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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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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A more conservative Supreme Court than we’ve seen in recent history is poised to consider whether Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a trio of cases in the 2019-2020 term, which begins in October. We previously wrote on this topic here as the Circuit split was developing.

Not even the federal government tasked with enforcing employment discrimination laws agrees on whether Title VII covers sexual orientation. The Department of Justice reversed course during the Trump administration and now takes the position that sexual orientation is not covered, whereas the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is holding firm to its position, first adopted in 2015, that sexual orientation is covered, as is gender identity. Additionally, under an Executive Order signed by President Obama (not yet rescinded by President Trump) and enforced by the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, federal contractors and subcontractors are prohibited from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to (and separate from) sex.
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I found a recent case to be a peculiar example of how Title VII is not a “general civility code” in the workplace. In Butto v. CJKant Resource Group, LLC, a male executive was terminated after complaining about being required to arrange female escorts for his married supervisor and perform other activities to facilitate his supervisor’s infidelity. It seems like a reasonable complaint, right? But does that mean it was protected under Title VII?
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