Employment Discrimination

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

US-EEOC-Seal.svgIn January 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released proposed guidance regarding workplace harassment.  Because guidance does not carry the same weight as regulations do, which require a formal notice and comment period, there is no legal requirement to solicit public comment on guidance.  However, the practice of voluntarily doing so began under former Chair Jenny Yang and provides employers a valuable opportunity to make their concerns known before the Commission finalizes guidance.

To that end, Shawe Rosenthal, in conjunction with four other law firms, led the effort on behalf of the Employment Law Alliance* to submit written comments  to the Commission’s proposed harassment guidance.  The comment period has closed, and we expect revised guidance to issue—hopefully factoring in some of our comments below!—in a few months. Continue Reading Reflections on the EEOC’s Proposed Harassment Guidance

transgender1600As I discussed in a blog last month, the Trump Administration rescinded joint Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Education (DOE) guidance (a “Dear Colleague” letter) that had been issued under the Obama Administration on how the agencies interpret Title IX (the non-discrimination law that applies to schools and students) in the context of bathroom use by transgender students. The guidance had stated that transgender students should be allowed to use the gender-specific bathroom consistent with their stated gender identity.  The rescission of this guidance occurred just weeks before the Supreme Court of the United States was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. (Gavin Grimm) case this month. Continue Reading Supreme Court Kicks Transgender Case Back – What Does This Mean for Employers?

transgender1600Yesterday, February 22, 2017, the Trump Administration rescinded Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Education (DOE) guidance that had been issued to schools on May 13, 2016 in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter.  The letter stated that it was the DOJ’s and DOE’s interpretation of Title IX (the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education) that schools must allow transgender students to use the gender-specific bathroom with which they identify and that schools could not force students to use bathrooms based on their biological sex.  The DOJ and DOE stated that schools that did not follow the guidance could risk losing federal funding. Continue Reading Trump Administration Rescinds Transgender Student Guidance – What Does This Mean for Employers?

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

transgender1600A few recent events provide employers a peek behind the curtain of the Trump administration’s position on whether Title VII provides protection to LGBT individuals.

First, some background. Title VII prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” among other things. In the past, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the federal agency enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws) acknowledged that Title VII did not cover sexual orientation discrimination, although it did prohibit discrimination based on sex/gender stereotyping (which could overlap with sexual orientation claims to the extent the gay or lesbian employee did not conform to male or female stereotypes). Continue Reading What is the Future of Sexual Orientation and Transgender Status Under the Trump Administration?

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

US-EEOC-Seal.svgIn a prior blog post, “EEOC Says Sexual Orientation Is Protected Under Title VII!!,” I noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can be sneaky in seeking to expand the scope of the laws it enforces. It will drop bombshells in the middle of otherwise pretty innocuous guidance or resource documents, as if hoping no one notices. The latest example of this is in its just-announced (December 12, 2016) publication on the rights of job applicants and employees with mental health conditions, in which the EEOC oh-so-casually expands the reach of the American with Disabilities Act! Continue Reading EEOC Expands the ADA!