As I discussed in a blog post last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been bringing cases on behalf of applicants/employees who use lawfully prescribed opioids (including methadone) against employers who fail to conduct an individualized assessment of the applicant/employee to determine whether those drugs made them unqualified for the position. In EEOC v. Steel Painters LLC, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas held that a reasonable jury could find that the employer did just that.

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And with that obvious (and rather snarky) statement, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit made the obvious point that an employee who was asleep or unconscious on the job was unable to perform the essential functions of his job and therefore not qualified for the position under the Americans with Disabilities Act! Now, as my regular readers know, I enjoy a good snark and my blog posts about various court decisions often contain snide comments. But in this case, the (usually quite proper) Fifth Circuit took care of that all on its own…

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This is a new entry in our occasional series on extremely bad behavior by employees. I am constantly amazed by the lack of awareness and judgment exhibited by employees in the workplace. I was baffled when I read Hennessey v. Dollar Bank, FSB, a case in which a Caucasian employee at Dollar Bank was terminated when, over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, he hung a brown monkey from the ceiling of a workspace utilized by African American employees.

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Most human resources folks know that, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees can take leave to care for a child with a serious health condition, and that the FMLA defines “child” as being under the age of 18. But what some perhaps don’t realize is the  FMLA has an additional definition of “child”: one over 18 years who  is “incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.” And even if they’re aware of that definition, they may not understand that the disability can be quite temporary in nature. A recent case, Gibson v. New York State Office of Mental Health, clearly makes this point.

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In its latest edition of the Digest of EEO Law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission included an article entitled, “Religious Accommodation in the Workplace: An Overview of the Law and Recent Commission Decisions.” Although the article summarizes federal sector decisions, it provides guidance to private employers on the EEOC’s overall position on religious accommodations – and (just in time for Halloween) the conclusions are a little scary!

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The story in Collins v. Koch Foods, Inc. begins with an office romance. A female HR manager began privately dating the plant manager in 2014. Because neither was a subordinate of the other, their relationship did not violate the original iteration of the company’s anti-fraternization policy. In 2016, the HR manager’s supervisor resigned for – wait for it – having an office romance with a subordinate! The female HR manager applied for the vacated position, at which time the HR manager and plant manager admitted to their relationship. The HR manager was ultimately passed over for the promotion (not by her boyfriend plant manager) and transferred to a different facility so that she and her paramour would not be working together.
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Ah, the French. They have such a … cosmopolitan attitude towards sex. This was on display in a recent article that caught my eye, “Frenchman’s death during sex while on business trip a ‘workplace accident,’ court rules.” (That’s an attention-getter, isn’t it?)

According to the article, a Frenchman died of a heart attack while having sex with “a total stranger” at her home during an overnight business trip. (How tawdry! How titillating!) His employer denied responsibility for his death under the French equivalent of our workers’ compensation law, which provides compensation to employees/their estates for injury/death on the job. The employer argued that his death “occurred when he had knowingly interrupted his mission for a reason dictated solely by his personal interest, independent of his employment.” More specifically, he was no longer on a “mission” for his employer when he suffered the heart attack, which was attributable to “his sexual act with a complete stranger.” Well, that certainly seems to make sense. Sex is quite personal, isn’t it? (And I am particularly amused by the repeated emphasis on the fact that the sex was with a total or complete stranger. Would it have made a difference if he died while having sex with his wife or mistress? And is anyone else wondering if the “total stranger” was a prostitute?)


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As I was perusing a recently-released volume of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s quarterly Digest of EEO Law (as I am sadly wont to do – really, I need some new hobbies!), I came across an interesting article, “An Overview of Common Remedies Available in Disparate Treatment Claims of Discrimination.” (Of particular note, while the Digest, as well as the article, covers only federal sector employees, we’d expect the EEOC to take the same position with regard to private sector employees.) The article sets forth the types of remedies sought by the EEOC when it finds that an federal employee or applicant has been subjected to disparate treatment discrimination (meaning that they have been individually targeted). Although the majority of the list is rather routine, it does highlight some rather interesting remedies sought by the EEOC, of which employers should be aware.
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In an ironic twist, a manager’s alleged attempt to protect an employee from racism resulted in a discrimination claim by that employee.

In Ikome v. CSRA, LLCthe employee hailed from Cameroon and had very dark skin. He helped his employer, an information technology services company, win a contract in North Carolina with the Environmental Protection Agency and became project manager on the contract. Within weeks, however, he was replaced as project manager by a lighter-skinned African-American coworker. In his lawsuit for color and national origin discrimination, he alleges that his manager told him that people in North Carolina are “rednecks” (The manager denied using the term, but the employee’s allegations are assumed to be true at this point in the litigation, before it goes to a jury). The employee interpreted this to mean that rednecks are racist, and a lighter-skinned person would be more acceptable to them.
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