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US Supreme CourtA significant new ruling issued earlier this month by the U.S. Supreme Court offers very good news for employees who have been the victims of discrimination that was so bad that it ultimately forced them to quit their jobs in order to escape the mistreatment. According to the Court’s 7-1 majority, the statute of limitations for pursuing a discrimination claim does not even begin to run until the date the employee resigns, as opposed to the date of the last act of discrimination. This decision delays the start of that limitations period and gives employees in Georgia and across the country an expanded period of time to begin pursuing their claims.

The case leading to this ruling began in a post office in Colorado. Marvin Green, an African-American man, applied to be the postmaster of Englewood, Colorado. Another applicant received the job, and Green launched a claim, alleging that his rejection was the result of racial discrimination. According to Green, his supervisors responded to that action by threatening him with a criminal investigation on the basis of intentionally delaying the mail. Ultimately, the supervisors and Green worked out an agreement to avoid the investigation. Green would either accept a reassignment to the tiny and isolated town of Wamsutter, Wyoming (located four hours northwest of Green’s suburban Denver job) and the dramatic pay cut that went with it… or retire.

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clockIn a recent case (and a noteworthy one to Tennessee employers and employees) that continues the exploration of which employees are, or are not, qualified under the Fair Labor Standards Act to receive overtime pay, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a bank’s failure to pay its residential mortgage loan underwriters overtime did not violate the FLSA. The underwriters performed tasks that were integral to one of the employer’s primary business objectives (lending money) and did their jobs using a substantial degree of discretion and independent judgment, so they were exempt from receiving overtime.

In this situation, a group of residential mortgage loan underwriters sued their employer, Huntington Bancshares, Inc., for failing to pay them overtime in violation of the FLSA. A federal district court in Ohio concluded that the underwriters were exempt from receiving overtime pay under 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1) because they qualified as administrative employees.

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Popeyes ChickenFor Georgia employers engaging in the process of investigating an employee for possible misconduct, a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision offers useful knowledge about what is (and is not) required in order to avoid running afoul of Title VII and finding oneself liable for illegal discrimination. In that recent case, the court ruled against an employee who alleged sex discrimination, deciding that, even if the employer’s investigation into that employee was flawed, the employee lacked proof, as required by the law, that the employer’s actions were motivated by an intent to discriminate.

The employee in the case, Kendra Chukes, started work in 2012 as an assistant manager at a Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits restaurant in Florida. Before Chukes started working at that location, the restaurant had experienced virtually no problems with cash shortages in its safe. However, less than two months into Chukes’ employment, the safe came up short on cash three times while she was on duty. Despite Chukes’ denial of involvement, a supervisor ordered her suspended without pay pending the conclusion of an investigation into the repeated instances of missing money. Ultimately, after interviewing several employees about the missing money, the supervisor decided to terminate Chukes.

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African-American NurseCertain professional service providers, such as those in the medical profession, may sometimes find themselves in an awkward situation when a patient or patient’s family makes a request regarding the employees who will provide the patient’s care that is discriminatory in nature. Tennessee employers should take note of a recent ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which stated that the employer’s handling of the request will not trigger a employment discrimination claim as long as the employer does nothing that would diminish the minority employee’s pay, benefits, or prestige, or otherwise materially affect the employee negatively.

In this case, a hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, had a patient in late 2010 whose family requested that no African-American caregivers be assigned to the patient. Jill Crane, a part-time nursing supervisor at the hospital and an African-American, learned about the family’s request from another nursing supervisor. Crane complained to the director of nursing, but to no avail.

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11th-Circuit-Court-of-AppealsEmployees who believe that they’ve been victims of age discrimination received a huge benefit from a late 2015 decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, involving a North Georgia worker who sued his prospective employer for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The judges who heard the man’s appeal issued a groundbreaking ruling, stating, for the first time in the 11th Circuit, that employment candidates alleging age discrimination can use disparate impact to prove that an employer discriminated against them. That new tool is again being called into question, however, since the 11th Circuit has agreed to review the case again, this time by all of the judges of the Circuit.

In most federal appeals, the case is heard on appeal by a “panel” of three appellate judges. For the losing side, the law allows an option to request that the case be reheard, and decided, by all of the judges for that appeals court. This is called a rehearing en banc. That’s what R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. sought and obtained in a recent age discrimination case in the 11th Circuit.

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Lucy-van-pelt-1-Dealing with an employee who may have psychological issues, such as possible suicidal thoughts, can be a tricky issue for an employer. The employer has an obligation to protect the well-being of its other employees, but it also needs to ensure that it does not discriminate against the employee who may have a recognized disability. A recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of an Ohio employer in an Americans With Disabilities Act case offers some helpful insight for Tennessee employers facing this situation.

Peggy Barnum worked for The Ohio State University Medical Center as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). Her employment was without major incident for five years until major personal problems struck. In 2011, Barnum’s marriage ended in divorce, and her daughter was prosecuted for criminal violations. These issues bled over into her work, where the nurse allegedly opined, among other things, that “maybe I should put a gun to my head,” and “maybe I should do everybody a favor and not be around.” Barnum’s emotional problems were also affecting her work, where her level of focus was noted to be deficient.

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factory-assembly-lineA new ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals offers some encouragement for employers and useful knowledge for employees. The recent decision made it clear that, in disability discrimination cases, the obligation to engage in an interactive process requires each side to interact meaningfully with the other. In this case, a disabled employee’s failure to participate in the process in a good-faith manner ultimately doomed her Americans With Disabilities Act violation claim against her employer.

The employee in the case was Kimberly Agee, a worker in Mercedes Benz U.S. International, Inc.’s auto assembly plant in northern Alabama. After breast cancer surgery, Agee developed pain in her arm, and, as a result, her doctor placed her on a 15-pound lifting restriction. The employer moved Agee around to various jobs in the auto shop that accommodated her lifting restriction.

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Dollar_General_storeA recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case is helpful in instructing how far an employer must go in stating why it chose to terminate an employee on Family and Medical Leave Act leave. Even though the employer in the recent case only narrowed its reasons down to two mutually exclusive ones, its good-faith investigation established a reasonable basis for concluding that the employee committed one of the two misdeeds, and, since either was enough to warrant termination, the employer’s action did not violate the law.

The events that happened to Kimberly Thomas that triggered this case were, in some ways, not uncommon. Thomas, a manager at a Dollar General store in Alabama, was terminated in the wake of a robbery at her store. The robbery had yielded an investigation by Thomas’ superiors and questions regarding two store employees’ completion of a mandatory online class regarding robbery prevention. The employer concluded that Thomas either took the course exam for the employees or made the employees take the test “off the clock.” Either way, the employer reasoned that Thomas had violated company policy and ended her employment.

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television-camera-womanWhen an employee sues her employer for disability discrimination, there are several things she needs to prove in order to succeed. One of these things relates to the employer’s obligation regarding accommodations, and how far the employer must go to accommodate the employee. In a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case touching upon this issue, the ruling went against the employee because the accommodations the employee presented were not things the law required the employer to do.

Michaelene Tetteh was an award-winning journalist for WAFF-TV Channel 48 in Huntsville, Alabama. Although she worked as a sports anchor, reporter, and photographer, her achievements went beyond sports — she picked up an Alabama Associated Press award in 2008 for a series she did regarding the fight against sex trafficking, for example. Unfortunately, her career took a detour a year later when, while filming the action at basketball game, she suffered a significant shoulder injury after a player crashed into her.

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Hospital-Corridor-Public-DomainA recent case from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals offers an informative ruling on another variation of a similar theme for the court. The court previously addressed the issue of differing discipline as the basis for a discrimination case in the context of two employees involved in the same incident. In this newest case with the potential to impact Tennessee employers and employees, the issue was differing discipline in separate but similar instances. In this case, the court decided that a female employee should be allowed to pursue her sex discrimination case after showing that she was fired for making the same (or equally severe) mistake as other male coworkers who were not terminated for their offenses.

The employee, Karon Jackson, worked as a mental health technician (MHT) at Detroit Receiving Hospital’s Mental Health Crisis Center. MHTs were responsible for assisting registered nurses with the patient discharge process by collecting paperwork and the patient’s personal effects. At the process’s conclusion, MHTs were also charged with physically transporting the patient out of the center. Workers were required to check the patient’s wristband to make certain that the correct patient was getting discharged.

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