Retaliation

It Isn’t An April Fool’s Joke – New Amendments to California’s Laws Against Discrimination Become Effective April 1

The adage that “there is no rest for the weary” is perhaps an all too familiar one for California employers.  Although employers might have already spent the past few months implementing a host of new laws that took effect in early 2016, there has been less fanfare about the upcoming regulatory amendments under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA,” Cal. Govt. Code § 12900, et seq.) that go into effect April 1, 2016.

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Where Have You Gone Dennis Kozlowski? Third Circuit Dismisses Tyco Employee’s Whistleblower Claim Over Excessive Corporate Spending

On February 2, 2016, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a long-running SOX whistleblower suit filed by Jeffrey Wiest, a former accounts payable manager for Tyco Electronics.  The decision is the first in which the Third Circuit has defined the “contributing factor” causation standard for SOX retaliation cases and provides helpful guidance on the issue.

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EEOC Ratchets Up Focus On Retaliation: EEOC Publishes First New Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation In Nearly Two Decades

The EEOC seeks public comment on its new Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues, which will supersede the agency’s last-issued guidance on the topic from 1998.  The updated guidance addresses several significant rulings by the Supreme Court and lower courts from the past two decades.  The guidance was also informed by public input on retaliation and best practices that the Commission gathered from its June 17, 2015 meeting on “Retaliation in the Workplace:  Causes, Remedies, and Strategies for Prevention.”  The 30-day input period on the guidance ends on February 24, 2016.

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Leading the Way on Transgender Rights in NYC: City Commission on Human Rights Issues Detailed Enforcement Guidance

On December 21, 2015, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (Commission) issued Legal Enforcement Guidance (Guidance) clarifying New York City’s prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.   Discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing and public accommodations has been illegal under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) since 2002.  According to the accompanying press release, the Guidance is intended to make clear, through specific examples, what the Commission considers gender identity and gender expression discrimination under the City law and to offer best practices to employers and other stakeholders on how to comply with the law.  The Guidance also solidifies New York City’s place as having one of the most protective laws in the country for transgender and other gender non-conforming individuals.

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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

Department of Labor Rejects Title VII Framework in SOX Whistleblower Cases

Whistle

A new opinion from the Department of Labor (“DOL”) makes clear that the department will treat the burden of proof in whistleblower retaliation claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”) differently from typical retaliation claims under Title VII.  In an opinion issued in late MarchZinn v. American Commercial Lines Inc. – the DOL’s Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) reversed an administrative law judge’s decision that applied Title VII’s “burden shifting” framework to dismiss Zinn’s whistleblower retaliation claim.  Specifically, the ARB removed the third prong of the traditional “burden shifting” analysis as discussed further below.

Under Title VII, once an employee makes a prima facie case of retaliation, the burden shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate non-retaliatory reason for taking the adverse employment action at issue in the case.  If an employer provides such a reason, the burden then shifts back to the employee to show that the employer’s reasons were actually a pretext for retaliation.  In Zinn, the ARB found it was incorrect to apply this framework and “conflat[e] the SOX burden of proof standard with the Title VII burden of proof.”  Under SOX, the employee needs to show that she engaged in protected activity that contributed to an adverse employment action.  The burden then shifts to the employer to demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence, that it would have taken the same adverse action absent the protected activity.  However, the ARB clarified that it was unnecessary for the employee to then show that the employer’s actions were pretextual.  Instead, once an employer produces evidence to support that its actions were non-retaliatory, an administrative law judge should “weigh the circumstantial evidence as a whole” to “gauge the context of the adverse action in question” and determine whether the case should proceed.  With this distinct standard and its rejection of the familiar Title VII framework, the DOL has made it evident that SOX whistleblower cases will continue to be a unique and developing area of employment law.