The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has scheduled a meeting for May 8, 2013 at its main headquarters in Washington, D.C., to address whether employer wellness programs may implicate, among other things, the confidentiality and permissible inquiry provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA), and other statutes enforced by the EEOC.
U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Dismissal of Retaliation Claim Made in Connection with "Paramour Preference" Claim
In Gail Kelly v. Howard I. Shapiro & Assocs. Consulting Engineers, P.C., et al., 12-3489-cv, April 26, 2013, the plaintiff filed claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law, alleging that an affair that one of her brothers had with another worker in their family business created a sexually hostile work environment, and that following her complaints, both of her brothers retaliated against her. The lower court dismissed both claims, and the plaintiff appealed only the dismissal of her retaliation claims.
U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Confirms Broader Construction Under New York City Human Rights Law
In 2005, the New York City Council amended the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL") to make it clear that courts should construe New York City's anti-discrimination protections more broadly than federal discrimination protections. Under the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2005, the New York City Council alerted courts to their mistaken assumption that interpretations of the NYCHRL should be coextensive with federal and New York State discrimination law. Consequently, courts began construing the NYCHRL much more broadly and in favor of discrimination claimants. Now, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont) has confirmed that the NYCHRL is broader in its protections and application.
In Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreaux North America Inc. (11-3361-cv) (April 26, 2013) , the Second Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer on plaintiff's sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation claims. Specifically, the Second Circuit found that the District Court had applied federal standards in determining whether the employer was liable under the NYCHRL
The court summed up its conclusions as follows:
On December 17, 2012, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") approved its Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2013-2016 ("SEP"). The SEP establishes priorities and integrates all components of the EEOC's enforcement. In so doing, the SEP adopted the following national priorities:
1- Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring. The EEOC intends to target class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin, religion, age, gender (women), and disability.
2- Protecting Immigrant, Migrant and Other Vulnerable Workers. Among other things, the EEOC intends to target disparate pay, job segregation, harassment, trafficking and discriminatory policies affecting those workers who may not be aware of their rights to equal employment opportunity, or are otherwise reluctant to exercise them.
3- Addressing Emerging and Developing Issues.
4- Enforcing Equal Pay Laws. The EEOC will continue to target compensation disparities and practices in the area of gender or sex discrimination.
5- Preserving Access to the Legal System. The EEOC will scrutinize policies and practices that have the effect of discouraging employees from seeking relief under the applicable employment discrimination statutes.
6- Preventing Harassment Through Systemic Enforcement and Targeted Outreach.
Second Circuit Rules that Lower Court Erred By Declining to Order Injunctive Relief Ensuring Sexual Harasser was no Longer in a Position to Sexually Harass
Following a two-week trial, a jury returned a verdict finding that the employer had subjected a class of female employees to a sexually hostile work environment. The jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to the class of employees who had been sexually harassed. The court, however, declined to impose injunctive relief to ensure that the sexual harasser would not be in a position to harass women in the future.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont, reversed and held that under the circumstances of the case, injunctive relief was necessary to prevent future sexual harassment.
In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. KarenKim, Inc., 11-3309-cv, the Second Circuit determined that the employer had not adopted adequate measures to ensure that the sexual harassment would not recur. The court noted that the sexual harasser and owner of KarenKim were involved in a romantic relationship, which meant that he might still have access to the employees even if he were no longer technically employed as a supervisor. In addition, the court noted that the complaint procedure adopted by KarenKim to prevent future sexual harassment following the lawsuit was ineffective in that it required that complaints be made in writing and within 30 days of the alleged harassment in order to be acted upon. This coupled with the fact that the initial sexual harassment went unchecked for years prompted the Second Circuit to order the New York federal district court to impose the injunctive relief requested by the EEOC.
Americans with Disabilities Act Requires Employers to Transfer Employees Who are Losing their Current Positions Due to Disability to a Vacant Position for which they are Qualified
The Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") requires that employers consider possible reasonable accommodations that would permit disabled employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs. According to to the ADA, a reasonable accommodation could include a reassignment to a vacant position. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. United Airlines, Inc. (No. 11-1774), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit considered United Airlines' guidelines for transferring employees in light of the ADA's requirements. United Airlines' guidelines specified that its employee transfer process was competitive, so that an employee in need of accommodation would not be automatically assigned to a vacant position, but would be given preference over similarly situated applicants. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") challenged the policy under the ADA. Although the district court ruled in United Airlines' favor, the Seventh Circuit reversed and held that the ADA does, in fact, mandate that an employer reassign employees with disabilities to vacant positions for which they are qualified, provided that the such accommodations would be ordinarily reasonable and not present an undue hardship to that employer.
Middle School Principal Katherine Mulderig filed a sexual discrimination complaint in March 2011 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that Lake Placid, New York School Superintendant, Dr. Randy Richards, made sexually discriminatory comments to her while proposing a job change. Ms. Mulderig plans to file a civil action in federal court in early 2012, based upon the sexual discrimination allegations asserted in her EEOC Charge of Discrimination. According to press reports, Mr. Richards told Ms. Mulderig in February 2011 that he wanted her to switch from middle school principal to elementary school principal because he wanted someone "bitchier to govern the bitchy" female teachers in the school. See Principal Files Discrimination Complaint.
On August 26, 2011, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") filed a civil action against Ford Motor Company on behalf of a former employee, alleging that the company failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee and ultimately fired her because of her disability.
The company maintained a telecommuting program for its employees. When the employee, Jane Harris, attempted to avail herself of the program as a result of her gastro-intestinal condition, the company refused her request. Thereafter, the company began criticizing her performance, placed her on a performance plan, and fired her after she complained that the company had failed to accommodate her medical condition.
In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Bloomberg L.P., No. 07 Civ. 8383 (S.D.N.Y. August 16, 2011), Judge Loretta Preska of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, dismissed a claim asserted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of 78 claimants alleging that Bloomberg L.P. engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and sex. Judge Preska found insufficient evidence to support the EEOC's position that Bloomberg L.P.'s standard operating procedure included pregnancy discrimination.
New York City Council Passes Bill Strengthening Protections Against Religious Discrimination in Employment
This week, the New York City Council unanimously passed a bill providing greater religious-based protections to employees working in New York City. The bill was prompted by New York City Police Department rules that prohibited Sikh police officers from wearing turbans, which is required by their religion. Nevertheless, the bill, which is referred to as the "Workplace Religious Freedom Act," protects all employees in New York City from religious discrimination.
U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Whether Discrimination Law Applies to Teachers at a Religious Elementary School
The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, to decide whether the "ministerial exception," which is supposed to protect a church's first amendment rights, protecting freedom of religion, applies to teachers of secular subjects in religious elementary schools. Generally, the ministerial exception permits a church to make employment decisions that are religiously based, without having to worry about anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit religious discrimination.
The case involves the termination of a teacher, and whether that termination is protected by the ministerial exception. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard the case, found that the teacher was not a ministerial employee, and noted that "the overwhelming majority of courts that have considered the issue have held that parochial school teachers. . . who teach primarily secular subjects do not classify as ministerial employees for purposes of the exception."
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") reported on January 11, 2011 that workplace discrimination charges reached a record high of 99,922 during fiscal year 2010.
In May 2008, Congress enacted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which was intended to prevent the potential misues of genetic information to discriminate against employees in connection with providing health insurance and employment. GINA prohibits discrimination on the basis of genetic information and restricts the disclosure of such information.
A lawsuit filed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on September 30th, in federal court, alleges that Fox News retaliated against reporter Catherine Herridge, who had previously complained of sex and age discrimination at the cable news network.
Today, Governor David Patterson signed into law, the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which reflects the first sweeping domestic workers' rights legislation in the nation.
Among other things, the New York law provides for overtime pay to domestic workers, and protection against workplace discrimination and harassment based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, marital status and domestic victim status. The legislation specifically addresses sexual harassment, which is cited as a major problem for domestic workers in New York.
In Pucino v. Verizon Communications, Inc. (“Verizon”), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont) reversed a decision by a New York federal court granting summary judgment in favor of Verizon on a former employee's gender-based hostile work environment claims.
On May 12, 2010, the New York State Senate passed S1823b, a bill to amend the labor law to prohibit abusive work environments. If the bill were to pass scrutiny in the State Assembly, and be signed into law by the Governor, employees in the State of New York would have expansive protections beyond just the anti-discrimination statutes. In effect, the bill would transform the employment-at-will landscape, requiring that employers make sure that employees are not being subjected to bullying, while also making it more difficult for employers to terminate employees who complain of such.
On January 6, 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") released data concerning charges of discrimination filed with the agency in FY2009. The EEOC resolved a record number of charges alleging harassment and violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. FY2009 saw the second highest number of charge filings nationwide, 93,277 --just about 2,000 filings less than the record high set for FY2008.
Congress is considering legislation overturning a recent Supreme Court decision holding that plaintiffs asserting claims of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination and Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA") must prove that age was the "but for" cause of the challenged adverse employment action.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit Holds Employer Liable for Age Discrimination Based on its Contractor's Conduct
On September 10, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont, held that an employer may be held liable for age discrimination based upon the acts of others, including its independent contractors. According to the court, an employer can be held liable for the acts of independent contractors if the independent contractor is acting on behalf of the employer.
The Senate and House are considering legislation to ban employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 is intended to amend Title VII, which currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, religious discrimination. In addition, the bills would ban retaliation against an employee for complaining of sexual orientation discrimination.
Recently, Governor David Patterson signed legislation amending the New York State Human Rights Law to prohibit an employer from discriminating against an individual based on his or her status as a victim of domestic violence. This extension of the New York law fills a gap in federal law, which does not contain any such protection. In 2001, New York City amended the New York City Human Rights Law to prohibit similar discrimination. Now, New York employees outside of New York City will be entitled to the same protections.
In Ricci v. DeStefano, (No. 07-1428), a long awaited decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the City of New Haven violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it discarded the results of civil service examiinations in which African American and Latino firefighters seeking promotion to lieutenant and captain did not fare well. White firefighters had alleged that they had suffered race discrimination when the City discarded their favorable examination results.
An assistant marketing manager has sued Steiff, a maker of teddy bears and stuffed animals, and its CEO, claiming that she was sexually harassed by the company's CEO, which culminated, according to the employee, in a rape. The case was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
A sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against Duane Reade Inc., was recently settled for $240,000 and other relief. The lawsuit had alleged that Duane Reade, which operates over 200 drugstores in New York, had unlawfully created and failed to correct a sexually hostile work environment at one of its stores located in Bronx, New York.
Last week, a lawsuit was filed in New York State Supreme Court alleging sexual harassment against Southern Hospitality, a New York City restaurant, and its owners, one of whom is Justin Timberlake. The lawsuit was brought by Alison McDaniel, a former restaurant manager, who accuses two of Timberlake's owners of discriminatory conduct.
New York state and federal courts have long disagreed over the application of the New York State and New York City anti-discrimination laws to out of state employees, who claimed employment discrimination by New York based employers. In an attempt to set limits on the geographic scope of the New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law, courts seemed to embrace the concept that the location of where the discriminatory decision was made was not relevant, but rather where the impact of the discriminatory decision was felt.
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that a union could contract away a union member's rights to pursue a statutory discrimination claim in court. In 14 Penn Plaza L.L.C. v. Pyett, the Supreme Court considered whether a union member with an age discrimination claim under the Age Discrimination Employment Act ("ADEA") could be required to privately arbitrate the claim rather then pursue it in court. Surprisingly, a divided Supreme Court concluded that a union member could be mandated by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") to arbitrate a statutory discrimination claim.
A recent study has concluded that racial discrimination is 38% worse in the advertising industry than in the overall labor market. In light of the fact that the advertising industry is traditionally perceived to be based in New York City, cases against advertising agencies alleging racial discrimination will undoubtedly increase in New York state and federal courts.
New York Appellate Court Recognizes Lower Standard for Proving Discrimination Under New York City Human Rights Law
Under federal law, an employee who seeks to hold an employer liable for a hostile work environment, based upon sex, race, age, national origin, or other protected category, is generally required to show that the hostile work environment or harassment is "severe or pervasive." Until recently, courts interpreting New York State and New York City anti-discrimination statutes have assumed that the standards for proving harassment under those laws were similar to federal law.
Supreme Court Rules Antiretaliation Protections Extend to Employee Questioned During Company Investigation
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from, among other things, retaliating against any employee who has opposed unlawful employment practices. An employee who speaks out about discrimination on her own initiative is clearly engaged in conduct protected by Title VII. Until recently, however, it was not entirely clear whether the antiretaliation provision's protections also extended to an employee who does not speak out about discrimination on her own initiative, but, rather, answers questions during an employer's internal investigation into discrimination.
President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on January 29, 2009. It was the first bill signed into law by the new President. As discussed in earlier blogs, the new law amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 "to clarify that a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice that is unlawful under such Acts occurs each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, and for other purposes.”
On January 22, 2009, the Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act by a vote of 61-36. In our January 9, 2009 blog posting, we reported that the Senate had passed the identical bill.
The House of Representatives has just passed legislation making it less difficult for employees to sue for wage discrimination. The Ledbetter Bill (H.R. 11) passed by a vote of 247-171 and specifically overturns a Supreme Court case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Co., Inc., which held that the statute of limitations for filing a wage discrimination case does not begin to run each time a paycheck is issued. The Ledbetter Bill changes this by permitting the statute of limitations to begin anew with each discriminatory paycheck.
Statistics indicate that employment discrimination may be on the rise. The National Partnership for Women & Families has issued a report showing an increase of charge filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").
On September 25, 2008, President Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADAAA") into law. As stated in prior blog entries, the amendment makes substantial changes to the Supreme Court's restrictive readings of disability discrimination protections.
Last fall, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), filed a pregnancy discrimination claim against Bloomberg LP based upon complaints received from three employees. Since that time, the number of women charging Bloomberg LP with pregnancy discrimination has increased to 72. According to New York Magazine, that number constitutes about one in seven of the employees who became pregnant in the last six years. Although Bloomberg LP referred to the initial filing as a "publicity stunt," the increase in the number of employees alleging sexual discrimination renders that characterization extremely difficult to sustain.
On September 17th, the United States House of Representatives passed the Senate version of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act ("ADAA"). The bill has now been sent to President Bush, who states that he will sign it. The amendments reflect the broadest changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") since its enactment in 1990.
In June 2008, the House of Representatives passed the ADA Amendment Act of 2008. (See Proposed Amendments to ADA Restore Disability Discrimination Protections, June 28, 2008.) Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed its own version of the ADA Amendment Act. A conformed version will be submitted to the President for signature within the next several weeks.
The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act ("ENDA") is a federal bill intended to address employment discrimination by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or promote employees based upon their sexual orientation. An earlier version of the bill sought to include protection from gender identity discrimination. That provision was stripped from the bill due to a lack of support in the House of Representatives for transgender protection. On November 7, 2007, the House passed ENDA by a vote of 235-184. Currently, ENDA awaits introduction to the Senate.
Employer has a Duty to Accommodate an Employee with an Obvious Disability Even Where the Employee Does not Expressly Ask for Such Accommodation
Under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), it is a violation of an employee’s federally protected rights for an employer not to make reasonable accommodations for known physical or mental limitations of an employee, or job applicant, who is otherwise a qualified individual. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.9(a). The ADA requires that an employer engage in an interactive process with an employee to determine the extent of a reasonable accommodation that will permit an employee to perform the essential functions of a job. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently ruled in Brady v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. that an employer’s duty to make a reasonable accommodation is triggered when it knows or has reason to know that an employee suffers from a disability, and not just when an employee provides notice of a disability or requests an accommodation. The Second Circuit covers New York, Vermont and Connecticut.
Introduced and passed, 402 to 17, in the House of Representatives, the ADA Amendment Act of 2008 is geared to the restoration of the intent and protections of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Operating from the position that “physical and mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society,” Congress passed the ADA with the intent to broadly eliminate “prejudice, antiquated attitudes, [and] the failure to remove societal and institutional barriers” that have frequently precluded persons with disabilities from fully engaging in society. Plainly put, the ADA Amendment Act will restore protections against disability discrimination to a broader range of individuals.
Federal civil rights are useless if they cannot be enforced. Recently, in CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, most of the Supreme Court agreed ruling that employees could bring retaliation claims against their employers under The Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C § 1981 (“Section 1981”). What brings controversy to this decision is that the text of Section 1981 does not state that it includes claims of retaliation for employee complaints of race discrimination.
According to Grant, she complained to her supervisors of the discriminatory treatment on multiple occasions, but her complaints were ignored. She alleges in her complaint that her supervisor even participated in the discriminatory conduct. At a press conference, Brian France, NASCAR's CEO, faulted Grant for allegedly not following internal harassment complaint procedures.
The civil action seeks $225 million in damages.
Navigating the different statutes applicable to employment discrimination can be daunting. Prior to meeting with an attorney, you can familiarize yourself with the laws that may apply to your situation. Of course, you should consult an attorney regarding your own individual situation.
The New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) applies to employers with four or more employees. Under certain circumstances, individual supervisors may also be sued under the NYSHRL.
The NYSHRL prohibits discrimination based on age, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, genetic predisposition or carrier status, marital status, and previous arrest record. The NYSHRL also prohibits retaliation for making good faith complaints of employment discrimination.