On February 26, 2018, the Second Circuit, in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., No. 15-3775, 2018 WL 1040820 (2d Cir. Feb. 26, 2018), held that sexual orientation discrimination is actionable sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”). In doing so, the Court became the second federal appellate court to recognize such an action, joining the Seventh Circuit 7th circuit. Hively v. Ivy Tech Cmty. Coll. of Indiana, 853 F.3d 339 (7th Cir. 2017). This decision serves to ensure a growing split in the circuits that may well see a test before the United States Supreme Court. READ MORE
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah granting summary judgment in favor of Kellogg USA in a case involving an alleged failure to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs.
The case, Tabura v. Kellogg USA, emerged after Richard Tabura and Guadalupe Diaz, both Seventh-day Adventists, were terminated for refusing to work on Saturdays, the Sabbath day in their religion. The former employees filed suit in February 2014, claiming that Kellogg violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by failing to accommodate their religious beliefs. READ MORE
Newton’s Third Law of Physics states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” A recent Complaint filed in the Southern District of New York suggests that this principle may also hold true for the recent “Me Too” movement. READ MORE
Since Anita Hill’s testimony in the early 1990s, sexual harassment has become a familiar term. At the federal level, Title VII prohibits harassment, discrimination, and retaliation on the basis of sex and gender, among other things. On the state level, the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) expands on the categories of protected classes covered by Title VII but is interpreted by the courts in largely the same manner as Title VII. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), harassment is defined to include verbal harassment (such as derogatory comments), physical harassment (including physical interference with movement), visual harassment (such as derogatory cartoon or drawings), and sexual favors. FEHA prohibits sexual harassment because of a person’s sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, transgender status, pregnancy, and childbirth, breastfeeding, and related medical conditions. Harassment based on the perception of any of these characteristics is also prohibited, and sexually harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire to be considered unlawful. READ MORE
Earlier this month, the Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of a CEO’s whistleblower retaliation claims in a decision that should provide corporate defendants ammunition to fight SOX and Dodd-Frank whistleblower cases going forward.
In Verfuerth v. Orion Energy Systems, Inc., No. 16-3502 (7th Cir. Jan. 11, 2017), the plaintiff, founder and former CEO of Orion, claimed that Orion’s Board of Directors terminated him for cause in retaliation for making whistleblower complaints about perceived fraud on SEC reports and other managerial decisions. Orion asserted that it terminated Verfuerth for numerous legitimate reasons, including falling stock prices, Verfuerth’s intimidating leadership style, high rates of senior management turnover, and other business disagreements such as reimbursement for Verfuerth’s costly divorce. READ MORE
The flurry of high-profile harassment allegations across various industries has drawn the public’s attention to the issue of sexual harassment over the past several months. Unsurprisingly, it has also resulted in increased scrutiny in this area by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). READ MORE
With sexual misconduct allegations sending shockwaves everywhere from Hollywood to Washington, it should come as no surprise that some legislators are chomping at the bit to pass legislation addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. On December 6, a group of lawmakers introduced legislation that would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment agreements. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-Ill), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are sponsoring the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act,” which proponents say will prevent women from being silenced through mandatory arbitration agreements. READ MORE
An individual who convinced a divided U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 that Sarbanes-Oxley’s (“SOX”) whistleblower protections extend to the employees of a public company’s contractors and subcontractors has ultimately lost her case before a federal jury in Massachusetts, thus ending her ten-year legal saga.
Lawson claimed that in 2005 she spotted what she believed were accounting irregularities at Fidelity that allowed the company to charge millions of dollars in excessive fees to mutual fund shareholders. She never called Fidelity’s information hotline to report the inaccuracies, but instead filed a whistleblower tip a year later with the SEC regarding the alleged fraud. While the SEC did not pursue an enforcement action against the company, Lawson claimed that Fidelity managers and employees harassed her and retaliated against her for the reporting by giving her lower performance ratings and bonuses. Lawson resigned in 2007 and sought whistleblower protections under SOX. READ MORE
In the last several weeks, allegations of rampant sexual harassment have shocked the collective conscience. With the assistance of social media, what started as an allegation against a Hollywood mogul snowballed into a nation-wide conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere. According to the Washington Post, hundreds of thousands of men and women took to Twitter and Facebook to express they had been victims of sexual harassment, many of them using the hashtag “MeToo” to show solidarity with other victims. READ MORE
Recently, much has been made about the government’s conflicting positions regarding whether sexual orientation is protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC (“Equal Employment Opportunity Commission”) has continued to assert its position that sexual orientation is protected under Title VII as a form of sex-based discrimination under the Supreme Court’s Price Waterhouse decision. At the same time, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has claimed that Title VII does not protect sexual orientation as it is not based on sex. Many have taken extreme umbrage at DOJ’s position as a complete reversal of the previous administration’s position as the Department filed an unsolicited amicus in the Second Circuit. However, as the DOJ’s civil division filed the brief, it presents a rare window into the “Jekyll/Hyde” dynamic within the government. As some agencies broadly seek civil rights protections, the federal government is also one of the world’s largest employers faced with the challenges of limiting countless claims. READ MORE