AOC in employment-law news: the Architect of the Capitol loses two Title VII appeals in the past week, both cases involving claims of denial of promotions due to national origin. Both shared the detail that supervisors allegedly mocked the plaintiffs because of their accents.
Federal courts seldom pause on the second stage of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting test, whee the employer proffers its allegedly legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking adverse action against an employee. But in this case, the D.C. Circuit holds that it is not enough for the employer to simply advance a facially-neutral process without showing how it was specifically applied to the employee. This case could have special application in promotion and other processes involving large numbers of people and subjective criteria.
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 Eleventh Circuit heightens the probability of Supreme Court review of a long-festering circuit split: just how "similarly situated" must a Title VII plaintiff be to a comparator employee in the workplace to establish a prima facie case of discrimination? The en banc court holds 9-3 that a plaintiff must demonstrate, at the first stage of the analysis, that she and the comparators were "similarly situated in all material respects."
The Fourth Circuit, while mostly affirming summary judgment, holds that the plaintiff - a former employee of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - presented a genuine dispute of material fact on a claim of interference with Family and Medical Leave Act rights. The plaintiff complained that the agency failed to notify her of the right to medical leave when she presented as depressed in the workplace, complained about depression, and requested leave.
As often as discrimination cases turn on hostility towards protected-class employees, it pays to remember that the same laws apply no less to discrimination motivated by other reasons, such as misguided paternalism. Here, the Fourth Circuit sends a case back for a trial where a hospital believed that 28-year-veteran employee could no longer safely navigate its campus.
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.
Here's a valuable case for employees suffering harassment (and lawyers who bring such cases). The First Circuit reverses summary judgment for age-based and retaliatory hostile work environment, holding that the district court put the plaintiff to an impossible standard of specificity to prove individual incidents of harassment. It also holds that repeated threats of termination can constitute constructive discharge.
Two opinions this week highlight the power of retaliation claims: in each case, the principal discrimination claim failed on summary judgment, yet the retaliation claim was remanded for trial.
The Sixth Circuit holds that full-time, in-office attendance is not a per se "essential function" for purposes of the ADA, and must be established just like any other element of the claim. The court vacates summary judgment and remands a claim brought under the ADA, Title VII, and the FMLA that the employee needed a reduced schedule to accommodate her post-partum depression and separation anxiety.