Does an employee have to specifically ask for a religious accommodation?
The United States Supreme Court heard argument this past week on this very issue in the case of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., a case appealed from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Samantha Elauf was a teenager in Tulsa, Oklahoma who applied to work at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in 2008. Elauf, a Muslim, wore her headscarf (“hijab”) to the interview. Abercrombie has a “not hats” policy for sales associates and thus did not hire Elauf. Of course, Title VII prohibits denying employment based on a religious practice, unless accommodating the practice would impose a substantial burden. The EEOC brought a lawsuit on Elauf’s behalf and won in federal district court, but then the Tenth Circuit reversed the decision, agreeing with Abercrombie’s argument that it was not required to give Elauf a religious accommodation because she had not specifically asked for one (basically never told Abercrombie that she wore her hijab for religious reasons).…READ MORE
DOL Amends Definition of Spouse in FMLA Regulations
The big news from the Department of Labor this week was the amendment of the definition of “spouse” in the regulations applying the FMLA. Of course, in 2013, the Supreme Court found that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) was unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___ (2013). Following this decision, President Obama directed the Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to implement the decision, including as it related to federal benefits and programs. Soon after, the DOL announced that under the definition of spouse at that time, eligible employees would be able to take leave under the FMLA to care for a same-sex spouse, but only if the employee resided in a state in which same-sex marriage was recognized.…READ MORE
Watch Out for Age-based Commentary
Is calling an employee “old man” discriminatory? It could be--just yesterday, the EEOC announced that Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $150,000 and provide other relief to a resolve an age and disability lawsuit filed by the EEOC on behalf of an employee. The EEOC charged that Wal-Mart discriminated against the employee by subjecting him to harassment, discriminatory treatment, and discharge because of his age and refused to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability.…READ MORE
The stats are in—retaliation continues to top the list of charges filed with the EEOC
On February 4, 2015, the EEOC released its data regarding 2014 charges. In fiscal year 2014, 88,778 charges of workplace discrimination were filed with the EEOC. Apparently, the number of charges filed was actually down a little from recent fiscal years, but the EEOC attributes this, at least in part, to the government shutdown during the reporting period. Retaliation charges top the list yet again. In fiscal year 2014, 42.8% of all charges filed with the EEOC were for retaliation. This is the highest percentage to date. The second most common charge was race discrimination, making up 35% of the charges. Sex discrimination claims (including pregnancy and sexual harassment) accounted for 29.3% of the charges. Disability claims made up 28.6% and age discrimination claims made up 23.2% of the charges. National origin claims accounted for 10.8% of the charges and the remaining 8.6% of the charges included discrimination claims based on religion (4%), color (3.1%) and claims under the Equal Pay Act (1.1%) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (.4%). What does this mean for employers? The danger of retaliation claims continues to grow. We need to continue to make sure managers and supervisors are aware of the implications of a complaint about discrimination or harassment—and that they know to report it up the line so that appropriate action can be taken in terms of investigating and responding to the complaint, but also so that we can insure that no inappropriate action is taken because of the complaint.…READ MORE
If an employee underreports his time—and his employer knows about it—can the employer use that conduct to get around liability for unpaid overtime under the FLSA?
What if an employee does not keep accurate time records in violation of company policy? Is an employer able to shift the blame onto the employee for any resulting unpaid overtime? In a recent decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the court found that if the employer knows that the employee is underreporting his time in this way, it cannot rely upon his failure to comply with company policy regarding time records as a defense to a FLSA claim. Bailey v. TitleMax of Georgia, Inc., No. 14-11747 (11th Cir. January 15, 2015).…READ MORE
What if an employee quits before hearing us out on our response to her reasonable accommodation request? Is my company liable?
No—according to a recent decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeals. EEOC v. Kohl’s Department Store, Inc., No. 14-1268 (1st Cir. Dec. 19, 2014). If an employee quits when she gets a negative response to her request for accommodation and fails to actually participate in the interactive process, the employer does not face liability. In this case, an employee suffering from type I diabetes worked for Kohl’s as a sales associate. The employee made a request for a particular type of accommodation related to her disability, which involved a particular schedule. Kohl’s was not willing to agree to the schedule outlined by the employee, but was willing to talk about other schedule options. But, before they could continue the conversation with the plaintiff, she stormed out and quit (and ignored Kohl’s later efforts to contact her and resume the discussion). The First Circuit found that Kohl’s was not liable.…READ MORE
Punitive Damages Allowed in Title VII Case Even Where Only Nominal Damages Awarded
Title VII allows both compensatory and punitive damages and there is a statutory cap that applies, depending upon the size of the employer ($300,000 in the case of employers with more than 500 employees). 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. In a sexual harassment case before the Ninth Circuit, the question was whether punitive damages are available in a case where a jury has awarded only nominal damages in the amount of $1.00 and not compensatory damages. The Ninth Circuit, ruling en banc, overruled a prior panel decision and decided that an award of punitive damages in this case would be permissible and would not violate due process. Arizona v. ASARCO LLC, No. 11-1784 (9th Cir. Dec. 10, 2014).…READ MORE
Court Refuses to Approve Settlement of FLSA Collective Action
One of the unique features of a FLSA action is that any settlement must be approved by the court. At times, this can prove challenging for parties who must not only figure out how to satisfy one another, but how to make sure the court can also get on board with the settlement. In a case recently decided in the Western District of Missouri, the district court refused to approve a FLSA collective action settlement between a group of loan officers and a bank. Branson, et al. v. Pulaski Bank, No. 4:12-CV-01444 (D. Mo. Jan. 12, 2015).…READ MORE
Walmart Sanctioned For Destroying Evidence in Title VII Retaliation Case
What happens if a critical piece of evidence has been destroyed—even if allegedly unintentionally and in the course of regular business? In a recent decision out of the Northern District of Georgia in a Title VII and ADEA retaliation case, the court found that the destruction of the evidence created a presumption that the stated reason for the termination of the plaintiff was pretextual and that retaliation was the but-for cause of the termination. Abdulahi v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., Case No. 1:12cv4330 (N. D. Ga. December 18, 2014).…READ MORE
WDVA Rules No Right to Jury Trial in WARN Act Case
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has not weighed in on whether there is a right to a jury trial under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN”). In a recent case in the Western District of Virginia, Judge James P. Jones ruled that there is no such right either created by statute or under Seventh Amendment. Creech, et al. v. Virginia Fuel Corporation, Case No. 2:14cv0006 (W.D. Va. November 24, 2014).…READ MORE