Transgender issues have been grabbing headlines in recent months—perhaps most notably with Bruce Jenner’s televised announcement about his gender transition. Beyond the bright lights of pop culture, a wave of litigation and legislation is causing employers to pay closer attention to transgender discrimination and related issues. As we noted in August of last year, there is an increasing trend toward protecting gender identity and transgender status. This post provides an update and a high-level overview of the landscape in this emerging area and offers some tips for employers to minimize risk.
The U. S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on April 29 that courts can review whether the EEOC has satisfied its obligation under Title VII to conciliate before running to court. Title VII dictates that when the EEOC believes that an employer has discriminated against its employees, it must attempt to “eliminate such alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion.” However, if the EEOC cannot obtain a conciliation agreement that “is acceptable to the Commission,” the EEOC may then bring a lawsuit. Up to now, there has been some debate as to what the EEOC needs to do to prove that it has cleared the conciliation hurdle before sprinting into litigation. In one of the most important labor and employment decisions of this term, the Court held that courts have limited authority to review the EEOC’s conciliation efforts, adopting a middle-ground position that “respects the expansive discretion that Title VII gives to the EEOC over the conciliation process, while still ensuring that the Commission follows the lead.” Mach Mining LLC v. EEOC, U.S., No. 13-1019, 4/29/15.
On April 16, 2015, the New York City Council, by a vote of 47-3, approved legislation that would prohibit the use of credit checks in employment decisions except in limited circumstances. The bill, which is expected to be signed by Mayor Bill De Blasio, would amend the New York City Human Rights Law to make use of credit history in employment decisions an unlawful discriminatory practice. In passing this law, New York City joins the growing number of states and municipalities that have enacted legislation to restrict the ability of employers to request or use the credit history of applicants and employees. These state and local initiatives stem from the increased use of credit history as an employment screening tool and from concerns that credit history is not relevant to the performance of many jobs, and moreover, may adversely affect certain groups, including minorities and low-income individuals. The New York City bill is noteworthy in that it is one of the most restrictive laws to date, even after certain exceptions were added to the proposed legislation.
On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., holding that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires courts to consider the extent to which an employer’s policy treats pregnant workers less favorably than it treats non-pregnant workers similar in their ability or inability to perform their job duties.
Just in time for Women’s History Month, California State Senator and Chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, Hannah-Beth Jackson, introduced Senate Bill 358 (SB 358), which seeks to narrow the gender pay gap in California. Citing best supporting actress Patricia Arquette’s recent Oscar acceptance speech where she called for, “wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women,” Senator Jackson hopes to turn that rallying cry into concrete legislation in California.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”), 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301–4335, not only prohibits discrimination against employees and potential employees based on their military service, it also imposes certain obligations on employers with respect to employees returning to work after a period of service in the U.S. military.
A Rhode Island graduate student has filed a lawsuit against a textile company, alleging that it discriminated against her because she used medical marijuana. The complaint, filed by the local ACLU chapter on behalf of University of Rhode Island student Christine Callaghan, alleges that Darlington Fabrics Corporation rescinded a paid internship offer because Callaghan was a registered medical marijuana cardholder. According to the complaint, it appeared that Callaghan was going to be given the internship until, during a meeting with a Darlington HR representative, Callaghan disclosed that she suffered from migraines and used medical marijuana to treat her condition—but that she would not bring marijuana with her onto the premises or show up for work after having taken marijuana. A few days after the meeting, the representative contacted Callaghan and told her that Darlington would not be offering her the internship because of her status as a medical marijuana patient. The suit is believed to be the first to invoke the anti-discrimination provisions of Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law. Under the law, schools, employers, and landlords may not “refuse to enroll, employ, or lease to, or otherwise penalize, a person solely for his or her status as a cardholder.” G.L. § 21-28.6-4(c).
On December 3, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its final rule barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The final rule implements an Executive Order signed by President Obama in July 2014 amending Executive Order 11,246 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases of employment discrimination by federal contractors and subcontractors.
For the second time in less than two months, a federal district court judge has dismissed a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) challenge to an employer’s separation agreement due to the agency’s failure to conciliate. On December 2, a federal district court judge in Colorado dismissed the portion of a lawsuit against CollegeAmerica alleging that the college’s separation and release agreements interfered with employees’ rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). In dismissing the claim, the judge held that the EEOC failed to give notice to the college or engage in conciliation efforts regarding the separation agreements being challenged in the lawsuit. This decision comes on the heels of a dismissal of a similar suit brought by the EEOC against CVS Pharmacy, which we wrote about in an earlier blog post.
While the world moves quickly to contain the Ebola virus, businesses across the globe are scrambling to figure out how best to manage workplace concerns and protect their employees. But as employers develop their Ebola response strategies, they should also be mindful of employee privacy, anti-discrimination, and other employment laws and regulations.