Discrimination & Harassment

A federal district court recently sanctioned Walmart for “spoliation of evidence” in an employment litigation case. Although Walmart has asked the Court to reconsider its decision or allow it to appeal the decision to the appellate court, there’s an important lesson to be learned regardless of the outcome: Mind Your Rs & Ds. In other words, pay attention to your company’s retention and destruction of, well, everything employment-related, particularly if there is reason to suspect that litigation is a possibility.
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Frustrated with Congress’s failure to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and consistent with his recent Executive Order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for employees of federal contractors, President Obama once again signed an Executive Order on Monday amending Executive Order 11246 to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the list of protected classes federal contractors may not discriminate against.
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Last month, in EEOC v. Ford Motor Company, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan) held for the first time that employers may be required to permit employees to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation for a disability. While the decision is not binding on employers in the Third Circuit (covering Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware), the case is significant for employers within the Sixth Circuit’s jurisdiction and beyond as it clearly signals a willingness to expand the traditional concept of what constitutes an employer’s “workplace” as modern technology continues to evolve.
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Previously we told you that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was suing an Alabama insurance company for allegedly discriminating against African American job applicants because the company’s grooming policy prohibited dreadlocks. Last week, an Alabama federal judge dismissed the intentional race discrimination claim that was brought against Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS).
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You may recall that we reported that United States Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would adopt the reasonable accommodation framework of the Americans with Disabilities Act for pregnant workers and supplement the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Although the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act appears to have stalled in Washington (for now), other pregnancy accommodation laws are popping up. Both New Jersey and the City of Philadelphia have recently passed such legislation.
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The National Football League (“NFL”) has hired an outside investigator to handle the complaint made by Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins. The national news media cannot seem to get enough of this story, and the coverage has been relentless. The media, however, seems to have focused on the bullying angle. But for some of us, based on the reports, it looks like there was more than just bullying going on. If the allegations are true there may be violations of the league’s workplace harassment policy as well. Given the dynamics here, and the high profile nature of the situation, we think it makes a lot of sense for the NFL (and the union) to bring in an investigator from the outside.

An employer’s investigation of workplace harassment is often critical to its subsequent defense of any related lawsuits. A good investigation that results in appropriate corrective action typically means a good defense to a claim of workplace harassment. The law encourages employers to be proactive and promptly investigate incidents that occur, and rewards employers who take those steps.
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At our recent Labor and Employment Law Seminar, we highlighted a number of outstanding legal cases that have the potential to have a significant impact on employer liability. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions in two closely watched Title VII employment discrimination/retaliation cases. In each case, the Court clarified previously unsettled legal questions in favor of employers.
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