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.
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.
One of the interesting byproducts of living in the 21st-century information age is the speed at which information transmits. In this age of smartphones, the world-wide web, and social media, news really does travel fast. Whether you are an LGBT person in the workforce or you’re an employer, chances are you either have read or will soon be reading about the April 4 Title VII decision issued by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc. You’ll likely see headlines trumpeting that the decision has “decided” the issue of Title VII and whether or not it bars sexual orientation discrimination. While that’s true in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, if you’re working or doing business in Georgia, the reality is a bit different.
Sometimes the alleged acts of discrimination that go on within a workplace may be extensive and extreme. Even when that level of alleged racism is going on at work, it is still important to follow all of the necessary steps to pursue your case carefully and thoroughly to avoid procedural issues that might trip up your action. Three workers at a Georgia farm each cleared important hurdles in their Title VII race discrimination lawsuits against their employer when a federal judge recently denied the employer’s request (in each case) to grant it summary judgment on the employees’ Title VII claims.
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.
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.
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.