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BT Currents - Hot Topics in Employment Law
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04 Oct 2013 EEOC Cases Continue to Make Waves Despite Shutdown

While the EEOC is all but completely closed this week due to the federal government shutdown, that hasn’t stopped federal courts from issuing interesting rulings in EEOC employment discrimination cases. A quick roundup of a few recent cases of note: 1. The Circuit Court of Appeals this week issued a blow to EEOC when it addressed the extent to which an employer is responsible for offering a religious accommodation in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. The appellate court held that the lawsuit failed because the…

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02 Oct 2013 U.S. Supreme Court to Kick Off New Term With Age Discrimination Issue

When the Supreme Court holds its first day of arguments of the new term (traditionally, the first Monday in October), it will hear an Illinois case that raises the issue of whether public employees who claim age discrimination can bypass the requirements of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and head straight to court under the Equal Protection Clause and 42 U.S.C. 1983. Barring any delays associated with the government shutdown, the Court is expected to hear arguments on Oct. 7, 2013 in Madigan v….

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05 Sep 2013 Code of Silence is a Challenge When Employers Address Workplace Bullying

While a certain amount of levity in the workplace can promote collegiality and teamwork, if employees’ playful banter crosses the line into relentless taunting and bullying, morale can suffer and the risk of lawsuits can increase. Yet employers may find it difficult to uncover and eradicate bullying because employees are afraid to speak up. The immense pressure for victims to remain silent is illustrated in a recent Chicago Tribune article that gave prominent attention to the subject of workplace bullying. The news report described in detail how employees of…

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20 Aug 2013 Is EEOC Conciliation Subject to Judicial Review? Seventh Circuit to Decide

When the EEOC files federal court lawsuits alleging discriminatory conduct,  defendant-employers routinely assert a “failure to conciliate” defense.  Thus, the issue becomes whether and to what extent a court can review the EEOC’s internal pre-suit conciliation process. In its case against Mach Mining LLC, pending in the Southern District of Illinois, the EEOC took the position that the court cannot review its conciliation efforts. However, the District Court rejected that position and determined that conciliation is subject to at least some level of judicial review.  In particular,…

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08 Jul 2013 Employers Should Use Care to Avoid Discrimination When Using Temporary Staffing Agencies

Employers that use staffing agencies to fill temporary work assignments should be prepared to meet the challenges inherent in such relationships for purposes of compliance with Title VII, as illustrated by the EEOC’s litigation against a small manufacturer in Illinois. Although the Illinois manufacturer claimed it was not subject to Title VII because it had fewer than the statutory minimum 15 employees, the EEOC argued that temporary employees needed to be counted. The EEOC contended that the employer should be held liable if the actions…

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25 Jun 2013 Supreme Court Endorses Narrow Definition of “Supervisor” in Discrimination Claims

On Monday, June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court provided clarity for lower courts and employers when it ruled that an employer may be vicariously liable for a supervisory employee’s harassment (to the extent that it did not culminate in a tangible adverse employment action) only when the employer has empowered the employee to take tangible employment actions against the alleged victim of the harassment. And in the process, the Court soundly rejected the EEOC’s enforcement guidance as “nebulous” and unpersuasive. While the ruling in Vance…

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30 May 2013 The Trouble With The So-Called “Equal Opportunity Harasser” – Another Cautionary Case

Under Title VII, if a supervisor is obnoxious and abusive to everyone in the workplace, subjecting women and men alike to a barrage of insults, vulgar innuendo, and sexual propositions, the employer is not liable for hostile work environment sexual harassment under Title VII. The rationale is that if a person is an “equal opportunity harasser” then the harassment is not “because of sex” and thus Title VII provides no remedy. Therefore, the equal-opportunity harasser defense may let employers off the hook for liability for sexual harassment, depending…

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17 Apr 2013 Employment Rule Book’s Silence Does Not Overcome Presumption of At-Will Employment

The concept of at-will employment remains alive and well in Illinois, at least as expressed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In a recent ruling in favor of a municipal employer, the Court of Appeals examined the extent to which an employment rule book could alter the at-will employment relationship into one in which the employee could have a right to continued employment absent “cause” for discipline or termination. In Cromwell v. City of Momence, the Appellate Court rejected the argument…

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02 Apr 2013 U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Application of ADEA to State and Local Workers

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on the issue of whether state and local government employees can bypass the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and sue for age discrimination under an equal protection theory. The case is Madigan v. Levin, Docket Number 12-872. Appellate courts are split on whether the ADEA is the exclusive route for state and local government employees to bring a claim for age discrimination, or whether an equal protection claim via…

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08 Mar 2013 Internal Investigations Can Be Crucial to Defense Against Retaliation Claims

It will come as no surprise to many employers that retaliation charges under Title VII and similar employment laws are, in many instances, more challenging to prevent and defend than discrimination claims. So there is comfort to be found in a pair of rulings from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals today, affirming that an employer’s investigation into alleged workplace misconduct can serve to stave off liability in the event of a retaliation lawsuit. In Vaughn v. Vilsack, the Court affirmed summary judgment for the…

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