There are several lessons in this Seventh Circuit decision, reviewing a summary judgment and jury verdict in a Title VII and § 1983 case involving state university police officers. First, the court continues to consider the use of the N-word in the workplace to be virtually per se racial harassment. Second, the filing of false reports against an employee may be deemed a materially adverse action, for purposes of retaliation. Third, even if the law mandates strict liability against an employer for retaliation by a supervisor, the jury must still be instructed on the theory or it may be waived.
Title VII sex harassment law has persisted over the decades to place the onus on the victim to report the violation through the employer's anti-harassment policy, and - failing in that step - most courts find no employer liability. But the Third Circuit today issues an opinion that takes a step away from that stance, holding that there can be a genuine dispute about liability for supervisor harassment even when there was no complaint to the employer at all.
One of the maddening things for employee advocates is how rules developed by the courts for one set of facts are used to swat down a case involving an entirely different set of facts. The First Circuit holds that's exactly what happened here, and reverses summary judgment when a judge used a standard developed for failure-to-hire cases to prematurely dismiss a forcible-transfer case.
Here's a case that may be of value to Title VII litigants, as well as in First Amendment cases. The Eighth Circuit holds that for an employer to win a mixed-motive case, where the claimed reason for termination was poor performance, it must offer "evidence showing [that the plaintiff's] performance would have indisputably caused her termination." That proves a heavy lift.
Can a boss's repeated offer of a "big bonus" to a woman employee as an inducement to date an important customer constitute quid pro quo sexual harassment? The Fifth Circuit today holds that it can ... but also holds (2-1) that the plaintiff failed to present a genuine dispute that she was entitled to such a bonus in the first place.
ADA opinions released in the Eighth and Ninth Circuits today underscore that the burden of proof, ultimately, is always on the employee to show that the employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation. These serve as a reminder to disabled employees and counsel that when seeking reassignment as an accommodation, it is vital to request the reassignment clearly and to set one's sights realistically.
The panel majority reverses and remands judgment for the state in an Equal Pay Act case. It agrees with the Third and Tenth Circuits that the employer's burden on its affirmative defense is to show not only that a "factor other than sex" could have motivated a pay differential, but actually did motivate it. The dissenting judge would impose a higher burden of proof on the EEOC when it enforces the EPA against a state agency, citing the Tenth Amendment.
The Seventh Circuit reverses and remands a Title VII claim for trial that it describes as a potentially "strong case of race discrimination." In particular, it reminds district courts that the "same actor" inference - that a manager who hires Black employees is unlikely to be biased against them - is at most an argument for trial, not a rule for deciding summary judgment.
The Third Circuit on Tuesday took up the issue of causation, and the amount of proof a plaintiff must present, under two federal anti-retaliation laws. In Egan, the panel holds that employees may pursue FMLA retaliation claims under a mixed-motive theory, as supported by a Department of Labor regulation. In Carvalho-grievous, the court announces a lowered bar for establishing Title VII retaliation at the prima facie stage.
The D.C. Circuit holds that even facially benign statements about an employee - in a given context - can constitute evidence of discriminatory intent. The panel finds that a supervisor's alleged compliment to a Black employee for "speaking well," and later telling the same employee that he was not a "good fit" for the organization, might be evidence of racial stigmatizing. It also discusses that an employer's "honest belief" must also be reasonable under the circumstances.