One of the challenges recently facing groups of employees hurt by discriminatory employment practices has been to persuade courts to allow the entire controversy to be decided in a single class action. Today, the Seventh Circuit issued a decision that helps break down some of the barriers to effective class certification, in a case involving a city school board's policy of placing schools on suspension - primarily affecting minority neighborhoods - and firing teaching staff.
Addressing an issue that has sowed uncertainty among federal courts, the Second Circuit holds that a Title VII plaintiff satisfies the Rule 8 pleading standard of "plausibility" under the Supreme Court's Iqbal decision simply by alleging the prima facie elements of her case. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), remains good law, and the plaintiff need not anticipate the defendant's furnishing of a non‐discriminatory justification for its action in the complaint. The panel also rejects application of a so-called "manager rule" that would preclude a retaliation claim by an EEO director who opposes discrimination in the course of her duties.
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.
The epic EEOC challenge to Abercrombie & Fitch's "Look Policy" for its retail stores turns another page, as the Supreme Court holds 8-1 that the Tenth Circuit erred in granting judgment as a matter of law to the employer on the agency's religious discrimination case. Seven justices, in an opinion signed by Justice Scalia, hold that There is no "knowledge" requirement for Title VII discrimination claims. Thus, the company's argument that it did not "know" about the applicant's Muslim religious faith - even though she was wearing a headscarf - did not avoid liability. Justice Alito concurs only in the judgment; Justice Thomas dissents.
The Fourth Circuit for a second time holds that a district court erred in refusing class certification in a Title VII (and § 1981) case involving denial of promotion on the basis of race. Six years ago, a 2-1 panel ordered certification of a class of black employees denied promotions. Brown v. Nucor Corp., 576 F.3d 149 (4th Cir. 2009). AnThere 2-1 panel, with two of the same judges authoring the majority and dissenting opinions (totaling 154 pages!), today reverses the decertification of the same class.
The Fourth Circuit en banc finally undoes an enduring wrong by overruling Jordan v. Alternative Resources Corp., 458 F.3d 332 (4th Cir. 2006), and holding that an employee remains protected by Title VII's anti-retaliation section (and § 1981) when complaining about race harassment, even if the offending conduct has not yet ripened into a hostile work environment.
When two employees fight, employers face the challenge of making the discipline fit the crime - and, also, avoiding racial or There bias. The Sixth Circuit calls out management in one such case today, concerning a black plaintiff fired supposedly for engaging in a fight, while the white employee in the same fight was disciplined only belatedly.
The Sixth Circuit chalks up a big win for the EEOC, affirming a jury verdict for four employees awarding compensatory and punitive damages totaling over $1.5 million. The court upholds the rule that telling a sexually-harassing supervisor to cut-it-out is protected "opposition" activity under Title VII, and will support a claim for retaliation. The opinion also highlights the kind of trouble employers can get into when they fail to treat temporary employees as a full-fledged part of the workforce.
The Fifth Circuit issues yet another reminder, in today's Title VII decision, that an employer who stoutly refuses to offer any explanation for a decision to deny a promotion takes a strong chance of having to justify its actions at a jury trial.
In an organization otherwise blanketed in paper, it raises eyebrows when the employer's complaints about a worker's performance find no support in the records. The Seventh Circuit vacates summary judgment in this pro se case, and remands for a trial of Title VII and § 1983 claims, where the performance-based reasons offered for a black teacher's termination were at odds with the employer's files and were bolstered mostly by sharply-disputed witness testimony.