Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Employee Fired for Being Associated with "Too Much Drama" Allowed to Proceed to Trial on Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Claims

In somewhat of an unusual case, a former employee, Rochelle Baez, will be allowed to proceed on her claims of retaliation and hostile work environment claims under Title VII and accompanying state of New York law against her former employer, Ann Fontaine USA, Inc. after she was terminated soon after complaining of fellow coworkers spreading a "rumor" that she attended a meeting with the company's president and CEO wearing a "revealing shirt and no bra."  Though the New York district court opined that the case is weak and that this case is "not the type with which the relevant discrimination statutes are most concerned," the court also acknowledged that if the comments "on bra-less attendance at a meeting were made by a man, plaintiff's case would be much stronger."  The court held that there is no legal reason why the gender or number of speakers alters the analysis.

What ultimately carried the day for Baez in the face of a few legitimate articulated reasons for terminating her employment by the defendant (i.e., her poor management of an employee at a Bal Harbor store, and problems opening of the Madison Avenue store in NYC), is the fact that the president listed the "drama" as a reason for her termination and the fact she was terminated in close temporal proximity to her complaint about the rumor being spread about her.  This, according to the court, was sufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether her complaint was a but-for cause of her termination.

The case is Baez v. Anne Fontaine USA, Inc. et al, No. 1:2014cv06621 - Document 72 (S.D.N.Y. 2017).

Friday, February 10, 2017

Papa John's Settles Disability Discrimination Case with EEOC for $125,000 After Firing Employee Who Used a Job Coach

A Papa John's location in Farminton, Utah has agreed to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed against them by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") when they fired an employee who had down syndrome after an operating partner visited the location and saw the employee working with the assistance of the job coach.

Under the ADA, the use of a job coach is considered a reasonable accommodation unless the employer could have shown an undue hardship.  However, the employee worked for more than 5 months with the job coach before being terminated.  For more on the settlement, see the EEOC's press release here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

EEOC Settles Mandatory Flu Shot Case for $300,000

Late last month the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") announced that it settled yet another religious discrimination case filed against a hospital in Pennsylvania, Saint Vincent Health Center, that had a mandatory flu shot policy that did not approve six (6) employee's request for religious accommodation to not have to receive the vaccine, who were then fired when they did not receive the shot.  The class of 6 individuals will receive $300,000 constituting back pay and compensatory damages.  

Employers may have mandatory flu shot policies, but Title VII requires reasonable accommodation for religion.  Reasonable accommodation means granting religious exemptions to employees with sincerely held religious beliefs against vaccination when such exemptions do not create an undue hardship on the employer's operations.  In this case, employees who received an exemption were required to wear a face mask while having patient contact during flu season in lieu of receiving the vaccination. Employees who refused the vaccine but were not granted an exemption by the Health Center were fired, according to EEOC's lawsuit. From October 2013 to January 2014, EEOC alleged, the six employees identified in its complaint requested religious exemptions from the Health Center's flu vaccination requirement based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and the Health Center denied their requests. When the employees continued to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs, the Health Center fired them. According to EEOC's lawsuit, during this same period, the Health Center granted fourteen (14) vaccination exemption requests based on medical reasons while denying all religion-based exemption requests.

These 'flu vaccine cases' have been popping up a lot lately as many employers have begun requiring flu shots for various reasons.  Because a lot of employers are not handling them properly due to lack of understanding of what Title VII requires, it has led to violations being found and then subsequent large settlements.  These cases have also presented unique issues as in one case, a court ruled that the practice of veganism — not consuming any animal products — might be considered a religion.  It does appear some Courts, and certainly the EEOC, are taking fairly liberal and strict stances when it comes to whether an individual seeking a religious accommodation has a sincerely held religious  belief which requires accommodation as the EEOC's consent decree in the Pennsylvania hospital case states the hospital cannot deny an employee’s exemption request just because it disagrees with an employee’s belief or because it feels the claimed religion is unreasonable, inaccurate, unfounded, illogical, or inconsistent with the hospital’s views.

For more on the settlement, see the EEOC's press release here.

EEOC's Largest Case Alleging Systemic Age Discrimination Against Texas Roadhouse Awaits Jury Verdict

Closing arguments just concluded this past Monday in a very high-profile and controversial case the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") brought against a nationwide chain of steakhouses, Texas Roadhouse.  The suit and trial that followed is important for a couple reasons.  For one, it's the largest age discrimination case the EEOC has ever brought, secondly, it's a systemic complaint it brought in which they did not wait for an individual(s) to file a charge of age discrimination before they brought the suit.  The EEOC brought the suit in a rare move after they concluded their own investigation into alleged discriminatory hiring practices based on age.  Texas Roadhouse's lawyers unsuccessfully argued against the EEOC's ability to bring such a suit, but Congress provided this authority under the law, though it's rarely evoked.

ProPublica.org has a very thorough article on the case and trial, which may receive a verdict any day now.