Monday, March 31, 2014

4th Circuit orders EEOC to pay attorneys fees in suit "moot upon inception"

EeocThere have been a number of relatively high profile cases lately, penalizing the EEOC in some way for its investigation or pursuit of a lawsuit. The decision in Mach Mining, the importance of which is discussed here, overturned one trial court's decision in this vein of cases. The most recent installment comes from the Fourth Circuit and involves attorneys fees. 

In EEOC v. Propak Logistics, Inc., the EEOC had appealed a decision by the trial court that awarded the defendant attorneys fees after the court had dismissed the EEOC's action on the ground of laches. On appeal, the EEOC made two arguments: 1) that it would be unjust to award attorneys fees incurred in making a laches defense because such a defense is not available in an action brought by a federal agency; and 2) the district court improperly relied on its prior laches defense ruling and made erroneous factual findings related to the award. The court of appeals rejected both of these arguments. The court first refused to consider the argument that laches could not be used against a federal agency, holding that the EEOC had waived that argument by dismissing its appeal of the summary judgment. The court of appeals also rejected the second argument, ruling that the district court had relied on grounds separate from the laches defense in awarding fees and that its factual findings were not clearly erroneous. 

The EEOC had brought this action against Propak Logistics, alleging that the company had discriminated in hiring against a class of non-Hispanics on the basis of race or national origin. The action came five and a half years after the initial charge had been filed with the EEOC, during which there had been long periods of inactivity, and after the company had closed the two locations at issue in the complaint. Relying on the standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412 (1978), the court of appeals held that the decision to file this class claim was unreasonable because at the time it was filed, the EEOC had not identified individual class members and the relief requested could not be granted--the claim was moot.

Of particular note is the concurring opinion by Judge Wilkinson. Acknowledging that the EEOC is subject to a significant burden, given its administrative load and lack of resources, Judge Wilkinson noted that Congress and the Supreme Court had not exempted it from fees or created a standard different from that applicable to private parties. In fact, the power of the government and the costs to small and medium-sized businesses of complying with investigations and defending lawsuits along with the costs of delays to individuals injured by discrimination justified this treatment as a way to promote efficient agency action. Justice Wilkinson concluded by observing,

The story of this litigation is regrettable because the EEOC provides primary recourse to those victims of discrimination that persists in our society to an unfortunate extent. The reference to statutory goals and missions, however, cannot be divorced from the manner in which those purposes are implemented. . . . Surely [the delay and its consequences as acknowledged by the EEOC ] is not and must not become the norm. It is not far-fetched to believe that the nation’s deep commitment to combatting discrimination will be affected for good or ill by the esteem in which this important agency is held.

Interesting and thoughtful decision.

h/t Jonathan Harkavy

MM

March 31, 2014 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Vance Negates Staub?

New ImageThe Supreme Court's decision in Vance v. Ball State is typically viewed as an unalloyed victory for employers, and it certainly means that many more harassment cases under the federal antidiscrimination cases will have to be litigated as direct liability/negligence claims rather than absolute or presumptive liability. That necessarily follows from the Court's narrow definition of "supervisor" to reach only those who can take "tangible employment actions," such as hiring, firing, demoting, promoting, transferring, or disciplining subordinates. It is only such individuals who will trigger automatic employer liability (when they in fact do take such a tangible employment action) or presumptive liability subject to an affirmative defense (when they don't).  All other harassment will be assessed under a negligence standpoint.

Is it possible that Vance went further to also negate what many viewed as at least a partial employee victory in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, a 2010 decision in which "supervisors" also featured prominently?  

In Staub, two lower level managers -- whom the Court labeled as "supervisors"  -- made reports which the jury found to have influenced the actual decisionmaker, one Buck, to fire Staub. The lower level "supervisors" had the motivation to discriminate against plaintiff (in that case, under USERRA) but no power to fire. Buck had the power to fire Staub but no discriminatory motivation. Adopting its version of the "cat's paw" theory, the Court found that the employer could be liable in such circumstances.

Rewind to Vance and the problem immediately presents itself: under the Vance analysis, Buck was the supervisor, and the other two low level supervisors apparently weren't -- after all, they couldn't cause an adverse employment action unless they influenced the actual decisionmaker. So if harassment were the claim, only Buck could trigger automatic or presumptive liability.

That's not per se inconsistent with Staub but the Staub majority went out of its way to make clear that the cat's paw theory it adopted applied only when "supervisors" influenced the decisionmaker. 

Needless to say, the employer would be liable only when the supervisor acts within the scope of his employment, or when the supervisor acts outside the scope of his employment and liability would be imputed to the employer under traditional agency principles.  We express no view as to whether the employer would be liable if a co-worker, rather than a supervisor, committed a discriminatory act that influenced the ultimate employment decision.

But Vance seems to mean that Staub was dealing with the null set: those who can't make an independent decision on hiring, firing, etc. are not supervisors and therefore there isn't anybody who can use the decisionmaker as a cat's paw. So Vance negates Staub, despite the fact that Scalia who wrote Staub was part of the majority in Vance. 

There are various ways out of this conundrum. The most obvious is that there are two different definitions of "supervisor" for purposes of the two claims, although why that should be is beyond me.

Another possibility is that the Staub implicitly resolved the question the Court explicitly reserved: co-workers (the managers who were not Vance-style supervisors) can satisfy the cat's paw theory if they have the requisite motivation and proximately cause the adverse decision.

Yet another possibility looks to a passage in Vance that may be read to create a class of de facto supervisors:

 [E]ven if an employer concentrates all decisionmaking authority in a few individuals, it likely will not isolate itself from heightened liability under Faragher and Ellerth. If an employer does attempt to confine decisionmaking power to a small number of individuals, those individuals will have a limited ability to exercise independent discretion when making decisions and will likely rely on other workers who actually interact with the affected employee.  . .  . Under those circumstances, the employer may be held to have effectively delegated the power to take tangible employment actions to the employees on whose recommendations it relies. 

Maybe, but Scalia in Staub did not buy the delegation theory Alito suggested in concurring as the basis for subordiate bias liability under the antidiscrimination statutes.

It's true that the Tenth Circuit read the Vance delegation language to elevate to "supervisor" status those who have the power to recommend a tangible employment action:  "Importantly, however, the Court explained that an employee need not be empowered to take such tangible employment actions directly to qualify as a supervisor. A manager who works closely with his or her subordinates and who has the power to recommend or otherwise substantially influence tangible employment actions, and who can thus indirectly effectuate them, also qualifies as a 'supervisor' under Title VII." Kramer v. Wasatch County Sheriff's Office  (10th Cir. Feb. 25, 2014). 

But wait, that may or may not be true, but it doesn't appear that the lower level managers in Staub were supervisors-by-delegation.  Certainly, the majority opinion doesn't treat them that way.  Further, while this might square Vance  with Staub in a few cases, any broad application would effectively destroy the "easily workable" rule that the Vance Court was so intent on providing.

A final possibility might be that an individual is a supervisor under Vance because he or she has the power to take some tangible employment actions (like discipline), which would allow him to influence the decisionmaker under Staub to take a more severe action (such as discharge). There might be some basis for drawing that conclusion from the facts in Staub, but the opinion itself doesn't focus on it. 

The Sixth Circuit noted, but did not resolve, the question of the relationship between the two cases in Shazor v. Prof'l Transit Mgmt.,  (6th Cir. Feb. 19, 2014).

A hat tip to student Justine Abrams for alerting me to Shazor and to my colleagues Ed Hartnett and Tim Glynn for sharing thoughts on the question. 

CAS

March 28, 2014 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood Roundup

ScotusThe Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in the companion cases of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, both dealing with whether the contraceptive mandate of the ACA violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act if it applies to for-profit corporations that assert a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage.

The oral argument transcripts show heavy questioning of the corporations' position by the three female justices, and heavy questioning of the Solicitor General by Justices Scalia, Alito. I won't try to read the tea leaves, because I'm almost always wrong, but I'll direct you to the commentary on the argument in ScotusBlog,  Forbes, The New Yorker, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Slate

There are a number of scholarly works that address the issues, too. Some of them include this paper by Mal Harkins (SLU adjunct/Proskauer Rose, LLP), this article by Steven Willis (Florida), this article by Stephen Bainbridge (UCLA), this article by Jeremy Christiansen (Utah), this article by Edward Zelinsky (Yeshiva/Cardozo), this ACS issue brief and this article by Caroline Mala Corbin, this article by Matthew Hall (Georgia) and Benjamin Means (South Carolina), this article by Eric Bennett Rasmusen, this article by Priscilla Smith, this article by James Oleske, this article by Christopher Ross (Fordham), and this article by Elizabeth Sepper.

I do feel comfortable predicting that this is likely to be a 5-4 decision and likely not to be issued until June. 

MM

March 26, 2014 in Commentary, Employment Discrimination, Labor and Employment News, Pension and Benefits, Religion, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Shriver Report Documentary: Paycheck to Paycheck

SHRIVERcovfront-1-144x192Back in January, Maria Shriver's organization "A Woman's Nation" issued its third report on fundamental challenges facing women in the U.S.: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink. I have not had a chance to read the whole report, which focuses on financial insecurity of women and the children who depend on them, and the impact of that financial insecurity on our country's institutions and econonic futures, but the parts I have read have been very thought provoking. For more, see the Shriver Report's home page.

In connection with that report, Shriver and HBO created a documentary, Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert, to personalize the struggles of low wage workers, most of whom are women. The documentary is streaming free at HBO Docs YouTube page this week only.

MM

March 17, 2014 in Commentary, Employment Discrimination, Labor and Employment News, Labor/Employment History, Pension and Benefits, Wage & Hour, Worklife Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Shaking Hands. Or Not.

NewimageThe refusals, for religious reasons, of many men to shake hands with women has generated more than a little heat in the political arena over the years, for example, whether a  Jewish candidate for the European parliament or an Iranian's refusal to shake Kate Middleton's hand. The NY Times Ethicist weighed in on the topic in 2002 suggesting that the appropriate response of an offended woman was to tear up a contract she had just signed. For Randy Cohen, it was OK not to shake hands because of religious belief, but the real estate broker who did so should have avoided discriminating on account of sex by not shaking hands with anyone.

Then there's the EEOC, which issued an Informal Discussion letter in 2010, which viewed the question as one of "undue hardship" and suggested an inquiry into "the actual disruptions that have occurred" when a new employee refused to shake hands with a woman. It also advised the employer to consider "whether the employee implements his "no handshake" practice in a neutral manner" or in a way that is hostile and demeaning to women. Which neatly dodges the question of whether refusing to shake a woman's hands. no matter how politely done, is inherently demeaning.

A recent blog posting at Seyforth Shaw raised the issue as a not-so-hypothetical hypothetical in which, at the end of an interview, a candidate refused to shake hands with the females interviewing him, "stating that he does not engage in that practice" but not invoking a religious reason.

One obvious question was whether the interviewers should infer a religious motivation -- absent that, refusing to hire a candidate who offended half the staff would not be problematic. In the hypo, there were indications on religious belief on the resume, which -- together with other signals -- seems sufficient to apprise the employer of his (probable) religion. 

But could the employer ask? Inquiries into religion are obviously problematic, but might be permissible if the candidate is viewed as seeking an accommodation -- "excuse me from workplace etiquette norms because of my beliefs." Still, probably not advisable.

Assuming the employer is on notice of the religious basis of the refusal, and the candidate would otherwise be the top choice, what next? The blog suggests examining his "overall demeanor" as it relates to women: was he respectful or did he display any "sex-based animus."  OK, but this "examination" is presumably triggered by his religiously-motivated practice, and it's the practice that is raising concerns about whether he will treat women in the workplace (or customers and vendors) appropriately. The blog goes on to ask about the position to be filled -- whether the successful candidate will work alone or in teams, whether the job is a sales position, etc.  The goal is ask "whether the candidate's selective handshaking would cause any measurable impact in the workplace."

There's a noticeable lack of doctrine in the blog discussion, which may not be surprising because the scenario raises issues at the intersection of Title VII's prohibition on religious discrimination and its requirement of reasonable accommodation, not to mention the obvious tension between privileging religious observance at the potential risk of impairing gender equality.

Some of the blog's advice seems sound but rarely useful: if the job is a sales one, and someone who shakes hands only with men can't close half the deals, turning him down seems fine.  Religion, needless to say, is subject to the bona fide occupational qualification exception and, however narrow that defense is, this would seem to qualify.

But that's a kind of easy observation because it's very unlikely that bfoq requirements can be met in these kinds of cases. And, further, the internal political problem probably arises from fear that the candidate will treat his female co-workers disrespectfully, not because of potential problems with outsiders. That fear may be more or less rational -- religious worldviews about the proper place of women that drive the no-touching norm may well suggest an antiequality attitude that could infect the workplace.

But Title VII may bar drawing such an inference -- no matter how rational it might be.  To allow employers to do shift the focus from the individual by treating him or her as a member of a disfavored religion, whether Muslims or observant Jews.  And I use the word "her" advisedly because it's not just males who might refuse to touch members of the opposite sex, which makes the sex equality issue even more complicated.

What about the possibility that the candidate should be viewed as seeking a reasonably accommodation for his religious practice?  We all know that the bar's pretty low here for the employer: if there's more than a de minimis cost, no duty to accommodate. And surely this situation could be framed as involving more than de minimis costs -- in morale if not dollars.  But the problem with this is that the employer seems to be discriminating on the basis of religion, not merely asking for an accommodation.  And, as suggested, discrimination can be justified only by the bfoq defense.

That suggests a path out of the dilemma, but scarcely one that will be appealing to most employees: offer the candidate the job but require him to shake hands with everyone. No discrimination and no accommodation. The fly in this particular ointment is that the possibility of being sued over the decision has just skyrocketed, and maybe the courts would find the accommodation to be acceptable. After all, most workplaces don't feature regular handshaking marathons.

As is often the case when rights clash, there seem no good legal "answers."

CAS

 

 

March 10, 2014 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hot Topics: Employment Discrimination

FlameAfter a long hiatus, I finally get to teach Employment Discrimination again! I'm excited, but also a bit out of the loop, since I haven't been teaching or researching in this area for awhile.

I'm looking for "hot topics" to recommend to my students for research projects. Circuit splits are welcome. If you have suggestions, please post a comment or email me directly.

rb

March 9, 2014 in Employment Discrimination, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Aziz on Title VII and Muslim Women

AzizSahar Aziz (Texas A&M) has just posted on SSRN her article Veiled Discrimination. Here's the take-away from her abstract:

This Article applies social psychology and antidiscrimination theories to the case of Muslim women of color in the workplace, an under-researched area in legal scholarship. I examine in detail the identity performance challenges and contradictions faced by Muslim women of color as "intersectionals" facing stereotypes against 1) Muslims as terrorists, violent, and disloyal; 2) Muslim women as meek, oppressed, and lacking individual agency; 3) women as sexualized, terminally second best to men, and uncommitted to their careers; 4) immigrants as forever foreign and undeserving of equal treatment; and 5) ethnic minorities from the Middle East and South Asia as barbaric, misogynist, and anti-American.I conclude that Muslim women of color are at risk of falling between the cracks of Title VII jurisprudence due to courts’ unwillingness to recognize the harms caused by coercive assimilationst pressures to conform one’s identity to comport to high status group norms, irrespective of the relevance to work performance.

rb

March 9, 2014 in Employment Discrimination, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Labor & Employment Law Roundup

NLRBSome recent labor and employment news, mostly from the NLRB:

  • The NLRB will hold public meetings on its new election rules proposals.  Requests to speak are due March 10 and the meetings are scheduled for April 10 & 11.  The transcripts from the previous set of meetings, while containing a lot of the usual suspects, actually had some useful testimony, so it's not just a pro forma procedural hurdle.
  • Here we go again.  Apropos to the above entry, after the NLRB proposed again its original set of election rules, Republicans in Congress attack.  This time a House hearing.  The main objection appears to be faster elections (what they call "ambush elections"), although the claim that they could be held in as little as 10 days doesn't look accurate to me.
  • I'm late on this one, but the NLRB is relocating.  HQ is moving from the 14th & L location that I new so well to a building on the Capitol riverfront.  At least they'll be able to catch more Nationals games.
  • After the Scott Walker e-mail release, it became known that a state doctor was fired for having modeled thongs in the past.  Jason Walta asks whether she might have a claim under the Wisconsin statute that protects the "use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer's
    premises during nonworking hours."  See the lengths we'll go to try to tease Paul, our emeritus Wisconsinite, back onto the blog?

Hat Tip: Patrick Kavanagh.

-JH

March 7, 2014 in Employment Discrimination, Labor and Employment News, Labor Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

EEOC seeks comment on proposed directive on federal sector process

EeocThe EEOC has asked for public comments to its proposed revised management directive in federal sector proceedings. The EEOC acts as an adjudicator for federal sector claims. From the press release,

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced that it is seeking public comment on significant revisions to Management Directive 110 (MD-110), which provides federal agencies with EEO policies, procedures and guidance related to the newly revised 29 C.F.R. Part 1614 (federal sector EEO regulations). The full text of the proposed revisions is available on the Regulation.gov website at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=EEOC-2014-0001.

These revisions represent the first major changes to MD-110 since 1999; they can be categorized into three areas:

  1. Implementation of Revised Regulations:
    • new procedures for agencies to submit, and the EEOC to approve, requests to conduct pilot projects for processing complaints in ways other than those prescribed in Part 1614;
    • revised procedure making an administrative judge's decision on the merits of a class complaint a final decision;
    • a new compliance section;
    • updated retaliation language in the dismissal section;
    • notice to complainant when an agency is untimely in completing an investigation; and
    • information on digital filings of appeals and complaint files.
  2. Conflict of Interest:
    • addressing EEO director reporting relationship;
    • EEO and HR conflicts;
    • complaint processing of matters involving EEO officials or high-level agency officials; and
    • conflicts between agency legal and EEO programs.
  3. General Updates & Clarification:
    • revisions to the remainder of MD-110 to reflect current policies, procedures, laws and case precedents.

These revisions are a part of the EEOC's ongoing efforts to improve the federal sector process. The agency encourages interested parties to review these proposed changes and provide feedback for EEOC consideration. The agency specifically urges stakeholders to provide feedback on the conflict-of-interest section, as this is the EEOC's first attempt to provide clarity in this area, and stakeholder input will be valuable in determining the final approach.

Public comments on revisions to MD-110 should be provided through Regulation.gov (http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=EEOC-2014-0001) no later than April 25, 2014 for appropriate consideration.

Further information about EEOC is available on its website www.eeoc.gov. The EEOC's Office of Federal Operations also maintains a Twitter handle @EEOC_OFO for general news and information updates.

MM

February 26, 2014 in Beltway Developments, Employment Discrimination, Government Reports, Public Employment Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Teaching Employment and Labor Law

TeachingLast spring, the Wefel Center for Employment Law at Saint Louis University held a fantastic symposium on Teaching Employment and Labor Law. I can say that with appropriate modesty because I had very little to do with it. The symposium was organized by Tonie Fitzgibbon, my amazing colleague, who has been the Director of our center for twenty years, and who was the Assistant Director at its inception. I'm pretty sure it was my colleague Miriam Cherry's idea, and Matt Bodie, Elizabeth Pendo, and I all agreed it would be a good topic. In addition to us, Marion Crain and Pauline Kim (Wash. U.), Rachel Arnow-Richman (Denver), Laura Cooper (Minnesota), Marty Malin (Chicago-Kent), Nicole Porter (Toledo), Joe Slater (Toledo), and Kerri Stone (Florida International) all gave presentations.

The Saint Louis University Law Journal has just published the papers connected with the symposium, so now everyone can read about what we who were there got to hear. From the table of contents:

Forward

Teaching Employment and Labor Law Symposium
Susan A. FitzGibbon

Teaching Employment and Labor Law

A Holistic Approach to Teaching Work Law
Marion Crain & Pauline T. Kim

Employment Law Inside Out: Using the Problem Method to Teach Workplace Law
Rachel Arnow-Richman

Collaboration and Community: the Labor Law Group and the Future of Labor Employment Casebooks
Matthew T. Bodie

Teaching Employment Discrimination Law, Virtually
Miriam A. Cherry

The Capstone Course in Labor and Employment Law: A Comprehensive Immersion Simulation Integrating Law, Lawyering Skills, and Professionalism
Laura J. Cooper

Constructing a Comprehensive Curriculum in Labor and Employment Law
Martin H. Malin

From Podcasts to Treasure Hunts—Using Technology to Promote Student Engagement
Marcia L. McCormick

Identifying (with) Disability: Using Film to Teach Employment Discrimination
Elizabeth Pendo

A Proposal to Improve the Workplace Law Curriculum from a Compliance Perspective
Nicole Buonocore Porter

Teaching Private-Sector Labor Law and Public-Sector Labor Law Together
Joseph E. Slater

Teaching the Post-Sex Generation
Kerri Lynn Stone

You should check them out.

MM

February 21, 2014 in Conferences & Colloquia, Disability, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, Faculty Presentations, Labor Law, Pension and Benefits, Public Employment Law, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Déjà vu

New ImageA few weeks ago, I was passing the newspaper rack in the law library (yes, we still have newspapers), and had a deja vu moment when I saw the headline in the New Jersey Law Journal:

NJ Legislature Clears Ban on Discrimination Over Pregnancy

Shades of 1978.  Of course, the NJLJ was reporting a new statute that not only bars sex discrimination on account of pregnancy (which has long been held illegal under NJ's Law Against Discrimination under the heading of discrimination on account of sex) but also imposing for the first time a duty of reasonable accommodation for pregnancy. So it was, after all, headline-worthy in 2014.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amende onlyd Title VII in 1978 to equate pregnancy discrimination  with sex discrimination, has long been held to bar disparate treatment of pregnant women only  when they are like other employees in "their ability or inability to work" (and, as Deborah Widiss recently reiterated, even that equal treatment command  has been applied grudgingly). The New Jersey Supreme Court interpreted LAD similarly: no discrimination, but no need to accommodate.

The new statute, however, requires "reasonable accommodation" in the workplace, "such as bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, or modified work schedules or transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work." The accommodation must be "needs related to pregnancy" and "based on the advice of {the employee's] physician."  

Needless to say, there is also an undue hardship exception, with the employer explictly assigned the burden of showing such a hardship. The statute lists a number of factors relevant to that determination, and, while it does not weight them, does include "the extent to which the accommodation would involve waiver of an essential requirement of a job as opposed to a tangential or non-business necessity requirement."

What "reasonable accommodation" conspicuously does not require in the new statute is any leave of absence, and the amendment explicitly states that it does not affect rights to paid or unpaid leave.  Leave, therefore, remains controlled by the FMLA and NJ's FLA.

Despite that provision, many employers might well prefer to offer unpaid leave to workers (who were financially able to take it) rather than engage in the kind of accommodations the statute anticipates. But, of course, since the new law explicitly bars discrimination on account of pregnancy, such leave cannot be forced on employees who would prefer, and "need," one of the other kinds of accommodations.

How this will actually play out in the workplace remains to be seen, but it certainly changes the default position radically in the Garden State.  Probably the biggest problem for employees seeking accommodation is the extent to which their bosses can credibly claim that a given accommodation would, in essence, waive "an essential requirement of a job," presumably more likely for small employers than for larger ones who can more easily shift assignments to cover particular functions.

CAS 

 

February 19, 2014 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Causation, Again

New ImageThere's an interesting post from the Whistleblower Law Blog, Burrage v. U.S. — Can a Heroin Dealer Help to Clarify Whistleblower Law?, the theme of which is that the but-for causation standard that emerged in Gross and Nassar is likely to spread across all federal statutes that do not explicitly adopt a lower standard.

I think that's correct. Although Burrage, a unanimous decision,  can be distinguished as involving a criminal statute and thus subject to the rule of lenity, the pattern across recent cases is pretty clear.  

However, there are a number of employment-related statutes that explicitly employ language suggesting lesser causation -- Title VII status discrimination cases and USERRA (for "motivating factor") and a whole raft of newer federal whistleblower laws, starting with SOX, that not only use "contributing factor" but also require proof of the "same decision anyway" by the employer to be by "clear and convincing evidence."

And then there are the older Supreme Court cases that, in the §1983 context (Mt. Healthy for First Amendment and Texas v. LeSage for the Equal Protection Clause) or under the NLRA (Transportation Management) that adopt a lower causation/burden shifting approach.  The lower courts aren't supposed to "predict" what the Supreme Court would do when there's a precedent on point, even if later precedents seem to undermine it, which suggests that that authority should remain good law unless and until the Supreme Court gets around to overruling it. (The Court did advert to those cases in a footnote in Gross, but did so in atempting to distinguish them rather than cast doubt on their authority, which would seem to reinforce the need for lower courts to follow them until instructed otherwise).

And, then, of course, there are statutes, such as §1981, which don't use causation language to begin with.

It's not that I doubt where the current majority wants to go; I'm just pointing out that the path is more rocky than it might seem at first.

CAS 

 

 

February 14, 2014 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Race, Labor, & the Law at UCLA

Graphic_000Friend of the blog Wendy Greene (Cumberland, Samford U) writes to tell us of an upcoming conference at UCLA that might interest our readers. The topic is Race, Labor, and the Law, the sponsor is the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and the program looks great:

Friday, February 28, 2014

8:00 AM - 8:10 AM

Welcome

  • Chris Tilly, Ph.D. | Director, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment; Professor of Urban Planning, UC Los Angeles

8:10 AM - 8:55 AM

Opening Keynote

  • Ruben J. Garcia, J.D., LL.M. | Professor of Law, William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
    • "The Relationship Between Racism and Anti-Union Animus"

9:00 AM - 10:30 AM

Transformation of the Labor Movement

  • Héctor Cordero-Guzmán, Ph.D. | Professor of Sociology and Urban Education, School of Public Affairs, Baruch College, City University New York
    • "Worker Center, Worker Center Networks, and the Promise of Protections for Low Wage Workers under the FLSA"
  • Victor Narro, J.D. | Project Director, Center for Labor Research and Education, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, UC Los Angeles
  • Saru Jayaraman, M.P.P., J.D. | Director, Food Labor Research Center, University of California, Berkeley; Co-Founder & Co-Director, Restaurant Opportunities Center United
    • "Racial Segregation in the Restaurant Industry: Challenges & Opportunities"

10:35 AM - 12:05 PM

Concurrent Panels

Panel A: The Politics of Prison and Labor: How Incarceration Affects Reentry, Employment Opportunities, and the Labor Movement as a Whole

  • Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Ph.D. | Associate Professor of History, UC Los Angeles; Director, UCLA Department of History's Public History Initiative
  • Marta Lopez Garza, Ph.D. | Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and Chicana/o Studies, California State University, Northridge
    • "When Will the Punishment End?"
  • Heather Ann Thompson, Ph.D | Associate Professor of History and African American Studies, Temple University
    • "Making Mass Incarceration Matter to the American Labor Movement"

Panel B: Bringing Workers Into Focus: Worker Cooperatives, Black-Latino Relations in the Workplace, and Racial Alliance Building in the Labor Movement

  • Jassmin Poyaoan | J.D. Candidate, UCLA School of Law, UC Los Angeles
  • Vanessa Ribas, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor of Sociology, UC San Diego
    • "The Value of Being Negro, the Cost of being Hispano: 'Disposability' and Challenges for Cross-Racial Solidarity in the Workplace"
  • Alexandra Suh, Ph.D. | Executive Director, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA)

12:05 PM - 1:05 PM   Lunch

1:05 PM - 2:35 PM     Concurrent Panels

Panel A: Intimate Labor

  • Mireille Miller Young, Ph.D. | Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, UC Santa Barbara
    • "Illicit Eroticism: The Politics of Intimate Labor in Black Women's Porn Work"
  • Grace Chang, Ph.D. | Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, UC Santa Barbara
  • Elena Shih | Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology, UC Los Angeles
    • "Rehabilitating Intimate Labor: Transnational Racial Formations of 'Good Work' in Human Trafficking Rescue"

Panel B: Labor Law Through a Critical Race Theory Lens

  • Maureen Carroll, J.D. | Greenberg Law Review Fellow, UCLA School of Law, UC Los Angeles
    • "Privilege and Invisibility in Labor Practice"
  • Nayla Wren | J.D. Candidate, UCLA School of Law, UC Los Angeles
  • Sanjukta Paul, M.A., J.D. | Attorney & Clinical Teaching Fellow, UCLA School of Law, UC Los Angeles
    • "Normative Obstacles to Empowerment Lawyering in the Workers Rights Context"

2:40 PM - 4:40 PM     Concurrent Panels

Panel A: Intersectional Analysis of Women in Low Wage Labor, Organizing, and Combating Workplace Discrimination

  • Sarah Haley, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor of Gender Studies, UC Los Angeles
  • Eileen Boris, Ph.D. | Hull Professor and Chair, Department of Feminist Studies, UC Santa Barbara
    • "(In)Visibility and the Color of Home Care: Law, Recognition, Justice"
  • D. Wendy Greene, J.D., LL.M. | Professor of Law, Cumberland School of Law, Samford University
  • Ellen Reese, Ph.D. | Professor of Sociology and Chair of Labor Studies, UC Riverside
    • "Intersecting Inequalities Among Latina/o Warehouse Workers in Inland Southern California: Challenges and Prospects for Justice"

 

Panel B: Safe Jobs, Healthy Jobs, Good Jobs

  • Anne E. Fehrenbacher MPH | Ph.D Student in Community Health Sciences, UC Los Angeles
    • "Job Insecurity and Quality of Life: Testing a Causal Model of Job Stress Proliferation Moderated by Race, Gender, and Education"
  • Kevin Riley, MPH, Ph.D | Director of Research and Evaluation, UCLA Labor Occupational Safety & Health (LOSH), Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, UC Los Angeles

4:45 PM - 5:45 PM     Wine and Cheese Reception

Saturday, March 1, 2014

9:20 AM - 9:25 AM

Welcome

  • Pamela A. Izvănariu, J.D., LL.M. | Director of Research & Development, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, UC Los Angeles

9:25 AM - 11:15 AM

Labor and Employment Issues Facing Indigenous Peoples in the U.S.

  • Matthew L.M. Fletcher, J.D. | Professor of Law & Director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center, Michigan State University
    • "On Treaties and Internal Tribal Sovereignty"
  • James Kawahara, J.D. | Adjunct Professor in Practice, UCLA School of Law, UC Los Angeles; Attorney, Kawahara Law P.C.
    • "Judicial Application of Federal Labor and Employment Laws to Indian Tribes When Congress is Silent: What Fills the Vacuum?"
  • Lynn Stephen, Ph.D. | Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, University of Oregon
    • "Indigenous Mexican Workers in the U.S.: Labor Conditions, Health, and Identity"
  • David Kamper, Ph.D. | Associate Professor and Chair of American Indian Studies, San Diego State University
    • "The Work around Tribal Sovereignty: Negotiating Notions of Labor, Jobs, & Class in Tribal Governmental Gaming and Economic Development"

11:20 AM - 1:10 PM

Race, Labor, and Immigration

  • Hiroshi Motomura, J.D. | Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law, UC Los Angeles
    • "Race, Labor, and the Making of Immigration Outside the Law"
  • Sameer Ashar, J.D. | Clinical Professor of Law, Irvine School of Law, UC Irvine
    • "Immigration Enforcement, Race, and Resistance"
  • Shannon Gleeson, Ph.D. | Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, UC Santa Cruz
    • "Precarious Labor, Tenuous Rights: Lay v. Legal Conceptions of Justice at the Workplace"
  • David Cook-Martin, Ph.D. | Associate Professor of Sociology, Grinnell College
    • "A House Divided: Labor and its Contrasting Roles in Shaping Ethnically Selective Immigration Law in the Americas"

1:10 PM - 2:10 PM     Lunch

2:10 PM - 4:00 PM     Worker Voice, Labor Speech

  • Leticia M. Saucedo, J.D. | Professor of Law, UC Davis
  • Camille Gear Rich, J.D. | Associate Professor of Law, Gould School of Law, University of Southern California
    • "Post-Racial Hydraulics: The Role of the Fair Labor Standards Act in the Repackaging of Race and Gender Discrimination Claims"
  • Nicholas Espiritu, J.D. | Staff Attorney, National Immigration Law Center
  • Catherine Fisk, J.D. | Chancellor's Professor of Law, Irvine School of Law, UC Irvine
    • "Worker Voice and Labor Speech After Harris v. Quinn and Citizens United: Why Unions Should Have the Same Free Speech Rights as Corporations and Why the Supreme Court Thinks They Do Not"

4:00 PM - 4:45 PM

Closing Keynote

  • Ian F. Haney-López, J.D., M.P.A. | John H. Boalt Professor of Law, UC Berkeley
    • "Dog Whistle Politics/Dog Whistle Racism"

If you will be in the area, it seems like a great opportunity to hear from a broad mix of subject areas, disciplines, topics, academics, and people in the field. For more information and to register, see here.

MM

February 11, 2014 in Conferences & Colloquia, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, Faculty Presentations, Labor Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Guest Workplace Prof Blog Post: Feldblum on Mach Mining

FeldblumWe are privileged to present as a guest blogger today, Chai R. Feldblum.  Chai is a Commissioner on the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but is writing here on a recent 7th Circuit decision for herself only.  Her post is entitled: On Mach Mining.

Much attention has been paid to the Seventh Circuit’s opinion in EEOC v. Mach Mining.  That is how it should be.  Judge David Hamilton’s opinion for the panel is brilliant, concise, and correct.  The women at the center of the lawsuit who were seeking jobs in the mining industry will now finally have their day in court.

Instead of following precedents of other courts of appeal that have decided or presumed that courts can review the sufficiency of EEOC’s conciliation process, Judge Hamilton went back to first principles of statutory construction.  As his opinion noted:

The language of the statute, the lack of a meaningful standard for courts to apply, and the overall statutory scheme convince us that an alleged failure to conciliate is not an affirmative defense to the merits of a discrimination suit.  Finding in Title VII an implied failure-to-conciliate defense adds to that statute an unwarranted mechanism by which employers can avoid liability for unlawful discrimination. They can do so through protracted and ultimately pointless litigation over whether the EEOC tried hard enough to settle.  An implied failure-to-conciliate defense also runs flatly contrary to the broad statutory prohibition on using what was said and done during the conciliation process as "evidence in a subsequent proceeding." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b).  We therefore disagree with our colleagues in other circuits and hold that the statutory directive to the EEOC to negotiate first and sue later does not implicitly create a defense for employers who have allegedly violated Title VII.

While much attention has been paid to the fact that the Seventh Circuit broke from the pack in deciding the legal issue before it, less attention has been paid to the weight the Seventh Circuit placed on the internal "meaningful scrutiny" and oversight that the Commission applies to its conciliation process.  As Judge Hamilton explained:

[T]he commissioners who head the agency are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.  In short, even without the judiciary trying to monitor the EEOC’s efforts at conciliation, those efforts are subject to meaningful scrutiny.

As a former professor of statutory interpretation, I give the Mach Mining decision an A for careful and thoughtful statutory analysis.  On a more practical level, as a sitting Commissioner of the EEOC, I welcome the court’s emphasis on the meaningful oversight Commissioners provide with regard to our staff’s conciliation efforts.  That is something I have been a strong supporter of since I joined the Commission.

My commitment to those efforts comes directly from the language of Title VII:

If the Commission determines after such investigation that there is reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true, the Commission shall endeavor to eliminate any such alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b).

The five of us who make up the Commission obviously cannot investigate, find cause and conciliate on the thousands of charges we receive each year.  Thus, in its regulations, the Commission has delegated authority to its field staff to investigate charges, issue findings of cause, and engage in the conciliation process, 29 CFR §§1601.15(a), .21(d), .24(b).  

This is how it should be.  Delegation is good governance.  But the Commission is ultimately responsible for all actions taken in its name.  Thus, our delegation to our field staff is, and must be, accompanied by reporting and accountability back to the Commission. Our Strategic Plan for 2012-2016 and our Strategic Enforcement Plan of 2013-2016 include components that enhance such accountability.

Judge Hamilton was correct that the language of Title VII, which provides no standard for the conciliation process, is not susceptible of judicial review of “whether the EEOC tried hard enough to settle.”  Rather, the statutory language provides significant deference to the agency in carrying out its obligation to “endeavor to eliminate” alleged unlawful employment practice by “informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion.”  That deference presumes and is reinforced by active Commission oversight to ensure that the letter and the spirit of the statutory language continue to be carried out.

[The opinions expressed in this post are those of Commissioner Feldblum alone and do not reflect the opinions of the EEOC, the Federal Government, or any individual attorney.  The opinions provided are for informational purposes only and are not for the purpose of providing legal advice.]

PS

January 28, 2014 in Commentary, Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Joshi on The Trouble with Inclusion

YuvrajjoshiYuvraj Joshi has brought to my attention his article recently published in the Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law (Vol. 21, No. 2, 2014) entitled: The Trouble with Inclusion.

Here is the abstract:

Attempts are being made to include members of excluded groups in societal institutions. Inclusion has been proposed as the solution to the injustice caused by exclusion. Yet, inclusion does not always achieve justice and might sometimes perpetuate injustice. This Article provides a framework for understanding inclusion that may fail to achieve social justice and uses this framework to assess the inclusion of lesbians and gays within marriage (marriage equality) and of women and minorities within organizations (organizational diversity). The former case study examines the legal and social movement for recognizing same-sex marriage while the latter engages a range of contemporary debates, including workplace diversity, gays in the military, women in armed combat and gender mainstreaming at the UN.  Each shows that inclusion is less likely to achieve social justice where it misconstrues injustice, maintains the status quo, decouples from justice, legitimizes the institution or rationalizes injustice.

Have not had the chance to read this piece, but it appears to challenge many conventional assumptions about inclusion in the workplace and other settings and should be a thought-provoking read.

PS

January 28, 2014 in Employment Discrimination, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Elon Law's 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Forum Celebrating The Life of Julius Chambers

Chambers_juliusThank you to friend of the blog, Jon Harkavy, who forwarded information about a program in which he participated last week commemorating the life of Julius Chambers. 

Chambers, who passed away last year, was the foremost Title VII advocate in the country for many years and succeeded Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg as the Director-Counsel at the Inc. Fund in New York.  Jon tells us that the program, sponsored by Elon Law School (Eric Fink and Jim Exum), was a spirited, joyful and personal glimpse of Chambers' life.  

Jon regrets, and so do I, that there was so little publicity about this event in advance, but Jon thought readers of this blog might want to know about this tribute to our colleague who played such a big role in what we do as employment lawyers and teachers.

A detailed remembrance of Mr. Chambers is available here.

PS

January 27, 2014 in Conferences & Colloquia, Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Greene on Grooming Codes and on Misperception in Employment Discrimination Law

Doris-Wendy-Green-newWendy Greene (Samford) has two new articles up on SSRN. The first, A Multidimensional Analysis of What Not to Wear in the Workplace: Hijabs and Natural Hair, considers grooming codes and the way they limit at least some women's participation in the workplace. Here is the abstract:

This Article challenges a relatively universal judicial and societal assumption that employers’ enactment and enforcement of grooming codes are inconsequential to women’s access to, and inclusion in, American workplaces. Specifically, this Article provides a multidimensional analysis of workplace grooming codes, shedding light on the comparable journeys of discrimination that Black and Muslim women experience when their hair and hair coverings are subject to employer regulation. Further, it illustrates that since Black and Muslim women’s identities are not mutually exclusive, Black women who are Muslim may also suffer a double form of discrimination if an employer bans both hijabs and natural hairstyles in the workplace. Thus, for the first time, this Article specifically contemplates the interconnectivity between the socio-politically constructed identity of Black and Muslim women, the socio-political and personal meaning of Black women’s natural hairstyles and Muslim women’s hijabs and resulting discrimination — under the law and in society. In so doing, this Article illuminates how these women, who are racialized as non-white due to their physical appearance and/or their religious faith and observances, share similar experiences as it relates to workplace inclusion and exclusion vis à vis what adorns their heads. This Article also demonstrates that workplace prohibitions against Black women’s natural hairstyles and Muslim women’s donning of a hijab are closely aligned forms of race and gender-based discrimination, triggering parallel actual as well as perceived stigmatization, vulnerability, and exclusion for these women of color, which civil rights constituencies have not fully exposed and addressed. 

This Article draws upon the works of notable critical race and sexuality theorists in its contention that a “multidimensional” analysis of the discrimination that women of color as a collective experience in the workplace — at the intersection of race, religion, and gender — is vital for a deeper understanding of the civil rights issues at stake, as well as for increased and sustained civil rights advocacy challenging the legality of such grooming codes. Thus, this Article calls for cross-cultural advocacy among civil and workers’ rights constituencies so that antidiscrimination law, doctrine, and advocacy can more meaningfully attend to the deprivation of equal conditions, privileges, dignity, and personhood that Black and Muslim women suffer due to the arbitrary enactment and enforcement of workplace grooming codes banning natural hairstyles and hijabs in the workplace.

The second article, Categorically Black, White, or Wrong: "Misperception Discrimination" and the State of Title VII Protection focuses on situations where employers act because of what they perceive the race, color, national origin, or religion of employees or applicants to be, but are not correct about that perception. Here is that abstract:

This Article exposes an inconspicuous, categorically wrong movement within anti-discrimination law. A band of federal courts have denied Title VII protection to individuals who allege "categorical discrimination": invidious, differential treatment on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, or sex. Per these courts, a plaintiff who self-identifies as Christian but is misperceived as Muslim cannot assert an actionable claim under Title VII if she suffers an adverse employment action as a result of this misperception and related animus. Though Title VII expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, courts have held that such a plaintiff’s claim of "misperception discrimination" is beyond Title VII’s scope. Accordingly, Title VII protection is only extended to such a plaintiff if she is "actually" Muslim or brings forth allegations of invidious, differential treatment based upon her actual Christian identity. This Article argues that these judicially created prerequisites to Title VII protection are categorically wrong. They impose a new "actuality requirement" on Title VII plaintiffs in intentional discrimination cases that engenders unfathomable results. Plaintiffs who suffer from invidious, differential treatment animated by either their self-ascribed or misperceived protected status will be denied statutory protection against discrimination if they fail to prove their actual religious, gender, ethnic, racial, or color identity upon defendant-employers’ challenge.

Though this Article primarily examines the imposition of an actuality requirement in misperception discrimination cases, this Article also demonstrates that courts have considered and imposed an actuality requirement in conventionally framed discrimination cases as well. Accordingly, this Article is the first to enumerate the development of, and myriad justifications for, the actuality requirement in cases of categorical discrimination. This Article argues that some courts’ imposition of an actuality requirement in misperception and conventionally framed discrimination cases denotes the birth of an unorthodox interpretation of Title VII’s reach and meaning nearly fifty years after its enactment — an interpretative methodology that this Article is first to describe as "anti-anticlassificationist." 

This Article also highlights a few critical, negative implications of courts’ anti-anticlassificationist interpretation of antidiscrimination law. Namely, it examines the emergence of a minimalist "actuality defense" and resulting identity adjudication, which obfuscates the chief issue in intentional discrimination cases: whether the plaintiff suffered unlawful, invidious, differential treatment. Additionally, this Article illuminates that courts’ anti-anticlassificationist interpretation and attendant actuality requirement have in fact resuscitated age-old trials of racial determination. They have thereby produced an additional destructive consequence by reifying race as a stable, biological construct. 

Consequently, this Article proposes fresh, practical, and theoretical interventions to cease the continued anti-anticlassificationist interpretation of Title VII. In doing so, this Article excavates previously unexplored Title VII statutory provisions, longstanding EEOC directives, Fifth and Third Circuit precedent, and recent Supreme Court precedent. Properly read, these sources will show that a prerequisite showing of actuality in cases of categorical discrimination under Title VII is wrong. Thus, this Article affirms that all categorical discrimination plaintiffs — that is, all individuals who have allegedly suffered discriminatory treatment on the basis of their actual or mistaken religious, gender, ethnic, racial, or color identity — are entitled to vindicate their statutory rights to be free from unlawful discrimination.

Two great reads, for sure.

MM

January 27, 2014 in Employment Discrimination, Religion, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fourth Circuit Holds Temporary Disabilities May Be Covered by the ADA(AA)

DisabilitiesThe Fourth Circuit issued an opinion yesterday on an issue of first impression under the ADA as it's been amended by the ADAAA. In Summers v. Altarum Institute Corp, the court held that a temporary disability can be a disability for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act, reversing a dismissal and remanding the case for further proceedings.

The plaintiff was a government contractor who was assigned to a workplace he had to travel some distance to get to. One day, on the way to work, he fell getting off of his train and seriously injured both legs. Without surgery, pain medication, and physical therapy, it would likely be a year before he would be able to walk, and with that treatment, it would likely be seven months. Almost immediately after the injury, the plaintiff suggested to his employer ways that he could work remotely and then work up to working again on site for the client, but instead of working on a plan, his employer encouraged him to take short term disability and then later terminated him. The plaintiff sued, alleging that he was discharged because of his disability.

The district court dismissed his claim, holding that "a temporary condition, even up to a year, does not fall within the purview of the [A]ct,” so the plaintiff failed to allege that he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA.  The court also suggested that the plaintiff was not disabled because he could have worked with the assistance of a wheelchair.

The court of appeals held that the plaintiff was substantially limited in the major life activity of walking even though he would eventually be able to walk again. The court acknowledged that under pre-ADAAA precedent, namely Toyota v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002), that temporary disabilities were not covered. In the ADAAA, though, Congress explicitly expanded the definition of disability and explained it was doing so to reverse the effects of narrowing Supreme Court decisions including Toyota.

Moreover, Congress directed the EEOC to revise its regulations to broaden the definition, and the EEOC did so after notice and comment. The revised regulations provide that effects of an impairment lasting even less than six months can be substantially limiting enough to constitute a disability. Duration of the impairment is one factor to consider, but severity of the impairment is also important. The more severe the impairment, the shorter the duration needed for the impairment to substantially limit a major life activity. Finally, the court held that the cause of the impairment was not relevant, at least between whether an impairment was caused by a long-term or permanent disability or an injury because the EEOC's regulations use impairment and injury interchangeably in several places in the regulations. The court gave all of these regulations Chevron deference finding that they were highly reasonable interpretations of the amended statute.

Regarding the possibility that the impairments might last less time with surgery, pain medication, and physical therapy, and that the plaintiff could be mobile enough to get to the workplace with a wheelchair, the court noted that those factors could not be considered in deciding whether the plaintiff had a disability. Doing so may have been appropriate under pre-amendment Supreme Court precedent, namely Sutton v. United Airlines, 527 U.S. 471 (1999), although the court did not cite to that case. Again, Congress specifically abrogated that case along with the other cases that narrowed the definition of disability. The court of appeals noted that the EEOC regulations prohibited considering mitigating measures, and even more importantly, that to consider an accommodation which would allow the plaintiff to work before considering whether he was an individual with a disability turned the proper inquiry on its head in a way that would eviscerate the ADA.

The plaintiff had also raised a failure to accommodate claim at the district court level, but did not raise it on appeal, and so the court of appeals did not analyze that claim. 

This case is a very important one for a number of reasons. It is the first court of appeals case to consider whether a person who suffers a temporary impairment can be considered disabled under the ADA. The decision also confirmed that the disability question is not going to be, in many cases, a big hurdle for a plaintiff, and that the EEOC regulations should be afforded deference. It also provides a context-specific test for determining whether a person is disabled that sticks to the statutory language of whether the impairment at issue substantially limits a major life activity. Substantiality is to be considered both as a question of duration, but also as a question of quantity and quality. 

The case will obviously impact many situations in which worker injuries cause relatively serious and relatively long-lasting impairments, and may impact whether employers can continue to distinguish in accommodations between on-the-job and off-the-job injuries. It also may influence whether at least some limitations caused by pregnancy have to be accommodated. Thus, this is a decision with potentially far-reaching consequences.

h/t Jonathan Harkavy

MM

January 24, 2014 in Disability, Employment Discrimination, Labor and Employment News, Pension and Benefits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Seyfarth and Littler Publish EEOC Litigation Reports and Analysis

EeoclogoTwo major employer management law firms have published their annual reports on EEOC litigation:

Littler's Annual Report on EEOC Developments - Fiscal Year 2013 and

Seyfarth's EEOC-Initiated Litigation: Case Law Developments In 2013 And Trends To Watch For In 2014.

Both publications seek to "report on significant cases, regulatory developments and other activities involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)," and to "provide readers with a detailed executive summary and comprehensive analysis on the unique aspects of court rulings in 2013 in EEOC litigation and the challenges employers face in litigating against the EEOC."

eports on significant cases, regulatory developments and other activities involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC - See more at: http://www.littler.com/publication-press/publication/annual-report-eeoc-developments-fiscal-year-2013#sthash.vRwQPM2m.dpuf

Hat Tip: Kasia Solon Cristobal

PS

January 24, 2014 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Seventh Circuit splits on conciliation defense to EEOC suit

EeocA few years ago, the EEOC got socked with a number of penalties in pattern and practice cases for failing to conciliate on behalf of all potential claimants. In EEOC v. CRST, the District Court for the Northern District of Iowa penalized the EEOC with $4.5 million in attorneys fees, which the Eighth Circuit reduced, and in EEOC v. Cintas, the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted Cintas $2.6 million in attorneys fees for a similar issue. In other cases, the courts dismissed the claims, allowing a failure to conciliate defense, or at least assumed that such a defense would be available. The full list is: EEOC v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 679 F.3d 657 (8th Cir. 2012); EEOC v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 340 F.3d 1256 (11th Cir. 2003); EEOC v. Johnson & Higgins, Inc., 91 F.3d 1529 (2d Cir. 1996); EEOC v. Keco Indus., Inc., 748 F.2d 1097 (6th Cir. 1984); EEOC v. Klingler Elec. Corp., 636 F.2d 104 (5th Cir. 1981); EEOC v. Radiator Specialty Co., 610 F.2d 178 (4th Cir. 1979); EEOC v. Zia Co., 582 F.2d 527 (10th Cir. 1978).

A couple of weeks ago, the Seventh Circuit found the opposite. In EEOC v. Mach Mining, the Seventh Circuit held that there was no implied failure to conciliate defense in Title VII. In its own words, the Seventh Circuit split with the other circuits to find such a defense because:

The language of the statute, the lack of a meaningful standard for courts to apply, and the overall statutory scheme convince us that an alleged failure to conciliate is not an affirmative defense to the merits of a discrimination suit. Finding in Title VII and implied failure-to-conciliate defense adds to that statute an unwarranted mechanism by which employers can avoid liability for unlawful discrimination. They can do so through protracted and ultimately pointless litigation over whether the EEOC tried hard enough to settle. An implied failure-to-conciliate defense also runs flatly contrary to the broad statutory prohibition on using what was said and done during the conciliation process as "evidence in a subsequent proceeding." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b).

It's possible that this could pave the way for the Supreme Court to weigh in, or start a trend winnowing away the defense in other circuits. We will have to see.

MM

January 2, 2014 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)