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Will other states follow California’s lead with enhanced National Origin protections?

Effective July 1, 2018, California has, by way of administrative regulations, enhanced the protections against national origin discrimination found in its mini-Title VII called the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

These well-intentioned but poorly drafted regulations expand the definition of national origin, now, to include an individual’s or their “ancestor’s” “actual or perceived”:

  1. physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics associated with a national origin group;
  2. marriage to or association with persons of a national origin group;
    tribal affiliation;
  3. membership in or association with an organization identified with or seeking to promote the interests of a national origin group;
  4. attendance or participation in schools, churches, temples, mosques, or other religious institutions generally used by persons of a national origin group; and
  5. name that is associated with a national origin group.

The regulations offer few helpful definitions to interpret these new rules.

  • What is a “physical, cultural or linguistic characteristic” besides an obvious accent?
  • What is a church “generally used by persons of a national origin group”? For example, one can guess that the Greek members of a Greek Orthodox church are protected, but how about the non-Roman members of a Roman Catholic church parish that includes people of every national origin?
  • What is a “name that is associated with a national origin group”? For example, is the name “Garcia” such a name, where it is generally considered the most common Hispanic last name, even though it is common in nearly every Latino country and non-Latino country, and is actually of Basque origin (with the Basque arguably not being Hispanic in the sense their traditional language is Basque not Spanish)?

One definition that is offered in these vague regulations is for the phrase, “national origin groups”:

“National origin groups” include, but are not limited to, ethnic groups, geographic places of origin, and countries that are not presently in existence.

Unfortunately that definition raises more questions than it answers. For example, what does it mean to say someone identifies with “countries that are not presently in existence”?

The regulations also take a strong position against English-only rules. Under these new California regulations, English-only rules are never permitted during employee breaks, lunch, or employer-sponsored events, and only rarely permitted during working time and in workplaces when narrowly tailored as required by a business necessity.

With regard to accents, again, those seem to be protected as a national origin “characteristic,” and as such discrimination on the basis of accents is only permitted when, again, mandated as narrowly tailored to a business necessity.

The regulations expressly state that they protect even unauthorized immigrants. The only exception is when mandated otherwise by federal law. This is true even where the individual presents, as part of the I-9 process, a California driver’s license that expressly identifies the individual as an undocumented worker. The regulations also state that even a “single unwelcome act of harassment” may be sufficient to violate these laws, without explaining how it is that an employer can ask such a worker about their work authorization without inadvertently crossing the line into having asked a question that the worker found to be a “single unwelcome act of harassment.”

It remains to be seen whether other states will follow California’s lead, or if at some point the federal government will do so under Title VII. However, employers in every state may wish to take a moment to review these new regulations. Arguably their poorly drafted language does not, at least in some instances, expand Title VII so much re-interpret its existing requirements. If other jurisdictions do decide to follow California’s lead, they will hopefully provide employers with more clear language, especially since employers generally probably agree with the basic thrust of what the California bureaucrats who drafted these regulations intended.

Source: 2 California Code of Reglations 11027, et seq.

The EEOC and a mixed fallout from #MeToo

Recent developments at the EEOC reflect a mixed fallout from the #MeToo movement.

Despite massive social change seen at many levels from #MeToo, with celebrities, politicians and business leaders all being called to answer for allegations of sexual harassment — and despite many lawyers who anecdotally report seeing increased charges in their own practices — EEOC Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic reported June 11 that the EEOC has yet to see a significant increase in sexual harassment charges.

Notwithstanding a lack of increased charges, the EEOC is determined not to be left behind by the #MeToo movement. The agency itself has formed a task force to study sexual harassment and, immediately following the task force’s meeting, the EEOC filed seven lawsuits (on and and about June 11, 2018) involving allegations of sexual harassment. Additionally, the EEOC has identified sexual harassment as one of its 2017-21 strategic enforcement priorities.

Religious accommodation need not preserve overtime opportunities

The Tenth Circuit recently decided a case where the plaintiff’s requested religious accommodation gave him the time he needed off for religious reasons but meant losing overtime. The Court held the employer did not have to allow him to work more later in the week to make up for the lost overtime.

The worker had asked for Saturdays off as a religious accommodation. The employer agreed. However, because Saturdays were the day of the week when the worker (and the other workers apparently) worked overtime, it left him with no overtime opportunity. Wanting to keep his Saturdays off, he asked to be allowed to make up the lost hours by working overtime on Sundays. The employer refused.

The Tenth Circuit recognized that granting the worker his requested accommodation of Saturdays off had cost him his overtime opportunities but held that the company was not required to allow him to work make up hours on Sundays. The Court held that an accommodation is reasonable if it allows the plaintiff “to engage in his religious practice despite the employer’s normal rules to the contrary.” Here letting him take Saturdays off allowed him to engage in his religious practices. The Court rejected the argument that Title VII required the company to then allow him to work make-up overtime on Sundays.

Though (the plaintiff) may have requested an opportunity to make up his overtime hours on Sunday, Title VII did not require (the company) to offer (his) preferred accommodation.

The case illustrates Title VII’s basic principle that a worker may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation of his religious practices, and so long as it is effective at allowing him to engage in his religious beliefs, it need not be his preferred accommodation, even where the difference means lost pay opportunities.

Source: Christmon v. B&B Airparts, Inc., case no. 17-3209 (10th Cir. 5/24/18).

SCOTUS rules for baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop

By 7-2, the Supreme Court ruled for the baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. All seven of the judges that formed the majority were struck by comments from the Colorado Civil Rights Commissioners that evidenced an anti-religious bias among the Commissioners when they decided the case. The Supreme Court called those comments “inappropriate,” “dismissive,” and “disparag(ing) of religion.”

What were these unacceptable comments? Well, in short, they included what can only be described as a gratuitous rant by one Commissioner about how, in her opinion, “religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust … we can list hundreds of situations.” It really didn’t help when the Commission, faced with three different cases involving bakers who refused to sell anti-gay marriage cakes, held for each of those bakers. The Supreme Court held that, pulling that all together, it seemed the Commission had made its decision not on the evidence and law but “the government’s own assessment of offensiveness.”

Along those lines, Justice Gorsuch, in his concurrence, noted that, if the government could make decisions on the basis of what it deems offensive, freedome of speech and expression would be lost. This is the oft-recognized principle that the only speech that really needs Constitutional protection is offensive speech.

The Constitution protects not just popular religious exercises from the condemnation of civil authorities. It protects them all.

In reversing based on the Commission’s own bias, the Supreme Court never reached the underlying question whether/when does a baker/florist/other expressive craftsman have a First Amendment right to refuse to sell their good/service to a consumer for religious reasons. Instead, the Supreme Court held that the baker had at least been entitled to a fair hearing of that issue, and that the Commission’s own bias had stripped him of that right.

(T)he delicate question of when the free exercise of his religion must yield to an otherwise valid exercise of state power needed to be determined in an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor in the balance the State sought to reach. That requirement, however, was not met here. When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.

Justice Kennedy — who has been the Court’s champion of both gay rights and speech rights, as well as religious liberty rights — wrote the majority opinion. He acknowledged that the Court was dodging the real question of how to balance those rights.

The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts….

Still, his opinion suggested how he thought the Court should rule in future cases.

Some examples of cases where he suggested future bakers/florists/etc. might lose on the merits included the following:

  • A baker who “refused to sell any goods or any cakes for gay weddings”

Some examples of future cases where bakers/etc. might win included the following:

  • A “refusal to put certain religious words or decorations on the cake”
  • A “refusal to attend the wedding to ensure that the cake is cut the right way”
  • A “refusal to sell a cake that has been baked for the public generally but includes certain religious words or symbols on it”

We may not have to wait long to find out how the Supreme Court will rule on the underlying issues. A similar case — involving a florist from Washington — is already pending a decision by the Supreme Court whether to hear the appeal in the fall.

Separate opinions in Masterpiece Cakeshop seemed to preview how the Justices might vote:

  • Justice Gorsuch wrote suggesting that he is likely to rule broadly for future bakers/florists/etc.
  • Justice Thomas wrote along such lines as well, though his opinion suggested concern over the concept of even trying to protect the rights of a gay couple in this type of circumstance.
  • Justices Kagan and Breyer, who joined the majority in this case, suggested they would lean split on future cases, ruling against bakers/etc., where there is no evidence of anti-religiouis bias among the state agencies.
  • Justice Ginsburg joined by Justice Sotomayor wrote to express their concerns that the anti-religious comments by the Commission, while unacceptable, were simply not so substantial as to warrant reversal; they would have ruled on the merits, and in doing so, for the gay couple who wished to buy the cake.

That means future cases are likely to have 4 Justices inclined to rule for and 4 Justices inclined to rule against the bakers/florists/etc., and as was expected here, Justice Kennedy is likely to be the swing vote. Expect to see him flesh out his balancing test based on those examples.

As for future cases, Justice Kennedy gave one word of warning — frankly simply restating the concern most of America seemingly has had and had hoped the Supreme Court would wrestle with in this decision — that these rights must be balanced such that religious liberty is not so broadly defined that it becomes an easy excuse for discrimination:

And any decision in favor of (a future) baker would have to be sufficiently constrained, lest all purveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons in effect be allowed to put up signs saying “no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages,” something that would impose a serious stigma on gay persons.

Readers of course will note that this concern exists not only as to LGBTQ individuals (which is all that quote discusses) but also individuals on the basis of race, gender, age, etc., and, yes, even religion. It simply cannot be the law that a business may refuse to do business on the grounds that a consumer is of a different race, color, gender or even religion.

Readers should also note that this line of cases isn’t just about consumers, and it certainly isn’t about just cakes. This line of cases has potential to touch all aspects of American life. It cannot be, for example, that a business has a right to refuse to hire someone simply because they assert a religious belief against that person’s sexual orientation, gender preference, race, gender, religion, etc.

Source: Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. C.C.R.C., case no. 16-11 (Sup.Ct. 6/4/18).

Sixth Circuit holds transgendered workers are already protected by Title VII

Following a recent Second Circuit decision holding that sexual preference (LGB) is already protected by Title VII within the meaning of “sex,” the Sixth Circuit has held that being transgendered is also so protected.

While both cases may be heading for Supreme Court review, they suggest that LGBT may well be determined by other federal Circuit Courts to have been protected by Title VII since its inception in 1964. Employers are reminded that many states and local governments already have express protections for LGBT workers.

Source: EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., case no. 16-2424 (6th Cir. 3/7/18).

Pay history bans coming, at a federal level, by way of the Circuit Courts?

A growing number of state and local governments prohibit asking applicants about their pay history or using prior employer pay histories as a basis for setting employee pay. Two Circuit Court cases suggest that such a ban may be coming, not by way of state and local legislation, but at a federal level under currently existing federal laws known as Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.

The Circuit Courts are the nation’s federal appellate courts. They are divided (and numbered) by region. They are for practical purposes generally the highest courts in the land, just beneath the Supreme Court of the United States. Very few cases result in Supreme Court review; the Circuit Courts resolve the vast bulk of federal appellate litigation without cases ever rising to the Supreme Court.

Pay history bans are growing across the country because advocates for equal pay, particularly between men and women, contend that one reason women earn less than men in many positions, is simply that women tend to have previously earned less than men in prior positions. In other words, they contend it is a self-perpetuating cycle.

In one case, the Ninth Circuit held last year, in 2017, that, consistent with its precedent, an employer may set pay levels purely on the basis of pay histories. However last summer the Ninth Circuit withdrew that decision and ordered the matter reheard en banc (by the entire bench of its judges). The case is pending reconsideration.

In the other case, the Eleventh Circuit just ruled in a Georgia case that an employer was not entitled to summary judgment, in other words, it would have to explain itself to a jury, where the female plaintiff argued she was underpaid compared to her male predecessor. The Eleventh Circuit case did not go so far as to hold that pay histories cannot be considered. It simply held, on the basis of the record before it, that pay histories were not themselves enough to warrant ruling for that employer. The Eleventh Circuit’s decision may be limited to its facts in that, there, the company’s HR manager had testified to general female-male pay disparities at the company and further that the company’s general manager had made an anti-female remark.

Employers should consider monitoring pay history bans.

Source: Rizo v. Yovino, case no. 15-372 (9th Circuit) (case pending reconsideration en banc); Bowen v. Manheim Remarketing, Inc., case no. 16-17237 (11th Cir. 2/21/18).

Second Circuit holds Title VII has always protected sexual orientation within its protection of “sex”

Following a recent series of cases discussed earlier on this blog, the Second Circuit has held that sexual orientation is, and has always been, included within the meaning of Title VII’s protection of “sex.”

Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as discrimination “because of . . . sex.” To the extent that our prior precedents held otherwise, they are overruled.

Source: Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., case no. 15-3775 (2nd Cir. 2/26/18).

NLRB clears Google, signals more employer-respectful approach to discipline of workplace misconduct

In a shift from recent NLRB decisions holding employers liable under the National Labor Relations Act’s Section 7 for disciplining employee misconduct that is offensive, disrespectful and harassing, the NLRB General Counsel recently cleared Google of charges that, by disciplining an employee for having written an offensive memo, it had somehow violated the Act.

Section 7 is a part of the National Labor Relations Act that applies to both unionized and non-unionized workforces, so this decision is of equal interest to companies without unions as to companies with unions representing their workforces.

In this case, Google’s employee famously wrote a memo that sought to explain why men received more favorable treatment than women in Google’s high tech workplace. The memo was considered by many to be highly offensive and received substantial national press. Included in his memo were stereotyping comments about women, such that women are more prone to “neuroticism” and therefore less able to work in a stressful environment and that more men score in the “top of the curve” than women.

Although the employee “cloaked” his memo in “science,” especially biology, quoting the NLRB, the Board’s General Counsel refused to engage on the so-called science, instead finding that the stereotyping comments were offensive and specifically offensive in a gender-specific manner, implicating the nation’s laws against sex discrimination. The Board’s General Counsel noted that the memo triggered internal complaints of sexual harassment and multiple female engineering candidates withdrew their applications.

The Board’s General Counsel also refused to condone the parts of the memo that may have been protected under Section 7, which protects an employee’s efforts to further his workplace’s wages, hours and working conditions.

(W)hile much of the Charging Party’s memorandum was likely protected, the statements regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected.

In reaching that conclusion, the Board’s General Counsel noted that Google had drafted the employee’s termination notice to expressly say he was not being let go for any lawful aspects of his memo, but rather specifically and only for “(a)dvancing gender stereotypes.”

Finally the Board rejected the argument that the memo was merely speech and that, as such, it alone may not have been a violation of the anti-discrimination laws.

(E)mployers must be able to “nip in the bud” the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a “hostile workplace,” rather than waiting until an actionable hostile workplace has been created before taking action.

It is this “nip in the bud” comment that is mostly likely to be cited by future employers. Recognizing that an employer has the right to “nip in the bud” misconduct seems to be a reversal of recent Obama- era Board decisions.

Source: NLRB Advice Memorandum, case no. 32-CA-205351 (1/16/18).

NLRB General Counsel issues memo outlining likely reversals to Obama-era precedents

As previously reported here in this blog, the Trump Board (NLRB Boards are often colloquially but not pejoratively referred to by the President during their term) has begun overruling Obama-era precedents. Further reversals are anticipated. Curious which Obama-era NLRB precedents are likely to be reversed?

NLRB General Counsel Robb issued a controversial memo, shortlisting the cases he thinks most warrant attention. Indeed to call it a shortlist is a stretch. The General Counsel lists 26 categories, that range from employee access to email, to protections for section 7 rights, obscene and harassing behavior, off-duty access to property, the Weingarten right to have a representative present, rights of employees during contract negotiations, successorship and of course the joint employer doctrine, unilateral changes consistent with past practice, information requests during the processing of a grievance, dues check-offs, remedies, deferral, and, well, the list goes on, as will employers’ need to stay tuned to forthcoming developments at the Board.

Source: NLRB General Counsel Memorandum GC 18-02.

Employers in New York City face potential for greater punitive damages

The New York Court of Appeals ruled in Chauca v. Abraham that employers face greater exposure for punitive damages under New York City’s anti-discrimination laws than under the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title VII.

The Court observed that existing law mandates that New York City’s law be “as a floor below which the City’s Human Rights Law cannot fall, rather than a ceiling above which the local law cannot rise.”

The Court then noted that New York City’s law is worded differently and, as such, it “requires neither a showing of malice or awareness of the violation of a protected right.” This means a lower standard than Title VII. However, the Court cautioned the standard should not be so low that punitive damages are available whenever a violation is proven warranting compensatory damages.

Punitive damages represent punishment for wrongful conduct that goes beyond mere negligence and are warranted only where aggravating factors demonstrate an additional level of wrongful conduct (see Home Ins. Co., 75 NY2d at 203-204 ). Accordingly, there must be some heightened standard for such an award.

As a middle ground, the Court articulated a new standard for punitive damages under New York City’s law: The plaintiff must prove “the wrongdoer has engaged in discrimination with wilful or wanton negligence, or recklessness, or a ‘conscious disregard of the rights of others or conduct so reckless as to amount to such disregard.'”

A dissenter disagreed arguing the majority had set the bar too low. The dissenter would have allowed punitive damages “whenever liability is proved, unless an employer has adopted and fully implemented the antidiscrimination programs, policies, and procedures promulgated by the Commission on Human Rights, as an augmentation to compensatory damages, and would answer the certified question accordingly.”

Source: https://www.bloomberglaw.com/document/X1OFI9SU0000N?

Turn on your radios!

The Supreme Court holds oral arguments tomorrow in Masterpiece Cakeshop. I will be live in-studio on 850 KOA Colorado’s Morning News, for a series of segments starting about 8:00 AM tomorrow morning discussing the case.

Office of Management and Budgets (OMB) rejects EEOC’s revised EEO-1 Form

The OMB rejected the EEOC’s new EEO-1 form, which would have become effective March 31, 2018. The OMB reviews agency forms like this pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act and determined that the EEOC’s new EEO-1 had been unlawfully developed by the EEOC had underestimated the burden on employers it its published estimate. The PRA was enacted into law in 1980 and since then has required agencies to estimate the paperwork burden any new bureaucratic action would require. Here the OMB determined that the EEOC’s previously published estimate was simply, and significantly, too low. Specifically the new EEO-1 form would have required employers who are subject to EEO-1 reporting (typically employers of 100 or more) to report wage and hours worked for all employees by race, ethnicity and sex, all within 12 specified pay bands. The OMB determined that the public had not been properly apprised by the EEOC of the burdens such a requirement would entail.
The OMB’s ruling comes after much controversy over the new EEO-1 form. Commentators criticized the EEOC’s approach not only as being overly burdensome but also as overly simplistic. Commentators noted it would have created the impression that workers within the same pay bands should be paid the same amounts (irrespective of their gender, race, etc.) despite the fact that they may work in very different positions within those bands. Likewise it has been noted that the EEOC’s approach overly simplified compensation practices by not properly allowing for articulation of base wages versus bonuses, commissions, overtime and non-wage benefits that form part of a compensation package.
Although a part of the White House, the OMB is often seen as a non-partisan watch dog.
The OMB’s ruling leaves the EEOC’s proposed EEO-1 for 2018 dead in the water. The OMB has invited the EEOC to continue the OMB’s examination of the proposed EEO-1 form if it believes the form defensible. The OMB has also noted the EEOC’s prior EEO-1 would be acceptable for use. The EEOC has announced it is considering its options. Employers must wait for the EEOC’s decision to determine what form to use in the future.
Source: OMB Memoradum re EEO-1 Form, Review and Stay (8/29/17)

Second Circuit rejects EEOC’s expansive interpretation of Title VII’s “limit, segregate, or classify” clause

Title VII is the nation’s leading anti-discrimination law. Most Title VII cases involve its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, etc. Many involve its anti-retaliation provision. But, few involve a clause in Title VII that says employers may not “limit, segregate, or classify” employees based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

In this case the EEOC argued that the employer did just that when it alleged transferred the African-American sales manager from its retail store that served largely Hispanic customers.

The employer responded that, even if it had, the transfer did not hurt the sales manager; it did not cause an adverse employment action, like a cut in pay, demotion, termination, etc. The EEOC responded that it didn’t matter. The EEOC argued that any limitation, segregation or classification was prohibited, even if it caused no harm to the plaintiff.

The court rejected both arguments. The court agreed with the EEOC that an adverse employment action was not required, but it agreed with the employer that the EEOC had to prove the transfer in some way “deprived or even tended to deprive him of any employment opportunity or otherwise adversely affected his employment status” (emphasis in original).

Source: EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., — F.3d —, case no. 15-3201 (6/20/17).

Tenth Circuit confirms employees may “double file” EEOC charges

An employee filed an EEOC charge in 2009 for sexual harassment, but did not sue when he received his administrative right to sue. Instead, he continued to work, then filed another charge in 2011. When he sued for sexual harassment after the second charge, the employer challenged his claim as timely. The trial court held that he could not include in his claim any events preceding 300 days (the applicable statute of limitations) prior to the 2011 charge, in other words, all of the 2009 charge’s allegations (and potentially a period thereafter into 2010). The Tenth Circuit reversed. The Tenth Circuit said that, under the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision, Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, any events constituting the “the same actionable hostile work environment practice” are admissible in the lawsuit, irrespective of whether they occurred before the 2011 charge’s time period. In other words, a plaintiff is allowed to “double file” EEOC charges for the same conduct.

In so ruling, the court noted its 2005 precedent in Duncan v. City and County of Denver, outlining the relevant factors to determine if events do or do not constitute part of “the same actionable hostile work environment practice” under Morgan: They must be “related by type, frequency, and perpetrator” without any “intervening action by the employer” that might break the relationship.

The case is Hansen v. SkyWest Airlines, 844 F.3d 914 (10th Cir. 2016).

 

Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment, both, just sexual harassment, by a different name

Federal and state law prohibit sexual harassment. The courts have articulate two common types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo (where someone is asked to provide sex in exchange for a job benefit or punished on the job for not providing sex) and hostile work environment (where someone is subjected to “severe or pervasive” mistreatment because of their sex/gender). Whatever the kind of civil rights violation, a complaint of sexual harassment must first be lodged with the EEOC (or appropriate state agency) before a lawsuit can be filed.

In this case, the employee filed a the required administrative charge of sexual harassment but described only a hostile work environment, then when he later sued, he added quid pro quo allegations. The trial court held it was too late; he should have done so in his administrative charge. The Tenth Circuit disagreed holding that, under Title VII’s charge requirement and under federal pleadings standards, the employee’s allegations of sexual harassment were sufficient to put the employer on notice of any kind of sexual harassment, whether quid pro quo or hostile work environment. The court explained that quid pro quo and hostile work environment are just two different examples of sexual harassment.

The case was Jones v. Needham, case no. 16-6156 (10th Cir. 5/12/17).

Allegedly condescending use of “she” in reference to plaintiff held sufficient to support triable claim of gender discrimination

Discrimination and harassment claims are often supported by a constellation of evidence designed to show that the employer’s proffered legitimate business reason for discipline or discharge was in fact a pretext for discrimination. In this case, the First Circuit held a supervisor’s use of “she” in a condescending tone to refer to the plaintiff was, along with other evidence, sufficient to warrant a trial, because a “speaker’s meaning may depend on various factors including context, inflection, tone of voice.”

Here, a meeting attendee, SFAM Ouellette, stated in an affidavit that Johnson “made frequent references to the way `she’ was doing things. He emphasized the word `she.'” SFAM Ouellette opined that he “felt it was a condescending way to speak about her and picked up on [Johnson’s] disdain for her and for [Ouellette] when [he] defended her.” SFAM Ouellette’s observations about Johnson’s tone are based on his perception as a seasoned manager on what he had just observed, not mere speculation.

The case was Burns v. Johnson, 829 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 7/11/16).

 

Tenth Circuit refuses to enforce EEOC subpoena

The Tenth Circuit refused to enforce an EEOC subpoena denied where the EEOC’s subpoena requested information regarding the employer’s treatment of other employees. The request exceeded the scope of the purely individual-oriented charge, no EEOC charge had been filed and the employer had not put its treatment of other employees at-issue in its position statement.

The case was EEOC v. TriCore Reference Laboratories, — F.3d — (10th Cir. 2/27/17).

Supreme Court holds that trial court analysis of EEOC subpoena’s enforceability is entitled to discretion, not de novo review.

In a decision that probably surprised no one except the often-reversed and reversed-in-this-case Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court held that a trial court, not an appellate court, is in the best position to review the particulars of a subpoena.

Interestingly, the decision, which can be seen as reinforcing the EEOC’s ability to issue subpoenas – or at least reducing judicial scrutiny over EEOC subpoenas – was technically a loss for the EEOC. The EEOC had issued a subpoena for contact information for employees who’d taken a certain test, nationwide. The company objected, and the trial court agreed with the company, holding the EEOC’s nationwide request was overly broad. The EEOC then appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which ruled it could review the trial court’s ruling de novo (from scratch) without having to give the trial court any deference. The Supreme Court disagreed and sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit. Now, the EEOC will decide if it still wants the information, and if so, it will have the heavy burden of proving not only that  it is entitled to the information but that the trial court was so wrong when it decided otherwise that it abused its discretion.

While the EEOC lost the Supreme Court case, companies should be mindful of the overarching lesson: The EEOC has broad subpoena power, and a trial court may now be the only judicial body with substantial authority to hear a challenge to an EEOC subpoena.

For an example of how EEOC subpoenas are analyzed for enforceability, see this posting.

The case was McLane Co., Inc. v. EEOC, — S.Ct. — (4/3/17/).

Second Circuit signals potential major expansion of Title VII’s protections for sexual orientation

Title VII prohibits discrimination “because of … sex,” and many court decisions have held that “sex” does not include sexual orientation. Thus, homosexuality is not protected by Title VII.

In this case, a panel of the Second Circuit repeated that holding; however, the panel then noted that, if it could consider the issue fresh, as could the Second Circuit en banc  (sitting as a full bench), it believed several arguments, outlined in its decision, would warrant holding that sexual orientation should be protected by Title VII.

The decision signals a potential expansion for protection of sexual orientation at the federal level. Colorado law already protects sexual orientation, as does the law in many states.

The case was Christiansen v. Omnicon Group, Inc., — F.3d — (2nd Cir. 3/27/17).

Eleventh Circuit splits over sexual orientation

In a split decision, following a recent decision by the Second Circuit, the Eleventh Circuit held that sexual orientation is not protected by Title VII.

Colorado law already protects sexual orientation, as does the law in many states.

The case was Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, — F.3d — (11th Cir. 3/10/17).

Seventh Circuit expands Title VII to cover sexual orientation

As predicted in earlier postings, the issue of whether sexual orientation is protected by Title VII is likely to see further examination by future courts. Now, the Seventh Circuit has split from those prior courts and held that, at least in its jurisdiction (Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin), sexual orientation is protected by Title VII.

The split in Circuit Courts suggests a likelihood that this issue will now rise to the Supreme Court.

Colorado law already protects sexual orientation, as does the law in many states.

The case was Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, — F.3d — (7th Cir. 4/4/17).