Monday, May 14, 2012

Employment Case Law Update

--Townsend v Benjamin Enterprises, Inc, Case Nos. 09-0197-cv(L), 09-4509-cv(XAP), 2ndCir: Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a case of first impression, AFFIRMED the district court's grant of summary judgment of an HR director's Title VII retaliation claim because the internal sexual harassment investigation she conducted was unconnected to an EEOC charge or proceeding and, thus, was not protected activity under Title VII's participation clause.  The circuit court also affirmed the lower court's determination that the alleged harasser, the sole vice president of the company, was an alter ego of the employer and, therefore, the employer was precluded from relying on the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense. The lower court's related jury instructions and its award of attorneys' fees (in the amount of $141,308.80) to an employee who prevailed at trial on her sexual harassment claim were likewise upheld. 
In an interesting move, though he concurred with the majority opinion, Judge Lohier wrote separately, urging Congress to extend Title VII's participation clause protection to internal investigations.

--Regan v Faurecia Automotive Seating, Inc, Case No. No. 11-1356. (6thCir):  Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit AFFIRMED lower court's decision granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer on plaintiff's disability and gender discrimination claims under both state and federal law.  Plaintiff, Alisha Regan, suffers from narcolepsy that was eventually treated with various medications so she could function on a day-to-day basis without falling asleep or becoming tired so easily which allowed her to make her more than two hour commute to work each day.  However, the employer changed work hours which would have made Regan's commute to work more exhausting and potentially dangerous which prompted Regan to seek an accommodation of the ability to work the same work hours as before.  When the employer said they could not grant that accommodation, they provided Regan with FMLA paperwork, which she never submitted to the employer.
In affirming the lower court's decision, the 6th Circuit found Regan's request for accommodation regarding her commute unreasonable even if she could show up that she had a qualifying disability under the ADA (but did not delve into this issue).  In affirming dismissal of Regan's gender discrimination claim, the Court likewise noted her failure to demonstrate that (1) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (2) she was treated differently than similarly situated males for the same conduct.

--Belfiglio-Martley v Waterford Country School, Inc, No. 3:11cv125 (MRK), (DConn): Defendant's motion for summary judgment GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.  The court found that the plaintiff was able to show, through a series of separate acts that collectively constitute "one unlawful employment practice."  In addressing the plaintiff's retaliation claim under Title VII, the court noted that the standard for a materially adverse employment action is slightly different in Title VII retaliation claims than for Title VII discrimination claims. See Cunningham v. New York State Dept. of Labor, 326 F. App'x 617, 620-21 (2d Cir. 2009) (summary order) (noting that the latter requires "materially significant disadvantages with respect to the terms of plaintiff's employment," while the former depends "upon the circumstances of the particular case, and should be judged from the perspective of a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position."  The court ultimately found the employer's act toward plaintiff could collectively send a message dissuading a reasonable worker from making additional complaints.
The court did not find the employer's action to rise to the level needed for plaintiff to show constructive discharge, however, merely because a reasonable juror could not find that Waterford deliberately intended that Ms. Belfiglio-Martley resign when it instructed her to return and continue working with Mr. Gibson.  The court also dismissed plaintiff's negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.

--Wolpert v Abbott LaboratoriesNo. 08-4849 (JBS/KMW, DNJ:  A pregnant sales representative who brought claims of gender and pregnancy bias under New Jersey's anti-bias law based on her non-selection for another position was allowed to present evidence of her coworkers' knowledge of her pregnancy to show that the decision-maker was also aware of her condition, a federal district court in New Jersey ruled, denying defendant's motion in limine.  The court also refused to exclude evidence concerning the plaintiff's qualifications for the position and her subsequent performance in another position.

--Lucas v City of Philadelphia, Case No. NO. 11-4376, (EDPa):  An African-American employee of the Philadelphia water department who contended that race discrimination and harassment by his supervisors led to a disabling anxiety disorder withstood the city's motion to dismiss his federal and state law disability bias claims, ruled a federal district court in Pennsylvania.  The employee sufficiently pled that he was qualified for the essential functions of his position.

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