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.
For anyone under a misimpression that our nation has totally vanquished racial discrimination in employment, the Second Circuit today affirms a $1.32 million compensatory award by a jury to an African-American employee subjected to scarifying harassment at a steel plant. It also upholds a punitive-damage verdict, though it orders a remittitur of the award of no more than a 2:1 ratio with compensatory damages (about $2.65 million).
The Ninth Circuit, ruling en banc, overrules a prior panel decision and holds that the BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), ratio test for excessiveness of punitive damages is essentially unnecessary for evaluating a capped award under Title VII governed by 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D).
Should a pregnant employee be treated the same as a non-pregnant employee with a similar work limitation? The Supreme Court will hear argument on that simple yet hotly contested question on December 3, 2014 in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., on appeal from the Fourth Circuit. 707 F.3d 437, 441 (4th Cir. 2013).
The Seventh Circuit today reverses dismissal of a union member's complaint that she was discriminated against in job referrals because of sex, in violation of Title VII. The court observes that she was not obliged to file an EEOC charge the first time she suffered discrimination, and was timely provided that she suffered one denial or more during the 300-day period before filing. The panel also notes that a failure of an applicant to register formally and repeatedly for openings does not necessarily bar a Title VII action.
A continuing, unresolved issue under Title VII is what constitutes discrimination in "terms, conditions, or privileges of employment." Most courts require proof of a "materially adverse employment action," which can include - by way of example - being placed on an onerous schedule or subjected to unhealthful conditions. But the Fifth Circuit has long required proof of a more exacting "ultimate" employment decision, e.g., "hiring, firing, demoting, promoting, granting leave, and compensating." In yesterday's 2-1 decision, though, a panel of the court holds that a material diminution of duties not otherwise accompanied by a change in title or pay may be actionable.
The Fifth Circuit addresses a seldom-litigated question under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j): whether plaintiffs in religious reasonable-accommodation cases must prove both that they hold sincere ("bona fide") religious convictions, and that the activities to be accommodated constitute true religious beliefs. The panel splits 2-1, with the majority reversing summary judgment for the employer and holding that even a non-religious observance (here, a community service event for the plaintiff's church) might require accommodation.
The Tenth Circuit addresses two issues of interest to those who regularly represent employees, especially those in the federal sector. First, the panel holds - in a widening circuit split - that a claim of constructive discharge under Title VII accrues not at the time that an employee quits, but when the last act of alleged discrimination by the employer occurs. In the federal sector, this significant because of the narrow 45-day window for complaining about discrimination. Second, the panel holds that a threatened suspension without pay may, even if it does not materialize, constitute a "materially adverse action" for a Title VII claim of retaliation.