A rare "color" discrimination case under Title VII makes its way up on appeal. The district court, erroneously treating the case as one of race discrimination, granted summary judgment - but the Fifth Circuit reverses in a terse six-page opinion. The evidence included an affidavit from a former employee stating that casino management would not let "a dark skinned black person handle any money," and "that they thought Esma Etienne was too black to do various tasks at the casino."
The Fifth Circuit issues some useful guidance on an employer's obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to offer job restructuring as a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees. The employer here, according to the summary judgment record, failed to offer support to an employee with epilepsy in the form of alternative transportation and assistance with computer-related tasks. The panel also clears up the circuit standard for a plaintiff to prove causal nexus under the ADA, and restates that an ADA plaintiff need only prove that disability was a motivating factor in the adverse action.
The Seventh Circuit issues a divided opinion on the issue of "qualified individual" under the ADA, in a case concerning a nursing-home beautician. While unanimously agreeing to reverse summary judgment, the panel splits over the question of how to analyze whether pushing the residents' wheelchairs was properly classified as an "essential function."
There's a problem with so many employment-discrimination cases being dismissed by judges before a jury trial on summary judgment, i.e., a legal ruling that There are no genuine disputes of material fact for a jury to decide. For judges to carry out their role, they and their chambers must get on top of a mass of written facts, often hundreds or thousands of pages, and trust the parties to brief them honestly. In a Title VII and FMLA case decided today, the Seventh Circuit - reversing summary judgment - sends notice that defense counsel risk their credibility when they file unfounded motions.
The Second Circuit reaffirms the general understanding in Title VII law that an employer that tells a minority employee seeking a transfer that he won't "fit in" to a mostly non-minority workplace raises an inference of discrimination.
Courts sometimes get confused about who, in our American system of civil justice, gets to decide whether an adverse employment decision was taken because of the employee's age. That decision belongs to a jury. So even if the employer might have had a very good and non-discriminatory reason for eliminating a position, when the principal decision maker also tells the terminated employee that "you didn't come here to work, you came here to retire," it is the jury - not the judge - that is allowed to decide whether it's age discrimination.
Sometimes, when it's clear that an employer never seems to promote minority employees - and the reasons for that failure seem really thin - then There may be a triable case of race discrimination. The First Circuit reverses summary judgment for a correctional officer described as "always perform[ing] at an outstanding level," and an "[e]xcellent worker" with "awesome leadership, and great work ethics," passed over for a promotion by a white employee with a recorded history of "very poor work habits." The court holds, in particular, it is not necessarily relevant that the decision makers were unaware of the employee's specific race, ethnicity or national origin, when the record showed that no minorities advanced.
Here's a nice, simple reminder for HR professionals and laid-off employees: that when an employer can not line-up behind a single reason (or even a single decision maker) for a termination decision, and instead keeps changing its mind, the reason lurking beneath may well be discrimination. The Sixth Circuit sends an age-discrimination claim back for trial where the employer allegedly switched stories midstream, from contending that the employee's job was eliminated to arguing that the termination was based on a negative performance evaluation.
In a non-precedential opinion that may nevertheless be important to litigators, a Fifth Circuit panel splits three ways on whether an employee must continue to defend her Title VII prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas rubric after the employer presents a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for an employee's termination. The courts continue to disagree on this issue even decades after the Supreme Court first framed-out this method of proof.
The Tenth Circuit today issued a terribly important read for people interested in fighting workplace sex harassment. The panel reverses summary judgment in a Title VII case where a woman jail employee was (allegedly) sexually assaulted by a sergeant, repeatedly, and yet failed to complain immediately for fear of losing her job. While not a complete win for the employee, the opinion points the way to Theres trapped in similar workplace dilemmas.