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Remona-AlyIn an important ruling on what federal law requires of employers when it comes to accommodation of religious practice, the US Supreme Court ruled that a retail clothing store impermissibly discriminated against a Muslim teen when it decided that her hijab violated its company dress code and refused to hire her. The ruling makes clear that employers cannot violate the law even if employees do not explicitly ask for accommodations of their religious practice and even if the employer does not know (but merely suspects) that an employee will need an accommodation, as long as that religion-based accommodation was a motive in the employer’s action.

Samantha Elauf, when she was 17, did what many teens do. She went to a local shopping mall and applied for a sales job. In Elauf’s case, her targeted employer was an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At her employment interview, the teen wore a black head scarf. She did not state why she wore the piece, and the employer did not ask.

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auto shopA recent ruling regarding an auto shop employee’s unpaid overtime claim creates an outcome that is potentially beneficial to Tennessee employees but worrisome to Tennessee employers. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that an employee’s uncorroborated testimony, even in the absence of any additional supporting evidence, may be enough to create a dispute of fact and defeat an employer’s attempt to end the case via summary judgment.

The dispute centered around the hours worked by Jeffrey Moran, an employee at Auto Pro auto repair shop in Warren, Mich. According to the employee, he agreed to work during all of the shop’s operating hours, which spanned six days and 58 hours. In exchange, the employer agreed to pay Moran $300 per week plus “bonus-type profit sharing.”

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classroomThe 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued a ruling that will likely make it easier for Georgia public school employees to pursue lawsuits against their employers for violations of federal employment laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act. The ruling concluded that public school districts are not “arms of the state” government, which means that they are not immune from federal employment actions, such as the FMLA case launched by a Georgia high school teacher who was terminated for her use of FMLA leave to deal with the effects of her sickle cell anemia.

The case involved the termination of Zaneta Lightfoot from her job with the Henry County School District south of Atlanta. Lightfoot began as an English and drama teacher, and cheerleading coach, at Woodland High School in 2007. The teacher had sickle cell anemia, which caused her to experience bouts of extreme pain and weakness. Lightfoot asked for and received permission to take intermittent periods off from work under FMLA when her condition made working untenable during the 2010-11 school year.

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cheek swabAtlas Logistics Group Retail Services (Atlanta), LLC had a relatively serious business problem stemming from what it believed was employee misconduct. The employer also had what it thought was a viable solution. It just needed DNA samples from some of its employees to identify the misbehaving worker. Unfortunately for Atlas, its plan had one major flaw:  it was against federal law. As of June 22, that flaw cost the employer $2.25 million in damages awarded to two employees for the employer’s violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The problem began when Atlas discovered several piles of human feces in one of its warehouses. While disturbing to any employer, the issue was especially problematic for Atlas as a company that warehouses food products sold to grocery stores. Atlas collected DNA cheek swabs from employees Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds. A lab compared the DNA of the men to DNA from the feces and found no matches.

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Security guards required by their employer to monitor the radio during their meal breaks were not entitled to pay for those breaks, as monitoring the radio and responding to possible emergencies did not transform the break into compensable time.

The case was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which has jurisdiction for cases in states from Michigan to Tennessee. The plaintiffs were security guards at a casino in Detroit. Their employer granted them meal breaks in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) but with some restrictions. Namely, they were required to monitor the radio, and in case of an emergency, they would have had to respond. They were also required to stay on the premises during these breaks, but they were allowed to sit down, watch television, use the internet, and engage in generally any task they wished.

Under the FLSA, employers are required to pay nonexempt employees an overtime wage of 1.5 times their normal wage for every hour in excess of 40 the employee works in a seven-day work week. The question before the Sixth Circuit in this case was whether the duty to monitor the radio, although labeled as a meal break, constituted work. If the time was counted as work, the plaintiffs would have worked about 41.25 hours per week and would have been owed overtime.

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A new rule issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) amends the Family Medical Leave Act’s (FMLA) definition of “spouse” to include same-sex couples married in states where same-sex marriage is legally recognized.

Under the new rule, codified at 29 C.F.R. § 825.102 and 825.122(b), two people are married for purposes of the FMLA if the jurisdiction in which they were married recognizes them as legally married. The old rule looked to the place of the couple’s residence, which meant that same-sex couples who resided in Georgia and Tennessee were not currently eligible for FMLA leave, even if they were married in one of the growing number of states that has legalized same-sex marriage.

The new rule also contemplates couples married outside the United States. A same-sex marriage or same-sex, common-law marriage originating in another country will be recognized under the FMLA so long as the couple could have been married or common-law married in at least one U.S. state.

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The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a Georgia employee’s lawsuit that alleged unlawful race and age discrimination. The plaintiff asserted that he was fired from his job because of his race and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“the Act”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The employer, a company that made and shipped water treatment chemicals, filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff was fired for his on-the-job performance. The trial court granted the motion, and, on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of many personal characteristics, including race. Under the Act, an employer with 15 or more employees may not fire an employee because of his or her race. Similarly, the ADEA prohibits discrimination against employees who are at least 40 years old.

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued a Tennessee staffing agency and an international recycling company with a facility in Tennessee over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The action was based on the defendants’ treatment of a deaf employee. The plaintiff sought temporary employment through the staffing agency and was assigned to work at the recycling center. However, the plaintiff suffered from a hearing impairment disability, and once the defendants learned of the disability, the complaint alleges that the defendants informed her that she could no longer work there.

The ADA protects employees with a recognized disability from discrimination in the workplace. It is a federal law that applies to most employers with more than 15 employees in Tennessee, Georgia, and the rest of the United States.

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A recent Sixth Circuit holding affirmed a federal district court’s ruling that an employer did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by declining to hire a prospective employee because he refused to provide his social security number on religious grounds.

The plaintiff applied for an internship with the defendant, an energy company. However, he refused to provide his potential employer with a social security number. The plaintiff asserted that he did not have a social security number because he disavowed it upon turning 18 due to his sincere religious beliefs. When the defendant refused to hire him, he filed suit alleging religious discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a valid legal claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The district court granted the motion.

A person who files a Civil Rights Act religious discrimination claim must prove three elements:

  1. There was an employment requirement that conflicts with a genuine religious belief held by the plaintiff;
  2. The plaintiff advised the employer of the belief; and
  3. The employer terminated or disciplined the plaintiff for refusing to comply with the employment requirement.

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The Department of Labor is considering raising the minimum wage an employee must earn to be considered an overtime exempt employee. If the proposed rules raise the wage threshold as expected, millions of workers who thus far have been exempt from overtime pay could be eligible.

The federal law that controls overtime rules in Georgia and the rest of the United States is called the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA requires employers to pay employees an overtime wage of 1.5 times the employee’s normal salary for each hour in excess of 40 the employee works in a seven-day workweek.

However, the FLSA exempts many types of employees from the overtime mandate. This means that employers are not legally required to pay these overtime-exempt employees the time-and-a-half overtime wage. Whether an employee is exempt or nonexempt is determined by the primary duties of her job. The employer does not determine whether the employee is exempt or nonexempt.

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