In two recent federal-sector race discrimination decisions, the D.C. Circuit - while ruling in the employer-agency's favor - issued opinions that may be even more useful for employees in future cases. Both opinions criticized short-cuts sometimes used by district courts to improperly weigh summary judgment records.
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.
The D.C. Circuit addresses an all-too-common scenario where the employer - without apparent explanation - arguably comes down hardest on the Black employee rule-breaker. The court reverses summary judgment in a case involving nurses, where the Black nurse was allegedly singled out and fired for violations of protocol during a single shift.
In the first-published federal court of appeals EEO decision of 2016, the Eighth Circuit (in a 2-1 decision) reverses summary judgment in a sex harassment case. The plaintiff - a woman truck driver - was forced to share close quarters with a male co-worker for a week-long trip. The panel majority holds that a jury could find that the employer could have taken greater steps to prevent the harassment.
The Tenth Circuit reverses summary judgment and remands in a section 1981 case involving harassment of a call-center's only black employee. The panel reminds district courts and litigants that even non-racial remarks, against a backdrop of racially-offensive chatter, may constitute harassment. It also notes that "whether a workplace environment is sufficiently polluted for purposes of a § 1981 claim should not be based on whether an alleged harasser possessed the motivation or intent to cause discriminatory harm or offense."
The end of the year often brings a haul of decisions, when the courts of appeal clear their dockets for year's-end. Here's a short, to-the-point decision, reversing summary judgment on an ADEA and ERISA case where the district court judge misapprehended a controlling Supreme Court decision.
Dividing 2-1 on the question, an Eighth Circuit panel holds that it can be considered an "adverse employment action" under Title VII and section 1981 for an employee to be hired at - or even above - his or her asking salary, at least when another person outside the protected group is hired for similar work but at a higher pay grade and salary.
How much credence must a district court give to an employer's argument in a Title VII retaliation case that the employee was terminated not for his protected activity, but because of his tone of voice, insubordination and "unprofessional behavior" in making his complaints. The Sixth Circuit reverses summary judgment (in part), holding that such generalized reasons so closely related to a protected activity cannot be resolved by a judge and must be evaluated by a jury.
Two decisions this week address racially-hostile work environment claims involving unusual circumstances. The Fourth Circuit addresses the employer's duty to address anonymous race harassment, here a death threat left in a company mailbox. The Eighth Circuit addresses harassment of an African-American supervisor by her Somali staff. Both result in reversals of summary judgment on Title VII and § 1981 harassment claims.
The Seventh Circuit offers some clarification for practitioners about some finer points of evidence and party declarations in the context of summary judgment. The panel reverses and remands for trial one plaintiff's claim (out of There) for Title VII retaliation. In particular, the court warns that under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6), "[t]he mere act of producing a document in response to a discovery request based on the content of the document does not amount to an admission of the document's authenticity." (Italics in original.)