Archive for category Employment Discrimination Laws

Employment Law Cases To Watch During U.S. Supreme Court’s New Term

The Supreme Court of the United States began its new term on Monday, October 6, 2014. Typically, the Court hears between 60-70 oral arguments per year and reviews approximately another 50-60 more cases on briefs alone. This year, there are two significant employment discrimination cases on the docket.Gavel on court desk

 

 

The first is Young v. United Parcel Service, set to be heard on December 3. In this case, the Court will decide whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) requires an employer that provides work accommodations to non-pregnant employees with work limitations to accommodate pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” The plaintiff is Peggy Young, a UPS delivery driver who became pregnant and whose doctor recommended that she refrain from lifting packages heavier than 20 pounds. UPS denied Young’s request for accommodation, even though the company had a practice of giving light duty assignments to other employees who were temporarily unable to perform their jobs. UPS instead forced Young to take an extended, unpaid leave of absence until she could return to work after child birth. In addition to wages, Young lost her medical insurance during her leave.

Young sued UPS under the PDA, which amended Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act definition of “discrimination” to include discrimination in employment “because or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical expenses.” The district court granted summary judgment, ruling that UPS did not discriminate against Young, because its policy was based on “gender-neutral,” “pregnancy-blind” criteria, such as whether an employee was injured on or off the job. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment, concluding that the plaintiff did not present any direct evidence of pregnancy discrimination.

The second case, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, touches on religious liberty. Teenager Samantha Elauf, a Mulsim, wore a head scarf during her 2008 interview for a position at Abercrombie Kids. Ms. Elauf’s religion was not discussed during the interview. Later, a district manager said that, under the company’s “Look Policy,” employees were not allowed to wear hats to work. Ms. Elauf was then given a low score in the company’s “appearance and sense of style” part of the evaluation, and was not offered a job.

A federal trial judge found the company liable for discrimination, determining that Abercrombie knew Ms. Elauf wore the head scarf for religious reasons. Subsequently, a jury awarded the claimant $20,000 in damages. The appellate court reversed the decision, holding that Ms. Elauf never explicitly notified the company that she had a religious practice that conflicted with company policies. The EEOC said in its petition for review that the ruling could affect civil rights protections in a large number of cases, because job applicants will not always know when their religious practices might present an issue that needs to be addressed with an employer.

Watch this space for details on how the Court rules in these important cases.

Kembra Sexton Taylor

 

 

 

 

Kembra Sexton Taylor, a partner located in the firm’s Frankfort office, practices in the areas of labor and employment, personnel, administrative, regulatory, appellate, and insurance defense law. She has extensive experience in representing clients regarding wage and hour, OSHA, state personnel, and other regulatory matters. She can be reached at taylor@mmlklaw.com or (502) 223-1200.

This article is intended as a summary of federal and state law and does not constitute legal advice.

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More Transparency on Horizon for Federal Contractors

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has issued a proposed rule that would bar federal contractors from firing or discriminating against employees or applicants who discuss their pay, or the pay of their co-workers. The proposal comes after President Obama’s executive order in April, which instructed the DOL to issue a rule requiring pay transparency among federal contractors.

According to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance (“OFCCP,” a sub-agency of the DOL), pursuant to the rule, federal contractors or subcontractors would be banned from firing or otherwise discriminating against any employee or applicant for discussing, disclosing, or inquiring about their compensation or that of any other employee or applicant. The rule would also require that federal contractors include the nondiscrimination provision in their handbooks and manuals. The rule would also add definitions for key words such as “compensation,” “compensation information,” and “essential job functions.”

OFCCP believes that existing pay secrecy policies interfere with the requirement that those who work for federal contractors be compensated for merit and that such policies can lead to decreased worker productivity, due to employees’ decline in trust and motivation. The proposal was published on September 17, 2014, in the Federal Register and is open for comment until December 16, 2014.

In addition to the ban on pay secrecy policies, the DOL also recently proposed another rule which would require most federal contractors and subcontractors annually to submit Equal Pay Reports on employee compensation to OFCCP. The aim of that rule is to collect summary data on how federal contractors and subcontractors pay their employees, with an eye toward identifying potential gender-based and race-based pay disparities.

In anticipation of these rules becoming final, employers should review and revise current compensation systems with legal counsel. Compensation disparity issues should be identified and addressed immediately in order to minimize future risks.

B. Koch

 

 

 

 

Brittany Blackburn Koch is an associate attorney practicing in the Lexington office of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC. She is a native of Pikeville, Kentucky, and a graduate of Centre College and the University of Kentucky College of Law. Ms. Koch’s practice focuses primarily on family law, employment law, criminal law and civil litigation. She may be reached at bkoch@mmlk.com or at (859) 231-8780, ext. 300.

This article is intended as a summary of  federal and state law and does not constitute legal advice.

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EEOC Sues Home Care Agency for GINA Violation

On September 17, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a press release announcing it is suing BNV Home Care Agency, Inc. (“BNV”) for practices that are prohibited by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”).

GINA prevents employers from requesting genetic information, including family medical history, or using that information in the hiring process. According to the release, BNV asked for family medical history from a class of thousands of applicants and employees through an “Employee Health Assessment” form. BNV applicants were required to complete the form after a job offer was made, but before hire. Employees had to complete the form annually.

Patient Medical History Form

 

BNV should serve as an important reminder that neither employers nor contracted third-party providers (i.e., doctors’ offices that conduct employment-related physicals or tests on the employers’ behalf) should use forms that ask for applicants or employees to disclose family medical history. In January 2014, just ten months after the EEOC filed its first systemic lawsuit alleging violations of GINA against a nursing and rehabilitation care facility, the agency settled the case for $370,000.  At the time, the EEOC warned that, “When illegal questions are required as part of the hiring process, the EEOC will be vigilant in ensuring that no one is denied employment opportunities on a prohibited basis.” In addition, addressing emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, which includes genetic discrimination, is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan. In short, employers can be sure that the EEOC is on high alert for any employment practices that may violate GINA.

Don’t risk the legal liability. If you are an employer and have questions about GINA or your employment-related forms, contact a McBryer attorney today.

B. Johnson

 

 

 

 

Brandon K. Johnson is an Associate in the Louisville, KY office of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC. Mr. Johnson practices primarily in the areas of insurance defense, employment law, and general litigation. He can be reached at bjohnson@mmlk.com or at (502) 327-5400.

This article is intended as a summary of state and federal law and does not constitute legal advice.

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The EEOC in 2014

Last year was a record-breaking year for the Equal Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), which obtained approximately $372 million for workers alleging workplace discrimination. In the EEOC’s annual report, the agency asked for $75 million to support their litigation efforts in 2014…thus, they show no sign of slowing down. According to EEOC Commissioner Constance Barker, “Since we’ve got so much authority delegated to the agency’s general counsel, 2013 really became the year of litigation, and I think 2014 will continue that trend…I think private companies ought to expect to see more aggressive use of the litigation process, more aggressive pursuit of systemic discrimination cases and more cases bypassing the commission’s review and vote.”

The EEOC is approximately halfway through its FY 2012-2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”), which is a road map for the agency’s enforcement and litigation strategy. The SEP identifies six major priorities for the Commission, including:

  1. Eliminate barriers in recruitment and hiring.
  2. Protect immigrants, migrants, and other vulnerable workers.

3. Address emerging & developing issues. Specifically, these three:

    1. Reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
    2. Accommodation for pregnancy-related limitation under the ADA and Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
    3. Coverage of LGBT individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions.

4. Enforce equal pay laws.

5. Preserve and improve access to the legal system.

6. Prevent harassment.

It is my prediction that the EEOC will focus heavily on sexual orientation and gender discrimination in the coming year and begin pursuing more genetic discrimination cases pursuant to GINA, which was passed several years ago but is now just becoming a hot-button topic.

If you are an employer and would like more information about policies and best practices that can help protect you and your business from EEOC claims, contact an employment law attorney today.

Cindy Effinger

 

 

 

 

 

Cynthia L. Effinger, an Associate of the firm, joined McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC in 2012. Ms. Effinger has a broad range of legal experience gained through 13 years of practice throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky where her clients conduct business. Ms. Effinger’s practice is concentrated in the areas of employment law and commercial litigation. She also has experience with First Amendment litigation, securities litigation and complex litigation. Ms. Effinger can be reached at ceffinger@mmlk.com or at (502) 327-5400, ext. 316.

This article is intended as a summary of state and federal law and does not constitute legal advice.

 

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A Review of the EEOC in 2013

One of the best ways that employers can know what liability risks they are most likely to encounter in any given year is to review what an agency was targeting in the previous year and to review the agency’s work plan. I recently reviewed some 2013 statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) that are worth sharing:

  • The EEOC resolved 209 merits lawsuits in federal district courts last year. Of these resolutions, 135 contained Title VII claims, 59 contained Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims, 16 contained Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) claims, four contained Equal Pay Act (EPA) claims, and one contained Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) claims.
  • Thirteen EEOC cases made it to trial. Eleven of these trials were heard before juries.  The EEOC was victorious in nine of the 11 jury trials, resolved one by consent decree, and lost the remaining bench trial.
  • In the case, EEOC v. Hill Country Farms, Inc. (S.D. Iowa), a jury found that a company had subjected 32 intellectually disabled men to verbal and physical harassment, harsh living conditions, and other abuses for 2 years. In this case, the EEOC obtained the largest award in its history – over $240 million.
  • The Commission just launched the Systemic Watch List, a software application designed to coordinate the investigation of multiple charges filed against the same employer involving similar issues. As designed, when a new charge is filed that matches another ongoing investigation or lawsuit, the program issues an automatic alert to staff working on the case.

To say that the EEOC was busy in 2013 is an understatement. Perhaps the most impressive statistic is this: despite a furlough and hiring freeze due to the sequester, the EEOC still brought in more money in 2013 for aggrieved workers (about $372 million) than in any other year in the agency’s history. So, what are the EEOC’s priorities this year? Check back on Wednesday for some more information about what we can expect from the Commission.

Cindy Effinger

 

 

 

 

 

Cynthia L. Effinger, an Associate of the firm, joined McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC in 2012. Ms. Effinger’s practice is concentrated in the areas of employment law and commercial litigation. She also has experience with First Amendment litigation, securities litigation and complex litigation. Ms. Effinger may be reached at (502) 327-5400, ext. 316 or ceffinger@mmlk.com.

This article is intended as a summary of  state and federal law and does not constitute legal advice.

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The Use of Background Checks in Hiring Procedures

The Sixth Circuit (encompassing Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee and Ohio) recently sent a strong message that baseless suits against employers will not survive summary judgment. The case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Kaplan Higher Education Corp. et al., No. 13-3408 (6th Cir., Apr. 9, 2014), involved the use of credit checks in hiring decisions.

The employer and defendant in the case, Kaplan, had a practice of running credit checks on potential employees applying for certain positions. The purpose, according to Kaplan, was to screen out applicants who may be tempted by financial pressures to commit unlawful acts. In 2010, the EEOC sued Kaplan for this practice, alleging that the use of credit history in making hiring decisions has a disparate impact on African American applicants, therefore violating Title VII. Kaplan argued that their practice was unrelated to race, was necessary for certain jobs that involve access to student loan information, and was instituted after former employees misappropriated student payments.

During the discovery process, Kaplan learned that the EEOC uses the same type of background checks for its own applicants. According to the EEOC personnel handbook, an employee’s personal “debts increase temptation to commit illegal or unethical acts as a means of gaining funds to meet financial obligations.” Despite this finding, the EEOC proceeded with litigation. In 2013, the Federal District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Kaplan.

In conjunction with its award of summary judgment, the District Court rejected EEOC’s expert witness and his disparate impact theory. In fact, the court found that the expert’s methodology (which consisted of using a “race rating” system that involved identifying race through driver’s license photos to assess the effect of Kaplan’s credit check system) was unscientific and failed the requirements for admissibility of expert testimony.

The case proceeded to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the Court affirmed the District Court’s holdings. In a, seven page opinion, the Court criticized the EEOC for bringing suit that hinged on the basis of “homemade methodology, crafted by a witness with no particular expertise to craft it, administered by persons with no particular expertise to administer it, tested by no one, and accepted only be the witness himself.”

Nevertheless, employers must be cautious when using background checks in the hiring process, so as to avoid unintentional discrimination. The EEOC has identified one of its six priorities for the upcoming year as “eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring.” As part of this initiative, EEOC seeks to curtail employers’ use of credit checks. Accordingly, employers should look to their policies and seek advice of counsel to ensure that the use of background checks does not have a discriminatory purpose or impact.

If you would like more guidance on best hiring practices, contact a McBrayer employment law attorney today.

Preston Worley

 

 

 

 

 

 Preston Clark Worley is an associate with McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC. Mr. Worley concentrates his practice in employment law, land development, telecommunications, real estate and affordable housing. He is located in the firm’s Lexington office and can be reached at pworley@mmlk.com or at (859) 231-8780.

This article is intended as a summary of  state and federal law and does not constitute legal advice.

 

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“Sex-Plus” Discrimination Equals Possible Liability, Part II

On Monday, we discussed the Shazor v. Prof’l Transit Mgmt., Ltd. case. The Sixth Circuit held that an African American woman had triable race and sex discrimination claims under Title VII even though she was replaced with a Hispanic female. In other words, in a “sex-plus” case such as Shazor’s, an employer is not permitted to undermine a black female’s prima facie case by showing that “white women and African American men received the same treatment” as the plaintiff.

Once the court found Shazor had established a prima facie case of discrimination, PTM argued that it had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing Shazor based on the alleged lies she made.  The court ruled that Shazor raised a material factual dispute about whether this reason was pretextual (meaning, that the nondiscriminatory reason offered by PTM was really just given to cover up their true motives), and that the company could not avail itself of the “honest belief” doctrine because it failed to adequately investigate Shazor’s alleged lies.

There are several lessons to be learned from Shazor. First, discrimination claims can be based on an intersection of two or more protected categories.  For employers, this means that they should take precautions to ensure employment decisions are based on legitimate reasons – not discriminatory intentions..

Second, employment decisions should always be well-supported by reasonable investigation. Shazor’s supervisor, Tom Hock, spoke to only one person about Shazor’s alleged lies, and this single conversation did not establish sufficient facts about the truth (or lack of it) behind her statements. Had Hock conducted, and documented, a more thorough investigation, PTM may have been able to prove a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing Shazor.

Lastly, and this should really go without saying by now, but watch what you put in emails! Shazor successfully argued that the emails referring to her as a “helluva bitch” and a “prima donna” were really code for “angry black woman” or “uppity black woman.” Although workplace emails are increasingly replacing face-to-face conversations, management should never put something in writing that they would not want to be introduced as evidence in court. Keep employee-related discussions private and, better yet, never use derogatory or discriminatory language when referring to employees.

Shazor signifies that intersectional “sex-plus” claims are viable in the Sixth Circuit and that employers can never be too careful when it comes to making adverse employment decisions.

Amy Cubbage

 

 

 

Amy D. Cubbage is Of Counsel in the Louisville office of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC. She concentrates her practice in litigation in the areas of employment, complex tort and commercial litigation, including class actions, toxic torts and mass torts. Ms. Cubbage may be reached at (502) 327-5400, ext. 308 or acubbage@mmlk.com.

This article is intended as a summary of  state and federal law and does not constitute legal advice.

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