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.