Saturday, August 20, 2016
This is a follow-up to Marcia's post immediately below. Christine Duffy (Senior Staff Attorney, ProBono Partnership, photo left) posted a comment to Marcia's post that I found particularly enlightening, so I phoned her yesterday and asked if I could copy the comment to the blog as a guest post. As we spoke, she indicated that there was more she'd like to add, so I suggested she do so and then I would turn that into a guest post. So ... here it is. Many thanks to Christine for this.
Although I concur with Marcia McCormick’s observation that the August 2016 opinion in EEOC v. R.G & G.R. Funeral Homes, Inc. is an interesting decision and will be appealed to the Sixth Circuit, I’m not as disheartened by it. The decision has a number of very positive aspects.
I already knew from an April 2015 opinion that the district court judge had rejected the reasoning of the EEOC’s Macy decision, which held that discrimination based on gender identity or transgender status is sex discrimination. So reading that again in the latest opinion was not unexpected.
Both district court opinions wrongly state that the EEOC is trying to expand Title VII to include gender identity and transgender status as protected classes. Rather, the EEOC and a number of courts have come to understand that discrimination based gender identity or transgender status (or sexual orientation for that matter) inherently involves sex discrimination.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
The District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued a decision today on cross motions for summary judgment in EEOC v. R.G & G.R. Funeral Homes, Inc., granting summary judgment for the funeral home. The funeral home terminated an employee after that employee announced an intention to transition to female. The transwoman employee intended to abide by the the funeral home's dress code for women, which was that women wear skirt suits. Men were required to wear pantsuits (and if that sounds weird to you, too it's because this gender norm is so entrenched, we only call women's clothing pantsuits). The funeral home also provided men with a clothing allowance, but did not provide the same for women. The court held that enforcing Title VII was not the least restrictive means to reach the argued-for compelling governmental interest of prohibiting sex discrimination in the form of sex stereotyping.
The opinion is long and an interesting mashup of sex stereotyping, dress codes, LGBTQIA discrimination, RFRA, and Hobby Lobby. I haven't thoroughly analyzed it yet, but it seems a very troubling decision for a wide variety of reasons, not least of which is that it seems to import a sort of ministerial exemption on steroids into the private sector. The sense I get from my first read of the opinion is that the court reasoned to get to this point primarily because it disagreed with one of the claims made by the EEOC, which was that gender identity is sex for purposes of Title VII. That proposition has been accepted by a number of courts, but had been rejected by this judge.
This case is one to watch because it's certain to be appealed to the 6th Circuit.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Illinois became the sixth state to adopt a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights when Governor Rauner signed the bill last Friday. Domestic workers there will be covered by the state minimum wage laws, guaranteed rest periods, meals, and one day off a week, protected from discrimination including harassment, and protected from being paid "an oppressive and unreasonable wage." These protections are especially important because domestic workers are excluded from federal protections under the FLSA, the NLRA, OSHA, and other laws. Moreover working conditions for childcare workers contribute to poverty and may impair the care those workers can give. According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Illinois joins New York, Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. Connecticut also has extended some protections to domestic workers, although not passed the full-blown model bill of rights. The Illinois law will take effect Jan. 1, 2017.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
The Seventh Circuit issued a decision today in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, relying on prior circuit precedent to hold that Title VII does not forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The opinion was written by Judge Rovner and joined by Judge Bauer. Judge Ripple concurred in the judgment and only that part of the opinion referring to the prior circuit precedent.
The opinion is the first circuit court opinion to be issued on the subject since the EEOC's decision in Baldwin v. Foxx last year, holding that sexual orientation discrimination is per se sex discrimination because: 1. but for the sex of the person, the romantic partner's sex would not be objectionable; 2. penalizing a person for the sex of their romantic partners is associational sex discrimination; and 3. requiring men to date or marry women and women to date or marry men is a core gender stereotype. In Baldwin, the EEOC had taken many circuit courts to task, pointing particularly at the Seventh Circuit for parroting its prior precedents without considering their foundation.
The line of precedent in the Seventh Circuit is particularly problematic. It started with the decision in Ulane v. Eastern Airlines that Title VII did not protect a pilot who was fired for undergoing gender transition because Title VII did not prohibit discrimination on the basis of "transsexualism." This was was one of the first decisions on an LGBTQ issue under Title VII. The decision in Ulane has been pretty thoroughly undermined by the Supreme Court's decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, which recognized that gender stereotyping can be sex discrimination. In recent cases, most courts have considered Price Waterhouse to have essentially overruled Ulane and have held that gender identity discrimination is sex discrimination.
Relying on a line of precedent with Ulane at its base aside, Judge Rovner's opinion is remarkable for the thoughtfulness of what follows a description of the circuit's precedent. She discusses Baldwin and quite thoroughly analyzes the cases relevant to whether there is some distinction between sex, sex stereotyping, and sexual orientation. Over and over, she acknowledges the lack of rational distinctions and the difficulties courts have had drawing lines to justify treating sexual orientation as something different from sex. She also lays out the paradox that the more stereotypically gay or lesbian the plaintiff, the more likely the case will be indistinguishable from a sex stereotyping case, and thus cognizable. Judge Rovner highlights the fact that associational discrimination claims have long been cognizable in race cases as another paradox or inconsistency in the precedent. Finally, she discusses the Supreme Court decisions on sexual orientation and the equal protection principles behind protection of LGBTQ individuals.
In the end, though, Judge Rovner says she is bound by prior circuit precedent for two main reasons. Congress failed to amend Title VII to include sexual orientation in the definition of sex despite a number of legislative efforts between 1975 and 1982, nor did it pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in any of its prior incarnations between 1994 and 2013. And the Supreme Court has not yet held that sexual orientation discrimination is a violation of Title VII.
Moving forward, she points out that many district courts --"laboratories on which the Supreme Court relies to work through cutting‐edge legal problems" -- currently considering the issue are agreeing with the EEOC, suggesting, perhaps, that the Court act sooner rather than later. She also suggests that within the Seventh Circuit, some sexual orientation discrimination cases will be cognizable under Title VII because the context of the discrimination will be so intertwined with sex stereotyping that the issues cannot be untangled. But where stereotypes about the person are clearly linked with sexual orientation rather than sex, there will be no cognizable claim. In her words:
Harassment may be based on prejudicial or stereotypical ideas about particular aspects of the gay and lesbian “lifestyle,” including ideas about promiscuity, religious beliefs, spending habits, child‐rearing, sexual practices, or politics. Although it seems likely that most of the causes of discrimination based on sexual orientation ultimately stem from employers’ and co‐workers’ discomfort with a lesbian woman’s or a gay man’s failure to abide by gender norms, we cannot say that it must be so in all cases.
The opinion is an interesting mix of roadmap to finding that sexual orientation is part of sex for purposes of Title VII and hand-wringing that Congress and the Supreme Court haven't made that clear yet. Maybe a circuit split in the next year or so will set the stage. I'm not as confident that the membership of Congress will change in this election to allow for any movement on the Equality Act, but that is another possibility.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Congratulations to Miriam Cherry (Saint Louis), Marion Crain (Washington University) and Winifred Poster (Washington University, Sociology) whose book Invisible Labor has just hit the shelves. The book is a collection of chapters by authors from, primarily, sociology and law, exploring types of labor that are unpaid and unseen. From the synopsis:
Across the world, workers labor without pay for the benefit of profitable businesses—and it's legal. Labor trends like outsourcing and technology hide some workers, and branding and employer mandates erase others. Invisible workers who remain under-protected by wage laws include retail workers who function as walking billboards and take payment in clothing discounts or prestige; waitstaff at “breastaurants” who conform their bodies to a business model; and inventory stockers at grocery stores who go hungry to complete their shifts. Invisible Labor gathers essays by prominent sociologists and legal scholars to illuminate how and why such labor has been hidden from view.
The collection brings together what previously seemed like disparate issues to show common threads among the ways labor can be invisible, and the breadth of contributions is impressive. I had the chance to attend a symposium set up by the editors to flesh out these ideas a couple of years ago and found the topics fascinating then. I can't wait to read the book!
July 19, 2016 in Books, Disability, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, International & Comparative L.E.L., Scholarship, Wage & Hour, Worklife Issues, Workplace Trends | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, July 4, 2016
The North Carolina legislature has passed a bill that repeals the portion of HB2 that denies a right to sue to enforce that State’s employment discrimination statute (the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act, or EEPA). For press reports, see, e.g., here. But that bill also reduces the time available to file such actions to one year. And it does not repeal or otherwise change the rest of HB2 currently at issue in a US Department of Justice lawsuit.
Although EEPA itself has no real enforcement mechanism, some judges had let plaintiffs use the common-law tort of wrongful discharge to sue for violation of EEPA’s expressed public policy against certain kinds of employment discrimination. (For more, see here.) HB2 had supplanted this law by adding this sentence to EEPA: “This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.” The legislature’s bill, passed last Friday, amends EEPA by removing the sentence that HB2 had added. By itself, that would have restored EEPA law to pre-HB2 days.
But that bill also amends the one-year limitations-period statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-54, to have it cover a claim for “wrongful discharge in violation of the public policy set forth in G.S. 143-422.2.” This change will reduce the limitation period for wrongful-discharge tort claims enforcing EEPA from three years, see Winston v. Livingstone College, 210 N.C. App. 486, 488 (2011), down to one year. The text of this change, however, might also be taken to show the legislature has finally and expressly accepted the common-law tort of wrongful discharge as a viable way to enforce EEPA.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
A data revolution is transforming the workplace. Employers are increasingly relying on algorithms to decide who gets interviewed, hired or promoted. Proponents of the new data science claim that automated decision systems can make better decisions faster, and are also fairer, because they replace biased human decision-makers with “neutral” data. However, data are not neutral and algorithms can discriminate. The legal world has not yet grappled with these challenges to workplace equality. The risks posed by data analytics call for fundamentally rethinking anti-discrimination doctrine. When decision-making algorithms produce biased outcomes, they may seem to resemble familiar disparate impact cases, but that doctrine turns out to be a poor fit. Developed in a different context, disparate impact doctrine fails to address the ways in which algorithms can introduce bias and cause harm. This Article argues instead for a plausible, revisionist interpretation of Title VII, in which disparate treatment and disparate impact are not the only recognized forms of discrimination. A close reading of the text suggests that Title VII also prohibits classification bias — namely, the use of classification schemes that have the effect of exacerbating inequality or disadvantage along the lines of race or other protected category. This description matches well the concerns raised by workplace analytics. Framing the problem in terms of classification bias leads to some quite different conclusions about how the anti-discrimination norm should be applied to algorithms, suggesting both the possibilities and limits of Title VII’s liability focused model.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
While mandatory arbitration agreements have gotten the most attention as methods of shielding employers from court suits, other employers have made a different choice -- using contracts with their employees to shorten the otherwise applicable limitations periods for bringing court suit. By and large (by which I mean in purely private disputes over the underlying contract claim), courts have seen little problem with such provisions. Without much analysis, they allow the parties to agree to a shorter period to being suit subject only to the condition that the period so provided be "reasonable," and are pretty permissive as to what satisfies that condition.
Where such agreements --typically imposed as a condition of employment --involve abbreviating the time provided for bringing suit under antidiscrimination and other worker-protective statutes, the considerations are significantly different, at least so it seemed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Last week, in Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Co, the Court struck down a provision in an employment agreement that set a 6 month outer limit on bringing suit when the governing Law Against Discrimination provided a two-year limitations period.
Much of the opinion deals with aspects peculiar to New Jersey (for example, the two year limitations period is not found explicitly in LAD, and the state has alternative administrative and judicial avenues to pursue a LAD claim), but the overarching message of the opinion is that discrimination claims have a public aspect which counsels against approving private attempts to shorten the controlling limitations period. Writing for the Court, Justice LaVecchia summarized:
The cause of action that plaintiff brings is factually premised on his employment relationship, but it is not a simple private claim. Plaintiff alleges an LAD violation -- a law designed for equal parts public and private purposes.
The LAD plays a uniquely important role in fulfilling the public imperative of eradicating discrimination. One searches in vain to find another New Jersey enactment having an equivalently powerful legislative statement of purpose, along with operative provisions that arm individuals and entities with formidable tools to combat discrimination not only through their use but also by the threat of their use. There is a huge incentive for employers to thoroughly investigate and respond effectively to internal complaints in order to limit or avoid liability for workplace discrimination. Responsible employers are partners in the public interest work of eradicating discrimination, but such responsible behavior takes time. A shortened time frame for instituting legal action or losing that ability hampers enforcement of the public interest.
The court cited decisions to like effect in Kansas and California, but the New Jersey decision is likely to be especially influential. Its most salient contribution is drawing the line between private contract disputes and litigation over statutory claims. In the future, we can expect courts at least to avoid reflexively validating such agreements and come to grips with the public policy implications of enforcing them.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
The Supreme Court issued two employment discrimination decisions in May, which were mostly met in the academy by yawns. Admittedly, neither is groundbreaking and one is something only a proceduralist could love. But both have points of interest.
The earlier decision, CRST Van Expedited v. EEOC, resolved the question of whether a defendant could be said to have "prevailed" for purposes of a fee award by obtaining a dismissal for the EEOC procedural failures, as opposed to having won on the merits. Whether the agency's conduct in pursuing the claims at issue was frivolous was not before the Court, which might have generated a more interesting opinion, but the decision clearly opened the path to more attorney awards against losing plaintiffs -- and not merely where the EEOC is the plaintiff.
In the case itself, the defendant had prevailed because the EEOC had failed to adequately investigate a number of the individual claims it wished to pursue on behalf of female employees of CRST. That's obviously not applicable to private suits, but one can easily imagine a defendant pursuing attorneys' fees against a plaintiff whose case is, say, tossed out of court for failure to meet one of Title VII's limitations periods. However, the Court did not decide whether a defendant has to obtain a preclusive judgment in order to "prevail," which may somewhat limit the effects of the decision.
The more recent is Green v. Brennan, which held that the time for resort to administrative remedies in a constructive discharge case runs from the time the employee gave notice of his resignation, not from the last employer act that created the intolerable conditions that would convert such a resignation into a constructive firing. The case involved federal employment, which has somewhat different procedures, but there is little doubt that it applies to the more common situation involving the private sector where an employee normally has 300 days to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
The opinion is clearly pro-employee, but may not have much real world impact. That's because the whole concept of constructive discharge requires discriminatory employer conduct that creates "intolerable" working conditions. The longer an employee tolerates what he claims is an intolerable situation, the less likely a court is to view those conditions are truly intolerable. But it is true that courts will now be forced to focus on the merits of such claims rather than dismissing them on timeliness grounds.
Justice Alito concurred, in a somewhat tortured opinion. He was concerned that, by looking to the date of resignation the Court was shifting the focus from the employer's act (which rendered continued work intolerable) to the employee's conduct and thus undercutting a long line of cases that refused to measure timeliness from the present effects of a past act of discrimination. That would seem to suggest a dissent rather than a concurrence, but Alito argued that when an employee intended the resignation (which was a triable issue here), the time could run from that resignation. Why, say, that wouldn't undercut Ricks v. Delaware State -- where the employer gave a terminal contract that must have intended Ricks's termination a year later -- isn't so clear.
Friday, May 13, 2016
It's too bad that law school finals are over because this situation has all of the labor and employment bases covered. The ACLU and the Colorado law firm of Holwell Shuster & Goldberg have filed charges with the EEOC on behalf of four pilots who argue that the airline's policies discriminate against women by failing to provide accommodations related to pregnancy and breast feeding. You can download the charges from that link if you are interested in the details.
Essentially, the charges allege that pregnant pilots are forced to take unpaid leave beginning as early as 10 weeks before their due dates and are then allowed up to 120 days after delivery of unpaid leave. Those who are nursing when they return are not accommodated at the airports nor allowed to express milk during flights, according to the charges. Three of the four women suffered mastitis as a result of the lack of accommodations. The pilots have proposed a number of accommodations like temporary non-flying assignments that would allow women to work longer before delivery and to allow for easier accommodation of milk expression, extension of maternity leave for women who want it, and designated places where the women could pump in airports Frontier uses and on the plane when necessary. According to NPR, the airline asserts that there are locations for expressing milk in airports that comply with federal and state law.
Although the charges themselves really only deal with Title VII (although they also mention Colorado's Fair Employment Practices Act and Colorado's Workplace Accommodation of Nursing Mothers Act), the lack of accommodations may also violate the FLSA (as amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). In addition, the workplace is governed by a collective bargaining agreement, which has rules setting out non-flying reassignments, but only for on-the-job injuries.
If the charge does not lead to a settlement, the subsequent lawsuit will give a court the chance to apply the Supreme Court's framework for accommodations set out in Young v. UPS. This case is similar as it relates to pre-delivery leave, but it's also different. It is not clear that the women must take pre-delivery leave because of any medical reason. The policy requires that pilots take leave once they are no longer "medically authorized to fly," or at 32 weeks, whichever is earlier. For healthy women, doctors generally don't suggest limits on flying until 36 weeks, mostly because of the possibility of early labor. Because Frontier, requires leave by the 32d week of pregnancy, (and some women don't deliver until the 42d week), there might be several weeks where the pilot could work, but is prohibited. This requirement looks like the one struck down in Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. LaFleur, which required pregnant school teachers to take leave before it was medically required.
The case is also somewhat different on the accommodations for milk expression. The situation Peggy Young found herself in at UPS would likely be taken care of by the ADA as amended. Her lifting restriction, imposed to prevent miscarriage or premature activity, would be found an impairment of a major life activity, most likely. And transfer to a vacant position, likely a reasonable accommodation that would not pose an undue hardship, since UPS provided that accommodation for a number of other reasons. Here, lactation itself isn't an impairment but an extension of the normal physiological processes of pregnancy and delivery. Lactation isn't impairment of normal breast function; it is normal breast function. So these accommodations may only be protected by Title VII and not by the ADA.
In any event, it will be interesting to see how this one plays out and whether remedies under other laws that might provide relief are pursued.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
As the primary season transitions more solidly into the presidential election, our thoughts in the labor and employment world naturally turn to workplace captive audience speeches. WPB emeritus Paul Secunda (Marquette) is probably the country's expert on the subject. He has an important piece out in the UCLA Law Review Discourse with Alexander Hertel-Fernandez (doctoral candidate in government and social policy, Harvard), who has been engaged in empirical work to study the scope of employer political intimidation. The article, Citizens Coerced: A Legislative Fix for Workplace Political Intimidation Post-Citizens United summarizes some of Hertel-Fernandez's empirical findings and recommends that Congress amend Title VII to prohibit discrimination on the basis of political affiliation or belief.
The article lays out a compelling case and a workable solution. It finishes with this powerful exhortation:
As the country enters into a highly-contested and polarizing presidential election cycle, it is imperative that Congress act quickly to end political coercion in the workplace. Consistent with longstanding principles of freedom of speech, expression, association, and political affiliation, private-sector employees, just as much as their public-sector counterparts, have the right to engage (or not engage) in political activities without fear of retribution or disadvantage from their employer. It is one thing to provide corporations with expanded free speech rights in the electoral process. It is quite another to permit companies to coerce workers in their political expression. We should not tolerate the latter encroachment on worker autonomy.
The article is a great read, and I highly recommend it.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, there is still no private right of action for employment discrimination under North Carolina law—except now, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory says he wants to “restore” it. There is, however, a third way.
By now, you’ve heard the story: On a single day (March 23), the North Carolina House and Senate passed, and the Governor signed, HB2 into law. Many have blasted HB2’s bathroom provisions as motivated by prejudice against transgender people and as unconstitutional, too. HB2 also preempts local anti-discrimination ordinances, including those that had covered sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as local wage and hour laws.
But as a few quickly noticed, HB2 had also supplanted existing law affording a private right of action to enforce the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act (EEPA). Before HB2, EEPA had declared:
It is the public policy of this State to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination or abridgement on account of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap by employers which regularly employ 15 or more employees.
As originally passed in 1977, EEPA had declared such a “public policy” but afforded no real enforcement mechanism. Years later, however, some judges began letting plaintiffs use the common-law tort of wrongful discharge to sue for violation of EEPA’s expressed public policy. Not everyone was happy with this. For example, Cohen (1995, p. 55) complained that, by letting plaintiffs use the tort of wrongful discharge to enforce EEPA, judges had changed EEPA “from a toothless legislative compromise into an apparently limitless source of employment discrimination claims”—something the legislators that originally passed EEPA in 1977 wouldn’t have wanted.
Then came HB2, which supplanted the existing legal grounds for private tort suits to enforce EEPA by adding this to EEPA itself:
This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.
So, now to our latest episode, in which Governor McCrory issues an Executive Order No. 93, dated April 12, 2016, which includes this statement: “I support and encourage the General Assembly to take all necessary steps to restore a State cause of action for wrongful discharge based on unlawful employment discrimination.” And from the Governor’s accompanying video statement: “I will immediately seek legislation in the upcoming short session to reinstate the right to sue for discrimination in North Carolina state courts.” Who put HB2’s no-civil-action sentence in there in the first place? The Governor didn’t say, and no one else is talking—for now, that’s an unsolved mystery.
What will North Carolina’s legislators do now? Repeal HB2’s no-civil-action sentence? Do nothing? There is a third way. Amend HB2’s no-civil-action sentence like this:
This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no any person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.
Instead of just restoring the law to pre-HB2 days, now—almost forty years after North Carolina passed EEPA as a “toothless legislative compromise”— maybe it’s finally time for EEPA to get some teeth of its own.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Our own, Joe Seiner, has a new Employment Discrimination textbook now out, which is definitely worth looking into. According to promotion materials, the book, Employment Discrimination: Procedure, Principles, and Practice:
This text offers a fresh perspective on employment discrimination law, presenting a procedural-based approach to the topic with interactive materials throughout the book. While still providing the traditional employment discrimination casebook coverage, this text emphasizes the importance of procedural issues in workplace cases. It includes a unique “best practices” chapter which discusses the most effective ways to address workplace discrimination, from both a theoretical and legal perspective. Numerous exercises and problems foster classroom discussion. Practice tips situate students in the role of a practicing lawyer.
Cases are modern and cutting-edge, demonstrating the importance of employment discrimination law. Each chapter includes a chapter-in-review, and summary charts and graphs are used throughout the text to further student comprehension. Text boxes within cases, historical notes, and news events are all used to help bring the material to life in an innovative new way. Instructors will have access to sample exam problems and answers, proposed syllabi, Teacher’s Manual with problem answers, and PowerPoint slides.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
The EEOC issued a press release today, announcing that it has brought two cases alleging that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII. From the press release:
The federal agency's Philadelphia District Office filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against Scott Medical Health Center, and, in a separate suit, in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, against Pallet Companies, dba IFCO Systems NA.
In its suit against Scott Medical Health Center, EEOC charged that a gay male employee was subjected to harassment because of his sexual orientation. The agency said that the male employee's manager repeatedly referred to him using various anti-gay epithets and made other highly offensive comments about his sexuality and sex life. When the employee complained to the clinic director, the director responded that the manager was "just doing his job," and refused to take any action to stop the harassment, according to the suit. After enduring weeks of such comments by his manager, the employee quit rather than endure further harassment.
In its suit against IFCO Systems, EEOC charged that a lesbian employee was harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation. Her supervisor made numerous comments to her regarding her sexual orientation and appearance, such as "I want to turn you back into a woman" and "You would look good in a dress," according to the suit. At one point, the supervisor blew a kiss at her and circled his tongue at her in a suggestive manner, EEOC alleged. The employee complained to management and called the employee hotline about the harassment. IFCO fired the female employee just a few days later in retaliation for making the complaints, EEOC charged.
These cases are an outgrowth of the agency's decision in the federal sector case Baldwin v. Dep't of Transp., Appeal No. 0120133080 (July 15, 2015). In that case, EEOC held that Title VII's prohibition of sex discrimination includes discrimination because of sexual orientation because:
(1) sexual orientation discrimination necessarily involves treating workers less favorably because of their sex because sexual orientation as a concept cannot be understood without reference to sex; (2) sexual orientation discrimination is rooted in non-compliance with sex stereotypes and gender norms, and employment decisions based in such stereotypes and norms have long been found to be prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII; and (3) sexual orientation discrimination punishes workers because of their close personal association with members of a particular sex, such as marital and other personal relationships.
The EEOC has also been filing amicus briefs in private cases urging the courts to accept this argument, most recently in Burrows v. The College of Central Florida and Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, both in the 11th Circuit. Accepting it would mean that the courts could stop struggling with trying to distinguish between sex stereotyping cases that are cognizable because they are really about sex and sex stereotyping cases that are not cognizable because they are about sex but also sexual orientation.
Friday, January 29, 2016
The New York Law Journal reports a story about a restaurant group going the extra mile in trying to dig up dirt about a plaintiff in an employment discrimination suit. According to the story, the defendant served third party subpoenas on the plaintiff's former employers, seeking pretty much everything they had on the plaintiff's work record. To add a nice touch, the subpoenas were served on Christmas Eve.
In Henry v. Morgan's Hotel Group, the plaintiff's motion to quash was granted by Magistrate Judge Cott. First, the defendant failed to serve notice on the plaintiff before serving the subpoenas on the third parties, thus frustrating the plaintiff's opportunity to object before the third parties were notified. This created the real possibility of prejudice -- indeed, one of the former employers had produced the records before the court's decision on the motion to quash. Indeed, the mere service of the subpoena was found to be prejudicial to the plaintiff -- his concern that once and potentially future employers were effectively notified that plaintiff had filed a discrimination suit was legitimate.
To add insult to injury, the subpoenas were both overbroad as to what was to be produced and sought clearly irrelevant information. The defendant claimed that it needed the information to challenge plaintiff's credibility in his claim that he was an "exceptional waiter." The court found it not "remotely apparent what difference that would make regarding the allegations of discrimination and retaliation he has made in this case. The issue presented here is whether Defendant's actions directed toward Henry were based on valid considerations or violated the discrimination laws. Henry's prior employment has little if any bearing on that issue." The court did not that there was no evidence adduced about any misrepresentations that might justify an after acquired evidence defense.
Monday, January 18, 2016
The 11th Circuit on Thursday released Chavez v. Credit Nation Auto Sales, reversing a trial court's grant of summary judgment for the employer on a mixed-motive claim. The trial court held that a plaintiff in a mixed-motive case must prove pretext. The 11th Circuit disagreed, finding that mixed-motive analysis is a separate method of proof from the McDonnell Douglas/Burdine analysis, and that a plaintiff need not prove pretext in a mixed-motive case.
Jillian Weiss (photo above), who litigated the case for the plaintiff, writes to us:
As you may recall, I had an appeal before the 11th Circuit on the issue of standards in mixed motive cases. The Court has issued its opinion, and I thought you might be interested. It's attached. It was your blog's suggestion that Nassar would be important in making the case on mixed motive causation (from 4/24/14). It was. Here's what the Court said:
From pages 11-12: More recently, the Supreme Court has told us that “Section 2000e-2(m) is not itself a substantive bar on discrimination. Rather, it is a rule that establishes the causation standard for proving a violation defined elsewhere in Title VII.” Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, __ U.S. __, at __, 133 S. Ct. 2517, 2530 (2013) (emphasis added). “[B]ut-for causation is not the test”; rather, “[i]t suffices instead to show that the motive to discriminate was one of the employer’s motives, even if the employer also had other, lawful motives that were causative in the employer’s decision.” Id. at 2523.
That quote came from our brief, which I put in there because I read your blog. Thanks! ... We appreciate your blog.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Gary Spitko (Santa Clara) has just posted on SSRN his new article (48 Connecticut Law Review 71-117 (2015)) A Reform Agenda Premised Upon the Reciprocal Relationship Between Anti-LGBT Bias in Role Model Occupations and the Bullying of LGBT Youth. Here's the abstract:
Employment discrimination in role model occupations on the basis of LGBT status has long been used systematically to define negatively the LGBT identity and to reinforce the associations between the non-LGBT majority and certain positive qualities, values, and institutions. This Article argues that a reciprocal relationship exists between such discrimination and the bullying of LGBT youth. This Article then proposes a reform agenda to combat anti-LGBT bias in role model occupations grounded in an understanding of the nature of this reciprocal relationship. Part I demonstrates that anti-LGBT discrimination in role model occupations has been employed systematically to disassociate LGBT people from certain positive qualities and values and to maintain and strengthen the associations between these positive qualities and values and the non-LGBT majority as well as the institutions that the non-LGBT majority holds dear. One effect of such discrimination, as intended, is that known LGBT role models are removed from public visibility. This exclusion makes it more likely that young people will come to devalue LGBT people which, in turn, is likely to increase the prevalence of the bullying of LGBT youth. Part II reviews recent empirical studies that evidence that the bullying of LGBT youth is a widespread problem and that the consequences of this bullying can be profound and tragic. This Part also reviews empirical evidence that bullying in the workplace is a significant problem and that much of this workplace bullying targets LGBT people. This hostile environment, in turn, encourages LGBT workers to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity. Thus, bullying is not only a consequence of the intentional exclusion of known LGBT people from role model occupations; bullying also furthers this exclusionary project. Finally, Part III considers in greater detail the mutually reinforcing relationship between employment discrimination against known LGBT role models and the bullying of LGBT youth, focusing on their common genesis and effects. This Part then proposes a reform agenda grounded in an understanding of the interconnections between such discrimination and the bullying of LGBT youth.
The article grew out of a book that Gary has forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press later this year: – “Anti-Gay Bias in Role Model Occupations.” The book argues that much employment discrimination against gay people is intended to disassociate gay people from certain positive qualities and values and to maintain and strengthen the association between these positive qualities and values and the heterosexual majority as well as the institutions that the heterosexual majority holds dear. The law review article considers the mutually reinforcing relationship between such employment discrimination against known LGBT role models and the bullying of LGBT youth, focusing on their common genesis and effects. The Article then proposes a reform agenda to combat anti-LGBT bias in role model occupations grounded in an understanding of the nature of this reciprocal relationship.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Friend of the blog and Southeastern Association of Law Schools Labor and Employment Law Workshop organizer extraordinaire Michael Green (Texas A & M) sends along this call for papers for the 2016 SEALS annual conference:
The Southeastern Association of Law Schools(SEALS) is pleased to host the fourth annual “New Voices in Labor and Employment Law” program during the 2016 SEALS Annual Meeting in Amelia Island, Florida. This year we have extended the program to also include “Existing Voices in Labor and Employment Law.” The purpose of this works-in-progress program is to give junior and existing scholars feedback on papers from senior scholars before the upcoming submission cycle. We are seeking submissions from labor and employment law scholars with five or fewer years of full-time teaching experience (not counting the 2015-16 academic year) and will also consider drafts from existing labor and employment scholars regardless of experience.
Submissions should be drafts of papers relating to labor and employment law that will be near completion by the time of the SEALS meeting held August 3-9, 2016. To be considered for participation in the program, please send an email to Professor Michael Z. Green, Texas A&M University School of Law, at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org by 5:00 p.m. E.S.T., Monday, January 11, 2016. In your email, please include the title of your paper, a short description of the context (e.g., “Disparate Impact after Dukes”), and a full abstract. Full-time faculty members of SEALS member or affiliate member schools, who have been teaching labor and employment law courses for five or fewer years as of July 1, 2015, will be given a preference in the selection of those contacted to submit final papers but we hope that labor and employment scholars with even more experience will submit papers as well.
To ensure enough time for adequate feedback, space will be limited to 6 participants; additional registrants will be placed on a waiting list and invited to participate on a space available basis. Those individuals accepted into the program must submit a complete draft by 5:00 p.m. E.S.T., Friday, June 10, 2016. Please submit your drafts electronically to the email addresses above. The draft should be accompanied by a cover letter with the author’s name, contact information, and confirmation that the submission meets the criteria in this call for papers.
Submissions are limited to a maximum 40,000 word limit (including footnotes). Papers can be committed for publication prior to their submission as long as they are not actually scheduled to be printed prior to August 9, 2016. Each professor may submit only one paper for consideration. No papers will be accepted after the deadline and the submission of an incomplete draft may limit participation in this workshop. Paper commentators may include Professors Brad Areheart (Tennessee), Anthony Baldwin (Mercer), Richard Bales (Ohio Northern), Scott Bauries (Kentucky), Theresa Beiner (Arkansas-Little Rock), Miriam Cherry (St. Louis), Brian Clarke (Charlotte), Michael Green (Texas A&M), Wendy Greene (Samford), Stacy Hawkins (Rutgers Camden), Jeff Hirsch (North Carolina), Nancy Levit (Missouri-Kansas City), Natasha Martin (Seattle), Marcia McCormick (St. Louis), Angela Onwuachi-Willig (Iowa), Elizabeth Pendo (St. Louis), Nicole Porter (Toledo), Jessica Roberts (Houston), Veronica Root (Notre Dame), Ani Satz (Emory), Paul Secunda (Marquette), Kerri Stone (Florida International), Michael Waterstone (Loyola), and others to be determined.
Please be aware that selected participants and commentators are responsible for their own travel and lodging expenses related to attending the SEALS Annual Meeting, including the SEALS registration fee. Any inquiries about the SEALS New and Existing Voices in Labor and Employment Law Program should be submitted to Professor Michael Green at the email above.
SEALS is a great conference because it is not overly formal, and people are quite approachable. Also, like many workshops in the labor and employment community, the commentators are usually supportive and really engaged. I always leave with more energy than I had when I arrived. We'll keep you posted on other programming as it's set.
December 17, 2015 in Conferences & Colloquia, Disability, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, Faculty Presentations, International & Comparative L.E.L., Labor Law, Labor/Employment History, Pension and Benefits, Public Employment Law, Religion, Scholarship, Wage & Hour | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, December 7, 2015
How will the Department of Justice (DOJ) defend against an Equal Protection Clause challenge to that part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that excludes “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments” from the statutory term “disability,” 42 U.S.C. § 12211(b)(1) (the “GID exclusion)? When we last talked about Blatt v. Cabela’s Retail, Inc., No. 5:14-cv-04822-JFL (E.D. Pa., filed Aug. 15, 2014) —an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a transgender plaintiff.—DOJ had asked the district judge to avoid the constitutional issue by deciding the plaintiff’s Title VII claim (discrimination because of gender identity) instead of her ADA claim. The district court didn’t buy it and asked DOJ to say more or intervene.
So, a second try. DOJ has a new constitutional-avoidance argument: According to “a growing body of scientific evidence,” gender dysphoria—the plaintiff’s alleged disability—is a gender identity disorder that does “result[ ] from physical impairments.” Therefore, the district court can (and must) read the ADA’s GID exclusion not to apply in this case. The ADA’s definition of disability contemplates impairments as “physical” or “mental”. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A) (“a physical or mental impairment”). DOJ’s key move here is to read the phrase “resulting from physical impairments” in the GID exclusion to not cover “GIDs rooted in biology or physiology, even if the precise etiology is not yet definitively understood,” that is, a GID that “has a physical basis.” Citing various sources in support, including a recent literature review (Saraswat et al., 2015), DOJ concludes: “While no clear scientific consensus appears to exist regarding the specific origins of gender dysphoria (i.e., whether it can be traced to neurological, genetic, or hormonal sources), the current research increasingly indicates that gender dysphoria has physiological or biological roots.”
In response, the defendant-employer agreed that the GID exclusion doesn’t cover gender dysphoria stemming from a physical impairment, but emphasized that the plaintiff hadn’t alleged that her gender dysphoria resulted from a physical impairment. As a result, the defendant’s lawyers wrote, DOJ’s avoidance argument wasn’t “credible”. The plaintiff’s amici—several NGOs that advocate for transgender people’s rights— agreed that DOJ’s position was, in its result, at least consistent with their view that, after the DSM-5, gender dysphoria isn’t a gender identity disorder at all, but a “new diagnosis.” But if not, the amici added, and if DOJ’s view requires a plaintiff in any particular to prove that his or her gender dysphoria does actually result from a physical impairment, then the court can’t avoid the Equal Protection Clause challenge completely. That’s because (1) only transgender plaintiffs would bear that burden of proof; (2) that burden would burn a lot of “attorney resources for discovery and the preparation of expert reports and requiring courts to delve into a thicket of medical evidence and opine on etiology, with the attendant risk of different courts reaching differing results in similar cases”; and (3) if the plaintiff couldn’t meet that burden, the court would then have to decide the constitutional issue. The plaintiff’s lawyers agreed with this view.
What about the plaintiff’s ADA claim based on perceived disability? First Amended Complaint ¶¶ 36, 53. The ADA defines “disability” to include cases in which a person is “regarded as” disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(C). Today, that’s defined to cover a person who suffers discrimination “because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity,” id. § 12102(3)—the result of the ADA Amendments of 2008. So, if the defendant’s alleged illegal conduct had occurred today, maybe DOJ would also say—to make avoidance work—that the GID exclusion doesn’t apply to “regarded-as” ADA claims. (That is, not even when a defendant-employer treats a person adversely because it thinks (erroneously) that a person has a “gender identity disorder” caused by a physical impairment; or thinks (erroneously, in DOJ’s view) that a person has a “gender identity disorder” caused by a mental impairment; or thinks a person has a “gender identity disorder” but doesn’t know or care whether that condition has a mostly physical or mostly mental etiology.) But the alleged illegal conduct in Blatt took place before the ADA amendments of 2008. Back then, the Third Circuit had required that, for a regarded-as claim, the plaintiff’s perceived disability would, if true, count as an “impairment” under the ADA, see Rinehimer v. Cemcolift, Inc., 292 F.3d 375, 381 (3d. Cir. 2002).
Maybe we’ll find out soon how DOJ’s second try at avoidance will fare. Oral argument on the defendant’s partial motion in Blatt is scheduled for this Thursday (Dec. 10).
--- Sachin Pandya
Monday, November 23, 2015
When does paying workers via tips count as illegal employment discrimination? Arguments against tip compensation--around for a while (e.g., Scott, 1916)---re-emerged last month (e.g., here and here) after restauranteur Danny Meyer (like some others) decided to ban tipping and raise prices instead. One of these anti-tipping arguments: Customers of all races tend to tip black restaurant servers far less than white restaurant servers, even after controlling for service quality (Lynn et al. 2008; Brewster & Lynn, 2014). In turn, some (e.g., Lynn et al., 2008, p. 1057-58) suggest that such a race disparity in tips exposes employers to Title VII disparate-impact liability. That liability applies if a defendant-employer “uses a particular employment practice that causes a disparate impact on the basis of” race or sex, among other characteristics, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)(1)(A)(i), regardless of “the employer's motives and whether or not he has employed the same practice in the past,” Lewis v. City of Chicago, 560 U.S. 205, 217 (2010).
So, can a race disparity caused by tip compensation amount to Title VII disparate impact liability? There isn’t much litigation on this issue, but the answer is yes, if we treat tips just like bonuses, commissions, and other kinds of compensation practices used to pay an amount on top of base pay—practices that, according to the EEOC (Title VII’s federal agency enforcer), may generate disparate-impact liability. EEOC Compliance Manual § 10(III)(C)(2).
Although Wang (2014, p. 157-58) doubts it, it’s pretty easy to conclude that a race disparity in tips is caused by the employer’s use of a “particular employment practice.” But for tip compensation, there can’t be a tip disparity. Sure, employers don’t control how much their customers tip. But employers do decide whether part of a worker’s pay comes from tips, instead of, say, imposing a flat service charge. Besides, customer race bias can’t excuse an employer’s legal responsibility for causing a race disparity in tips. In general, Title VII does not excuse employers who defer to their customers’ racial preferences.
Wang also suggests that a court might treat a disparate-impact challenge to tip compensation—which partly leaves worker pay to customer discretion—like the challenged policy upheld in Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541, 2554-57 (2011), which left worker pay and promotion to local store managers’ discretion. But Wal-Mart—a class action lawsuit—mostly turned on an issue of federal class action procedure. See, e.g., Gschwind v. Heiden, 692 F.3d 844, 848 (7th Cir. 2012); Tabor v. Hilti, Inc., 703 F.3d 1206, 1221-22 & n. 8 (10th Cir. 2013). So, Wal-Mart might matter in a Title VII disparate-impact class action filed in federal court against a restaurant chain that lets each restaurant’s local manager decide whether to adopt tip compensation there. But Wal-Mart doesn’t stop a court from saying that an employer who adopts tip compensation thereby “uses a particular employment practice” under Title VII.
There is, however, no hard and fast rule about how big a race disparity in tips has to be for a court to declare Title VII liability. And whatever any individual employee collects in tips, any resulting race disparity in tip income—what workers take home—might differ depending on how the employer engages in tip pooling. Although collected tips belong to the employee, see 29 C.F.R. § 531.52; see also, e.g., Cal. Labor Code § 351; NY Labor Law § 196-d, under certain conditions, an employer can redistribute the tips among a set of employees, see 29 C.F.R. § 531.54; see also, e.g., Avidor v. Sutter's Place, 212 Cal. App. 4th 1439, 1449-50 (6th Dist. 2013); 12 NYCRR § 146-2.16. Which employees get to join a tip pool can be complicated, but since 2011, the US Department of Labor (DOL) reads the Fair Labor Standards Act to “not impose a maximum contribution percentage on valid mandatory tip pools.” 29 C.F.R. § 531.54. (DOL had set a maximum of 15% of an employee’s tips, but it changed tack after some courts rejected it. See 76 Fed. Reg. 18832-01, 18839 (2011). How far DOL may regulate tip pooling is disputed. See, e.g., Oregon Restaurant and Lodging v. Solis, No. 13-35765 (9th Cir., appeal submitted July 10, 2015)).
As the tip-pool contribution percentage increases, any race disparity in tip income likely decreases. Accordingly, in some cases, there may be a big enough disparity in tips collected but the disparity in tip income (after tip-pooling) is too small. Title VII, however, says that a plaintiff has to show that “each particular challenged employment practice” causes a disparate impact, unless she can show that an employer’s “decisionmaking process” can’t be separated for analysis. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)(1)(B)(i). This implies that if a plaintiff can prove that tip compensation (the challenged practice) causes a big enough race disparity in tips collected, that’s enough, whether or not the disparity in tip income (after those tips are pooled) is big enough, too. Tip compensation and tip pooling are practices that can be analyzed separately. An employer can adopt tip compensation without tip pooling. Some do.
Once the plaintiff proves the requisite disparate impact, the employer has several defenses, including that its tip compensation practice is “job related for the position and consistent with business necessity,” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)(1)(A)(i), a “bona fide . . . merit system,” or “a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production,” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(h). For all these, the employer bears the burden of proving that, at bottom, tipping really relates pay to job performance. The problem for employers: In general, past studies suggest that, even after controlling for service quality, tips substantially vary with, among other things, a server’s race (e.g., Brewster & Lynn, 2014) or physical attractiveness (e.g., Parrett, 2015). That doesn’t settle the matter, because the defendant’s restaurant may be the odd case in which tips do measure job performance pretty well. But, in Title VII litigation, it’s the defendant-employer’s burden to prove that, not the plaintiff’s. And what counts as good job performance is an objective inquiry, not whatever the employer sincerely believes.
Similarly, using tips as a proxy for job performance is, by itself, hardly a bona fide “merit system.” According to the EEOC, a merit system involves evaluating employee job performance “at regular intervals according to predetermined criteria, such as efficiency, accuracy, and ability.” EEOC Compliance Manual § 10(IV)(F)(1) (discussing parallel defense in Equal Pay Act). Similarly, tips don’t really measure the “quantity or quality of production.” This defense covers not just piece-rate-compensation for making goods, but also compensation for services, such as securities-broker bonuses. See McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 694 F.3d 873, 882 (7th Cir. 2012). Even for broker bonuses, this defense may not apply if “for example, black brokers were receiving systematically poorer reviews than their white counterparts who performed substantially similar work, and the reviews determined compensation.” Id. Here, in any particular case, an employer can’t assume that tips accurately measure the “quality of production” (service quality). Instead, the employer must prove that they really do. Facing this possibility, some employers may want just to ban tipping instead.
H/t: Jon Bauer, Peter Siegelman. A version of this essay first appeared at OnLabor.