 harassment claims.
The Maine Human Rights Act protects employees who express "actual or perceived ... bisexuality." The First Circuit holds that the district court erred in not crediting evidence that two women employees who began dating at work, and who were discouraged from expression of their relationship in the workplace (while Theres were allowed to do so), were subjected to a hostile work environment. The district court also erred in handling a termination claim, misperceived as a constructive discharge claim.
Effective January 1, 2015 the pregnancy discrimination and accommodation amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) became law, requiring many employers in the state to update or change their policies with respect to expecting and new mothers in the workplace.
A divided Second Circuit panel, reviewing a judgment from a jury trial, recognizes a Due Process/First Amendment right-of-intimate-association claim for two people engaged to be married (a right of "betrothal"). The court affirms liability and $304,775 in back pay (plus $5000 in punitive damages) for a plaintiff who the jury found was assaulted and harassed - and ultimately terminated from his job - because his cross-racial engagement to an African American woman.
The Supreme Court, by identical 5-4 majorities, places the goals of convenience and ease of litigating Title VII cases over the legislative imperative of expanding opportunities in the workplace for all. Vance holds that a "supervisor," for purposes of proving vicarious liability for harassment against employers, must be an agent with the power to take "tangible acts" against the employee, such as firing and setting pay. Nassar holds that employees may never shift the burden to employers to disprove causation for Title VII claims of retaliation under 42 U.S.C § 2000e-3(a). Both based their interpretations in part on the convenience of allowing lower courts to take these issues away from juries.