Photo of Charlie Warner

Charlie is an experienced attorney in the area of employment law and litigation generally. He represents employers in connection with discrimination charges, express and implied employment contract issues, employment practices, and related tort and benefit claims.

In an opinion issued this week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee) affirmed dismissal of a case alleging same-sex sexual harassment primarily based on the prompt and effective action taken by the employer in response to the plaintiff employee’s complaint.

Plaintiff (Hylko) and the alleged harasser (Hemphill) worked closely together at U.S. Steel. Hemphill trained Hylko and assigned his duties. Both reported to an area manager.

Hylko claimed that Hemphill harassed him as soon as they started working together, that Hemphill regularly asked Hylko about his sex life and that Hemphill grabbed his buttocks and private parts.

Hylko complained to management, who offered him a transfer to a different area of the plant, which he accepted. Management then met with Hemphill, who admitted some of the harassment. They then gave him a verbal warning, one week suspension and demotion to shift manager and made him take a leadership class. No harassment occurred again after that.

The standard for employer liability for hostile work environment harassment that does not result in a tangible adverse employment action depends typically on whether or not the harasser is the victim’s supervisor. An employer is vicariously liable for a hostile work environment created by a supervisor unless it can prove that (a) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassment; and (b) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise. By contrast, an employer is liable for hostile work environment harassment by employees who are not supervisors only if the alleged victim can prove the employer was “negligent in failing to prevent harassment from taking place.” In assessing such negligence, the court will look to such factors as the nature and degree of authority wielded by the harasser and evidence the employer did not monitor the workplace, failed to respond to complaints, failed to provide a system for registering complaints or effectively discouraged complaints from being filed. In essence, the supervisory status of the alleged results in a shifting of the burden of proof with respect to whether the employer has taken necessary steps to prevent and respond to allegations of harassment.


Continue Reading When can an employer be found liable for ‘supervisor’ harassment?

In a decision issued on June 9, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee) affirmed the dismissal of sexual harassment claims brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of three female AutoZone employees. In its decision, the Court reaffirmed some important principles.

The case involved a store manager who was transferred into an AutoZone store in Cordova, Tennessee. Shortly after arriving, he began to make lewd and obscene sexual comments and propositions to one female employee in particular and also made sexual comments to two other female employees as well. Under AutoZone’s system, the store manager did not have the authority to fire, promote, reassign and take tangible employment actions with respect to store employees (even though he could make some hires). Those responsibilities were reserved for the district manager (who visited the store at least once a week).
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit decision in EEOC v. AutoZone provides road map to sexual harassment defense

A recently published decision of an Ohio Court of Appeals reminds us that, particularly in this electronic age, employers need to be very careful in the handling of confidential medical information. The decision is also a reminder that sometimes the outcome of a case can depend on the precedent in a particular appellate district.

In Templeton v. Fred. W. Albrecht Grocery Co. the 9th District Court of Appeals (for Summit County, Ohio) the employee responsible for managing workers’ compensation claims for the employer inadvertently sent a psychological report regarding the plaintiff to other employees rather than to the plaintiff’s attorney as she intended. The plaintiff brought suit alleging unauthorized disclosure, negligence and invasion of privacy. In response, the employer filed a motion to dismiss the claims as a matter of law.

The trial court dismissed the unauthorized disclosure and negligence claims at the outset and then, ultimately granted summary judgment as to the invasion of privacy claim. The plaintiff then appealed.


Continue Reading Ohio Appellate Court dismisses privacy breach lawsuit against employer

Following the report of a 16-member task force led by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Commissioners Chai Feldblum (D) and Victoria Lipnic (R) in 2016, last week the EEOC issued proposed guidance for public comment on or before Feb. 9.

In fiscal 2015, the EEOC received 27, 893 private-sector charges alleging harassment, representing more than 31 percent of all charges filed with the EEOC. As Commissioner Lipnic commented, harassment charges “remain a far too dominant part” of the agency’s workload.

The guidance is intended to assist not only EEOC employees, but employers and employees generally to understand the extent of the problem and ways in which harassment can be prevented and addressed. And it pulls that together in one document, superseding five existing EEOC enforcement documents.
Continue Reading EEOC issues proposed guidance on harassment

On Nov. 21, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its new and updated Enforcement Guidance on National Origin Discrimination, replacing its 2002 guidance on the subject.

In the guidance, the EEOC defines national origin discrimination as “discrimination because an individual (or his or her ancestors) is from a certain place or has the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a particular national origin group.” This includes discrimination because of an individual’s “place of origin” such as a country, a former country (e.g., Yugoslavia) or a geographic region closely associated with a particular national origin group (e.g., Kurdistan). Further, a “national origin” or “ethnic” group is a “group of people sharing a common language, culture, ancestry, race and or other social characteristics,” such as “Hispanics, Arabs or Roma.”

Under the guidance, discrimination includes treating persons less favorably because they do not belong to a particular ethnic group, as well as because they do. Employees are also protected from discrimination because they associate with someone of a particular national origin (e.g., by marriage). The EEOC also takes the position that national origin discrimination can be based on an individual’s “perceived” status as a member of an ethnic group. However, as we explained in a recent blog based on the Longoria decision in the Northern District of Ohio federal court, few courts (including none in Ohio) have recognized such a theory of liability.
Continue Reading EEOC issues new guidance on national origin discrimination

In a decision issued in July, the Sixth Circuit addressed the standard for a claim under the "associational" provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and affirmed summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim that his employment was terminated due to his wife’s disability.

The plaintiff was the highest ranking manager for Air Wisconsin at the Kalamazoo Airport. His wife suffered from various conditions, including a rare and debilitating auto immune disorder that required expensive treatment.

Plaintiff was terminated for poor performance based on failure to report security violations, supervise employees properly and stay within budget. In filing suit, he claimed that the termination was due to consideration of his wife’s disability, which he alleged impacted his work performance and caused him to be inattentive at work.


Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Rules for Employer in First Published Decision on “Associational” Disability Discrimination Claim

The much-awaited decision of the United States Supreme Court is here. Dubbed by Justice Scalia as “one of the most expansive class actions ever,” the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which had affirmed the certification of a class of approximately 1.5 million current and former female employees alleging discrimination in pay and promotion.
Continue Reading Wal-Mart v. Dukes: Supreme Court Rejects “Expansive” Gender Bias Class Action In Absence of “General Policy of Discrimination”