The Second Circuit issues in important decision today in the fields of Title VII sex harassment and retaliation. The panel affirms a jury verdict of $5200 for a Title VII and New York state law hostile work environment claim, holding that the employer cannot raise a defense under Faragher/Ellerth when the harasser is also a senior executive "alter ego" of the employer. But the panel also affirms dismissal of a Title VII retaliation claim, for an HR executive engaged in an internal investigation of the harassment, holding that the "participation" clause does not cover an internal investigation of a complaint of discrimination before an EEOC charge is filed.
Here's yet another jury verdict in favor of a worker, in a seldom-seen case of a frustrated job seeker barred from applying for a job on account of deafness. The Fifth Circuit affirms liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, injunctive relief and the award of damages: $14,400 in back pay, $20,000 in compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, and $68,800 in punitive damages.
For the second time this week, a federal court of appeals upholds a jury verdict in an employment discrimination case - here, a $30,000 award and reinstatement for a Title VII retaliation claim. The Seventh Circuit overrules a defense argument that a demotion is somehow not a "materially adverse action" if the employee reluctantly accepts it.
The Eleventh Circuit affirms a jury verdict for the employee in a pregnancy discrimination case, and restores $80,000 in back pay damages that the district court erroneously vacated. The case goes to demonstrate that not all discrimination cases involve malice or animus - in this case, the decision appears to have been motivated by a misguided maternalism.
Two appeals reviewing jury trials in Title VII cases came down today. In the first, the plaintiff - a physician - wins two claims at trial (retaliation and constructive discharge, centered on claims of racial discrimination), but loses the latter claim on appeal, necessitating a remand for recalculation of damages. In the second, the plaintiff lost her sex discrimination and retaliation trial, but the Seventh Circuit vacates and remands, criticizing the unnecessarily complicated and inaccurate jury verdict and instruction forms.
Here's two decisions from the Eighth Circuit coming off Rule 50 orders granting judgment as a matter of law to employers. In the first, the court reverses, holding that There was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that an employee was constructively discharged by being knocked down from a title as finance coordinator to the board to a job in food service. In the second, an FMLA retaliation case, the plaintiff does not prevail -- but the court says something very important about proof at trial.
An employee whom a jury had found was the victim of male-on-male harassment in the workplace wins back his $500,000 Title VII jury verdict on appeal, where the Fifth Circuit holds that the district court erred in finding post-trial that the harassment was not severe or pervasive as a matter of law.
The Seventh Circuit substantially upholds a jury verdict that the employer, the owner of a franchise restaurant, allowed two of its teen employees to be sexually harassed in violation of Title VII. The panel, in affirming denial of judgment as a matter of law, touches on several areas that recur in such cases - making the opinion a good template for future litigation and counselling in this area. The panel nonetheless reverses liability against the personnel company that managed the restaurant's employees, and remands for a new trial on that issue.
As we approach the final stretch of 2011, I can report two more appeals of race discrimination cases where the plaintiffs (more or less) came out on top. In the Fifth Circuit, the panel reverses summary judgment in a Title VII reverse-race termination case, finding that the plaintiff succeeded in building a plausible claim that her employer lied about the reasons for her termination. And in the Eleventh Circuit, a now-15 year-old, § 1981 case - which took an intervening trip to the U.S. Supreme Court - comes to what may be its final resting place, with the plaintiff keeping a winning verdict and judgment, while losing $1 million in punitive damages.
Can increased scrutiny at work, including a disciplinary letter (later withdrawn), constitute a "materially adverse action" for a claim under Title VII's anti-retaliation provision, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)? A jury said "yes," to the tune of a $500,000 judgment, but the Second Circuit - in a 2-1 decision - sides with the district court on these facts, and says "no."