As an employer, there are many human resources-related tasks with which you must concern yourself. Some of these might seem like less significant items, but even these “small” details can have great importance in certain situations. One example is maintaining updated, detailed, and complete job descriptions. While this might seem like a relatively minor thing, it was the key to success for one Ohio employer in a disability discrimination case one of its employees launched recently.
The case of gross misbehavior going on at a West Tennessee auto parts store contained some unusual facts. All of the sides agreed that the conduct of the alleged harasser, who was also the store manager, was “repulsive.” Everyone agreed “that he got what he deserved when” the employer fired him shortly after its investigation. What wasn’t clear was whether the store manager held a role within the employer’s organization with enough power such that the employer could be liable for his harassing conduct. Ultimately, the courts decided that the employer was not liable in this case because of the limited authority the store manager actually held.
Almost 23 years ago, two Hollywood A-list actors, Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, starred in a dramatic film called “Disclosure.” The issue of workplace sexual harassment –- specifically, quid pro quo harassment –- was a key plot point in the film. In the movie, the female boss (Moore’s character) engaged in quid pro quo harassment of her male subordinate employee (Douglas’ character).
A considerable variety of employment law cases, especially when the employee’s claims relate to discrimination or retaliation, can succeed or fail based upon which side (employee or employer) presents a stronger case about whether the employer’s adverse action was legitimate or merely a pretext for engaging in illegal conduct. Many times, this may boil down to other employees working for the same employer and whether or not they qualify as “similarly situated” in relation to the employee who has sued. The case of a nurse from Florida allegedly fired for sleeping on the job offers a real-life example of this.
In a Title VII discrimination case, there are several hurdles in front of a plaintiff. The law requires that the employee show that she suffered discrimination and that the legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons offered by the employer were really just pretexts for discrimination. In the case of one middle Tennessee professor, her employer was able to persuade the court that the professor’s case came up short in multiple areas required by the law.
An old fable tells the story of a cat and a monkey. The monkey convinces the cat to fetch some chestnuts from the embers of a recently extinguished fire. The cat gets the nuts and gives them to the monkey, burning its paw in the process. A maid interrupts their activity, resulting in the cat getting nothing but a burned paw for its troubles. This fable is the origin of a phrase – “cat’s paw” – that means being the tool of another person. In employment law, the “cat’s paw” theory of liability is something that can hold an employer liable even when the employer has been duped by one of its supervisory or managerial employees.
A recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case addressed the question of whether the “cat’s paw” theory of liability can apply in a Family and Medical Leave Act retaliation case. The plaintiff was a woman who worked for a company that provided “cost containment” services for insurance companies. The employee had depression, anxiety, and PTSD issues. Due to a bout of acute mental health problems, the employee took an unplanned period of FMLA leave in early 2012. Sometime after this, the company demoted her from a team lead position to an analyst role.
A major national staffing services company could end up in legal hot water regarding the way it handled its time-keeping practices for some of its remote workers. A class of “virtual call center” employees launched a collective action accusing the company of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay them for all of the time they worked. In an important recent step in the case, the federal district court for the Eastern District of Michigan declared the arbitration clause in the workers’ contracts to be invalid and unenforceable, short-circuiting the company’s efforts to obtain a dismissal and a court order compelling binding arbitration of the case.
A nursing facility’s activities director got good news from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals when that court revived his Family and Medical Leave Act lawsuit, concluding that his retaliation claim was sufficient to escape summary judgment. Of larger significance, the 11th Circuit declared for the first time what the proper method was for measuring temporal proximity in circumstantial FMLA retaliation claims, establishing that the proper measure was the gap between the last day of FMLA leave and the date of the adverse employment action.
Late last summer, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of an employer after an employment candidate accused the company of race discrimination by virtue of its enforcement of its employee grooming policies. This so-called “dreadlock decision” has led to many discussions and commentaries since its release, both about what “race” means as well as the degree of control employers should have over their employees’ appearance. For employers and employees in Georgia, it is useful to take note of exactly how far the law allows an employer to go in mandating an employee’s choice of hairstyle.
In an employee’s Family and Medical Leave Act case, there are various potential avenues to success for an employer. One way an employer can blunt an employee’s case is by establishing that the employee did not follow company policy for reporting his FMLA absences. That’s what happened to one waffle-packaging machine operator in Tennessee, and the employer’s evidence proved to be enough to allow it to obtain summary judgment on the employee’s FMLA claims.