Monday, June 20, 2011

Employment Case Law Update

--Rahlf v Mo-Tech Corp, Inc, 8thCir: The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a district court's ruling that three employees laid off in a reduction-in-force (RIF) who were the oldest in their job group were unable to proceed with their Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and state law claims of age discrimination because they failed to sufficiently refute as pretextual the employer's claim that the RIF was necessary due to shifting and reduced customer needs and concerns about continued profitability.
The court rejected their assertion that that the RIF was unnecessary. Although the plaintiffs pointed out that within a year after they were fired, the company hired new employees and its sales increased, the Court found that none of the employees who were subsequently hired were Class A mold-makers and the fact that the remaining mold-makers were busy and that the employer's sales increased after the employees were terminated did not support an inference that the RIF itself was pretextual. The Eight Circuit also rejected the employees’ attempt to attack the methods (objective data and subjective observations) that the employer used to determine which employees to terminate. Given the relatively small number of Class A mold-makers and management’s close involvement with daily operations, subjective knowledge of each employee’s work and skills was relevant to the ultimate termination decision, held the court, and the employer was not required to base its RIF decision on positive performance reviews. The court also rejected the employees' assertion that the employer provided inconsistent rationales for its termination decision, finding no inconsistencies in the employer's proffered reasons for their termination.

--Marin v Bloom Roofing Sys, Inc, EDMich: In a case with an unusual twist, although two Hispanic construction workers failed to set forth a winning pretext argument that their employer prevented them from developing the necessary job skills because of their race, a federal district court in Michigan, on its own accord, unearthed a prima facie case of race discrimination from the evidence they presented.
Noting that it can consider evidence from the employees’ prima facie case for pretext purposes, the court concluded a fact finder could find that the employer’s articulated reason for termination could be rebutted by the disparate treatment with respect to use of the heat welding gun. The court also considered evidence that the employees were required to do tear-downs while white workers performed more desirable installation work. Specifically, the court ruled, a fact finder could conclude that the inequality in the types of jobs given to Hispanic employees demonstrated that the company disfavored them or placed less value on their work. Accordingly, the decision to terminate the two employees may have been based on discrimination, the court concluded.

--Fields v Rainbow Rehab Ctr, Inc, EDMich: Employer's motion for summary judgment GRANTED. A Jehovah’s Witness whose employer had already accommodated his request not to work on four particular days of the week could not proceed with his Title VII claims that his employer refused to accommodate his religious beliefs when it discharged him after he failed to schedule a one-on-one training, offered to him as an accommodation for missing a staff meeting on his day off.
The employee was unable to demonstrate that the employer discharged or disciplined him for failing to comply with employment requirements that conflicted with his religious beliefs. Moreover, he did not claim that he failed to attend that training due to a conflict with his religious beliefs, but rather indicated that he was not there because he had been stuck at school with his son. Further, the court noted that the employee was not discharged simply because he failed to attend a staff meeting scheduled on one of his accommodation days. Rather, he was terminated because he did not contact his supervisor to arrange alternative one-on-one training.

--Smith v Koch Foods of Mississippi,SDMiss: Employer's motion for summary judgement DENIED. A female employee who asserted that her plant supervisor made inappropriate remarks and showed her a sexually explicit video of himself, and who was discharged after complaining to management about the supervisor's harassment as well as alleged race bias in the workplace, presented sufficient evidence to proceed with her Title VII sexual harassment and reprisal claims, a federal district court in Mississippi ruled. The record demonstrated that a triable fact issue existed as to whether the harassment affected a term, condition or privilege of her employment as well as whether the sexual harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive. The court also ruled that, although a close question, the employee presented sufficient evidence to proceed with her claim that she was discharged in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment and alleged race bias.

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