Judge_Gorsuch_official_portraitA colleague recently brought to my attention a 2014 employment case written by then-Circuit Judge Gorsuch for a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit – a particularly interesting opinion that may give us hints as to how Justice Gorsuch may rule in future employment cases before the Supreme Court.

In Hwang v. Kansas State University, an assistant professor was diagnosed with cancer and received a six-month leave of absence. (In the opinion, Judge Gorsuch specifically noted it was a “(paid) leave.” Whether or not it was paid is irrelevant to the legal analysis, but his express mention of payment suggests approval of the employer’s actions as exceeding the norm). Towards the end of the six months, she requested additional leave of apparently another few months. The University, however, had an inflexible policy limiting leave to six months, and it denied her request. The professor then sued, claiming that the University’s inflexible leave policy violated the Rehabilitation Act. Continue Reading Justice Gorsuch and the ADA?

transgender1600The issue of transgender rights has been the recent focus of much media attention, and Senior Circuit Judge Andre Davis has added an elegant and eloquent contribution to the conversation through his concurring opinion to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s order vacating the preliminary injunction it had previously issued in the case of G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board.

A transgender high school student, G.G. (Gavin Grimm), sued the Gloucester County School Board and asked for a preliminary injunction to allow him to use the bathroom consistent with his transgender status. The federal district court denied the request for preliminary injunction, but on appeal, the Fourth Circuit disagreed and ordered that the injunction be issued. Continue Reading Judge Davis’ Paean to G.G. and Other Brave Individuals Who Opposed Discrimination

moneyAs you may have heard, the Maryland General Assembly has passed a bill that requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide up to 5 days of paid sick leave and smaller employers to provide unpaid sick leave. The bill, known as the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, now heads to the Governor’s desk. Governor Hogan has promised to veto it and the lawmakers state that they will override the veto. But politics aside, what is the actual status of this bill?

There are a number of possible scenarios regarding this bill, which we will discuss in order of likelihood. Continue Reading Maryland’s General Assembly Just Passed Paid Sick Leave – Now What?

Rook with scarfI have previously blogged about the fact that the Family and Medical Leave Act and state counterparts don’t allow employees to take time off to care for an ill or dying pet (see my Pet Bereavement Leave? post here). Recently, however, I heard about a sick leave ordinance – in Emeryville, California – that allows employees to take time off to care for certain animals! So in addition to taking sick leave because of the illness or injury of the employee or the employee’s family member, the employee may also take this leave “to aid or care for a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog”!!! And the dog doesn’t even have to belong to the employee – it can be the family member’s dog! Continue Reading Sick Leave for Your Dog?

moneyI have been watching, with interest and trepidation, the Baltimore City Council’s proposal to raise the minimum wage in the City to $15/hour by 2022. While I certainly understand the desire to “share the wealth” and to ensure a decent living standard, as several Council members have stated, I am very concerned about the unintended consequences of this well-meaning action – particularly on non-profit organizations. Continue Reading Thoughts on the Fight for Fifteen from a Management Lawyer

healthFollowing up on my recent post, “Employer May Change Essential Functions of the Job,” I thought we’d discuss another little-mentioned aspect of essential job functions under the Americans with Disabilities Act – job functions that are rarely performed can still be essential!

As we’ve previously discussed, the ADA protects employees with disabilities who, with or without reasonable accommodations, are able to perform the essential functions of his/her job. The ADA regulations define “essential function” as “a fundamental job duty of a position.” But how do you determine what are the essential functions of a particular job? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which is the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA) and the regulations, the following factors should be taken into account in determining whether a job function is essential: Continue Reading Rarely Performed Job Functions May Still Be “Essential” Under ADA

Gold-Rolex-Watch-3-psd86394As a company’s workforce ages, some thoughtful managers may be concerned about business continuity and planning. And it seems pretty obvious that much of that planning will depend on when certain older workers plan to retire. Or a manager may see an older worker becoming less productive, and begin thinking that the person should retire. But, asking about an employee’s retirement plans – or even requiring an employee to retire – can be very problematic. I thought it might be helpful to review the rules on retirement under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Generally, ADEA prohibits employers from forcing employees to retire because of their age. The only exception to this prohibition for private employers is certain bona fide executives or high policymakers. For those individuals, ADEA allows employers to require mandatory retirement at age 65 if the individual has been:

  • Employed in that capacity for at least two years prior to retirement; and
  • Is entitled to immediate and non-forfeitable annual retirement benefits from the employer that total at least $44,000.

Continue Reading Asking About Retirement Can Be Dangerous

healthA recent case highlighted for me (and now for you) an interesting point under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – whether essential job functions can change. As you may know, the ADA protects employees with disabilities who, with or without reasonable accommodations, are able to perform the essential functions of his/her job. This means that the issue of what are the essential functions of the job is critically important.

According to the EEOC, the following factors should be taken into account in determining whether a job function is essential:

  • whether the reason the position exists is to perform that function,
  • the number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the performance of the function can be distributed, and
  • the degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function.

The EEOC also identifies the following types of evidence that can be used to establish that certain job functions are essential:

  • the employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential,
  • a written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing for a job
  • the actual work experience of present or past employees in the job,
  • the time spent performing a function,
  • the consequences of not requiring that an employee perform a function, and
  • the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

Continue Reading Employer May Change Essential Functions of the Job

Burlesque 2So as an employment defense attorney, I am constantly amazed by the creative arguments put forth by plaintiffs and their attorneys. I am certain that the creators of certain laws would never, in their wildest dreams, have anticipated how they could be applied. A recent example of this can be found in Stevens v. Oval Office, LLC dba Oval Office Gentlemen’s Club.

As you may know, a recent hot topic for federal and state agencies is the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s newly created webpage, misclassification hurts employees by denying them: minimum wage and overtime pay, the protection of federal and state employment laws, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, workplace health and safety protections, and employer-provided benefits. It also hurts non-compliant employers who may be subject to fines and unpaid taxes and wages, as well compliant employers who face unfair competition from those who reduce their costs by being non-compliant. And it hurts government agencies who do not receive the appropriate employment tax revenues. Continue Reading Exotic Dancer Improperly Fined for “Faulty Workmanship”?

JohnHancockAs an employment litigator, I have repeatedly emphasized to my clients the need to get signed agreements, acknowledgements, and authorizations from employees. From a legal standpoint, these signed documents provide legal certainty (and frequently an absolute defense) to certain employee interactions and claims. For example, if an employee contends that she was unaware of the complaint procedure for a harassment claim, waving her signed acknowledgement form for the handbook that contains that procedure in front of her is a pretty stellar defense (and quite satisfying)! It’s hard for someone to repudiate their own handwritten “John Hancock.” Continue Reading Electronic Signatures v. Handwritten Signatures