Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
EEOC v. Methodist Hospitals
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Methodist Hospitals of Dallas (Methodist) for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC asserts that Methodist’s categorical policy of hiring the most qualified candidate violates the ADA when a qualified disabled employee requests reassignment to a vacant role, even if he or she is not the most qualified applicant. The EEOC also alleged that Methodist failed to reasonably accommodate a disabled employee, who was not reassigned to a vacant position for which she applied. The district court granted Methodist’s motion for summary judgment on both claims. The EEOC appealed, arguing that the Supreme Court’s ruling in US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett requires Methodist to make exceptions to its most-qualified-applicant policy and that the employee was entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The Fifth Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court as to Methodist’s most-qualified-applicant policy and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The court affirmed the judgment as to the EEOC’s reasonable accommodations claim involving the employee. The court explained that at summary judgment, an employee’s “unilateral withdrawal from the interactive process is fatal to her claim,” so long as the employer “engaged in a good-faith, interactive process with the employee regarding her request for a reasonable accommodation.” Based on the evidence, no reasonable jury could find that Methodist was unwilling to participate in the interactive process. When the employee did not respond to either the August 7th letter or the follow-up letter after her appeal of her termination, she caused the breakdown of the interactive process. Thus, Methodist did not act unlawfully. View "EEOC v. Methodist Hospitals" on Justia Law
Crain v. McDonough
Crain, a Black woman, became the Chief of the Environmental Management Service at the VA Center in July 2014, subject to a year-long supervisory probationary period, with a GS-12 pay grade. Before Crain applied, she was told that if she successfully completed her probationary period, the Center would try to get the position’s pay grade increased to the GS-13 level. After Crain assumed the position, her supervisor added responsibilities to the role in an effort to justify a higher pay grade and asked Scaife, an HR classification specialist, to upgrade the role. Scaife concluded that she was unable to “justify anything higher than a GS-12.” Crain alleges that six White service chiefs’ pay grades were elevated to GS-13 or GS-14. During Crain’s tenure as Chief of EMS, several performance and behavior-related concerns arose.In June 2015, Crain was notified that she had failed to satisfactorily complete her supervisory probationary period and was being reassigned to a different role with the same salary. The memo identified multiple “performance-based deficiencies” as the basis for the decision. Months before her reassignment, Crain had initiated an EEOC complaint. After her reassignment, Crain sued under Title VII. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the VA, rejecting Crain’s claims of disparate pay based on her race and that she was removed as Chief of EMS in retaliation for filing an EEOC complaint. View "Crain v. McDonough" on Justia Law
Lopez v. La Casa de Las Madres
In 2014, Lopez became the manager at La Casa’s domestic violence shelter. In 2016, Lopez gave birth and experienced complications. She provided La Casa with certifications relating to her condition. Lopez alleged La Casa sent harassing communications, failed to engage in an interactive process to determine if Lopez’s disability could be accommodated, and refused to provide “modest” accommodations suggested by Lopez’s doctor. Lopez alleged that her efforts to return to work were “rebuffed,” so she was forced out of her job, and that she was denied a job elsewhere because La Casa misrepresented the reasons for her termination.The court of appeal affirmed a judgment in favor of La Casa. A claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, Government Code 12945(a)(3)(A), requires proof that the plaintiff had a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition; the plaintiff requested accommodation of this condition, with the advice of her health care provider; the plaintiff’s employer refused to provide a reasonable accommodation; and with the reasonable accommodation, the plaintiff could have performed the essential functions of the job. The trial court correctly applied those elements, properly placing the burden on Lopez to prove that she had a condition related to pregnancy and that she was able to perform the essential functions of her job with reasonable accommodation. View "Lopez v. La Casa de Las Madres" on Justia Law
Tanner Roth v. Lloyd Austin, III
The United States Air Force required all service members to be vaccinated against COVID-19, subject to certain exemptions. In this case, thirty-six members of the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, or Air National Guard sued the Secretary of Defense and others, alleging that the government’s denial of their requests for religious exemptions violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Airmen sought a nationwide preliminary injunction prohibiting the Air Force from taking steps to discharge any of the Airmen and from denying travel, training, or other career opportunities to them. The district court denied the motion and later dismissed much of the case, although one aspect of the complaint remains pending in the district court. The Airmen appealed the order denying the request for preliminary injunctive relief. The Eighth Circuit, in light of intervening developments that have granted the Airmen all of the relief requested, dismissed the appeal. The court explained that none of the Airmen is subject to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement, and no adverse action may be taken against the Airmen for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A statutory change that discontinues a challenged practice usually makes an appeal moot. View "Tanner Roth v. Lloyd Austin, III" on Justia Law
Chandra Balderson v. Lincare Inc.
Lincare, Inc. terminated Plaintiff, concluding that she had violated Lincare’s “Corporate Health Care Law Compliance Program” and “Code of Conduct.” While Plaintiff does not dispute her conduct, she contends that Lincare discriminated against her on the basis of sex because it gave a fellow male employee, who had engaged in similar conduct, only a “final written warning.” Plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act. The district court found Lincare liable to Plaintiff and awarded her damages. On appeal, Lincare contends that there was no evidence of discrimination on the basis of sex and that, therefore the district court’s finding that it violated the Human Rights Act was clearly erroneous. Plaintiff cross-appealed, contending that the district court erred in determining her compensatory damages award. The Fourth Circuit reversed. The court explained that while the district court’s findings are entitled to substantial deference, the core evidence showed that Plaintiff was fired by a woman and replaced by a woman and that, during the entire process, there was no indication that gender was even remotely a factor in Lincare’s decision. The only explanation Plaintiff offered to substantiate the claim that Lincare had discriminated against her on the basis of sex was her “belief” that she and her comparator “were doing the same thing” and the fact that “he’s a man; [she’s] a woman.” The court wrote that Plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient for a factfinder to conclude that it was the product of discrimination based on sex. View "Chandra Balderson v. Lincare Inc." on Justia Law
Yuriy Mikhaylov v. Dept. of Homeland Security
Petitioner, an employee of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security (“ICE” or “Agency”), petitions for review of the final judgment of the Merit Systems Protection Board (the “Board”), which rejected Petitioner’s claim that the Agency suspended him for two days in retaliation for his disclosures of misconduct. The Fourth Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that after conducting a hearing and considering the evidence, the administrative judge denied the corrective action sought by Petitioner, concluding that Petitioner’s protected disclosures were not contributing factors to the discipline imposed and, alternatively, that the Agency proved by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the action even in the absence of the disclosures. The court denied the petition explaining that the administrative judge committed no legal error and his factual findings are supported by substantial evidence. View "Yuriy Mikhaylov v. Dept. of Homeland Security" on Justia Law
Atalla v. Rite Aid Corporation
Plaintiff filed sexual harassment, failure to prevent sexual harassment, wrongful constructive termination, discrimination, and retaliation actions against her former employer, Rite Aid Corporation and Thrifty Payless, Inc., dba Rite Aid. Plaintiff’s lawsuit stemmed from an offsite and after-hours text exchange she had with a Rite Aid district manager in which the latter sent lewd photographs to her. Plaintiff and the district manager knew each other and were friends from a time before Plaintiff started working at Rite Aid. The Rite Aid defendants brought a summary judgment motion. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Rite Aid defendants as to all of Plaintiff’s claims. Plaintiff appealed. The Fifth Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that Plaintiff did not raise a triable issue of material fact with respect to the required showing that her manager was acting in the capacity of a supervisor in the text exchange in which he sent the inappropriate texts. Rather, as the trial court found, Plaintiff and the manager had “an extensive texting relationship,” and their January 4, 2019, late-night text exchange, which “occurred outside the workplace and outside of work hours,” was “spawned from a personal exchange that arose from a friendship between [them].” Summary judgment is, therefore, proper as to Plaintiff’s sexual harassment claims. Further, the court agreed with the trial court's conclusion that “as opposed to a constructive termination, the evidence shows that Plaintiff resigned her position.” View "Atalla v. Rite Aid Corporation" on Justia Law
Chinniah v. Fed. Energy Regul. Comm’n
Pro se Plaintiff filed a whistleblower claim against his former employer, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and his former supervisors in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. But before doing so, Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. The district court thus dismissed the claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s whistleblower claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Plaintiff did not file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel or the Merit Systems Protection Board, as required by the CSRA. Instead, he went straight to federal court. The district court thus lacked “jurisdiction to entertain a whistleblower cause of action . . . in the first instance” because Plaintiff failed to follow the proper administrative process. Second, the court wrote that Plaintiff’s argument that his failure to exhaust should be excused on equitable grounds is meritless. The court noted that it has “no authority to create equitable exceptions to jurisdictional requirements.” And, in any event, Plaintiff offers no reason why he should be granted such an equitable exception. View "Chinniah v. Fed. Energy Regul. Comm'n" on Justia Law
Hansen v. Rite Aid Corp.
After his employment was terminated in May 2008, plaintiff Harold Hansen brought claims against Rite Aid and other defendants alleging age discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, and gender discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), as well as several common law claims. After three trials, a jury returned a verdict in plaintiff’s favor on his LAD sexual orientation discrimination claim and awarded him a total of $420,500 in compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiff moved for an award of counsel fees and costs. In plaintiff’s initial submission, he asked the trial court to determine that a reasonable hourly rate for his lead counsel and the attorney who assisted in the first of the three trials was $725, and that a reasonable number of hours spent on this matter was 3,252. He requested that the trial court determine the lodestar to be $2,355,892.50, and that the court apply a one hundred percent enhancement to the lodestar. Plaintiff also sought an award of costs. In total, plaintiff requested an award of $5,035,773.50. The trial court issued a seventy-three-page decision with a fifty-four-page spreadsheet reflecting its analysis of the time entries and disbursements set forth in plaintiff’s invoice. The court ruled that a reasonable hourly rate for plaintiff’s lead counsel in this case was $375 per hour and a reasonable hourly rate for the assistant attorney was $325 per hour. The court identified several categories of legal work improperly included in plaintiff’s fee application, including work on unrelated matters. The trial court also excluded all time entries reflecting plaintiff’s counsel’s representation of plaintiff in the Appellate Division and to the Supreme Court. Noting that plaintiff was successful on only one claim and that plaintiff’s lead counsel performed tasks that should have been assigned to a junior attorney or a paralegal, the trial court reduced the lodestar by twenty percent. Ultimately, the trial court awarded $741,387.97 in fees and costs. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it set the reasonable hourly rate for plaintiff’s counsel’s work, assessed the number of hours reasonably expended by plaintiff’s counsel in pretrial proceedings and at trial, reduced the lodestar because of plaintiff’s limited success and other factors, and determined plaintiff’s application for an award of costs. View "Hansen v. Rite Aid Corp." on Justia Law
Bassett Unified School Dist. v. Super. Ct.
This writ proceeding involves a statutory challenge for cause filed against a trial court judge presiding over a wrongful termination lawsuit. The parties are Plaintiff and his former employer, Defendant Bassett Unified School District. Following a multimillion-dollar jury verdict in favor of Plaintiff, the trial judge in this action, Honorable Stephanie Bowick, received a text message from another judge on the court, Honorable Rupert Byrdsong. According to Judge Bowick, Judge Byrdsong had previously informed Judge Bowick that attorneys from his former firm were trying the case. Pointing to Judge Byrdsong’s apparent support for Plaintiff and the resulting verdict in Plaintiff’s favor, the school district sought Judge Bowick’s disqualification, asserting that a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial. The disqualification motion was assigned to Orange County Superior Court Judge Maria D. Hernandez. The assigned judge denied the disqualification motion. Defendant sought review by petition for writ of mandate The Second Appellate District denied the petition. The court held that the disqualification motion was properly denied. The court reasoned that there is no adverse inference arising from Judge Bowick’s final ruling on the evidentiary issue. Further, the court found that the facts Judge Bowick disclosed do not require disqualification. Moreover, the court wrote, the timing of Judge Bowick’s disclosure does not suggest an appearance of bias. View "Bassett Unified School Dist. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law