Did the EEOC Try Hard Enough to Resolve Your Case Before Filing Suit?

March, 2014, three powerful business groups urged the U.S. Supreme Court to consider an important issue at stake for employers in Mach Mining LLC v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—can courts review the adequacy of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC’s”) conciliation efforts prior to filing suit? In Mach Mining, the Seventh Circuit held “no,” although six other circuits to address this issue have acknowledged an employer’s ability to raise failure to conciliate as an affirmative defense. If the Supreme Court grants Mach Mining’s February 25, 2014 petition for review, the ruling could have significant impact for employers facing potential litigation with the EEOC. Read More

California Court of Appeal Holds Employer Cannot Shorten Statute of Limitation on California Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

Can employers enter into binding agreements with employees to shorten the statute of limitations on discrimination and other employment claims? A California Court of Appeal decision answered that question with a resounding “no” in a recent case, reinstating claims by a woman who filed suit prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations, but after the deadline she had agreed to in an employment agreement signed at the time of hire. Read More

Off the Playground, Out of the Locker Room, and into the Office: How to Combat Workplace Bullies

The Miami Dolphins recently have come under intense scrutiny amid allegations that coaches encouraged defensive guard Richie Icognito to bully teammate Jonathan Martin in an effort to “toughen” him up. The alleged bullying was so severe, including threats of violence and racially derogatory statements, that Martin left the team, the NFL launched an investigation, and the Dolphins suspended Incognito indefinitely. While it may have taken this locker room scandal to bring bullying into the public eye, the legal and practical ramifications of workplace bullying are common, and employers can learn many lessons from this case. Read More

ENDA Prevails in the Senate, but Will it End in the House?

On November 7, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”), legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The ban would join similar federal workplace protections based on race, national origin, religion, gender, age, and disability. The issue now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration, where many experts believe the legislation faces an uphill battle. Read More

A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Not So Much, For California Employers: Two New Employee-Friendly Bills Are Signed by Governor Brown

Even in the summer months, the California legislature is busy changing the laws that affect the state’s employers. This summer, California’s governor signed into law two bills that should be of interest to all employers—one amending the definition of sexual harassment under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and the other amending a provision of the California Labor relating to the award of attorneys‘ fees and costs in actions for the non-payment of wages. Read More

Court Strikes Down Proposed Class of Female Wal-Mart Employees – Again!

After suffering defeat in the United States Supreme Court, Plaintiffs in Dukes et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. returned to court in California in an attempt to certify a newly defined and smaller class of 150,000 current and former female employees. On August 2, 2013, Judge Charles R. Breyer of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification, which leaves each member of the proposed class to pursue her claims individually against Wal-Mart. Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 3:10-CV-03005-CRB, Slip Op. at 2 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 2, 2013).  Read More

U.S. Supreme Court Adopts a Narrow Definition of a Supervisor in Harassment Claims

Resolving a split among the circuits, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a “supervisor” for Title VII harassment liability is limited to those who have the power to take a tangible employment action against the alleged victim (e.g., hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline). Merely overseeing and directing the alleged victim’s daily work is insufficient to meet this heightened standard.   Read More

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects the Mixed-Motive Analysis in Retaliation Claims

The U.S. Supreme Court held on Monday that a plaintiff alleging retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) must prove that retaliation was the “but-for” reason for an adverse employment decision. The mixed-motive analysis, whereby a plaintiff need only show that the illegal reason played a part in the decision, now no longer applies to retaliation cases. Read More

The EEOC Aggressively Pursues Criminal Background Check Policies

On June 11, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed two separate lawsuits against Dollar General and BMW Manufacturing Co. LLC, accusing each company of discriminating against Black job applicants through the improper use of criminal background screens. The aggressive positions taken by the EEOC in these cases demonstrate the agency means business with respect to cracking down on criminal background check policies that it feels are not consistent with its April 25, 2012 enforcement guidance on the use of criminal conviction and arrest records in employment decisions. The lawsuits also underscore the importance of reviewing existing policies in light of the EEOC’s emphasis on this issue.

For decades, the EEOC has taken the position that criminal background check policies pose a particular threat of adverse impact discrimination against Black and Hispanic job applicants in light of statistics showing that they are convicted at a rate disproportionally greater than their representation in the population. The agency’s first written policy guidance on the use of criminal background screens, published in 1987, explains that “the Commission has held and continues to hold that [criminal background check policies are] unlawful under Title VII in the absence of a justifying business necessity.” In April 2012, the EEOC issued new guidance on the topic (click here to read our April 30, 2012 blog entry on the EEOC’s guidance). Technically, the new guidance did not establish new rules. It undoubtedly illustrates, however, the increased scrutiny under which EEOC is reviewing criminal background check policies such as those at issue in the Dollar General and BMW lawsuits. Read More

Prisoner 24601 May Report For Duty, Says the EEOC

Can the EEOC require employers to hire convicted criminals? Last April, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a policy guideline that calls into question the extent to which employers can incorporate a check of criminal records into a hiring decision without risking legal liability.[1]  Read More