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    EMPLOYMENT LAW LEGAL RESEARCH BLOG

    Nicole Prysby

    Recent Posts

    Long Term Leave Is Not a Reasonable Accommodation

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Thu, Oct 26, 2017 @ 11:10 AM

    Nicole D. Prysby, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group 

                On September 20, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by a district court, holding that the failure to provide an employee with long-term medical leave is not a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The decision, Severson v. Heemployartland Woodcraft, Inc., No. 15-3754, 2017 WL 4160849 (7th Cir. Sept. 20, 2017), rejects the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") position that long-term medical leave may qualify as a reasonable accommodation.

                Severson worked for Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., in a position for which heavy lifting was an essential function. In 2013, he took 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") leave due to back pain. On the last day of leave, he had back surgery, which required that he take another two to three months of leave from work to recuperate. He asked if he could continue his medical leave, but because he had exhausted his FMLA leave, Heartland denied the request and told him that he could reapply for a position once he was medically cleared to work.

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    Topics: employment law, long-term leave, Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodation

    Are Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Employees Protected from Discrimination Under Title VII?

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 @ 13:09 PM

    Nicole Prysby, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         In interpreting the coverage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, appellate courts have held that the prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation. E.g., Simonton v. Runyon, 232 F.3d 33 (2d Cir. 2000); Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 936 (5th Cir. 1979). In December 2012, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") took the opposite position in a Strategic Enforcement Plan that prioritized enforcement of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees under the sex discrimination provisions of Title VII. Since that time, the EEOC has filed a number of lawsuits alleging discrimination against gay and lesbian employees and has consistently maintained that Title VII's prohibition of discrimination based on sex protects employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation. See, e.g., Complainant v. Anthony Foxx, Secretary, Dep’t of Transp. (Fed. Aviation Admin.), Agency, EEOC DOC 0120133080, 2015 WL 4397641 (July 15, 2016).

                In April 2017, the Second Circuit, relying on Simonton, held that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Zarda v. Altitude Express, 855 F.3d 76 (2d Cir. 2017). The court also noted that a separate panel had held that Simonton could only be overturned by a Second Circuit en banc decision.

                Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit held in March 2017 that a lesbian employee was not protected under Title VII against discrimination based on her sexual orientation. Evans v. Ga. Reg’l Hosp., 850 F.3d 1248 (11th Cir. 2017). In the Evans decision, the court cited a 1979 case that held that discharge for homosexuality is not protected by Title VII, Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 936, 938 (5th Cir. 1979) (adopted as binding precedent for the Eleventh Circuit in Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981), and found that it was bound to follow the ruling in Blum unless that decision is overruled by an en banc holding of the Eleventh Circuit.

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    Topics: employment law, sexual orientation, discrimination

    McDonald’s Settles Lawsuit Involving Deaf Job Applicant

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Tue, Oct 25, 2016 @ 11:10 AM

         EEOC announced that McDonald’s will pay $56,500 and other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit in which EEOC alleged that the company refused to hire a deaf applicant. The applicant, a man who is unable to hear or speak, had previous experience working at another McDonald’s. When the manager discovered that the young man needed an interpreter for the interview, she canceled the interview, even though the applicant’s sister had volunteered to act as an interpreter for the interview. The applicant made several (unsuccessful) attempts to reschedule the interview and McDonald’s continued to interview other applicants throughout that time period.

     For additional information, see the EEOC press release.

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    Topics: ADA, disability discrimination

    Training Programs May Conflict with Title VII’s Religious Nondiscrimination Provisions

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 @ 10:10 AM

         Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on their religion (or lack of religious belief). A U.S. District court recently clarified that for the purposes of discrimination, a belief system called “Onionhead” is a religion. The defendant in the case is a small company that decided its corporate culture was deteriorating. The company hired a relative of the CEO to assist with morale and she brought Onionhead, a program she had developed, to the workplace. The company asserted that Onionhead is a conflict resolution tool. The plaintiffs asserted that it is a system of religious beliefs and practices. There were a series of Onionhead workshops, prayers, and meetings in the workplace, which the defendant said were voluntary but plaintiffs characterized as mandatory. Some plaintiffs described being told not to use overhead lighting "to prevent demons from entering the workplace through the lights." Plaintiffs also cited many other instances where spiritual language was used in Onionhead training. Plaintiffs contended that they were fired for either rejecting Onionhead beliefs or for having their own, non-Onionhead religious beliefs. The court found that the Onionhead set of beliefs did constitute a religion, based on a two-factors analysis: (1) whether the beliefs are sincerely held and (2) whether they are, in the believer’s own scheme of things, religious. The court stated that as a matter of law, the Onionhead beliefs are religious. On the issue of sincerity, the court found that there was a factual dispute and that a reasonable factfinder could find that the beliefs were sincerely held. For background on this case, see the EEOC’s new release: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/6-11-14.cfm    

         There have been similar cases in the past in this same vein. For example, in one case, the Eighth Circuit upheld a jury verdict that an employer that used Mind Body Energy (MBE) training sessions had discriminated against an employee on the basis of religion. The employer, a home builder and seller, required employees to participate in MBE sessions to "cleanse negative energy." The sessions included reading Hindu and Buddhist literature and affirming the belief in past lives. The employee complained that the sessions conflicts with his religious beliefs and he declined to participate in them. He was subsequently terminated. The Eighth Circuit noted that although there was some conflicting testimony as to the reasons for the employee’s termination, the fact that the employer kept attendance records for the sessions and the fact that the sessions were reasonably perceived by employees as required, was sufficient basis for a jury to find in the employee’s favor. Ollis v. HearthStone Homes, Inc., 495 F.3d 570 (8th Cir. 2007).     

         As these cases show, employers must take care to screen any training programs and accommodate any employees who give notice that these programs are inconsistent with the employees’ religious beliefs, whether or not the employer believes there is a religious basis for the employee’s objection.

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    Topics: employment law, Title VII, religion, training program screening

    Employment Law Legal Research Casino Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 @ 15:10 PM

          The EEOC announced that it has charged Detroit’s Greektown Casino with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The casino allegedly fired a pit manager who was on leave for a stress-anxiety disorder and requested several more weeks of leave. The casino denied the leave and fired him. For more information, see the EEOC’s press release:

    https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/10-4-17a.cfm

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    Topics: EEOC, ADA

    EEOC Releases New Digest of EEO Law

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 @ 17:10 PM

        The EEOC announced that it has released the latest edition of the Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEO Digest), featuring an article on “Discrimination on the Basis of Mental Health Conditions Under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.” The article discusses some cases specifically dealing with how to accommodate employees with mental health conditions, including modified work environments, use of leave, and reassignment. The digest is available at:

    https://www.eeoc.gov/federal/digest/vol_4_fy2016.cfm#article

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    Topics: EEOC, disability discrimination

    Court Supports EEOC’s Position on Wellness Programs; Finds Them Subject to ADA

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 @ 15:09 PM

         In a Wisconsin case involving a wellness program, Orion Energy Systems argued that its program was not subject to scrutiny under the ADA because of the ADA’s insurance safe harbor provision. The plan required employees to undergo medical tests for the wellness program or pay 100% of the health insurance premium. Orion also argued that the wellness plan was voluntary and therefore lawful under the ADA. The court rejected Orion’s argument that the plan was not subject to scrutiny under the ADA but did find that the plan was lawful under the ADA because it was voluntary. However, the case will go forward because the court also found that there were issues of facts regarding whether the employee was fired in retaliation for her opposition to the plan. For additional information, see EEOC’s press release: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-23-16b.cfm.

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    Topics: ADA, retaliation

    EEOC Sues M&T Bank, Alleging Disability Discrimination

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Tue, Sep 27, 2016 @ 11:09 AM

         The EEOC alleges that M&T Bank failed to provide a reasonable accommodation and fired a bank manager after she returned from pregnancy leave. The woman had worked as a branch manager in Baltimore for several years when she became pregnant and informed upper management that she would need surgery to prevent a miscarriage. She then went on FMLA leave. While she was on leave, M&T told her that the bank would fill her position unless she returned to work within 10 days. She was unable to return to work until after the birth, at which time she applied for vacant positions. M&T failed to reassign her to a vacant position, including 24 vacant branch manager or assistant branch manager jobs for which she was qualified. For additional information, see EEOC’s press release: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-23-16.cfm.

     

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    Topics: EEOC, disability discrimination, FMLA

    EEOC Sues Wynn Las Vegas for Disability Discrimination

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Tue, Sep 20, 2016 @ 16:09 PM

         EEOC has announced a lawsuit filed against the Wynn Las Vegas for disability discrimination. The charge alleges that the Wynn failed to engage in the interactive process required to identify a reasonable accommodation. The accommodation was requested by one of its security guards, a veteran who was disabled with PTSD. EEOC also alleges that in addition to denying the employee a reasonable accommodation, the Wynn retaliated against him by suspending him after he filed a complaint with the EEOC. For additional details, see EEOC’s press release: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-16-16.cfm

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    Topics: EEOC, disability discrimination, retaliation

    School District Resolves Equal Pay Act Claim

    Posted by Nicole Prysby on Tue, Sep 13, 2016 @ 12:09 PM

         The Montevideo School District in Minnesota has signed a conciliation agreement under which it agrees to pay $50,000 to a female employee who was classified as a custodial aid but performed the duties of a custodian. Her male co-worker was classified as a custodian and received pay at almost double the female’s hourly rate. For additional details of the agreement, see the EEOC news release at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-7-16b.cfm.

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    Topics: employment, equal pay, EEOC

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