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Teachable Moment on Equal Pay Act and Title VII as Fourth Circuit Rejects Claim that Professors Perform “Equal” or “Similar” Work

The Fourth Circuit recently issued a decision discussing whether a university professor established pay-related claims under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.  This case has important implications for professional occupations where complainants seek to compare themselves to their colleagues for purposes of alleging pay discrimination.

Zoe Spencer, a sociology professor at Virginia State University (“VSU”), sued her employer for allegedly paying her less than two male professors because she is a woman.  The district court granted summary judgment, and plaintiff appealed to the Fourth Circuit.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision because (1) plaintiff failed to present evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact that the two male professors are appropriate comparators; and (2) in any event, unrebutted evidence shows that the VSU based the two male professors’ higher pay on their prior service as VSU administrators, not their sex.

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Hut-Hut-Hike: The Second Circuit Tackles Hostile Work Environment Claims Under the ADA

In a case of first impression, the Second Circuit has held that hostile work environment claims are cognizable under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  In Fox v. Costco Wholesale Corporation, No.17‐0936‐CV (2d Cir. Mar. 6, 2019), the Second Circuit joined the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits to recognize this cause of action under the ADA.  The court also provided useful guidance on when teasing may or may not suffice to establish a hostile work environment. READ MORE

Does Title VII Protect Gay & Transgender Employees? The Supreme Court May Soon Decide.

As early as November 30, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to hear three high profile employment cases that question whether Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination protects gay and transgender employees.  These cases have significant implications on the proper scope of Title VII and the rights of the LGBT community in the workplace.

Under Title VII, an employer has engaged in “‘impermissible consideration of … sex … in employment practices’ when ‘sex … was a motivating factor for any employment practice,’ irrespective of whether the employer was also motivated by ‘other factors’.”

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Let Them Eat Cake: Religious Accommodations, LGBTQ Rights and Other Workplace Implications of SCOTUS’ Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

In a highly anticipated ruling, in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of a cake shop owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.  The case highlights the potentially conflicting intersection of religious freedoms and anti-discrimination laws; i.e. the right to hold sincere religious beliefs and the right to be treated equally and without discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. READ MORE

Get it on the Calendar: Employees’ Sabbath Work Claims Survive, but Tenth Circuit Rejects Broad “Complete” or “Total” Theories of Religious Accommodation

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

Marrying Sex and Sexuality under Title VII

Several recent cases are poised to set a major tonal shift in the realm of LGBT employee rights following the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. As part of its ongoing coverage of LGBT employment issues, Orrick offers its insights and predictions as courts continue to contemplate where sexual identity fits within this changing landscape of protected statuses. READ MORE

EEOC Issues First Update on National Origin Discrimination Since 2002

In its first update in 14 years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new Enforcement Guidance on National Origin Discrimination (“Enforcement Guidance”) on November 21, 2016, replacing its 2002 Compliance Manual on National Origin Discrimination. With input from approximately 20 organizations and individuals, the Enforcement Guidance addresses important legal developments over the past 14 years on national origin issues ranging from employment decisions and workplace harassment to human trafficking. READ MORE

Cat’s Paw Making New Tracks: Second Circuit Extends Cat’s Paw Principle to Retaliation Claims and to Low-Level Employees

The “cat’s paw” doctrine, a concept first coined by Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner in 1990 and adopted by the Supreme Court in 2011, applies when an employee is subjected to an adverse employment action by a decision maker who does not have any discriminatory animus but who bases his or her decision upon information from another who has such an improper motive.  In Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc., the Second Circuit recently held that the “cat’s paw” theory may be used to support recovery for Title VII retaliation, in addition to discrimination, claims and then extended the doctrine to permit liability if the individual with the discriminatory or retaliatory motive is a low-level employee, not just a supervisor.

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Court-Sanctioned Employee Theft? Self-Help Discovery May Be Protected Activity In Discrimination Cases

Recently in Verdrager v. Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, P.C., No. SJC-11901, 2015 WL 10937776 (Mass. May 31, 2016), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held, as a matter of first impression, that self-help discovery “may in certain circumstances constitute protected activity” under the state anti-retaliation statute, provided that, “the employee’s actions are reasonable in the totality of the circumstances.”

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Employers Left Hanging Again:  Coates v. Farmers Reaches Settlement & Still No Answers on Interpreting California’s Fair Pay Act

Plaintiff Lynne Coates filed a class action lawsuit against Farmers on April 29, 2015 alleging gender discrimination claims under Title VII and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, including violations of the federal and California equal pay acts and California’s Private Attorneys General Act. In this post on Orrick’s Equal Pay Pulse blog, Orrick attorneys Erin Connell, Allison Riechert Giese and Megan Lawson examine Coates v. Farmers and what it means for employers as well as future equal pay claims in California.