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Expanding definition of “sex discrimination” under Title VII

The Judiciary continues to act where Congress will not

All employment attorneys—and most employers—know that Title VII bars discrimination based on certain enumerated personal characteristics: race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It has long been the case that “sex” meant biological sex only, i.e., discriminating against a woman because she is a woman, or against a man because he is a man, is plainly illegal under Title VII.

By contrast, unlike some equivalent state laws, it has long been clear that Title VII does not guard against discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Indeed, Congress has on a number … Continue Reading

DOL to appeal injunction against new overtime regulations

Despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime regulations were set to go into effect on December 1st, the validity of the regulations remains unsettled. We previously reported that on November 22nd, Judge Amos Mazzant of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted a nationwide injunction precluding the Department of Labor from implementing and enforcing the regulations on November 22nd in Nevada v. U.S. Department of Labor.  On December 1st, the very same day that the regulations were supposed to go into effect, the Department of Labor announced that it would … Continue Reading

OSHA workplace injury and illness tracking will go forward

Last week, a Texas federal judge handed the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) a victory by refusing to grant an injunction that sought to delay the implementation of the Agency’s rule regarding workplace injuries and illnesses. The new rule, entitled “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illness,” requires most employers to submit workplace injury and illness information electronically.  This information will then be shared on a publically accessible website.  The rule also incorporates OSHA’s existing statutory prohibition of retaliation against an employee who reports workplace injuries and illnesses and requires employers to inform employees of their right … Continue Reading

Texas federal judge puts the brakes on the DOL’s new overtime regulations

Employers who had been searching for a way to best  implement the Department of Labor’s new overtime regulations (the “Final Rule”), which are set to go into effect on December 1, 2016, received an early holiday gift on Tuesday, and from one of President Obama’s appointed jurists, no less.  On November 22nd, Judge Amos Mazzant of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted a nationwide preliminary injunction against implementation of the overtime regulations.  As a result, the Department of Labor will not  be able to enforce the regulations as of  December 1, 2016.

The Final Rule, … Continue Reading

US DOL Persuader Rule permanently benched

Hailed by the US Department of Labor as a regulatory change to promote transparency and to help employees make well-informed decisions about union representation, the Department of Labor’s final rule on reporting union persuader activities has been permanently blocked by Texas US District Court Judge Sam R. Cummings.

The new rule attempted to narrow the scope of advice that would be exempt from the reporting requirements under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA).

Under the new rule, employers and labor relations consultants, including lawyers, were required to disclose information and report any activities undertaken with the … Continue Reading

Title VII sexual orientation claims are gaining traction with more courts

On November 4, 2016, a federal judge in Pennsylvania became the latest jurist to side with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in endorsing the viability of claims based on sexual orientation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In U.S. EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, the EEOC brought suit on behalf of a gay male employee based on a sexually hostile work environment allegedly caused by his male supervisor.  During the EEOC’s investigation into charges filed by the employee’s co-workers, the agency learned of sex-based comments being directed towards the employee, including terms … Continue Reading

Time to update your employee handbook

For many employers, the arduous task of reviewing and revising an employee handbook may occur as infrequently as every leap year, or worse, only after a law suit has been filed. However, recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (Board) should cause employers to take a much closer look at their employee policies and the frequency with which they update them.  Technological advances and changes have created new arenas for protected “concerted activity” under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (Act) and have caused the Board to take a closer look at employer policies that may violate … Continue Reading

Overtime overhaul – small businesses want more time to prepare

With just about 90 days to go before the U.S. Department of Labor’s final rule dramatically updating overtime regulations is scheduled to go into effect, small business owners have petitioned the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division seeking more time to prepare for and implement changes to the way they operate their businesses so that they can remain compliant with wage laws. In a parallel move, on September 28, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives also voted in favor of the Regulatory Relief for Small Businesses, Schools and Nonprofits Act, which would delay implementation of the DOL’s final overtime rule … Continue Reading

Second Circuit’s decision expands liability for discrimination under “cat’s paw” doctrine

You may be familiar with the Aesop fable in which a monkey convinces a naïve cat to burn his paw in order to pull chestnuts from a hot fire for their mutual satisfaction but then eats all the chestnuts himself. This “cat’s paw” doctrine, as it has been coined in employment litigation, has been applied by courts where a decision maker is manipulated by an employee with bad motives into taking an adverse action against another employee.

The United States Supreme Court first validated employer liability under the “cat’s paw” theory in Staub v. Proctor Hospital in 2011, where it … Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit adds to circuit split regarding enforceability of class action waivers

On August 22, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit joined the Seventh Circuit in finding that an employer violates the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by requiring employees to sign an agreement including a class arbitration waiver.

In Morris v. Ernst & Young, plaintiffs were required to sign “concerted action waivers” as a condition of their employment.  The “concerted action waiver” required employees to (1) pursue legal claims against Ernst & Young exclusively through arbitration and (2) arbitrate only as individuals and in “separate proceedings.”

Plaintiffs argued that the “separate proceedings” clause contravened three federal … Continue Reading

“Promising practices” encouraged by EEOC to prevent retaliation

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued its final “Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues” following a six-month public comment period. The guidance replaces the EEOC’s 1988 Compliance Manual section on retaliation.

Workplace retaliation claims have been on the rise in recent years and have been the focus of several opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court in the past two decades. In fact, charges of retaliation exceeded race discrimination claims in 2009 and comprised nearly 45 percent of all charges received by the EEOC in 2015.

In addition to defining retaliation and providing over thirty … Continue Reading

Fair pay, safe workplaces, and federal contractors telling it like it is

On August 24, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Counsel issued a final rule to implement President Obama’s Executive Order 13673, entitled “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces,” first announced by the President over two years ago on July 31, 2014.

According to the Federal Acquisition Institute, the purpose of E.O. 13673 is “to help [federal] contractors come into compliance with labor laws – not to exclude contractors.” The final rule implementing the order requires both current and prospective federal contractors and subcontractors to disclose labor law violations and establishes how federal … Continue Reading

NLRB allows student assistants to form union

In the much anticipated Columbia University decision, the National Labor Relations Board reversed its most recent precedent and held that student teaching assistants at private colleges and universities are statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act and may therefore vote to form a union.  This decision is a return to an earlier decision by the Board which overturned a decade-old standard of viewing student teaching assistants as students rather than a part of the teaching faculty.  This decision is sure to invite a rush of union organizing efforts at private universities and colleges across the country.

The Board’s decision … Continue Reading

Does Title VII cover sexual orientation claims? It depends.

In July 2015, the EEOC officially took the position that sexual orientation claims may be brought under the non-discrimination provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, in the recent case of Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, the Seventh Circuit refused to accept the EEOC’s position and affirmed the dismissal of a sexual orientation discrimination claim holding that such claims are not cognizable under Title VII.

Following the United States Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, federal courts have consistently recognized sexual stereotype or gender non-conformity claims as a species … Continue Reading

DOL issues sex discrimination final rule

On June 14, 2016, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued a Final Rule to revise its sex discrimination policies, updating its guidelines to provide additional guidance on what constitutes discrimination based on sex. The updated guidelines define “sex” to include gender identity, transgender status, pregnancy, and sex stereotyping.  OFCCP also clarified some aspects of the old rule, including which parts contractors are subject to, whether a contractor’s good-faith efforts to expand employment opportunities for women could result in a violation of the Rule, and whether contractors may seek exemptions under the … Continue Reading

Minnesota addresses architectural barriers to public places: 2016 amendments to its Human Rights Act

Introduction

Minnesota businesses may soon see differences in disability access claims.

wheelchair

On May 22, 2016, Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a new amendment to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). The amendment governs what must occur before attorneys can bring suit under the MHRA challenging architectural barriers that limit accessibility to public spaces. The new law is set forth in Minn. Stat. § 363A.331 (“Section 331”) and is entitled “Actions Involving Architectural Barriers that Limit Accessibility.” Human Rights Act, Ch. 363A, § 28, § 331, 159 H.F.No. 2955 (2016) (amending § 28 and creating new § 331, the … Continue Reading

US DOL finalizes new rule expanding overtime coverage

The US Department of Labor (DOL) has finalized a new rule expanding the number of employees entitled to receive overtime pay for work in excess of 40 hours in a regular workweek, by doubling the salary needed for executive, administrative, and professional workers to qualify as exempt and by raising the compensation needed to qualify as a highly compensated employee.

The rule will take effect December 1, 2016 and is expected to affect at least 4.2 million full-time exempt employees.

It supposedly represents the DOL’s effort to better distinguish overtime-eligible white collar employees, whom Congress intended to protect under the … Continue Reading

DOL’s new salary rule is a mixed bag for employers

Adding to the recent flurry of federal regulatory activity, on May 18, 2016, the United States Department of Labor‘s Wage and Hour Division issued a final rule on overtime that raises the salary threshold for exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Defining and delimiting the exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales and computer employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Department of Labor’s final rule updates overtime regulations, automatically extending overtime pay protections to “over 4 million workers within the first year of implementation.”

Learn how this new DOL final rule will impact your … Continue Reading

Retaliation and whistleblower claims in healthcare expected to remain high

The number of retaliation and whistleblower claims in the US continue to rise. According to data released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), retaliation claims made up 44.5 percent of all charges filed in 2015.  Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported a 6 percent increase in the number of whistleblower cases filed in FY 2015.  The increase in retaliation and whistleblowing claims is especially felt in the healthcare industry where whistleblowers collected a little over $330 million in rewards from False Claims Act (FCA) cases.  Under the FCA, individuals who report fraud and false claims against … Continue Reading

EEOC continues its efforts to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity into Title VII protections

On March 1, 2016, the EEOC filed two cases with one clear goal: to expand the meaning of “sex” under Title VII. In EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C., Case No. 2:16-cv-00225-CB (W.D. Pa.),  the agency alleges that the defendant harassed an openly gay male employee because of his sexual orientation, thereby committing unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII.  The Complaint suggests the employee’s manager repeatedly directed homophobic slurs at the employee, conduct the agency characterizes as “motivated by [the employee’s] sex (male), in that sexual orientation discrimination necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of his … Continue Reading

2016 Defend Trade Secrets Act creates federal cause of action for theft of trade secrets

(and don’t forget to update your handbooks or employment agreements)

Congress passes Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016

Yesterday, Congress broke new ground in federal law, passing the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016.

Once it receives the expected signature from the President, the DTSA will create a federal private cause of action for misappropriation of trade secrets. Previously, federal protection of trade secrets was confined to seldom-used criminal provisions, and civil injunctive relief if requested by the Attorney General. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1832, 1836.

2016 Defend Trade Secrets Act’s new seizure provision

Although the new … Continue Reading

New era of representative evidence? Time will tell

On March 22, 2016, in a 6-2 decision, the US Supreme Court greenlighted the use of representative evidence in the federal wage and hour class case of Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146. The Court approved the use of statistical averaging of employee donning and doffing time in connection with Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) class certification. The opinion discusses several limiting factors that employers will no doubt argue constrains its applicability, especially outside the FLSA context.… Continue Reading

US Department of Labor exposes more business as joint employers

On the heels of the National Labor Relations Board’s landmark decision in Browning Ferris Industries, which found that under the National Labor Relations Act a company and its contractor can be seen as a joint employer even where the company does not exert any control over employees’ terms and conditions of employment, the Department of Labor (DOL), Wage and Hour Division this week released new guidelines for when companies may be considered joint employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) and thus jointly liable for any wage and … Continue Reading

Texas’ new open carry law

Effective January 1, 2016, licensed Texas residents are permitted to openly carry a handgun. Specifically, the new law authorizes individuals to obtain a license to openly carry a handgun in a shoulder or hip holster, but it continues to prohibit any weapons in 9 specific locations including schools, polling places, courts and court offices, secured airport areas and high school, college and professional sports events.  While Texas’s new open carry law has received extensive media coverage, it should be pointed out that 44 states already allow the open carry of a handgun, to varying degrees and with various requirements.

By … Continue Reading

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