Wyatt Employment Law Report


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Employers Must Accommodate Religious Practices Even Without Actual Knowledge: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. ___ (2015)

By Chelsea K. Painter

Supreme CourtClothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (“Abercrombie”) refused to hire Samantha Elauf (“Elauf”), a practicing Muslim, because the headscarf required by her religion violated Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” prohibiting “caps” of any kind. Although Elauf’s interviewer informed the store manager that she believed “Elauf wore her headscarf because of her faith,” the store manager directed her not to hire Elauf. Elauf did not mention her faith and/or religion to her interviewer or the store manager prior to their decision.  After Abercrombie refused to hire Elauf, the EEOC sued Abercrombie on Elauf’s behalf, claiming religious discrimination under Title VII. The District Court granted the EEOC summary judgment on the issue of Continue reading


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Kentucky Supreme Court Rules in Lawsuit Filed by Morbidly Obese Employee of Wagner’s Pharmacy

By Amanda Warford Edge

Employee-TerminationOn May 14, 2015, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a ruling in Wagner’s Pharmacy, Inc. v. Melissa K. Pennington. Pennington had filed the lawsuit back in 2007, alleging that her employer, Wagner’s Pharmacy, discriminated against her by terminating her employment due to her morbid obesity. At the time of filing the lawsuit, Pennington weighed 425 pounds. She is just 5’4” tall.

Wagner’s cited Pennington’s poor personal appearance and declining sales as the reasons behind Pennington’s termination – not Pennington’s weight. Prior to her termination, Pennington had operated a food and drink concession truck owned by Wagner’s at Churchill Downs. She had been employed by Wagner’s for approximately ten years.

In support of her discrimination lawsuit, Pennington relied on the expert testimony of Dr. Gaar, a board-certified surgeon who had performed nearly 2,000 gastric bypass surgeries. Dr. Gaar testified in detail as to the causes of morbid obesity, stating that Continue reading


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Courts May Review EEOC’s Pre-Suit Conciliation Efforts Under Title VII

By Courtney Ross Samford

Gavel and scalesOn Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court released an important decision concerning the EEOC’s obligation to engage in pre-suit conciliation efforts under Title VII. The decision of Mach Mining v. EEOC, No. 13-1019, 2015 WL 1913911 (Apr. 29, 2015), involves a woman who filed an EEOC charge against Mach Mining, LLC, claiming that she was denied employment as a coal miner based on her gender. Following an investigation, the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that Mach Mining had discriminated against the woman and other similarly situated women in their hiring process. The EEOC sent a letter to both parties informing them of its decision and advising them that it would “contact [them] to begin the conciliation process.” Id. at *3. Approximately one year later, the EEOC sent a second letter to Mach Mining announcing that “such conciliation efforts…have occurred and have been unsuccessful.” Id. The EEOC then sued Mach Mining in federal court.

In its answer, Mach Mining raised the EEOC’s failure to “conciliat[e] in good faith” as an affirmative defense. Id. The EEOC moved for summary judgment on this ground, claiming that its conciliation efforts are not subject to judicial review. Mach Mining argued that Continue reading


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U.S. Supreme Court Sets Forth Test for Evaluating Pregnancy Discrimination Claims

By Michelle High

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), dictates that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same” as other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”  The Act has two sections.  The first section provides that employers can’t discriminate on the basis of pregnancy because it would be sex discrimination and the second section provides that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability to work.”  The second section of the law has been the source of repeated questions for employers and employees alike.

pregnancyIn Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., a newly released 6-3 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court has provided a test detailing when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires an employer that provides work accommodations to non-pregnant employees to extend such accommodations to pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

Peggy Young was a driver with UPS.  When she became pregnant, her obstetrician advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds.   Generally, UPS drivers were expected to carry packages of up to 70 pounds, but the company offered accommodations to those injured on the job; those with conditions recognized as Continue reading


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House Unanimously Passes the Kentucky Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Bill Now Onto Senate

The House unanimously passed the Kentucky Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (HB 218), which would require employers subject to the Kentucky Civil Rights Act to provide reasonable accommodations for “pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.” It would also amend the Civil Rights Act to make it unlawful for employers to “fail to accommodate an employee affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition [and would] require employers to provide notice to all employees regarding discrimination for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.” In addition, a “related medical condition” would be amended to include “lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child and has the same meaning as in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000e(k).” The bill is now headed to the Senate.

pregnancy, workAccommodations for pregnant employees is a hot topic in employment news right now. This year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide in Young v. UPS whether employers are required under the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act to provide accommodations for pregnancy–related symptoms. Young had requested light duty due to Continue reading


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2014 EEOC Enforcement and Litigation Statistics

By Courtney Ross Samford

On February 4, 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released enforcement and litigation statistics for fiscal year 2014.  A total of 88,778 workplace discrimination charges were filed in 2014, which is down slightly from prior years.  StatisticsRetaliation charges were at an all-time high and comprised nearly 43% of all charges.  Thirty-five percent of charges alleged race discrimination, while 29% claimed discrimination based on sex, which includes pregnancy and sexual harassment.  The EEOC’s enforcement activities resulted in almost $300 million over the last year.

The data also indicates that the EEOC’s Office of General Counsel was busy in 2014, filing a total of 133 lawsuits on the merits against employers across the country.  The EEOC secured $22.5 billion in monetary relief through litigation and mediation.

Finally, the EEOC released updated statistics on a state-by-state basis.  Texas led all states with more than 8,000 charges.   Tennessee charges increased to 3,221, while charges in Kentucky, Indiana and Mississippi decreased to 975, 2,700, and 1,781, respectively.


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EEOC Releases Its FY 2014 Performance Report

By Sharon L. Gold

On November 17, 2014, after the end of EEOC’s fiscal year (FY 2014), the EEOC released its Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) that discussed the agency’s goals and outcomes and provided statistics for the past year. Some highlights of the PAR:

  • According to the PAR, in FY 2014, the EEOC met, partially met or exceeded its target results in all 14 measures of its 2012-2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan. The EEOC obtained $296.1 million in monetary damages for claimants alleging employment discrimination in the private and state and local government sector. The EEOC obtained $22.5 million through litigation involving private sector employers and $74 million for public sector employees.
  • There were 88,778 charges in FYI 2014, which was down about 5,000 from FY 2013. The EEOC claims that fewer charges were resolved than in FY 2013 (9,810 less) because of the government shut-down and sequestration. Although there was a hiring freeze early on in the year, the EEOC hired 300 new employees at the end of the year. EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang states in the PAR that she hopes that increased hiring and investments in technological advances will help with the agency more quickly and efficiently investigate charges.
  • In FY 2014, the EEOC’s education and outreach program sponsored 3,512 free trainings and events.    The National Training Institute trained over 18,000 people at 420 events. The NTI focuses on the Strategic Enforcement Plan priorities.
  • The EEOC’s mediation program resolved 7,846 disputes out of the 10,221 mediations that were conducted, resulting in $144.6 million in compensation for the claimants.
  • The EEOC filed 133 lawsuits this year, which included 105 individual suits, 11 non-systemic class suits, and 17 systemic suits.  The 136 merits lawsuits were resolved and obtained $22.5 million for the claimants.   At the end of the year, the EEOC had a backlog of 228 cases on its active docket.
  • The EEOC continued to focus on systematic enforcement, completing 260 systemic investigations that resulted in 78 settlements and $13 million in monetary relief.
  • Systemic lawsuits make up the largest proportion of active suits, consisting of 25 percent of all active merits suits and 13 percent of total merits filings this year.

The main takeaway from the EEOC’s PAR is that it is evident that the EEOC is continuing to aggressively pursue systematic discrimination claims. Also, it is apparent that the EEOC’s backlog continues to be a problem for both parties involved in the dispute. Hopefully the additional staff hired this year will decrease the time a charge is pending.

The Press Release about the Performance and Accountability Report is available at:

http://eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/11-18-14.cfm

 

The Performance and Accountability Report is available at:

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/upload/2014par.pdf

 

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