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.
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."
Employers have often argued that the Equal Pay Act does not apply if the male and female comparable employees spend significant amounts of time on different tasks. Yet the Tenth Circuit today affirmed that if a female employee performs addition al duties beyond a male comparator, that fact does not defeat the employee's prima facie case under the EPA.
Closing out the year, here's a valuable reminder from the Fourth Circuit that the decision of whether an employee has objectively suffered severe or pervasive harassment belongs to the jury, not the district court judge. The panel reverses summary judgment, on facts that the opinion recognizes are "close to the line," recognizing that important judgment calls on fact-finding and credibility cannot be resolved without a trial.