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Total Articles: 14

Seventh Circuit to Plaintiffs: Here's Your Burden of Proof

Most employees who file employment discrimination claims hope for one of two things – a really sympathetic jury or an employer that is willing to generously settle the lawsuit to avoid the risks and uncertainties of trial. Before either is a possibility in federal (and many state) courts, the employee must first clear the hurdle of surviving summary judgment. That is, when the employer files its motion for summary judgment requesting that the court dismiss the employee’s discrimination claims on the merits, the employee must instead prove to the court that the employee has enough evidence from which a jury could render a verdict in his or her favor. The Seventh Circuit in Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc.1 may have simplified – but not eased – the determination of whether employees satisfy their burden of proof at the summary judgment stage.

Ninth Circuit Issues Pro-Employer and Pro-Union Ruling Against Worker With a Long History of Harassing Comments

In a recent decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants in a case involving the discharge of a union employee following his alleged whistleblowing on his union’s former president. The court found that Stanford adequately proffered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the plaintiff’s discharge, including his long history of inappropriate and harassing comments such as racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks about his colleagues. Gazzano v. Stanford University, No. 14-15577, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (May 12, 2016).

Title VII’s pre-requisite that employee meet employer’s legitimate expectations may not be set in stone.

In an unpublished decision, one federal appellate court has penned an opinion that goes to the heart of how discrimination cases are analyzed under Title VII by re-interpreting the prima facie case requirements set by the U.S. Supreme Court in the McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green case in 1973.

Employer’s Reliance On Positive Alcohol Test Was Legitimate and Non-Discriminatory Basis For Termination

An employer’s reliance on a positive alcohol test was held to be a legitimate and non-discriminatory basis for termination, despite the terminated employee’s argument that the test result was inaccurate. Clark v. Boyd Tunica, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35223 (N.D. Miss. March 1, 2016).

Inconsistent Discipline of Female and Male Mental Health Technicians Bars Summary Judgment for Hospital

Where a former female employee showed a hospital imposed lesser disciplinary action upon male employees for infractions similar to the one that led to her discharge, her sex discrimination claims can proceed, a federal appeals court has ruled, reversing summary judgment for the hospital. Jackson v. VHS Detroit Receiving Hospital, Inc., No. 15-1802 (6th Cir. Feb. 23, 2016).

"You Lie, You Die" – Dishonesty Derails Discrimination Case

It’s an expression you hear often among police officers and other sworn employees: “You Lie, You Die.” That is, if you are caught being deceptive about any work-related subject, you will be terminated and your career will be over. This concept was endorsed in a recent appeals court case that can teach lessons to all employers about the importance of honesty in the workplace.

Tenth Circuit Rules On "Termination By Committee"

On January 21, a federal appeals court addressed whether an employee terminated by group decision (six managers) can be considered “similarly situated” to employees who were disciplined less severely by a different decisional group, consisting of some but not all of the same managers. Reversing the summary judgment decision of a Wyoming trial court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit stated:

Did An Employer Inflate Its Worker’s Performance Deficiencies as a Pretext for Disability Bias? Mass. Court Says Maybe

On November 4, 2013, in Akerson v. Pritzker, No. 12-10240-PBS, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts rejected the race discrimination and Equal Pay Act claims brought by a former employee of the U.S. Census Bureau’s, but allowed her Rehabilitation Act claims to proceed to trial. The plaintiff in the case, Bonnie Akerson, had been employed as a “partnership specialist” for the U.S. Census Bureau where she educated organizations about the 2010 census and encouraged them to enter into partnership agreements with the Census Bureau. Applicants for the position could apply for one or more of four salary grade levels: GS-7, GS-9, GS-11, and GS-12. Akerson applied for the position at the GS-9 pay grade and was paid accordingly. Her male colleague applied for the position at the GS-11 pay grade and was paid at a higher level although both levels involved substantially the same job responsibilities.

Unwillingness to complete employment application does not support claim of discriminatory hiring.

The 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld lower court’s summary judgment decision, finding that an individual who refused to complete an application without some guarantee that a particular individual would not participate in the hiring process could not support a claim of race discrimination. Murray v. Beverage Distribution Center, 3d Cir., No. 11-1938, unpublished, July 29, 2013.

Stirrings on Smith v. Xerox in 5th Circuit Internecine Squabble

More than two years ago, I expressed my hopes that the 5th Circuit would undertake an en banc review of the panel decision in Smith v. Xerox, a decision that answered whether a mixed motive was available in a retaliation claim after the Supreme Court's Gross decision. See 5th Circuit En Banc Request on Smith v. Xerox, Please! Alas, it was not to be as the case settled before there was any further review.

"Here's Looking At You, Kid" - The EEOC Looks For Beauty Bias

The EEOC is currently investigating Marylou's Coffee, a chain of Massachusetts coffee shops, for its practice for hiring young attractive women to serve coffee. The EEOC's investigation was not triggered from a complaint by a rejected applicant or fired employee. Rather, it is a "Commission-initiated investigation" conducted, according to the director of the EEOC's Boston office, because "it's possible that applicants or employees might not know that they have been discriminated against."

The Sixth Circuit Reexamines Discrimination Claims: Employers Beware!

Human resource and legal professionals have long evaluated the potential of a discrimination claim using the following paradigm:

Insubordinate Worker Did Not Meet Employer's Legitimate Expectations.

A federal appellate court recently found that an employee who was fired for insubordination was not meeting an employer's legitimate business expectations after she engaged in arguments with her co-workers, the general manager, and the owner of the business. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals further found that the insubordination was a non-discriminatory reason that overcame the employee's claim that her termination was a "pretext" for discrimination.

Physician's constructive discharge claim required only that a protected characteristic played a "motivating part" in hospital-employer's conduct.

It is generally understood that employees can bring claims for hostile environment, wrongful termination, or even “constructive discharge” – where an employee claims that an employer made working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable employee would feel compelled to resign. What is less clearly understood is the extent of the economic damages for which a hospital or health care system may be liable in an employment-related lawsuit. Because a successful litigant in an employment case often is entitled to compensatory damages, lost wages and, in some instances, front pay, a lawsuit by a physician-employee can create the potential for large monetary damage awards. In a clear example of this fact, a Texas jury recently awarded more than $3.6 Million to an Egyptian-born physician who claimed that he was forced to resign after race-based comments from another employed physician