Discrimination Law

Fourth Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment in Third Party Harassment Claim

Posted on May 16, 2014

In a recent decision, the Fourth Circuit has joined other circuits in holding that a negligence standard applies to third party harassment claims under Title VII, an issue the United States Supreme Court has yet to reach.  In Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp., et al., No. 131481 (4th Cir. April 29, 2014), the Fourth Circuit concluded that a black female former employee had triable racial and sexual harassment claims under Title VII based on evidence that her employer failed to respond adequately to harassment from a customer.…

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Fourth Circuit Rules That Retirement Plan Violates ADEA

Posted on April 18, 2014

Just a few weeks ago, the Fourth Circuit weighed in on the question of whether an employee retirement benefit plan maintained by Baltimore County discriminated against employees based on their age by requiring older employees to pay a greater percentage of their salaries based on their ages at the time of enrollment in the plan. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baltimore County, No. 13-1106 (4th Cir. March 31, 2014), the Fourth Circuit ruled that such a plan did unlawfully discriminate against workers based on age and thus violated the ADEA.…

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New Guidance From EEOC on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace

Posted on March 14, 2014

Last week, the EEOC issued two new technical assistance publications related to workplace rights and responsibilities regarding religious dress and grooming under Title VII. The two publications issued by the EEOC are a question and answer guide, titled “Religious Garb in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities” and a fact sheet to accompany this publication (found at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_religious_garb_grooming.cfm). According to the EEOC press release regarding these publications, religious discrimination charges have been steadily increasing and the EEOC received 3721 charges asserting religious discrimination in fiscal year 2013.…

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Tenth Circuit Tackles Supervisor Issue

Posted on February 28, 2014

In Vance v. Ball State Univ., 133 S.Ct. 2434, 2441 (2013), the Supreme Court resolved a conflict among the circuits regarding what level of authority a harasser must have in order to qualify as a supervisor under Title VII in the context of a claim of sexual harassment.  However, there remain questions as to how to apply the Supreme Court’s directive in Vance.  Just this week, the Tenth Circuit addressed some of these issues in Kramer v. Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office, et al., No. 12-4058 (February 25, 2014), finding that a bailiff’s immediate supervisor who had engaged in egregious acts of sexual harassment toward her could be a supervisor under Title VII.…

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A Sufficiently Severe Temporary Impairment May Constitute a Disability

Posted on January 31, 2014

There is no question that the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA") broadened the meaning of “disability and provide employees even greater protection under the ADA. However, there remain some areas of uncertainty with regard to this new, broader definition. One such question was how the permanence of an impairment (or lack thereof) would affect the disability determination. The Fourth Circuit addressed this issue head on in Summers v. Altarum Institute, Corp., No. 13-1645 (4th Cir. January 23, 2014) and, while noting that it was the first appellate court to apply the expanded definition of “disability” under the ADAAA, concluded that a severe temporary impairment can constitute a disability.…

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A Reminder That Employees May Have to Pay for Bringing Unsuccessful Discrimination Claims

Posted on January 24, 2014

We all know that Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a prevailing party is entitled to costs (not including attorneys’ fees) unless a federal statute, the rules themselves, or a court order provides otherwise. The district court has the discretion to deny the award of costs, but must articulate some good reason for such a denial. Often, in employment discrimination cases, employees claim they shouldn’t be required to pay attorneys’ fees on the grounds of financial inability. In Arthur v. Pet Dairy and Land-O-Sun Dairies, LLC, No. 6:11-cv-00042 (W.D.Va. 2013), a judge in the Western District of Virginia rejects exactly this kind of argument from an unsuccessful plaintiff, finding that the plaintiff’s claims that he was unable to pay were too “tenuous” to justify denying the defendant’s request for costs.…

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It Isn’t All About the Ultimate Decisionmaker—Fourth Circuit Vacates Summary Judgment in Favor of Employer in ADEA Case

Posted on January 8, 2014

As employers, we often focus on what knowledge was in the hands of the ultimate decisionmaker at the time a crucial employment decision is made.  However, as the Fourth Circuit reminds us in its decision in Harris v. Powhatan County School Board, No. 12-2091, the knowledge and intent of those who have the power and ability to influence those decisionmakers also must be considered and can support a claim for discrimination. Alexander Harris was a seventy-two-year-old African American custodial worker whose position as a custodial worker for the Powhatan County School System was eliminated in 2009 after fifty-two years of employment.…

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