Recently in Workplace Discrimination Category

October 27, 2014

Retaliation Lawsuit by Railroad Worker Dismissed by 8th Circuit

The Eighth Circuit decided an employment discrimination case earlier this month brought by an employee of a railroad carrier. Apparently, the plaintiff in this case had a significant history of good work performance, but at some point he violated a serious safety rule. He agreed to a 30-day suspension and a period of probation. At some point during his probation, the plaintiff was viewed walking in the tracks, which is another serious safety violation.

fall-railroad-1433372-2-m.jpgThe supervisors who witnessed the above violation began an investigation. A hearing was held, and it was decided that the plaintiff would be terminated from his position. The plaintiff believes that his termination was based on the fact that he made two previous complaints and not because of the alleged rule violation. The lower court ruled in favor of the employer, and the Eighth Circuit agreed, finding that there was no unlawful retaliation and the plaintiff would have been discharged even without the rule violation.

What is Retaliation?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains that employers cannot harass, terminate, or demote an employee or retaliate against him or her for filing a claim for discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or other similar activities. Generally, a retaliation suit is brought when an employer participates in an adverse action against a qualified employee because he or she engaged in a constitutionally protected activity.

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September 26, 2014

Supreme Court of Washington Rules in Favor of College in Age Discrimination Suit

Last week, the Supreme Court of Washington State ruled in favor of Clark College in an age discrimination suit brought against the college by a professor employed by the college. The Court ruled that the professor did not meet the requirements necessary to establish discrimination.

doodled-desks-2-1193228-m.jpgThe Background of the Case

In 1994, the plaintiff started teaching English as an adjunct professor at the college. After about nine years, she applied for a tenured position. In addition to the plaintiff's application, Clark College received 151 other applications, and it subsequently screened 13 of the candidates during a teaching demonstration. They then recommended the four screened individuals to the president and vice-president of the department.

The plaintiff was 55 at the time of the interview and was one of the four candidates chosen to be recommended to the president. The college did not hire the plaintiff and instead hired two other individuals who were younger than 40 years old.

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September 12, 2014

Art Institute Moves to Dismiss Discrimination Case Based on Their Anti-Discrimination Policy

The Education Management Corporation (EDMC) has recently motioned the court to dismiss a suit against the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, which it manages. According to a report by one news source, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh was sued by two former employees who alleged that they were being discriminated against because of their race and age.

ring-binder-2-1286890-m.jpgBackground

In April of 2014, two former admissions office employees sued EDMC, making allegations that the Institute engaged in a series of illegal employment practices. The two individuals claimed that the Institute terminated individuals and refused to promote others because of their race and age. Furthermore, they alleged that the Institute participated in retaliation in regards to a disput- resolution policy.

The attorney for the Institute attempted to dismiss the suit by arguing that its dispute-resolution policy is the only way to resolve any workplace issues. However, the attorney for the plaintiffs in this case countered by explaining that, although the company has a dispute-resolution policy, that policy does not trump the Supreme Court, nor does it trump statutory law, nor is it appropriate public policy.

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August 15, 2014

Pregnant Police Officer Files Suit After Her Department Refused to Accommodate Her

Earlier this year, a pregnant woman and police officer in the City of Florence filed suit against her employer after they refused to accommodate her request for a job more fitting for a pregnant woman.

police-car-126271-m.jpgAccording to a report by one local news source, the police officer has a master's degree in Criminal Justice and has been with the force for a number of years. In fact, this was not her first pregnancy while on the police force. Back in 2012, she was pregnant with her first child, and the police department accommodated her request to transfer to a desk job once it became physically impossible for her to go out on her regular shifts.

Evidently, the police department's policy has always been that only those injured while on the job are eligible for a temporary desk job. However, they clearly made an exception for this particular officer's first pregnancy. At some point after she gave birth to her first child, the department sent out a memo telling management not to approve desk duty for anyone who was not injured while on the job.

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August 8, 2014

Seventh Circuit Overturns Lower Court Ruling on Indiana Title VII Prison Case

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently found that a lower court erroneously ruled against an Indiana prison employee who had brought Title VII discrimination claims against her employer.

prison-1431136-m.jpgThe details of Orton-Bell v. Indiana seem like they belong in a movie or television show. Connie Orton-Bell worked as a substance abuse counselor in Pendleton Correctional Facility, one of Indiana's maximum security prisons, from 2007 until April 2010. During her time in the position, she claimed that numerous sexually inappropriate behaviors took place in her work environment. For instance, an investigation into security breaches uncovered that night shift employees were having sex on Orton-Bell's desk. The investigator's only reaction was that Orton-Bell should wipe her desk off every morning.

Orton-Bell also claimed to be the personal recipient of many sexual remarks by her superior, Superintendent Brett Mize. Mize allegedly instructed Orton-Bell to never wear jeans to work because "her ass looked so good, she would cause a riot." Such comments were allegedly common from Mize, who was eventually terminated for reasons unknown prior to the events that led to the lawsuit. However, Ortin-Bell claimed that these comments were common among all of the male employees, and that female employees were "bombarded."

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April 23, 2014

Sixth Circuit Affirms Lower Court's Ruling Against EEOC in EEOC v. Kaplan Higher Education Corporation

The Sixth Circuit recently sided against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a case involving whether black applicants for employment were rejected at a higher rate than white applicants due to their credit scores.

prancheta-192682-m.jpgIn EEOC v. Kaplan Higher Education Corp., Kaplan offered both graduate and undergraduate degrees, with some of the students receiving financial aid through the Department of Education. As Kaplan's employees had access to student financial records, there was a troubling string of events where employees were stealing checks intended for students and causing other irregularities. To prevent further problems, Kaplan installed a pre-employment credit check system for anyone applying to executive, financial aid, or accounting positions.

Third-party vendors performed the credit checks, flagging any applicants who filed for bankruptcy, were delinquent on their child support payments, any outstanding civil judgments worth more than $2,000, garnishment of wages, and Social Security numbers that did not match what the credit bureau kept on file. Kaplan then reviewed the applications and determined which ones should move forward.

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March 26, 2014

Sixth Circuit Affirms and Reverses Lower Court Ruling on Title VII Claim in Laster v. City of Kalamazoo

Recently, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal district court's ruling dismissing an Ohio safety officer's claims that he was forced to resign from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety in 2010 due to racial discrimination.

ready-to-roll-542939-m.jpgIn Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, Mark Laster, an African American man, had worked for the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety for more than 23 years. During his employment, he claimed that he was treated less favorably than other employees in similar situations. For example, Laster believed that he was subjected to greater scrutiny, that policies were selectively enforced against him, and that his employer stood back and permitted individual employees to discriminate against or harass Laster. Laster believed that at least part of his treatment was due to his race. After reporting many instances of harassment to his employers, he eventually filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, then Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims against his former employer.

The district court found in favor of the City of Kalamazoo and Laster appealed. The Sixth Circuit applied strict scrutiny to the circumstances of his case, which is required for racial discrimination cases involving government bodies. For a government body to pass strict scrutiny, it must be shown that it had a compelling government interest, that the law or policy was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, and that the law or policy was the least restrictive means for achieving that interest. Strict scrutiny is used for race, national origin, or alienage situations, compared to intermediate scrutiny for gender and rational basis (the lowest scrutiny) for nearly everything else.

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February 21, 2014

United States Supreme Court Declines to Hear Racial Discrimination Case, Baker & McKenzie LLP

The United States Supreme Court recently declined an attempt to revive a race bias retaliation lawsuit against the law firm, Baker & McKenzie LLP, leaving in place the Seventh Circuit's ruling that her discrimination claims were time barred and her retaliation claim was speculative.

u-s--supreme-court-1-1038827-m.jpgThe events of Swanson v. Baker & McKenzie LLP began in 1995, when Gloria Swanson, a black woman, worked as a secretary for one of the law firm partners. She did not get along with him and requested a transfer. After her request was denied, Swanson decided to resign from the job, where she had worked for five years. She refused to sign a release that would have prohibited her from filing a lawsuit, believing that white secretaries in her position had received transfers in the past. Swanson was eventually able to negotiate a more favorable arrangement.

Swanson then obtained similar positions at other Chicago law firms, including one where she worked for 14 years before being laid off in 2011. After a stint of unemployment, during which time she was rejected at the final stage for many positions, Swanson hired a reference check company. The company contacted Baker & McKenzie in July 2012 and learned that the Human Resources Manager could not find her in its system, and thus could neither confirm nor deny her employment at the firm. The department claimed that the payroll records had recently changed, but that they would try to obtain access to the old records. Swanson found the explanation to be suspicious because the department was able to confirm the employment of a partner who died in 2007 and had worked for the firm for 50 years.

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January 17, 2014

Seventh Circuit Determines That the EEOC Conciliation Process Is Not Reviewable in EEOC v. Mach Mining, LLC

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently became the first federal Court of Appeal to deny employers an affirmative defense that they have often used in lawsuits involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): the EEOC failed to conciliate prior to the lawsuit.

handshake-671413-m.jpgIn EEOC v. Mach Mining, LLC, a case discussed a few months ago on this blog, female applicants to a mine located in Johnston City, Illinois claimed that they had not been hired solely because of their gender. They filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in 2008, and in late 2010, the EEOC informed Mach Mining that it intended to start the informal conciliation process. The parties discussed a resolution, but failed to make an agreement. The EEOC later told Mach Mining that the conciliation process had been unsuccessful, and proceeded to file a complaint in district court two weeks later. In Mach Mining's answer, it cited several affirmative defenses, including that the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith. The EEOC sought summary judgment on the matter, claiming that the conciliation process was not subject to judicial review. The district court denied summary judgment, claiming that conciliation efforts are subject to some level of judicial scrutiny, at least to see whether good faith efforts were made. The EEOC then appealed its case to the Seventh Circuit.

The Seventh Circuit ultimately reversed the district court's summary judgment ruling. In doing so, the court looked at the following: whether language in Title VII allowed EEOC conciliation efforts to be reviewable; whether a statutory standard for the conciliation process existed; whether judicial review would undermine the conciliation process; and whether it was proper for employers to shift the focus from their actions to the pre-litigation practices of the EEOC.

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December 11, 2013

United States Supreme Court to Consider Whether Private Corporations Have Religious Beliefs

The United States Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case concerning whether corporate employers are required to provide free birth control, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even if their "consciences" do not support it. While religious institutions and non-profits are exempt from this provision, this case will test whether private corporations are "people" enough to have religious convictions that trump the needs of their employees. Oral arguments are expected to take place in March 2014.

cross-with-shadow-1-1356536-m.jpgThe Supreme Court agreed to hear the argument after the Circuit Courts of Appeal offered split decisions on the issue -- including the Seventh Circuit in early November. In Korte v. Sebelius, a two-judge majority found that small, closely held corporations were "people" within the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and were entitled to assert that the mandate substantially interfered with their rights.

The case involved two Catholic families with closely held corporations, one a construction company in Illinois and the other a manufacturing company in Indiana that produces automobile safety systems. Although the companies are both secular and devoted to earning profit, the Seventh Circuit still noted that they operated according to their owners' Catholic beliefs. Therefore, the owners should not have to condone "abortion, sterilization, and the use of abortifacient drugs and artificial means of conception."

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November 18, 2013

Two Dozen Muslim Kentucky Employees to File Discrimination Claims After Employer Fails to Let Them Pray

Recently, 11 former employees of DHL Global Mail in Kentucky, and soon as many as 24 total, filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that they were fired for praying on the job. All 24 employees are or were Muslim immigrants from Somalia. The employees filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, requesting damages, reinstatement where appropriate, and policy changes.

salat-ied-115358-m.jpgThe problems began this past October, when there was a change in office policy that removed the flexible break policy that had been in place. The DHL Muslim employees had used that time to step out of the office and pray. Once the policy was reversed, however, the employees had no options, and ended up voluntarily taking time off of the clock. The 24 Muslims who worked in the mail room stepped outside at 7:24 p.m. and gathered to pray, separated by gender. The supervisor then called three of the employees in for an explanation, later calling the police to ensure that the employees left without causing a scene.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a number of classifications are protected from discrimination, including race, national origin, color, gender, and religion. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would pose "more than a minimum burden" on the business. Among the examples of reasonable accommodations that the EEOC lists are flexible schedules, voluntary shift substitutions, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies.

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November 11, 2013

Seventh Circuit to Consider Whether EEOC Conciliation Process Should Receive Outside Scrutiny in EEOC v. Mach Mining, LLC

When an employee experiences workplace discrimination, he or she must usually first go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if the workplace is covered by federal law. The EEOC investigates the claim, and may pursue litigation on the employee's behalf depending upon the type of case. Other remedies include mediation, settlement, and conciliation.

handshake-671413-m.jpgThe EEOC's conciliation methods have recently come under scrutiny of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In EEOC v. Mach Mining, LLC, the Seventh Circuit recently heard oral arguments as to whether courts should be permitted to review the EEOC's conciliation efforts. If so, should the reviewing courts use heightened scrutiny or a deferential scrutiny?

Conciliation involves the EEOC informing the employer that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred. The EEOC then invites both parties to sit down and the EEOC investigator works with them to come up with a fair resolution. This may involve negotiations with offers and counter-offers. The idea is to resolve the issue without spending money on litigation.

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October 25, 2013

United States Supreme Court Considers Whether to Resolve Age Discrimination Issue in Madigan v. Levin

At the beginning of its new term this month, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case Madigan v. Levin, which came from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The case involves the issue of whether an employee can sue an employer for age discrimination under the U.S. Constitution when the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was intended by Congress to be a remedy.

u-s--supreme-court-1-1038827-m.jpgHarvy Levin, age 61, worked as an attorney general for the state of Illinois. He and two older attorneys were terminated from their jobs and replaced by younger attorneys. In Levin's case, the younger attorney was in her 30s. Levin sued his employer under the ADEA, and also under another federal law, claiming that his civil rights were violated.

Levin's case was tossed out of court because Levin was not actually an employee in the usual sense, but a political appointee. Levin then argued that the Illinois attorney general's office had violated his civil rights, only to be informed that he could not make that argument because only the ADEA was meant to address age-related discrimination claims. Levin appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which ultimately sided with him. The Seventh Circuit stated that even with the ADEA, an employer had to act according to the Constitution, and that wronged employees should be able to sue for a Constitutional rights violation when the ADEA does not apply. The Seventh Circuit's finding was at odds with the findings in other federal appeals court, which made it highly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court would agree to hear the case and settle the split.

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September 23, 2013

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Rules That Employee Terminated For Mediation Misconduct Did Not Face Retaliation in Benes v. AB Data, LTD

Under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination against employees on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion, age, or disability is prohibited. That includes not just discrimination in hiring, firing, or every day workplace activities, but also retaliatory acts against employees who report workplace discrimination. Retaliation can include demoting the individual or terminating his or her employment. The question is what constitutes retaliation. Not long ago, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals determined that one case of firing did not meet that threshold.

handshake-671413-m.jpgIn Benes v. AB Data, LTD, the employee, Michael Benes, had filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stating that the AB Data firm committed gender discrimination. The claim reached the mediation phase, where Benes first had a session with his employer before the two parties separated and used a go-between to relay each other's offer. After learning of the employer's offer, Benes went into the room where the employer's representatives were gathered and exclaimed that they could "shove" their proposal and fire him, and he would take them to court. The employer responded by terminating Benes's employment. Benes then filed a lawsuit under Title VII, claiming retaliation rather than gender discrimination.

A magistrate judge ruled in favor of AB Data on a motion for summary judgment, stating that Benes had been fired due to misconduct during the mediation rather than for retaliation. Retaliation is only prohibited in cases where "[a person] has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter."

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August 28, 2013

Kentucky Court of Appeals Rules That Morbid Obesity Is a Disability in Pennington v. Wagner's Pharmacy, Inc.

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Kentucky law, private employers with at least 15 employees cannot discriminate against employees with a disability. That means that they cannot refuse to hire, promote, or train otherwise qualified disabled employees, nor can they deny them pay or benefits, or terminate their employment just because of the disability. Qualified disabled employees must receive reasonable accommodation for their conditions unless the accommodation would impose "undue hardship." Reasonable accommodation is any adjustment or modification needed for the employee to do his/her job. It usually becomes an undue hardship when the cost is too great for the organization to bear. However, most accommodations are inexpensive and easy to implement.

weighing-788291-m.jpgThe question is what qualifies as "disabled." While certain physical and mental disabilities are widely accepted, others are more controversial. For instance, many debate whether obesity can be considered a disability, even after the American Medical Association labeled it a disease. Is obesity a condition that the person brought on through a lack of self control, or a true illness? The Kentucky Court of Appeals came down on the side of illness, and a disability, in Pennington v. Wagner's Pharmacy, Inc.

In Pennington, Melissa Pennington worked for 10 years as a food truck operator for Wagner's Pharmacy. Pennington was five feet, four inches and weighed 425 pounds. In 2007, Pennington went to the manager's office on her off-day to collect her paycheck. Pennington was not at her "best" appearance due to moving into a new residence. Soon after, the manager directed Pennington's supervisor to fire her for her appearance. However, Pennington's coworkers claimed that Pennington was fired because she was "overweight and dirty."

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