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BT Currents - Hot Topics in Employment Law
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06 Jul 2015 Performance You Can Measure Is Best Defense, FMLA Case Demonstrates

I often find myself counseling clients that the more measurable a performance issue is, the easier it is for the employer to prove that issue is the true, nondiscriminatory reason for a termination or other job action in the face of a discrimination or other employment claim. Sales employees almost always have measurable data about their performance, which seemingly provides an objective basis for employment decisions taken against individuals whose sales number are lowest. Such decisions are not bullet proof; for example, the employee may…

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22 Jun 2015 Does Being “Perceived As” Muslim Support A Title VII Claim? One Court Says Yes

Readers will know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is distinctive among discrimination statutes in that it protects not only people who are disabled but also those regarded as disabled, as discussed here and here.  The foundation of a Title VII sex discrimination in the language “because of sex” also creates potential gray areas as to exactly who the law protects.  Generally, however, a person either is in a protected class or is not.   This recent case from a Michigan federal court flags…

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19 Jun 2015 Do Not Seek DNA Information From Employees…

Do not seek DNA information from employees … even for non-discriminatory purposes. That seems to be the lesson learned from a recent federal court decision in Georgia.  A food distribution company in Atlanta, Atlas Logistics, requested several employees to submit to cheek swab genetic tests when human feces deposits were repeatedly discovered in one of its warehouses. Although the offender(s) were not identified by the genetic tests, a forklift operator and a deliveryman who submitted to the testing later sued under the federal Genetic Information…

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17 Jun 2015 Medical Marijuana Users Get Smoked by High Court of Colorado

Becoming the first state to decide the much-anticipated issue, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously held that a statute barring the termination of workers for engaging in lawful activities outside of work does not prevent employers from firing an employee for failing a drug test, despite having a state license to smoke marijuana for medical purposes. The reason: smoking marijuana is still unlawful under federal law. The case, Coats v. Dish Network, can be found here.   The plaintiff – a quadriplegic customer service representative for…

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15 Jun 2015 If the payroll company says it’s an employee …

I wrote here and here earlier this year about the importance of employers carefully reviewing who they consider to be an independent contractor so the employer avoids the various legal problems that can arise as misclassifying workers who should be employees as independent contractors. A recent decision from a federal court in Florida is another lesson in this. In Rezendes v. Domenick’s Blinds, two workers – an installer and a seamstress – won summary judgment from the court in a wage/hour case that they should…

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12 Jun 2015 Recent Case Illustrates How Types of Associational Discrimination Claims Can Play Out in Litigation

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects applicants and employees from discrimination based on their relationship or association with an individual who has a disabling condition. Generally speaking, there are three types of associational discrimination claims:   Expense discrimination: Employer fears that association with disabled person will be costly to the employer. Disability by association: A relationship with a disabled person means employee may also be disabled. Distraction: A relationship with a disabled person will prevent the employee from completing job responsibilities.   A recent…

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02 Jun 2015 Abercrombie Decision: What’s next for employers?

The Supreme Court scored a victory for the EEOC yesterday, and, notably, for religion. The court’s majority decision emphasized that religion is a protected class that requires “favored treatment.” The decision also underscores that religious practices are equivalent to one’s religious beliefs, and are accorded the same protection.   Although the court could have limited its decision to the facts of this particular case (as did Justice Alito in his concurring opinion), it rejected the employer’s view that disparate treatment requires an employee to prove…

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01 Jun 2015 EEOC Wins Big at Supreme Court on Religious Accommodation Case

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court handed the EEOC a victory over national retailer Abercrombie & Fitch on a question of religious accommodation.   The court addressed whether an employer must have actual knowledge of an applicant’s need for a religious accommodation to violate Title VII. By a vote of 8-1, the high court said, “no.”   It started when Abercrombie did not hire a woman who appeared for her interview wearing a headscarf, which would have violated the clothing store’s strict dress code. The…

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28 May 2015 Transgender Status in the Workplace – First an EEOC Issue and Now an OSHA Issue?

Transgender status has been all over the news lately. As many of you saw on 20/20, Bruce Jenner publicly announced his gender transition to a woman in late April. We have also covered the various cases that have addressed transgender discrimination in lawsuits brought by the EEOC as well as individuals since late 2014. Most recently Saks & Company settled a controversial transgender discrimination case back in March. We are aware of EEOC’s position on this issue – that gender identity discrimination is covered by…

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27 May 2015 Getting What You Don’t Ask For – The Perils Of ADA Accommodation By Inference

A case out of the federal court of Maine provides a useful reminder that employers cannot put blinders on when it comes to the ADA and requests for accommodation. The case, Heath v. Brennan (Case No. 2:13-cv-386-JDL), involved a long-time postal employee who developed tendinitis in the early 1990s, forcing him to wear arm braces at work. His co-workers teased him about the arm braces, which ranged from the mild (“gave him a hard time”) to the salacious (“he needed the braces because he had…

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