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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We here at the McNees Wallace & Nurick Labor and Employment Law Group have been busy preparing for the holiday season. Just last week we were able to celebrate with family and friends at our annual holiday party.

While holiday parties can be great fun, hosting a holiday party or placing holiday decorations in or around the office can raise a whole host of legal concerns including religious discrimination or harassment claims, sexual harassment claims, or workers compensation concerns. Michael R. Kelley, Esq., Chair of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Insurance Recovery & Counseling Group has written in the past about serving alcohol at holiday parties and we wanted to take a few moments to remind you about the potential legal ramifications of serving alcohol at your holiday party.
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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued a “Questions and Answers” sheet emphasizing that although Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) do not expressly prohibit employers from discriminating against the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, these laws may create liability for employers in certain circumstances.

The document provides a number of illustrative examples of these potential pitfalls facing employers.
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According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if current incarceration rates continue, 1 in 3 African-American men and 1 in 6 Hispanic men will be incarcerated during their lifetimes. The rate for white men is only 1 in 17. Given this disparity in incarceration rates, the EEOC has long been concerned that employer policies restricting hiring based on prior criminal convictions may unfairly deprive minorities of employment opportunities.

In Enforcement Guidance issued on April 25, 2012, the EEOC outlined its approach for determining whether an employer’s criminal history screening policies violate Title VII on the grounds of either “disparate treatment” or “disparate impact.”
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This post was contributed by Christopher Gibson, a Summer Associate with McNees Wallace and Nurick LLC.  Mr. Gibson will begin his third year of law school at Wake Forest in the fall, and he expects to earn his J.D. in May 2012

With unemployment in the United States hovering around 9.2%, human resources offices across the country are being bombarded with job applications like never before. The overworked employees of these often understaffed offices are charged with wading through a figurative sea of applications, all while dealing with the increasingly zany behavior of some applicants. According to CBS News, "[o]ne man sent a shoe to his prospective employer with a note that read, ‘I want to get my foot in the door.’ " Another "handed out personalized coffee cups, so no one would forget his name." In this high stress environment, some human resources professionals might see using social media as a quick and easy way of separating the wheat from the chaff – narrowing the field of possible applicants significantly in a short amount of time. But before signing into Facebook or pulling up your favorite search engine, keep in mind the immortal words of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry: "You feelin’ lucky?"

Every human resources staff member knows that, especially when interviewing a potential new employee, some topics are strictly off limits. Asking one of these "off limits" questions can put your company at serious risk of being sued for discrimination. The trouble is, by resorting to the use of social media, this kind of "off limits" information can be collected from a potential employee even before his or her interview.

Imagine for a moment that you are the director of human resources for a mid-sized paper supply company. You receive around fifty resumes in response to a job posting to fill the position of "Assistant to the Regional Manager." One applicant – Alex Jackson – catches your eye as one of the top applicants for the job. According to Alex’s resume, Alex has been working in the paper industry for around six years and has a bachelor’s degree in management from a New York Ivy League school. Alex has been published in several trade magazines, is active in the community and has excellent references.

You decide to pull Alex’s Facebook profile just to get a better feel for the applicant; what’s the worst that could happen, right?

As you expected, what you find is fairly innocuous – Alex is a 42 year old Caucasian female who is very active in the Catholic church. She has recently married and has a one year old son. Two of her recent wall posts read, "Going out to happy hour for the fourth night in a row! Can’t stop, won’t stop!" and "Please pray for my mother as she recovers from her most recent bout with cancer." Eventually, your organization decides to go in another direction and Alex is not interviewed or hired for the job.

So again, what’s the worst that could happen?


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This post was contributed by Brett E. Younkin, Esq., an Associate and a member of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor and Employment Practice Group in Columbus, Ohio. On May 17, 2011, Brett reported that the United States Supreme Court was considering an important decision regarding class action suits.

UPDATE:

You may have heard the cheers emanating from Bentonville, Arkansas (the location of Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters), and the corporate headquarters of other large employers following the United States Supreme Court’s announcement of its decision in Wal-Mart, Inc. v. Dukes, __U.S. ___ (2011) (PDF). On June 20, 2011, the Court decertified the class-action status of the 1.6 million current and former female employees in their decade-old suit against the world’s largest private employer. Betty Dukes and her two co-plaintiffs had alleged a nationwide pattern of discriminatory pay and promotion practices by the company, despite its published policy of non-discrimination. However, the Court unanimously disagreed and overruled the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had allowed the case to proceed as a class action. The decision created what may be viewed as a higher burden of proof for establishing class action status.

While the Court was unanimous in deciding that this particular class should be decertified, only five of the justices joined in the entire ruling. In the majority opinion authored by Justice Scalia, the Court found that commonality was the key to certifying a class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 – “claims must depend on a common contention . . . which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims in one stroke.” To attempt to resolve “literally millions of employment decisions at once” would not result in a unified answer for why a particular employee was disfavored. “Without some glue holding together the alleged reason for those [discriminatory] decisions, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims will produce a common answer to the crucial discrimination question.” The Court noted that the dissent from the lower court was correct in that the plaintiffs had “little in common but their sex and this lawsuit.”

Additionally, the opinion strongly rejected the plaintiffs’ expert witness testimony because, among other things, a litany of the expert’s peers had denounced his approach, analysis, and conclusions. The Court also concluded that while anecdotal evidence may be relevant, a hundred stories out of millions of employment decisions throughout 3,400 stores did not prove a pattern of discrimination.

What does this decision mean for employers? It certainly will have an impact in the litigation context if an employer finds itself in the unfortunate position of facing a class action lawsuit. In addition, the Court’s decision affirmed the use of anecdotes as evidence of discrimination and, therefore, inappropriate comments made by corporate leaders may be used as evidence of a corporate-wide discriminatory practice. As a result, employers are well advised to include corporate executives in refresher training regarding discrimination and harassment.

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