Header graphic for print
Employer Law Report

Tag Archives: discrimination

University gets it right when it says, “enough is enough”: Tenth Circuit upholds inflexible leave policy under Rehabilitation Act

Posted in EEO, Leave Administration

Employers who have been concerned about the EEOC’s stance on inflexible maximum leave policies can find some comfort in the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Hwang v. Kansas State University, wherein the court held a six month leave of absence was a reasonable accommodation, and the University’s denial of additional time was not a violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

Facts

Grace Hwang was employed as a professor at Kansas State University from 1994 until February 2012, on a year-to-year contract. Ms. Hwang served as an assistant professor in KSU’s School of Leadership Studies. In 2005, Hwang was diagnosed with breast …


Continue Reading →

Court Holds That Employer Did Not Have “Possession, Custody or Control” of Text Messages Sent or Received on its Employees’ Personal Cell Phones

Posted in Workplace Privacy

In an employment race discrimination case, a federal court recently held that the defendant-employer did not have “possession, custody, or control” over text messages sent or received by its employees on their personal cell phones. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion to compel the production of these text messages because there was no evidence that:

  • the employer issued the cell phones to the employees;
  • the employees used the cell phones for any work-related purpose; or
  • the employer otherwise had any legal right to obtain employee text messages on demand.

Cotton v. Costco Wholesale Corp., Case No. 12-2731, slip op. …


Continue Reading →

Be Careful What You Dismiss as Not a “Real” Religion When Employees Seek Religious Accommodation: Court Holds Veganism Could Plausibly Be a “Religious Belief”

Posted in EEO, Traps for the Unwary

In a recent decision in Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Case No. 1:11-cv-00917, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Cincinnati held that sincerely held beliefs in veganism could plausibly be considered religious beliefs protected against religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Ohio state law. The Court rejected the argument that veganism was merely a social philosophy or dietary preference.

Sakile Chenzira was a customer service representative for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for over 10 years. In 2010, the Hospital terminated Chenzira for her refusal to be …


Continue Reading →

Sometimes It Is Best to Bite Your Tongue! Sixth Circuit Holds University’s Diversity Interests Outweighed First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech

Posted in EEO, Traps for the Unwary, Workforce Strategies

In Dixon v. Univ. of Toledo et al., the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a high-level human resources official who writes publicly against the policies her government employer charges her with creating, promoting and enforcing, is not engaging in protected speech. Crystal Dixon, an African-American woman, who was the acting Interim Associate Vice President for Human Resources at the University of Toledo ("the University") when she penned a riveting op-ed column rebuking comparisons between the civil-rights and gay-rights movements. The piece ultimately led to her termination.

On April 4, 2008, Toledo Free Press Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller …


Continue Reading →

‘Tis the Season for Holiday Workplace Issues. Day 2 – Being Inclusive Without Being A Grinch

Posted in EEO, Traps for the Unwary, Workforce Strategies

Religion is also a hot-button workplace issue in December because so many different religious groups celebrate different holidays in December. For example: Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus at Christmas; Buddhists celebrate Buddha’s Enlightenment with Bodhi Day; Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights; African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice; Seinfeld enthusiasts celebrate Festivus, and there are many others.

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of religion. This means that an employer cannot treat persons of different religions differently or appear to favor one religion over another. …


Continue Reading →

EEOC Permits Title VII Sex Discrimination Claim Based On Transgender Status To Proceed

Posted in EEO

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) decided on April 20, 2012 that discrimination against an employee on the basis that they are transgender was the equivalent of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Macy v. Holder, EEOC Case No. 0120120821. Title VII protects employees against discrimination on the basis of a several protected classes, including sex. While many states and municipalities include transgender and sexual orientation as protected classes, Title VII has not been interpreted to protect these individuals on this basis alone. Individuals must show that the discrimination was based on their …


Continue Reading →

Sixth Circuit Orders Reinstatement and Overturns $4.4 Million Front Pay Award In Vet’s Disability Discrimination Case

Posted in EEO

The recent Sixth Circuit case of McKelvey v. Secretary of United States Army highlights the plight of many disabled veterans returning to the civilian work force and presents a lesson for employers on how not to address those issues.

James McKelvey, an Army veteran who lost his right hand and suffered other serious injuries while trying to defuse a roadside bomb in Iraq in February 2004, returned to work at the Detroit Arsenal where he claimed his supervisors and co-workers at the armory constantly harassed him by calling him "cripple," and "worthless," and not assigning him an equal workload. McKelvey …


Continue Reading →

EEOC’s Informal Discussion Letter Merits Re-Evaluation of High School Diploma Requirements

Posted in EEO

Employers frequently require a high school diploma as a condition of employment. Employers not only look to hire individuals who possess basic skills in reading, writing and math, but also believe that having a high school diploma demonstrates a level of maturity and perseverance.

That requirement seems reasonable — except when it "screens out" individuals based on their protected status. For instance, the EEOC has long taken the position, upheld by the courts, that high school diploma requirements have an adverse impact on minorities and therefore can be used only when a high school diploma can be shown to be …


Continue Reading →

EEOC Charges Rise Significantly in 2010

Posted in EEO

According to statistics released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) earlier this week, the Agency received over 7% more charges in 2010 than it did the previous year—99,922 as compared to 93,277.  Indeed, the number of charges filed were up in every category.  The FY 2010 enforcement and litigation statistics, which include trend data, are available online here.

Such statistics are not surprising in light of the large number of layoffs that occurred in 2010, coupled with the difficulties terminated employees had in finding new employment in a down economy.  What is more interesting, however, is that, for the first …


Continue Reading →

Reverse Race Discrimination Case Before U.S. Supreme Court Raises Burning Issues

Posted in EEO

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Ricci v. DeStefano, a case in which several white and Hispanic New Haven firefighters claim that they were discriminated against when the city refused to certify promotion test results based on a concern that the test may have been flawed.  Attorneys for the firefighters contend that the city improperly refused to certify the test results because the test did not generate a sufficient number of African-American candidates for promotion. Attorneys for the city contend that the city properly took a second look at the validity of the test when it appeared …


Continue Reading →

EEOC Experiences Sharp Rise In Discrimination Charges: How to Lessen Your Risk of Being Part of This Trend

Posted in EEO, Traps for the Unwary, Workforce Strategies

In a press release issued yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that, in its fiscal year 2008 (October 1, 2007 – September 30, 2008), there was a 15 percent increase in the number of employment discrimination charges filed against employers. The 95,402 charges filed are more than the number of charges filed in any other one-year period in the history of the agency. The greatest percentage increase was in age discrimination charges, up 28.7 percent from the previous year. Sex discrimination charges were up 14 percent, and race charges were up 11.2 percent. There was a smaller percentage increase in disability …


Continue Reading →

Transsexuality-Based Decisions May Cause Problems Under Federal Sex Discrimination Laws

Posted in EEO

The decision in a recent federal court case against the United States Library of Congress shows clearly the risk an employer takes when making employment decisions based on a person’s gender identity. In Schroer v. Billington, D.D.C., Case No. 05-1090, September 19, 2008, the Library of Congress was found guilty of sex discrimination under Title VII when it withdrew a job offer just after the Library became aware that the person being hired – Diane Schroer – was undergoing medical treatments to change her sex from male to female. Ms. Schroer is a decorated military veteran and had been hired for …


Continue Reading →

Supreme Court OKs Employer Use of Age as a Factor In Pension Plans

Posted in EEO, Employee Benefits/ERISA

In Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, No. 06-1037, 2008 WL 2445078 (U.S. June 19, 2008), the Supreme Court recently held that “where an employer adopts a pension plan that includes age as a factor” (in determining eligibility for retirement with pension benefits), and the employer subsequently “treats employees differently based on pension status,” the plan does not automatically violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Rather, the Court held that the plaintiff challenging such a policy must show that the differential treatment was “actually motivated” by age. In a 5-4 decision — with a rather strange alignment of …


Continue Reading →

New State Law Prohibits Discrimination Based On Military Status

Posted in EEO

On December 20, 2007, Governor Strickland signed into law the “Ohio Veterans Package” (Sub. H.B. 372), which is intended to support members and veterans of the armed services. Among other things, the Act exempts the estates of service men and women who die in active service from certain probate fees, exempts retired military personnel pay for military service from the Ohio income tax, and designates Interstate Routes 70 and 71 in Ohio as the “Purple Heart Trail.”

Perhaps the most significant change made by the statute – particularly for Ohio employers – is the addition of “military status” to …


Continue Reading →