In the latest ruling of what has become a nationally watched case, an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel has upheld a trial court’s decision to throw out a Georgia security guard’s Title VII claim based upon her sexual orientation. The ruling is worth noting by Georgia employers and employees for a number of reasons. First, the decision announced the panel’s refusal to expand the parameters of Title VII to include an explicit prohibition against employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. Second, the panel re-affirmed the avenue available to some employees in this security guard’s position: pursuing a claim of discrimination based upon failure to conform to gender stereotypes.
When it comes to litigating issues in employment law, whether the issue is Family and Medical Leave Act interference, Fair Labor Standards Act retaliation, disability discrimination in violation of Americans with Disabilities Act, or some other violation of employment laws, one of the keys to success, especially as an employer, is having a well-established record of fairness and clear communication with your employee. In a recent case originating in Memphis, an employer’s ability to document that it did everything required to comply with the law allowed it to defeat an employee’s claim that it was liable for disability discrimination. According to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the employer’s issuance of repeated warnings was an essential aspect of the case, and stood in clear contrast to other cases where the employee was successful.
Employers often concern themselves with making sure that employees are not misusing resources or benefits available to them. While an employer has certain latitude in terms of, say, using tracking software to monitor employees’ use of company-provided internet, things can be different when it comes to statutorily guaranteed rights like leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. In one recent case, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with an employee after her employer demanded extra documentation related to her FMLA absences, even though it had no proof that she was abusing the FMLA leave process.
One of the more hotly contested areas of employment discrimination currently is discrimination against LGBT employees. In states like Tennessee, federal court precedent has ruled that sexual orientation discrimination is not a valid type of Title VII violation, but some LGBT employees have won their cases by arguing that their employers discriminated against them for failing to conform to traditional sex stereotypes. In one recent federal court case from West Tennessee, a police officer lost because his sex stereotyping claim did not offer proof that his employer discriminated against him due to some “observable characteristic” that was insufficiently masculine.
The hostile work environment case of one Georgia health care company employee offered a potentially novel and unique question, namely, can an employee pursue a hostile work environment case when she was not the victim of the alleged harassment and was not even present when the alleged harassment took place? In this case, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did not need to answer this question to rule in favor of the employer because the employee’s evidence fell short of the law’s requirement that the alleged harassment be both severe and pervasive.
A recent case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employees who suffer harm as a result of their employers’ Fair Labor Standards Act violations or acts of retaliation can pursue awards of damages for the emotional distress they suffered. While this standard of allowing emotional distress damages is new in places like Texas, a 2004 Sixth Circuit decision on the topic means that employees in Tennessee have had access to emotional distress damages awards for several years.
If you’ve worked in most employment environments for very long, chances are you’ve seen it. “It” is the official job description of your job or the job you’re seeking. This description often contains a long list of “essential” duties, but some of those essential duties are, in the day-to-day completion of the job, rarely required. So what happens if you have a disability that impairs your ability to complete certain tasks that are “essential” but rarely needed? According to a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, those uncommon tasks still matter. Since the duties listed in a county’s groundskeeper job description were all related to the essential demands of maintaining the county’s parks, the county was not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act when it fired a groundskeeper who could not perform all of the essential duties the county listed for that job.
Most employers know that the law obliges them to accommodate their employees with disabilities, as long as the accommodation sought is reasonable. The question with which employers and employees often wrestle is “What is the limit of reasonable?” For example, if an employer has an employee with a disability who needs an accommodation that involves job reassignment, how far must the employer go to make that happen? Must the employer place the employee into an acceptable open position ahead of other, more qualified applicants? A recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision said no.
The employee in the case was a nurse at a psychiatric hospital in Tampa. The nurse was obese and had arthritis. Her condition eventually worsened to the point that she required a cane to walk anything more than short distances. The nurse had a doctor’s note recommending the use of the cane. The employer, however, was worried that one of the facility’s psychiatric patients might take the nurse’s cane from her and use it as a weapon. Based upon this concern for both employees and patients, the employer prohibited the nurse from using the cane.
The nurse requested that the employer reassign her to a new job as a reasonable accommodation. The employer agreed that it would be willing to do so, but only after the nurse competed for any desired position and was selected as the most qualified candidate. The nurse applied for several jobs but was never selected. Eventually, the hospital terminated her employment.
In many types of litigation, timing can be crucial. This is true regarding how you go about carrying out your case procedurally, and it is often true when it comes to the facts of your case, especially if an employee is advancing a disability discrimination case based upon a denial of a leave request. In one recent case from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, that court upheld a lower court’s ruling for an employer. Since the employee was not able to do her job presently or in the immediate future, the employer’s denial of leave was not unreasonable.
A multi-million dollar class action case involving numerous Tennessee cable TV installers who were wrongly denied overtime pay will once again go before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a very short order, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Sixth Circuit to take another look at the installers’ case in light of another case that, like the installers’ case, involved using statistical evidence to arrive at the amount of damages.