Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Employment Case Law Update

--Tayag v Lahey Clinic Hosp., No. 10-1169 (1st Cir.): Court of Appeals for the First Circuit holds that plaintiff's seven-week trip to the Philippines with her husband (who indisputably suffered from a serious health condition), in part so that he could participate in a faith healing event at a Catholic “Pilgrimage of Healing” ministry, was not protected under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Based on the facts of the trip in question, the lower court ruled that the trip was not "protected" under the statute because it was effectively a vacation. On appeal, the ultimate issue was whether a "healing pilgrimage" comprises medical care within the meaning of the FMLA. The 1st Circuit held that it does not. The plaintiff, cleverly, attempted to assert her claim under the Christian Scientist exception to FMLA but that argument failed because she did not claim that her husband's religion forbids ordinary medical care, and she had taken FMLA leave a number of times to assist him in connection with receiving such care. And, finally, the plaintiff's husband's doctor declared on the certification form that FMLA leave was not necessary for this event.

Several facts did the plaintiff in in this case and the opinion seems to leave plenty of room for a faith healing event to be protected under FMLA, but definitely not in this case.

--Spencer v World Vision, Inc., No. 08-35532 (9thCir.): Denying discharged employees’ bid for rehearing en banc, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit filed an amended opinion underscoring its 2-1 decision holding that World Vision, a faith-based humanitarian organization, was exempt from Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination. The majority rejected the employees’ contention that the religious exemption was limited to churches and entities similar to churches. Rather, the statute extends the exemption to any “religious corporation, association or society,” observed the majority. Interpreting the statute to require that an organization must be a “church” to qualify for the exemption would discriminate against religious institutions that are “organized for a religious purpose and have sincerely held religious tenets, but are not houses of worship.” The reading put forward by the employees raised serious questions under both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause, concluded the majority.

--Vines v Illinois Mun League, 09 C 6978,(NDIll): Defendants' motions for summary judgement against plaintiff's age and sex discrimination claims DENIED. With respect to the age discrimination claim, the court found that both parties offered "materially conflicting" evidence regarding the decision to not "engage" the plaintiff.
With respect to the sex discrimination claim, even though the employer interviewed all males (the plaintiff is male) and ultimately hired a male, because of the 7th Circuit's holding in Carson v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 82 F.3d 157, 159 (7th Cir. 1996), which held that there are some limited circumstances where a plaintiff may be able to establish that the employer discriminated against him “without regard to the demographic characteristics of his replacement,” the court also denied summary judgment finding material facts also existed regarding what role sex played in the hiring decision.

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