Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Title VII’

Supreme Court will decide if it is legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would leave the Supreme Court last June, he gave a giant middle finger to millions of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans who saw the Court slowly begin to respect their humanity. Though Kennedy was very conservative on most issues, he was relatively moderate on gay rights questions, and often joined with the Court’s liberal bloc to vindicate these rights.

Kennedy’s replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, is a much more doctrinaire conservative who is unlikely to have much sympathy for LGBTQ plaintiffs. So the shift from Kennedy to Kavanaugh is likely to be felt hard in three cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear on Monday.

Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County both ask whether existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC asks the same question about anti-trans discrimination.

In all three cases, the legal arguments against saying that such discrimination is forbidden are exceedingly weak. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” (the word “sex” in this context refers to gender and not to sexual intercourse), and it is difficult to argue that firing someone for being LGBTQ is not a form on gender discrimination.

As the appeals court explained in Harris Funeral Homes, the trans discrimination case, “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” The whole point of such a firing is that the employee’s boss does not believe that the employee identifies with the proper gender.

Similarly, suppose that a woman is fired because she is a lesbian. A lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to women, but presumably the same employer would not fire men who are sexually attracted to women. Thus, this woman was fired because she has desires that male employees are allowed to have. That is gender discrimination.

Additionally, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court held that “sex stereotyping” is illegal gender discrimination. Firing an employee because you believe them to be a man who is behaving too much like a woman is sex stereotyping. Similarly, the notion that only men may have sex with women and vice-versa may be the ultimate sex stereotype.

So if the Supreme Court follows the law in ZardaBostock, and Harris Funeral Homes, they will rule in favor of the plaintiffs in a 9-0 decision. That outcome, however, is unlikely.

If a decade of increasingly ridiculous judicial opinions striking down Obamacare has taught the legal profession anything, it should be that, in politically charged cases, judges are more likely to behave like raw partisans rather than as jurists.

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Republicans control a majority on the Supreme Court. Republicans oppose LGBTQ rights. It’s not hard to guess how ZardaBostock, and Harris Funeral Homes are likely to be decided.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is a columnist for ThinkProgress, and the author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

Supreme Court poised to drastically reverse LGBTQ equality

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

There are now six different cases implicating LGBTQ rights sitting before the Supreme Court. While the conservative-majority Court has not yet agreed to hear any of them, a circuit split between two of the cases and the fact that President Trump’s transgender military ban is at the heart of another strongly suggest at least one of them will advance to oral arguments.

The cases span a variety of different issues, including employment, education, military service, and public discrimination. At the heart at most of them is a question about whether discrimination against LGBTQ people counts as discrimination on the basis of “sex.” If the Court rules against queer people in just one of them, it could set a precedent that hinders LGBTQ equality across all of the different issues.

Such a decision would be the largest blow to queer rights since the Court upheld sodomy laws 32 years ago.

Employment discrimination

Two of the cases before the Court address the question of whether it’s legal to fire someone for being gay. Two different federal appellate courts arrived at different conclusions, increasing the likelihood that the Supreme Court will hear the cases to resolve the dispute.

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, a gay man argued that he was fired because of his sexual orientation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Gerald Lynn Bostock’s case over a 1979 precedent, even though several Supreme Court cases since then have undermined that ruling, including a case that recognized “sex stereotyping” as a form of sex discrimination as well as a case that recognized same-sex sexual harassment as sex discrimination. The Eleventh Circuit insisted that “sexual orientation” enjoys no recognition under Title VII’s employment protections on the basis of sex.

Meanwhile, this past February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit arrived at the exact opposite conclusion in Zarda v. Altitude Express. In that case, the appellate court found that skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, now deceased, was illegally fired for being gay under Title VII. The Trump administration had argued otherwise.

With this split in how to interpret federal law, it seems highly likely that the Supreme Court will want to resolve the conflict. While there are several compelling arguments that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation inherently requires making determinations on the basis of sex, it’s not clear that there are five justices who will agree.

While they’re at it, the Court may also consider R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a similar case about whether Title VII’s “sex” protections include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed this past March that a Michigan funeral home violated the law when it fired employee Aimee Stephens for being transgender.

The Trump administration recently filed a brief in this case arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision and rule that it’s legal to fire someone for being trans. But the administration also argued that the Court should consider Zarda or Bostock first — in other words, that it should resolve the question of whether sexual orientation is protected before it takes up gender identity.

In any of these cases, a ruling narrowly defining “sex” could set back employment rights for the entire LGBTQ community.

Trans military ban

On Friday, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to take the reins on the four different court battles over President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. The administration has lost in all of these different cases, including before two appellate courts, but it is now asking the Court to combine them all into the case Trump v. Karnoski.

The request is an unusual step, one that attempts to skip over the standard appeals process. LGBTQ groups chided the administration for being so desperate to discriminate that they’re willing to flout judicial norms and procedures. Nevertheless, given the Court’s willingness to cater to executive power in the Muslim ban cases, it might similarly be charitable to Trump’s claim that banning transgender people somehow improves military readiness, even though there’s no evidence to support that claim.

Another bakery

Just months after the Supreme Court granted a one-off victory to an anti-gay baker from Colorado, another bakery from Oregon is again asking the Court to grant it special permission to refuse service to same-sex couples. The details of Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries are almost identical to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

As ThinkProgress previously explained, Aaron and Melissa Klein — owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa — are asking for even more from the Court than Jack Phillips did last year. They argue that business owners have a right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs — against any group, not just on the basis of sexual orientation. A ruling along those lines would not only greatly undermine LGBTQ protections, but nondiscrimination protections for all vulnerable groups.

Transgender students

While the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is not defending the Kleins as it did Phillips last year, the anti-LGBTQ hate group is still heavily involved in this year’s round of cases. In addition to defending the funeral home in the transgender employment case, ADF is also representing a group of families challenging a Pennsylvania school’s inclusive policies.

In Doe v. Boyertown Area School District, ADF contends that allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity somehow violates the privacy of other students. As such, they’re asking for a mandate that schools segregate trans students to single-use restrooms. Like in the employment cases with Title VII, ADF is also asking the Court to rule that Title IX’s sex protections don’t extend to transgender students.

If the Supreme Court were to take all of these cases and the conservative majority were to prevail in them all, 2019 could look radically different for LGBTQ people. Nationwide, it’d become legal to fire them for who they are, to discriminate against them in schools, and to discriminate against them in public spaces — and several thousand transgender service members would lose their jobs.

For now, the Court is delaying making any decisions.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.

Can federal workers blatantly discriminate against LGBTQ people? Jeff Sessions isn’t sure.

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

During Wednesday’s Justice Department Oversight Hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the Department of Justice’s new “religious freedom” guidance. In particular, Durbin was concerned about how the guidance might enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination, asking Sessions to respond to several hypotheticals.

“Could a social security administration employee refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse?” Durbin asked.

There was a long pause. “That’s something I never thought would arise, but I would have to give you a written answer to that, if you don’t mind.” Sessions responded.

Durbin countered, “I’d like to have that,” then launched right into another hypothetical. “Could a federal contractor refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including in emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts?”

“Likewise, but I would say to you — are you citing Title VII for this? Or the guidance? I’m not sure that’s covered by it, but I’ll look.”

It is highly unbelievable that Sessions had never considered these examples prior to Wednesday. More than two years ago, when he was still in the Senate, Sessions was one of the original co-sponsors of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a bill that would grant those who have religious objections to same-sex marriage a license to discriminate. Many of the provisions in the new guidance mirror FADA’s language.

 In response to that bill’s introduction, the ACLU and LGBTQ advocacy groups pushed back, saying that it would be used to prop up discrimination. The ACLU, in particular, outlined FADA’s “parade of horribles” in a 2015 blog post, including the following two:
  • [It would] permit government employees to discriminate against married same-sex couples and their families – federal employees could refuse to process tax returns, visa applications, or Social Security checks for all married same-sex couples.
  • [It would] allow federal contractors or grantees, including those that provide important social services like homeless shelters or drug treatment programs, to turn away LGBT people or anyone who has an intimate relationship outside of a marriage.

Those are nearly identical to the hypotheticals Durbin asked Sessions to respond to on Wednesday. Still, years after they’d been highlighted by advocacy groups, Sessions claimed they had somehow never occurred to him before.

After Sessions’ dodged Durbin’s hypotheticals, the senator asked the attorney general to comment about the fact that “people are discriminating in the name of their own personal religious liberty.”

Sessions responded:

Yes, I would say that wherever possible, a person should be allowed to freely exercise their religion and not to carry out activities that further something they think is contrary to their faith. But at the same time, if you participate in commercial exchanges, you have limits on what you can do under those laws — public accommodation type laws. And so the balance needs to be properly struck — and I think we have. Those issues were discussed as we wrestled with this policy.

It’s unclear with whom Sessions discussed those issues. The Department of Justice apparently held “listening sessions”, but has refused to name which groups it consulted. The reason the public even knows these consultations took place at all is because the Alliance Defending Freedom — an anti-LGBTQ hate group that defends business owners who discriminate and challenges nondiscrimination protections in the name of “religious freedom” — bragged that it had participated in them.

Given Sessions said in an interview last week that he believes such discrimination should be allowed in the case of the anti-gay baker whose case is headed to the Supreme Court, it’s not hard to imagine how he might respond to Durbin’s hypotheticals, if pressed.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on October 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news. In 2014, The Advocate named Zack one of its “40 under 40” in LGBT media, describing him as “one of the most influential journalists online.” He has a passion for education, having received a Bachelor’s in Music Education at Ithaca College and a Master’s in Higher Education at Iowa State University, and he relishes opportunities to return to classroom settings to discuss social justice issues with students. He can be reached at zford@thinkprogress.org.

Justice Department brief argues against protections for LGBTQ workers

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

On Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice moved to undermine rights for LGBTQ people to ensure they are treated fairly in the workplace. The department filed a brief arguing that prohibition of sex discrimination under federal law does not include the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The federal law in question is Title VII, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.

The case before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Zarda v. Altitude Express, centers on a now deceased skydiver. In 2010, Zarda said he was fired because of his sexual orientation. In April, the Second Circuit decided that it would not accept the argument that discrimination on sexual orientation isn’t permitted under Title VII. However, Lambda Legal requested that the ruling be reconsidered, which is why the Justice Department planned to file its amicus brief.

The power of the federal government to influence LGBTQ workplace rights can’t be underestimated, said Sharita Gruberg, associate director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

“It is the Justice Department of the U.S. It’s not just anyone, so it’s definitely going to have a lot of weight because it is the position of the U.S. government, so it will be interesting to see how Second Circuit takes those arguments,” Gruberg said.

The role of Title VII in protecting lesbian, bisexual, and gay people against discrimination has been fuzzier than the issue of whether it can protect transgender people from discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recognized that Title VII protects transgender people from discrimination in 2012. In 2015, the agency also held that Title VII covers claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But court decisions on sexual orientation protections have been mixed.

The strongest decision for the recognition of sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII was in Hively v. Ivy Community College, in which the Seventh Circuit held that sexual orientation was covered under sex discrimination in Title VII for three reasons. In that ruling, Chief Judge Diane Wood referenced Price Waterhouse V. Hopkins, a case that is commonly used to support sexual orientation as protected through Title VII by arguing that says sex discrimination includes sex stereotyping. If a stereotypical woman is considered to be heterosexual, then dating women is a failure to conform. Looking at it another way, if a woman were a man dating a woman she would not face discrimination; therefore she is facing discrimination because she is a woman. And yet another way to consider discrimination would to look at the matter of association. The Loving v. Virginia case found that discrimination based on association with someone of a different race is discrimination on the basis of race. In the case of sexual orientation, Wood used this “associational theory” to say that a refusal to promote someone based on their association with someone of the same sex qualifies as sex discrimination.

Gruberg said that with conflicting decisions from the courts, including a March 11th Circuit ruling that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation, and statements from judges such as Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is likely covered under Title VII, the issue could come before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There has been an indication last time they considered this, where Chief Katzmann noted that this is still a developing issue in courts and he felt that court should reexamine whether sex orientation discrimination is covered under Title VII, so it has been mixed,” Gruberg said. “We’re already at a circuit split so it’s something I am convinced is going to be in front of the Supreme Court soon.”

In the brief, the Justice Department noted in Hively, Judge Diane Sykes said sex as “common, ordinary usage in 1964” means “biologically male or female.” Gruberg, who commented before the brief was released, said it would not make sense for the department to address gender identity, given the courts’ past rulings.

“Courts have been much more willing to see that gender identity discrimination is straight up sex discrimination. That has not really been a question. Sexual orientation is a little bit [of a question], so it is shocking that DOJ would bring that [gender identity] up,” Gruberg said. “That is not as contested in federal courts and yet they are bringing it up as an assault on the idea that trans people have civil rights protections.”

Gruberg said that the department will likely take the most prevalent argument against including sexual orientation and say that the statute doesn’t explicitly mention sexual orientation.

“But it doesn’t say sex stereotyping either, and the courts ruled on that, and it doesn’t mention sexual harassment but we now see harassment as covered,” Gruberg said. “What it means under Title VII has been understood as far more broad than what Congress in 60s believed it meant… It is a willful disregard of the evolving definition of sex discrimination.”]

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress.

Federal appeals court holds workers can’t be fired for being gay

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

With a lopsided majority joined by a bipartisan coalition of judges, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held on Tuesday that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates federal civil rights law, at least in the context of the workplace.

The court telegraphed in an order last October that Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College was likely to be a victory for victims of discrimination in the workplace. The final vote in the case, however, is a bit more surprising.

Eight of the Seventh Circuit’s judges joined Tuesday’s opinion, including Republican appointees Richard Posner, Joel Flaum, Frank Easterbrook, Ilana Rovner, and Kenneth Ripple. Only three judges dissented.

The case involves Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of an employee’s “sex.” Though Title VII contains no explicit statement that discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” is prohibited, two crucial Supreme Court precedents inform Chief Judge Diane Wood’s majority opinion in Hively.

The first is Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, which established that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination is violated when an employee faces discrimination due to gender stereotyping. Thus, in that case, a female accountant could allege illegal discrimination if she was denied a partnership because her superiors deemed her too masculine. (One partner told her to take “a course at charm school.” Another deemed her too “macho.”)

One of the the core insights of Chief Judge Wood’s decision in Hively is that, because she is a lesbian, “Hively represents the ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype.” Stereotypical women enter into romantic and sexual partnerships with men. Hively defies this stereotype by engaging in such relationships with women. So presuming that she must prefer relations with men is itself a form of gender stereotyping forbidden by Hopkins.

Wood’s opinion also offers several other reasons why sexual orientation discrimination should be understood as a form of sex discrimination. Indeed, as Wood explains, this case is actually pretty straightforward. “Hively alleges that if she had been a man married to a woman (or living with a woman, or dating a woman) and everything else had stayed the same, Ivy Tech would not have refused to promote her and would not have fired her,” Wood writes. If this claim proves to be true, then it “describes paradigmatic sex discrimination.”

In reaching this conclusion, Wood acknowledges that the lawmakers who drafted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 probably did not expect it to be used this way. But the conclusion that Title VII can be read more expansively than its drafters anticipated was embraced by Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion for the Supreme Court in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services.

Oncale was a case of male-on-male sexual harassment, something that, as Scalia wrote, “was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII.” But so what?

As Scalia explained, “statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.”

A prohibition on discrimination “because of . . . sex” was expansive enough to cover male-on-male sexual harassment in Oncale. And it is big enough to encompass discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So holds the Seventh Circuit in Hively.

As Wood notes in her opinion, “for many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation.” Hively is now an outlier, and the Supreme Court typically takes up cases where the federal appeals courts disagree. It is all but certain to take up this case.

That means the fate of gay and bisexual workers is likely to rest with Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who often provides the fifth vote in favor of gay rights. Whether Kennedy does so in this case remains to be seen—though the lopsided vote in Hively should be an encouraging sign for supporters of LGBT rights.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on April 4, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Ian Millhiser is the Justice Editor at ThinkProgress. He is a skeptic of the Supreme Court, hater of Samuel Alito, and a constitutional lawyer of ill repute. Contact him at  imillhiser@thinkprogress.org.

Federal judge concludes transgender worker can sue for sex discrimination

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

A federal court in Kentucky is allowing a transgender workplace discrimination suit to proceed, recognizing that mistreatment in regards to gender identity constitutes illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.

Plaintiff Mykel Mickens sued General Electric Appliances (GE) for harassment and disparate treatment in the workplace. He was not permitted to use the men’s restroom, so he had to use a facility much farther away from his work station, and he was then disciplined for how long his breaks were to accommodate that journey. Mickens also had a conflict with an employee, but though GE addressed a complaint one of his white, female colleagues had with that employee, his complaint went unaddressed. He says that when he disclosed that he was transgender to his supervisor, he was singled out and reprimanded for conduct no one else was reprimanded for, and when he reported the harassment, GE said there was nothing it could do.

Federal Chief Judge Joseph McKinley, a Clinton appointee, concluded that there was significant evidence to bring a discrimination case for race and gender discrimination. He agreed there is precedent that punishing an employee for failing to conform to gender stereotypes can qualify as gender discrimination under Title VII. “Significantly,” he wrote, “Plaintiff alleges that GE both permitted continued discrimination and harassment against him and subsequently fired him because he did not conform to the gender stereotype of what someone who was born female [sic] should look and act like.”

McKinley noted that several court cases, including G.G. v. Glouchester County School Board?—?currently before the Supreme Court?—?could impact future trans discrimination suits. In the meantime, however, “what is clear is that the Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleges facts to support discrimination or disparate treatment claims based upon race and gender non-conformity or sex stereotyping.”

GE did not comment directly on the suit but reaffirmed in a statement its commitment to “creating, managing and valuing diversity in our workforce” and “ensuring that our workplace is free from harassment.”

McKinley’s ruling isn’t an automatic victory for Mickens, but it is a sign of progress for those seeking the justice system’s protection for discrimination against transgender people.

Just last week, a transgender man in Louisiana won his discrimination complaint against his employer through arbitration. Tristan Broussard involuntarily resigned from the financial services company he worked for when he was intolerably forced to “act and dress only as a female.” He was awarded more than a year’s salary as well as additional damages for emotional distress.

The Obama administration has extended protections to transgender people in various ways, including advocating for their civil rights in employment discrimination cases. Many advocates worry the Trump administration will roll back these protections and abandon support for these plaintiffs, if not take an antagonistic position against their discrimination claims.

A recent massive survey of transgender people found that 16 percent had lost a job due to being transgender, and 27 percent had either been fired, denied a promotion, or not been hired due to being transgender.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on December 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Zack Ford is the LGBT Editor at ThinkProgress.org. Gay, Atheist, Pianist, Unapologetic “Social Justice Warrior.” Contact him at zford@thinkprogress.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

Second Class Citizenship for Older Workers

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Patricia Barnes

There is little cause for celebration as the Age Discrimination Against Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) approaches its fiftieth birthday.

The law has failed to prevent widespread discrimination against older workers. It was weak and riddled with loopholes to begin with and has since been eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Moreover, the problem is virtually ignored by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which received almost 21,296 age discrimination complaints in 2013 and filed seven lawsuits with ADEA claims.

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that catch-phrases like “long-term unemployment” and “early retirement” hide epidemic age discrimination in the workplace. Older workers have no real recourse to combat age discrimination in the federal court system due to the ineffectiveness of the ADEA, and general hostility toward employment discrimination claims.

When the ADEA was enacted most workers were subjected to mandatory retirement at age 65 and job advertisements routinely stated that older workers need not apply.

Over the years, the ADEA eliminated mandatory retirement for all but a few categories of workers. However, older workers today are routinely forced out of the workplace by cost-conscious employers using strategic layoffs and dismissals. This is possible because in 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins that a company could dismiss an older worker shortly before his pension was about to vest because the employer was motivated by cost savings and not age discrimination.

More recently, the U.S. Supreme Court make it virtually impossible for a worker to win an ADEA lawsuit. In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., the Court in 2009 raised the level of proof in ADEA cases far above that required under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin and religion. Congress could have re-established parity between the ADEA and Title VII by passing the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act but has not bothered to do so.

Many employment law attorneys will not take cases involving age discrimination to federal court because they know the chances of prevailing are slim to non-existent.

Perhaps the most obvious failure of the ADEA is in the area of hiring discrimination. Many employers completely disregard the ADEA prohibition against using job advertisements that indicate “any preference, limitation, specification, or discrimination, based on age.” Even the U.S. government routinely advertises for “recent graduates.”

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2010 that permits federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire “recent graduates.” Of course, the vast majority of recent graduates are under the age of 30. Obama’s justification for his order was that the government was at a “competitive disadvantage” in recruiting recent graduates during the worst recession in a hundred years. Really?

Victims of age discrimination have tried to fight discriminatory state and federal actions under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution only to hit a brick wall. The U.S. Supreme Court accords age discrimination its lowest level of scrutiny – rational basis review – which is far below that accorded to race and sex discrimination claims.

In my book, I argue that it’s time for Congress to do what it should have done almost 50 years ago – include age as a protected class under Title VII. And then let’s start enforcing our nation’s anti-discrimination laws as if they really mattered.

Age discrimination is every bit as harmful and damaging to individuals and American society as any other type of illegal discrimination. There is no moral or legal justification for treating older workers like second-class citizens. If an older worker is not capable of adequately performing a job, that worker should be treated like any other worker in that circumstance.

This originally was written on September 22, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Patricia G Barnes  is an attorney, judge and the author of several books, including a leading book on workplace bullying, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace. She writes a syndicated blog about employment discrimination, bullying and abuse called When the Abuser Goes to Work  at abusergoestowork.com. She is a consultant for both workers and employers in addressing problems related to workplace abuse.

Court Says Lactation Is Related to Pregnancy, Refrains From Saying, "Duh"

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Donna photo redwrote about a really stupid case out of Texas where a federal court said that “lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition,” and thus decided that “firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination.”  I was irked, to say the least. Lactation not related to pregnancy and childbirth? Really?

Well, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals which, to its credit, refrained from saying, “Well, duh,” has unanimously ruled that lactation is, indeed, related to pregnancy and is therefore covered by Title VII. EEOC reports this about the decision: “The Fifth Circuit noted the biological fact that lactation is a physiological condition distinct to women who have undergone a pregnancy.  Accordingly, under Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, firing a woman because she is lactating or expressing milk is unlawful sex discrimination, since men as a matter of biology could not be fired for such a reason. The case was remanded back to the lower court for a trial on the merits.”

Personally,  I think the 5th Circuit should be applauded, not only for its common sense, but for the fact that it did not openly mock the lower court’s ruling. I wouldn’t have had that much self-control.

I should also point out that almost all employers are required to provide nursing mothers with break time to pump breast milk, along with a private space that isn’t the restroom to do so.The Fair Labor Standards Act requires this, so employers who fire moms for lactating may also run afoul of this law, even if they aren’t large enough to be covered by Title VII.

I rarely get to say this, so: Hooray for common sense in the courts!

This article was originally posted on Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home on September 27, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Donna Ballman‘s new book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards, was recently named the Winner of the Law Category of the 2012 USA Best Books Awards and is currently available for purchase. She is the award-winning author of The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, a book geared toward informing novelists and screenwriters about the ins and outs of the civil justice system. She’s been practicing employment law, including negotiating severance agreements and litigating discrimination, sexual harassment, noncompete agreements, and employment law issues in Florida since 1986. Her blog on employee-side employment law issues, Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, was named one of the 2011 and 2012 ABA Blawg 100 best legal blogs and the 2011 Lexis/Nexis Top 25 Labor and Employment Law Blogs.

She has written for AOL Jobs and The Huffington Post on employment law issues, and has been an invited guest blogger for Monster.com and Ask A Manager. She has over 6000 followers on Twitter as @EmployeeAtty. She has taught continuing legal education classes for lawyers and accountants through organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association, Sterling Education Services, Lorman Education Services, Alison Seminars, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and community organizations.  Ms. Ballman has published articles on employment law topics such as severance, non-compete agreements, discrimination, sexual harassment, and avoiding litigation. She’s been interviewed by MSNBC, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Lifetime Television Network, the Daily Business Review, and many other media outlets on employment law issues. She was featured on the Forbes Channel’s “America’s Most Influential Women” program on the topic of severance negotiations and non-compete agreements.

EEOC loses battle (but not war) on discriminatory background checks

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Christian SchreiberWhen it dismissed a federal lawsuit last week, the U.S. District Court for Maryland made it even harder for workers with poor credit histories and past criminal convictions to find a job.  Civil rights advocates hope the decision is not a bellwether for similar cases pending around the country.

The lawsuit, brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged Freeman, a privately-held event-management company, with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act through its use of credit and criminal background checks.  According to the EEOC’s complaint, the employer’s decision to use background checks to screen out job applicants amounted to discrimination because it disproportionately impacted African-American and male job applicants.

Freeman’s hiring process involved detailed inquiries into both the applicant’s credit histories and criminal backgrounds.  Freeman “regularly ran credit checks for 44 job titles,” and excluded all applicants from certain positions who met any of 12 different categories of purported credit-unworthiness.  Even common credit blemishes, such as credit card charge-offs, medical liens, unpaid student loans, or foreclosures would result in the applicant being rejected.

The Freeman court joined the chorus of employers extolling what some consider the “common sense” of performing credit and criminal background checks.    These proponents also ignore the studies demonstrating that credit problems do not predict employee performance, as well as those that document atrocious error rates on credit checks.   A report released by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year found that a quarter of consumers identified errors on their credit report that might affect their credit scores.

In 2011, California limited the use of credit checks in employment.  After three prior attempts were vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger, the bill was itself an object lesson in persistence.  However, the law also established broad exceptions to the “prohibition” on employment-related credit checks, effectively blessing their use across jobs and industries where the need or utility has never been demonstrated.

In addition to the credit-check hurdle, Freeman’s standard employment application form asked, “Have you ever pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, a criminal offense?”  Applicants were told certain convictions would not be considered in the hiring process (yeah, right), but the company acknowledged a “bright-line rule” that disqualified any applicant who “failed to disclose a conviction, seriously misrepresented the circumstances of a criminal offense, or made any other materially dishonest statement on the application.”

In June, the EEOC filed two similar complaints against Dollar General Corp and BMW, alleging that the companies’ use of criminal background checks resulted in a disparate impact against African-American job applicants.  Referred to as “disparate impact” cases, these types of challenges stand or fall on the persuasiveness of the parties’ statistical evidence.  In the EEOC v. Freeman case, the court let loose on the EEOC’s expert, excoriating his methodology and ultimately calling his findings “an egregious example of scientific dishonesty.” (Ouch.)  Though it may be possible to blunt the impact of Freeman simply by putting on better statistical evidence, the decision nonetheless entrenches practical misconceptions and legal standards that are hostile to workers.

These cases are being watched closely by consumer and civil rights advocates, who still hold out hope that the EEOC’s oversight of these employment policies will curtail the increasing use of background checks to screen out applicants.   Advocates hope Freeman doesn’t signal that more bad news lies ahead.

This article originally appeared on CELA Voice on August 19, 2013.  Re-posted with permission. 

About the Author: Christian Schreiber is an active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association, where he serves on CELA’s Legislative Committee and Wage and Hour Committee.  He is also a member of the American Constitution Society, the Public Justice Foundation, and the Consumer Attorneys of California. Mr. Schreiber received his B.A. from UCLA in 1996.

Workplace Bullying vs. Workplace Harassment: Is There a Difference?

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Teresa Zerilli-EdelglassBack when my workplace nightmare first began in 1992, during an 11-year tenure at New York City Transit that ended in termination on the heels of a hard-fought federal court victory, there was no such thing as “workplace bullying”.  Bullying – or at least the term – was reserved for what one mean-spirited kid did to another in the schoolyard.  However, “bullying” has now become the catch phrase for every mean-spirited act that one human being commits against another, whether in the workplace or the schoolyard — or just about anywhere!

Just at the time when I was finally beginning to realize my American Dream, the harassment began. Over time, with no help in sight, it escalated to epic proportions, causing debilitating mental illness that would eventually render me incapacitated.  What I experienced back then was characterized as “harassment”. Today, this same treatment has evolved into “workplace bullying”, though legally speaking, it is still called harassment.  (Unless I’ve missed something, I’ve never heard of anyone filing a “workplace bullying” claim.) Still, if one is harassed, he is being bullied.  But are these terms legally interchangeable?  Is it just semantics that separates them?  Or do they, in fact, have different meanings.

We have traditionally associated workplace harassment with the unlawful behavior described under the various acts created by Congress to protect workers from unfair employment practices.  Legislative measures (such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) exist to protect workers from discrimination against age, gender, race/color, religion, national origin, disability, genetic information, pregnancy, and compensation.  It also prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation.  While this might sound like a fairly inclusive body of protection, do these seemingly well-intentioned laws really cover everything?  Should protection be afforded only to these “protected classes” for the specific violations they are designed to address?

The short answer: no.

An obvious gaping hole in employment law still remains; the door is wide open for a cornucopia of offenses screaming to be addressed.  For instance, what about the fat person, the ugly (or pretty) one, the smelly one or the annoying one?  And how about the once untouchable white guy who gets wrongfully kicked around?  These folks have no real recourse except to complain to their supervisors, who, in all likelihood are ill-equipped to handle such matters.

When I worked for New York City Transit, I witnessed bullying like it was for sport.  In fact, it was the managerial style of choice. When one of “the men” as they referred to themselves, got out of line in any way believed to be even remotely threatening, he would likely pay for it lest he fell back in line posthaste.  God forbid, he resisted for he would be shipped off to the most undesirable location, usually the place no one wanted to be and that would make his life a living hell.  In fact, that same threat was deviously employed on job interviews.  One was pretty much forced to say he was okay with working at any one of the numerous locations in the system, albeit an outright lie.  Then, once he conceded to being the flexible, indispensable best man for the job, he might well find himself in one of our little “Siberias” anyway because, after all, he said he was willing to go there.  A real Catch 22, for sure.

Was this modus operandi unto itself harassment in the legal sense – or was it simply bullying? Well, unless one individual of a particular protected class, let’s say an employee over 40 amidst a group of twenty-somethings was singled out, it wouldn’t be classified as unlawful; however, it is not less wrong and must be treated as such.  Working forever shrouded in fear of retribution is unacceptable.

Since having written Thrown Under the Bus: The Rise and Fall of the American Worker, it is amazing how many folks have felt compelled to come forward to share their workplace horror stories with me.  They, too, attest that it is the bully’s way or the highway – with no help in sight.  I pray that my book serves to lend some insight to ways in which to successfully navigate “the system” without undue repercussion.

In a nutshell, the message is this: workplace harassment has evolved to a new form of the same called ‘workplace bullying’, the catch-all phrase for the ubiquitously inappropriate treatment of anyone and everyone where such behavior rises to the same egregious level of currently actionable legal claims under the law. If you can prove that which you claim to have occurred as having risen to the same degree of unlawfulness as prescribed by Congress, you shouldn’t need to be part of a protected class, just an aggrieved employee of any stripe with a legitimate claim.

Printed with permission

About the Author:  Teresa Zerilli-Edeleglass is the author of Thrown Under the Bus: The Rise and Fall of the American Worker, the provocative true story that begs the question: Is the American Dream ours for the taking, or can it just be taken away?  Ms. Zerill-Edelglass earned a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John’s University in 1989 and an Executive Masters in Public Administration from Bernard Baruch College in 1992. It was in 1988 that the opportunity presented itself for Ms. Zerilli-Edelglass to switch gears from the private to the public sector, one she enthusiastically embraced. No sooner had all of her hard work finally begun to pay off when everything suddenly went up in smoke, laying the groundwork for ‘Thrown’.  Thrown Under the Bus: The Rise and Fall of the American Worker is available online at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and through the author’s website.

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