Thursday, October 2, 2014
The Supreme Court granted cert in a number of cases today as a result of its long conference, including EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch. The cert question is this:
Whether an employer can be liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for refusing to hire an applicant or discharging an employee based on a “religious observance and practice” only if the employer has actual knowledge that a religious accommodation was required and the employer's actual knowledge resulted from direct, explicit notice from the applicant or employee.
The district court had denied A & F's motion for summary judgment and granted the EEOC's, holding that, as a matter of law, A & F had failed to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an applicant for employment. The Tenth Circuit reversed, remanding and ordering the district court to enter summary judgment for A & F. The applicant, a young Muslim woman, wore a hijab, a head covering, and although the store manager recommended she be hired, a district manager decided that because she wore the hijab, she should not. He determined that the hijab would not comply with the company's "Look Policy."
The Tenth Circuit held that summary judgment for A & F was proper because the applicant "never informed Abercrombie prior to its hiring decision that she wore her headscarf or 'hijab' for religious reasons and that she needed an accommodation for that practice, due to a conflict between the practice and Abercrombie’s clothing policy." Interestingly, the store manager assumed that the applicant wore her hijab for religious reasons and never raised the issue during the interview. She also did not suggest that there might be a conflict between that practice and the "Look Policy," which the applicant otherwise could easily comply with.
The Court also granted cert in another case that might have implications for employment discrimination. The question in Texas Dep't of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusiveness Project is whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act. The Fifth Circuit did not consider that question in the case. Instead, it followed its prior precedent that they were cognizable, and held that the legal standard to be used should be the regulations adopted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
So, overall, this term is shaping up to be another blockbuster for employment and labor. Here is a roundup.
Cases that directly deal with employment and labor questions:
- Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, a whistleblower/retaliation case
- Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under the FLSA as amended by the Portal to Portal Act.
- M&G Polymers v. Tackett, a case about presumptions related to interpretation of CBAs on retiree health benefits under the LMRA.
- Mach Mining v. EEOC, whether and to what extent the courts can enforce the EEOC's duty to conciliate before filing suit.
- Tibble v. Edison, Int'l, an ERISA case involving the duty of prudence and the limitations period for bringing claims.
- Young v. UPS, whether light duty accommodations only for on-the-job injuries violates Title VII as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
And there is one additional case that might have implications for religious accommodations in the workplace. Holt v. Hobbs, which concerns whether a department of corrections policy that prohibits beards violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act insofar as it prohibits a man from growing a one-half-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.
October 2, 2014 in Beltway Developments, Employment Discrimination, Labor and Employment News, Labor Law, Labor/Employment History, Pension and Benefits, Public Employment Law, Religion, Wage & Hour, Worklife Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Just a friendly reminder from conference organizers, Melissa Hart and Scott Moss at the University of Colorado Law School, that the deadline to register to attend, and/or present a paper at, the 9th Annual Labor and Employment Scholars Colloquium is Friday, August 1, 2014. The Colloquium is scheduled in Boulder between September 11-13, 2014.
You can register and submit a paper proposal at this link:
June 12, 2014 in About This Blog, Arbitration, Conferences & Colloquia, Disability, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, Faculty Presentations, International & Comparative L.E.L., Labor Law, Pension and Benefits, Public Employment Law, Religion, Scholarship, Teaching, Wage & Hour, Worklife Issues, Workplace Safety, Workplace Trends | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, April 24, 2014
From conference organizers Scott Moss and Melissa Hart, at the University of Colorado Law school comes word that registration is open for the Ninth Annual Colloquium on Labor and Employment Law Scholarship. The dates will be September 11th to the 13th in Boulder.
As many of you already know, this is a terrific opportunity to get to know colleagues in an informal setting and exchange ideas as we discuss works-in-progress. Past participants likely would agree that the friendly, low-key atmosphere and productive sessions, as well as the chance to socialize with our colleagues, make this gathering especially fun and valuable.
The Colloquium will follow the familiar format. We will workshop papers all day Friday through Saturday afternoon. Exact times TBD; check the event webpage for updates as the Colloquium approaches.
To register, click here.
April 24, 2014 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, Worklife Issues, Workplace Safety, Workplace Trends | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
(Photo credit The Individualist Feminist) Happy Equal Pay Day, the day that women's pay catches up to men's from last year. The gap is currently 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, but that does not account for racial differences. Black women only make 64 cents to every dollar a white man makes. For Latina women, it’s 54 cents. President Obama's new workplace orders are heartily applauded by those of us who think that something other than women's fully empowered and free choices are driving this gap.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Monday, March 31, 2014
Brian Clarke (Charlotte) has a very thought provoking piece at Faculty Lounge on lawyers and mental health. The figures on lawyers and depression are particularly horrifying. This is just the first of a planned three-part series, and the second and third installations look to be as good as this one--and so far, even the comments are good. Perhaps law schools and the legal community ought to be more vocal about strategies of self care and its place in our professional lives.
(necklace above available from the Bloggess's online store)
Monday, March 17, 2014
Back 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.
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)
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Deborah Widiss (Indiana-Bloomington) has posted on SSRN her new essay, forthcoming in the Indiana Law Journal: Leveling Up After DOMA.
Here is the abstract:
Even though the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act precluding federal recognition of same-sex marriages has been held unconstitutional, more than half of the nation’s same-sex couples remain ineligible for full federal marriage rights because they live in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. The common response to this problem is to urge Congress to enact a uniform “place of celebration” rule under which any lawful marriage would be recognized as valid for federal purposes, and many federal agencies have adopted this rule in implementing discrete statutes that reference marriage. This approach mitigates the inequity of current policy, but it has significant weaknesses that have not been adequately considered. It requires same-sex couples to travel out-of-state — and often very significant distances — to marry simply to claim federal benefits, imposing an unfair burden on same-sex couples and one which will likely further exacerbate class-based variation in marriage rates. And it increases the risk that some same-sex couples will become trapped in unwanted marriages, because jurisdictional rules typically require couples divorce in their home state and many states refuse to recognize same-sex marriages even to dissolve them.
This invited essay challenges the underlying assumption that state-licensed marriages should continue to be the exclusive mechanism for accessing core federal rights. It advocates instead creation of a federal domestic partner or “marriage” registry available to (at least) same-sex couples wherever they live. This would effectively “level up” federal marriage policy to address the discrimination against same-sex couples left in DOMA’s wake. It also suggests that a federal domestic partner registry could be structured to make at least some federal marriage rights more generally available to unmarried same-sex and different-sex couples who meet specific criteria. Even if, at some point, same-sex couples are permitted to marry in all states and the problem of derivative federal discrimination disappears, broader trends suggest that cohabitation and non-marital childbearing rates will continue to rise. A domestic partner registry could be a vehicle for more fairly and effectively distributing government benefits, rights, and obligations among diverse family forms.
Although not a traditional employment law piece, its premises are very relevant for ERISA, FMLA, and other employment-related issues. A very thought provoking proposal by Deborah, and one that should be considered seriously by policy-makers.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Zak Kramer (Arizona State) has a new paper on SSRN that I can't wait to read. The New Sex Discrimination is an attempt to rationalize our view of sex discrimination, taking into account the reality that people perform their gender identities in different ways. From the abstract:
Sex discrimination law has not kept pace with the lived experience of discrimination. In the early years of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, courts settled on idea of what sex discrimination looks like — formal practices that exclude employees based on their group membership. The problem is that sex discrimination has become highly individualized. Modern sex discrimination does not target all men or all women, nor does it target subgroups of men or women. The victims of modern sex discrimination are particular men and women who face discrimination because they do not or cannot conform to the norms of the workplace. These employees have been shut out of a sex discrimination regime that still expects employees to anchor their claims to a narrative of group subordination.
This paper proposes a new regime for sex discrimination law. The model for the new sex discrimination regime is religious discrimination law. Unlike other areas of employment discrimination law, religious discrimination law offers a dynamic conception of identity and a greater array of different theories of discrimination. Sex discrimination law can and should work this way, too. On a broader level, the paper recalibrates sex discrimination law’s vision of equality. Difference is universal; no two people are the same, and this is a good thing. Thus the central task of sex discrimination law should be to better recognize — and in turn protect — the distinctive ways in which employees express their maleness and femaleness. It is these differences, after all, that shape the way employees experience modern sex discrimination.
Provocative and timely.
Susan Bisom-Rapp (Thomas Jefferson) and Malcolm Sargeant (Middlesex U. Business School, UK) have just posted on SSRN a working draft of their new paper, It's Complicated: Age, Gender, and Lifetime Discrimination Against Working Women—The U.S. and the U.K. as Examples. Susan presented this at the 8th Annual Colloquium on Recent Labor and Employment Law Scholarship held by our friends at UNLV. From the abstract:
This paper considers the effect on women of a lifetime of discrimination using material from both the U.S. and the U.K. Government reports in both countries make clear that women workers suffer from multiple disadvantages during their working lives, which result in significantly poorer outcomes in old age when compared to men. Indeed, the numbers are stark. In the U.S., for example, the poverty rate of women 65 or older is nearly double that of their male counterparts. Older women of color are especially disadvantaged. The situation in the U.K. is comparable. One study, analyzing gender and age group, found that women in the U.K. were at a greater risk of poverty throughout their working lives. That study revealed a significant statistical difference in poverty risk between men and women under the age of 50, which decreased for the 50-64 age group, and then increased dramatically for those 65 and older, resulting in a poverty gap that was more than twice the average for the whole population in the UK.
To capture this phenomenon, this paper develops a model of "Lifetime Disadvantage," which considers the major factors producing unequal outcomes for working women at the end of their careers. One set of factors falls under the heading "Gender-Based Factors." This category concerns phenomena directly connected to social or psychological aspects of gender, such as gender stereotyping and women’s traditionally greater roles in family caring activities. A second set of factors is titled "Incremental Disadvantage Factors." While these factors are connected to gender, that connection is less overt, and the disadvantage they produce increases incrementally over time. The role of law and policy in ameliorating or exacerbating women’s disadvantages is considered in conjunction with each factor, revealing considerable incoherence and regulatory gaps.
An effective and comprehensive regulatory framework could help compensate for these gender-based disadvantages, which accumulate over a lifetime. Using the examples of the U.S. and the U.K., however, we demonstrate that regulatory schemes created by "disjointed incrementalism" (policies that tinker along the margins without considering women’s full life course) are unlikely to vanquish systemic inequality on the scale of gender-based lifetime discrimination.
Really interesting work.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Child abuse has traditionally been viewed as the exclusive province of the child welfare system and the police. But when child abuse accusations are made against an employee, such as a teacher or a childcare worker, it is also an employment law problem. The employer must decide how to respond to the accusations and whether to retain the employee accused of abuse. The employer's role becomes especially important when the child welfare system declines to take action following a report of abuse, or when the alleged conduct is insufficiently abusive to trigger a mandated report to the state.
Ignoring the employment law dimension of child abuse and mistreatment has proven problematic for employers, the accused employees, and the children in their care. Courts and labor arbitrators often inadvertently discourage employers from adopting better internal processes for preventing and mitigating child abuse and mistreatment. Employers who naively defer to child welfare determinations in their contracts and policies can find themselves hamstrung when they later find it necessary to discipline an employee notwithstanding state inaction. Passive employers also harm their employees by failing to provide notice and training on acceptable forms of workplace conduct.
A regulatory system that encourages employers to play a more active role could benefit children and their parents. Workplace-specific policies and practices can be crafted and updated in consultation with the preferences of their constituent parents. Children may be less likely to be harmed where an employer implements robust processes for preventing and addressing abuse and mistreatment.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Although not a traditonal piece of labor and employment law scholarship, David Yamada (Suffolk) has written up a blog post on issues relating to intellectual activism and the role of academics as public intellectuals. It includes, among other things, a link to a short article David recently posted to SSRN, "If It Matters, Write About It: Using Legal Scholarship to Promote Social Change," which discusses how legal scholars can harness their scholarship for change initiatives and discusses some of the advocacy and public education work David has been doing on workplace bullying, unpaid internships, and other topics.
I thought this subject matter would be of interest to many readers of this blog, who through their own work seek to effect social change through intellectual activitism in the labor and employment law context.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Cunningham-Parmeter on Men at Work, Fathers at Home: Uncovering the Masculine Face of Caregiver Discrimination
Despite their many workplace advances, women remain constrained by an enduring social expectation that they will manage their families’ domestic lives. Women will not achieve full workplace equality until men do more at home, and men will not enter the domestic sphere if they face employment retaliation for doing so. Men at Work, Fathers at Home addresses this problem by critically evaluating the legal challenges that fathers and other male caregivers face in proving claims of workplace discrimination. Drawing from Supreme Court precedent and gender theory, the Article explains how masculine norms deter men from asserting their caregiving needs at work, while undermining their ability to prosecute discrimination claims in court. By examining how these men can combat biases against male caregiving, the Article seeks to advance the goal of gender equality for both sexes.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Friend of the blog Marcy Karin (ASU) writes to remind us of a symposium/CLE that readers of the blog will be interested in, especially those of you in the New York area. On Friday, Hofstra's Labor and Employment Law Journal will be holding a symposium on health legislation and the workplace. Forging a Path: Dissecting Controversial Health Legislation in the Workplace. The symposium will take place at Hofstra University Club, David S. Mack Hall, North Campus, Hofstra University, on Friday, November 1, 2013, from 9 am to 3 pm.
The lineup is impressive. Here are the details:
Keynote Speaker: Phyllis Borzi, Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security, U.S. Department of Labor
Panel 1: The Evolution of Anti-Discrimination Disability Laws: Defining Reasonable Accommodation and Disability
- Rick Ostrove ’96, Partner, Leeds Brown Law, PC
- Keith Frank ’89, Partner, Perez & Varvaro
- Marcy Karin, Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Work-Life Policy Unit, Civil Justice Clinic, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University
- Jeffrey Schlossberg ’84, Of Counsel, Jackson Lewis LLP
- E. Pierce Blue, Special Assistant and Attorney Advisor, Office of Commissioner Chai Feldblum, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Panel 2: Workplace Uncertainties Under the ACA: Preparing the Employer and Employee for the Road Ahead
- Jill Bergman, Vice President of Compliance, Chernoff Diamond & Co., LLC
- Steven Friedman, Shareholder and Co-Chair, Employee Benefits Practice Group, Littler Mendelson P.C.
Panel 3: The FMLA 20 Years Later: What Have We Learned and Where Do We Go From Here?
- Robin Runge, Professorial Lecturer in Law, George Washington University Law School
- Rona Kitchen, Assistant Professor of Law, Duquesne University School of Law
- Joseph Lynett, Partner, Jackson Lewis LLP
- Nicole Porter, Professor of Law, The University of Toledo College of Law
Registration is $100 per person. Includes continental breakfast, lunch and CLE credits. Free for Hofstra University students, faculty, staff and administrators.
Sponsored by: Littler Mendelson P.C.
October 30, 2013 in Conferences & Colloquia, Disability, Employment Discrimination, Faculty Presentations, Pension and Benefits, Scholarship, Worklife Issues, Workplace Trends | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Freeman Guest-Blog Post: Death of an Adjunct Sparks Discussion on the Challenge of Precarious Employment in Higher Ed
I am happy to introduce below a very interesting guest post today by Harris Freeman (Western New England) on the tragic death of an adjunct faculty member at Duquesne and its labor and employment law implications. PS
This past weekend, NPR’s Weekend Edition ran a story on the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, an 83-year old adjunct French professor at Duquesne University, and that school’s refusal to recognize the vote of its adjuncts to unionize. After 25 years of teaching French as an adjunct, Duquesne dismissed Vojtko this past spring; she was earning about $10,000 a year without benefits or health insurance. At the time of her termination, Vojtko, who was undergoing cancer treatment. supported the adjunct union backed by the United Steelworkers. In June, the Duquesne adjuncts, who comprise nearly half the faculty in the school’s liberal arts college, won a an NLRB-sponsored election. Duquesne immediately challenged the vote claiming that its status as a religious institution exempts it from any obligation to bargain with the adjunct union. The NLRB rejected the university’s position, and Duquesne has appealed. Editorials and news articles on Vojtko’s passing and the unionizing effort peppered the Pittsburgh media.
The NPR story went viral on social media, rekindling the longstanding criticisms of labor and many others in higher ed who raise a host of concerns regarding the ballooning number of adjunct faculty that are now essential to the running of most large colleges and universities. The numbers are stark. The American Association of University Professors reported in 2011 that 70% of college faculty worked outside the tenure track; in 1975 it was 43%. Part-time teachers in higher ed number more than 760,000 or about half of the non-tenured teaching faculty. NPR reports average yearly pay for adjuncts, professionals with Ph.Ds, Masters and J.D.s - often itinerant “roads scholars” teaching at multiple institutions – is between $20,000 and $25,000.
In this environment, adjunct organizing keeps gaining steam. This past spring adjunct organizing conferences sponsored by SEIU and the Steelworkers Union occurred respectively, in Boston, a veritable hub of the higher ed industrial complex, and Pittsburgh. In Boston, the home of 13,000 adjuncts, SEIU Local 500 is pursuing a city-wide, cross campus organizing strategy. Already, some larger state university systems, (e.g., University of Massachusetts) have accreted adjuncts into existing faculty unions and some small private colleges (e.g., New School for Social Research, New York; Emerson University, Boston and Georgetown, Washington D.C.) have recognized adjunct unions. In fact, SEIU Local 500 now claims that it represents the majority of adjuncts in the Washington D.C. area.
What may be new is that the current discussion of the work conditions facing adjuncts comes on the heels of a national dialog on the ills of precarious employment that keeps widening as a result of temps, part-timers, and other low-wage employees organizing and speaking out. In recent months, the major news outlets covered job actions and strikes by warehouse temps doing the grunt work for retailers in the global logistics sector and the coordinated protest strikes of low-wage workers employed at America’s ubiquitous fast-food outlets.
This information and these events provide much grist for the teaching mill in any workplace law course and a cautionary tale for all academics. In this context, recall that the ABA is considering removing the requirement of tenure for law school accreditation. The downward pull of precarious work in mainstream labor markets has a long reach that should cause all tenured faculty and others in the academy with some form of job security to take a closer look at what is happening at their law school, college, or university.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) released today guidance (Technical Release 2013–04) defining the meaning of the terms “spouse” and “marriage” under ERISA in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June in U.S. v. Windsor.
Here is the pertinent text from the Technical Release:
In general, where the Secretary of Labor has authority to issue regulations, rulings, opinions, and exemptions in title I of ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, as well as in the Department's regulations at chapter XXV of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the term 'spouse' will be read to refer to any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages. Similarly, the term 'marriage' will be read to include a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law....
The terms 'spouse' and 'marriage,' however, do not include individuals in a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not denominated a marriage under state law, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union, regardless of whether the individuals who are in these relationships have the same rights and responsibilities as those individuals who are married under state law.
DOL Secretary Thomas Perez suggests that the DOL plans to issue additional guidance in the near future.
Orly Lobel (San Diego) is about to release (on Sept. 30, 2013) her new book through Yale University Press: TALENT WANTS TO BE FREE: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free-Riding (Amazon link where to find book).From the press release:In today’s fiercely competitive business environment, the “War for Talent” is one of the most significant organizational challenges of the decade. The term, coined by McKinsey & Company in 1997, describes an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining talented employees in our innovation-driven economy. Today, the talent wars have become characterized by a singular factor: the control of human capital, or, people and the knowledge they carry. The belief is that if an organization can control these assets – that is, if Google, for example, can prevent its employees from defecting to Facebook, taking critical skills knowledge with them – it will acquire an advantage and become a top player in the industry.But in her new book, TALENT WANTS TO BE FREE: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free-Riding (Yale University Press; hardcover; September 24, 2013), University of San Diego Law Professor Orly Lobel argues that we’ve got the logic all wrong. Far from promoting innovation, too much control of talent – through tactics such as harsh non-compete agreements and strict protection of trade secrets, patents, and copyright – backfires and ultimately stifles the very innovation that organizations so desperately seek. Drawing on original research into motivating employee creativity, analysis of recent litigation, and empirical data from economics, psychology, and network science, Lobel explores how the ways in which we fight over talent can either enhance or inhibit the innovative spirit of an organization. Based on her research, as well as well as her experiences consulting for businesses, inventors and entrepreneurs, Lobel offers leaders a new paradigm for managing people and their ideas in the 21st century.
Looks to be a great and timely read and makes a persuasive argument why restrictive covenants in employment may be squelching worker innovativation America needs to complete in the global economy of the 21st Century. Pick up a copy!
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Brishen Rogers (Temple) has just posted on SSRN his new article entitled: Justice at Work: Minimum Wage Laws and Social Equality.
Here is the abstract:
This article develops a new normative defense of minimum wage laws. Existing legal academic debate asks how effectively such laws deliver resources to the working poor compared to transfer programs such as wage subsidies and negative income taxes. Such transfers have clear advantages in terms of redistribution, for they target the poor rather than all workers, and they do not cause unemployment. Legal scholars have therefore criticized minimum wage laws both on utilitarian grounds of aggregate wealth maximization and on liberal egalitarian grounds of fairness toward society’s worst-off.
Accepting for the sake of argument that minimum wage laws cause inefficiency and unemployment, this article nevertheless defends them. It draws upon philosophical arguments that a just state will not simply redistribute resources, but will also enable citizens to relate to one another as equals. Minimum wage laws advance this ideal of “social equality” in two ways: they symbolize the society’s commitment to low-wage workers, and they help reduce work-based class and status distinctions. Comparable tax-and-transfer programs are less effective on both fronts. Indeed, the fact that minimum wage laws increase unemployment can be a good thing, as the jobs lost will not always be worth saving. The article thus stands to enrich current increasingly urgent debates over whether to increase the minimum wage. It also recasts some longstanding questions of minimum wage doctrine, including exclusions from coverage and ambiguities regarding which parties are liable for violations.
As Congress will no doubt be debating the raising the minimum wage soon, Brishen provides an excellent argument for why the US should follow an approach that embraces both an increase in the minimum wage (to a level beyond poverty wages) and a wage subsidy in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or something similar. As Robert Reich recently argued on YouTube, both a higher minimum wage and EITC are an essential part of rebuilding this nation's economy with better paying jobs. Brishen's article provides another important justification for raising the minimum wage.
Friday, May 31, 2013
In the first circuit court of appeals decision on the issue, the Fifth Circuit, in EEOC v. Houston Funding II held yesterday that discriminating against an employee because she is lactating or expressing milk is sex discrimination. The decision reversed summary judgment in favor of the employer and remanded the case to the district court. We reported on the district court decision here, and you might recall that the district court had held that lactation was not a condition related to pregnancy because it did not start until pregnancy had ended.
The Fifth Circuit's decision held that lactation was a medical condition related to pregnancy and childbirth because it was a physiological state caused by pregnancy and subsequent childbirth. It further relied on prior circuit precedent, which had held that menstruation, a normal part of female physiology, was a condition related to pregnancy and childbirth:
Menstruation is a normal aspect of female physiology, which is interrupted during pregnancy, but resumes shortly afterthe pregnancy concludes. Similarly, lactation is a normal aspect of female physiology that is initiated by pregnancy and concludes sometime thereafter. If an employer commits unlawful sex-based discrimination by instituting a policy revolving around a woman’s postpregnancy menstrual cycle, as in Harper, it is difficult to see how an employer who makes an employment decision based upon whether a woman is lactating can avoid such unlawful sex discrimination. And as both menstruation and lactation are aspects of female physiology that are affected by pregnancy, each seems readily to fit into a reasonable definition of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”
In a footnote in this section, the court distinguished cases about whether a failure to accommodate an employee who wanted to express milk at work in a particular way violated Title VII. Title VII does not require accommodations for women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, just that those women be treated the same as other employees who may be similar in their ability or inability to work. So if the employer never allows employees to take breaks, it may not be required by Title VII to allow lactating women to take breaks, for example.
This case was not about whether the employer had to accommodate the employee's request to use her breast pump at work, or at least not yet. Instead, it was about whether she was fired just for saying that she had said was lactating and wanted to express milk at work. She hadn't asked for any special accommodation yet. The employer doesn't exactly deny that; instead, it contends that she was not fired at all and instead abandoned her job.
This decision is an important development in the area of sex discrimination in sex-specific contexts. The accommodation framing seems somewhat problematic, though. It seems too easy to see a request related to expressing milk as something special, disregarding the kinds of actions employees simply take without requesting or requests that employees make all of the time that aren't viewed as accommodating. For example, even workplaces with rigid requirements about where employees must be and for how long (think a factory production line or cash register at a store) often provide breaks for employees to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, or just rest for a few minutes. If an employee uses one of these breaks for some other purpose, it seems problematic to suddenly frame it as an accommodation.
With the amendment of the FLSA to require that most employers provide reasonable breaks and facilities to allow lactating women to express milk, perhaps this issue will fade, but it still says a lot about what we view as the "norm" to talk about accommodating pregnant or lactating women, when we don't talk about accommodating people with full bladders.
h/t N. William Metke, @metkelaw