In a bid to restore common sense to the adjudication of Title VII and other employment cases, a panel of the Seventh Circuit (with the acquiescence of the full court) decisively overrules both the "convincing mosaic" and "direct vs. indirect" methods of proof. It urges instead the straight-forward application of the anti-discrimination standard: whether the plaintiff "would have kept his job if he [or she] had a different ethnicity, and everything else had remained the same."
The Fifth Circuit reverses summary judgment in a pregnancy discrimination case, decided under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act ("TCHRA"). The panel holds that the plaintiff presented a genuine dispute of material fact about each of two reasons that the employer - a law firm - gave for her termination. The opinion reminds employers that simply keeping records of an employee's supposed violations is not enough to avoid a trial, and that the plaintiff's own testimony about the records deserves equal dignity.
The existence of a formal anti-harassment policy in the workplace does not guarantee results for the employer if it does not do the important work of publicizing and training on the policy. The Fifth Circuit reverses summary judgment (in part) owing to a factual dispute about whether a school board did what it needed to do to make its policy a reality. It's an important case on the application of the first prong of the Faragher-Ellerth defense against supervisor-harassment liability.
One pernicious "stereotype is the idea that men are better suited than women for positions of importance or leadership in the workplace." Here, the First Circuit reverses summary judgment in a federal-sector Title VII case, citing (among other things) a male supervisor's allegedly hostile tone and emphasis on the word "she" when he acted to block the only woman in the office from performing her job. Oh, and There's a baseball bat in the case, too.
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.