The Eleventh Circuit adds its voice to the lower-court movement to abandon the McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), proof framework in discrimination cases - such as this one - where the plaintiff presents circumstantial evidence that bias was a motivating factor in an adverse decision. This could be the case that allows the Supreme Court to revisit this long-standing precedent.
Last Thursday, the EEOC issued a groundbreaking decision that held, in clear and unequivocal language, that claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation implicitly state a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII. See Complainant v. Foxx, EEOC DOC 0120133080, 2015 WL 4397641, at *10 (July 16, 2015). This decision comes on the heels of the Supreme Court's landmark decision granting same-sex couples the right to marry under the Fourteenth Amendment. Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2608 (2015).
EEOC to Investigate Denial of Gender-Appropriate Restrooms in Private Sector as Sex Discrimination under Title VII Post-Lusardi
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.
Should a pregnant employee be treated the same as a non-pregnant employee with a similar work limitation? The Supreme Court will hear argument on that simple yet hotly contested question on December 3, 2014 in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., on appeal from the Fourth Circuit. 707 F.3d 437, 441 (4th Cir. 2013).
The Seventh Circuit today reverses dismissal of a union member's complaint that she was discriminated against in job referrals because of sex, in violation of Title VII. The court observes that she was not obliged to file an EEOC charge the first time she suffered discrimination, and was timely provided that she suffered one denial or more during the 300-day period before filing. The panel also notes that a failure of an applicant to register formally and repeatedly for openings does not necessarily bar a Title VII action.
Lawyers who represent employees in the state and local public sector know that, for sex discrimination and harassment claims, they can bring suit under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The former law was passed specifically to combat sex discrimination, while the latter attacks discriminatory practices by way of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. Yet while section 1983 has some specific advantages to employees - there is no administrative prerequisite to file a charge with the EEOC, the limitations period is longer, there is individual liability, and legal relief is uncapped - there are also some distinct disadvantages, such as overcoming qualified immunity. So, in this case, the Second Circuit holds that in contrast to Title VII, a plaintiff must show that each individual defendant was personally motivated by gender in order to establish liability. On this basis, the panel mostly reverses denial of qualified immunity for several individual police officers charged with sex harassment and discrimination.
This case presents the nice question of whether an employer violated Title VII by punishing a woman more harshly than her male counterpart for the same misconduct, i.e., jointly carrying on a workplace affair. The Seventh Circuit says that there is enough of a genuine dispute of facts to reverse summary judgment and remand for further discovery. The court also remands a claim of sex harassment, which included the extraordinary complaint that the employer tolerated employees having after-hours sexual liaisons on the plaintiff's office desk (which the panel found, notably, was not a form of sex harassment).
The U.S. Supreme Court in recent terms has encouraged federal courts to weed out supposedly meritless civil claims by use of the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Yet the Seventh Circuit reaffirms this week that this method is often not appropriate for Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims. The panel vacates and remands dismissal of a Title VII complaint, holding that the district court was too quick to demand facts and evidence in support of the class before discovery commenced. The court also reverses a decision holding that some of the claims were allegedly preempted by the Railway Labor Act.
A Sixth Circuit case addresses the occasional issue of whether Title VII supports "sex-plus" claims - in this case, a claim that she suffered discrimination specifically as an African-American woman. The panel agrees that such a claim can be made, and that the employee may point to treatment of non-African-American women as comparable employees. The case also goes to show the importance of email traffic in discrimination cases.