Recently, a federal district court sitting in New York held that an employee’s prior release of a claim for compensatory damages for unlawful employment discrimination did not preclude his claim under Title VII for punitive damages arising out of the same conduct. Barker v. Aramark Unif. & Career Apparel, LLC, No. 19-CV-2710, 2021 WL 4859741 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2021). The employee in the case filed a charge of race discrimination against his former employer with the State Division of Human Rights. The parties entered into a Settlement Agreement by which the employee “waive[d] and release[d] any and all claims and allegations asserted in” the Division proceeding “arising from or relating to any and all acts, events and omissions alleged or that could have been alleged[.]” Subsequently, the employee brought a Title VII suit in federal court, seeking punitive damages—a remedy not available in the state agency proceeding.Read More
EMPLOYMENT LAW LEGAL RESEARCH BLOG
One of the more difficult issues in the employment discrimination context has been the determination of whether an employee who is charged with misconduct toward another employee is a "supervisor" or a "coworker" for purposes of employer liability under Title VII and related statutes. Initially, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") took the position that an individual is qualified as an employee's supervisor if (1) the individual had authority to undertake or recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee, or (2) the individual had authority to direct the employee's daily work activities. EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Vicarious Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors (1999. In its 2013 decision in Vance v. Ball State University, 133 S. Ct. 2434 (2013), however, the Supreme Court narrowed the definition, holding that an employee is a "supervisor" only when empowered by the employer to take tangible employment action—such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassigning with significantly different responsibilities, or causing a significant change in benefits—against the employee alleging discrimination. Since then, the lower federal courts have refined this definition in relevant cases.Read More
In a closely watched case, California v. Texas, 141 S. Ct. 2104 (2021), the Supreme Court recently turned back a third challenge to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA" or "Act")—the extensive health-care reform law enacted in 2010 that includes, among other things, a requirement for all individuals (known as the "individual mandate") to obtain a minimum level of health insurance coverage (known as "minimum essential coverage" or "MEC") or to pay a tax penalty to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"). In subsequent legislation, Congress reduced the penalty from $695 to $0. At that point, the State of Texas, joined by several other states and two individual plaintiffs, filed a challenge to the amended Act in a federal district court sitting in Texas. The court held that Congress's effective elimination of the tax penalty had rendered unconstitutional the individual mandate to obtain MEC, as it could no longer be justified as a tax. Further, because the unconstitutional provision could not be severed from the rest of the ACA, the entire Act was invalid. In its June 2021 decision, the Supreme Court did not reach these substantive issues, instead ruling 7-2 that neither the states nor the individual plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring the suit, as none had shown a past or future injury "fairly traceable" to the officials' conduct.Read More
An exotic dancer was an "employee" of an adult entertainment club under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), even though a written agreement disclaimed an employment relationship, a federal district court sitting in Florida recently held in Schofield v. Gold Club Tampa, Inc., No. 8:19-CV-3097-VMC-TGW, 2021 WL 533540 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 12, 2021). The summary judgment evidence showed that the economic reality of the relationship was one of employer and employee given the degree of control over the dancer's work exercised by the club, among other factors.
An exotic dancer who worked at an adult entertainment club brought suit against the club owner and its operator ("club"), seeking a ruling that she had been misclassified as an independent contractor, that she was the club's employee, and that she was thus entitled to employee's protections under the FLSA. The evidence showed that the club's DJ used a list of dancers present at the club on a given shift to set up a rotation for performances on the stage. Each dancer would perform for about two and a half minutes to music she had preselected. In addition to watching dancers on the stage, club patrons could purchase a lap dance in an open booth and/or time with a dancer in a private "VIP room." An employee called a "VIP host" would schedule such activities and collect the money before any activity took place.Read More
An employer that discharges an individual for being homosexual or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Supreme Court held 6-3 in one of the last decisions of its October 2019 term. Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020). Title VII contains the well-known prohibition of discrimination in employment against an individual “because of” the individual's “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch explained that an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Thus, sex plays a “necessary and undisguisable role” in such decisions—precisely what Title VII forbids.
Three cases were consolidated for this appeal. Each one started with an employer discharging a long-term employee soon after the employee revealed that he was homosexual or gender-transitioning—and allegedly for no other reason.Read More
On March 18, 2020, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 ("Families First Act"), Pub. L. No. 116-127, was signed into law. The measure is the second in a series of recent legislative attempts to ameliorate the adverse health and economic effects of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in the United States. The Act applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and its major provisions require (1) paid sick leave, and (2) paid FMLA leave for child care during the pandemic. The Act's leave provisions are effective April 2, 2020 through December 31, 2020.
A third piece of legislation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 ("CARES Act"), Pub. L. No. 116-136, was signed on March 27, 2020. A massive relief package, it provides for increased public health spending, cash relief for individual citizens earning under $75,000 a year ($150,00 a year for married couples), enhanced unemployment benefits, a lending program for small businesses, and targeted relief for certain heavily impacted industries.Read More
When an arbitration agreement is in effect, who decides whether an employment dispute—or any dispute for that matter—is arbitrable? The Supreme Court recently released a pair of decisions that address this issue under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., ___ S. Ct. ___, 202 L. Ed. 2d 480, 2019 WL 122164 (Jan. 8, 2019), and New Prime, Inc. v. Oliveira, ___ S. Ct. ___, 2019 WL 189342 (Jan. 15, 2019).
Each case involved an arbitration agreement that contained a clause delegating the issue of arbitrability of disputes to an arbitrator rather than a court. The Supreme Court had previously held that such clauses are enforceable under the FAA. Rent-A-Center W., Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63 (2010) (applying 9 U.S.C. § 2). Some courts of appeals developed an exception to this general rule, holding that a court need not grant a motion to compel arbitration under § 4 of the FAA if the argument that the underlying claim is within the scope of the arbitration agreement is "wholly groundless."Read More
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") applies to all public employers, including those with fewer than 20 employees, a unanimous Supreme Court held in its first merits decision of the October 2018 term. Thus, the 20-employee minimum that applies to private employers does not apply to a state or its subdivisions. The 8-0 decision, Mount Lemmon Fire Dist. v. Guido, ___ S. Ct. ___, 202 L. Ed. 2d 262 (2018), resolves a split of authority between the Ninth Circuit on one hand and the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits on the other.
The case arose when a fire district in Arizona, faced with a budget shortfall, laid off its two oldest full-time firefighters—Fire Captains who were aged 46 and 54. Not surprisingly, the firefighters brought suit against the fire district for age discrimination. In seeking to dismiss the suit, the fire district argued that it was too small to qualify as an “employer” under the ADEA. The district court agreed, granting summary judgment for the fire district, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the 20-employee minimum that applies to private employers does not apply to a state or its subdivisions.Read More
A federal district court sitting in Pennsylvania has held that an employer may proceed with its unfair competition suit asserting contract and tort claims against a former employee and the employee’s current employer. The employer adequately stated claims of common-law breach of fiduciary duty and unfair competition against the employee, and of aiding and abetting the same against the competitor. However, the employer’s claim of tortious interference with prospective contractual relationship against the employee would be dismissed because the complaint failed to allege a sufficient likelihood of a prospective contract. Neopart Transit, LLC v. CBM N.A., Inc., 314 F. Supp. 3d 628 (E.D. Pa. 2018).Read More