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BT Currents - Hot Topics in Employment Law
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28 Dec 2012 Iowa Supreme Court Rules that Employer Lawfully Terminated “Irresistible” Employee

Can an employer lawfully terminate a female employee because the employer’s wife is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee?  You bet (at least in Iowa). Dr. James Knight hired Melissa Nelson in 1999 to work as an assistant in his dental office. In the months leading up to Nelson’s termination, Dr. Knight and Nelson began texting each other regarding both work related and personal matters. While most of the texts were innocuous, Dr. Knight did send several messages that were…

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21 Dec 2012 Employees’ Requested Religious Accommodations Must Be Reasonable

An employee whose religion prohibits or prevents him from performing certain job duties may ask his employer to provide an accommodation. So says Title VII. However, simply because an employee makes a particular request does not mean that the employer must grant it. The request must be reasonable. This important proviso was recently demonstrated in EEOC v. Thompson Contracting, Grading, Paving & Utilities, No. 11-1897, 2012 WL 6217612 (4th Cir. Dec. 14, 2012).  There, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued a construction contractor on behalf a Hebrew Israelite…

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20 Dec 2012 All I Want For Christmas Are Some Stats

The following chart graphically depicts the total number of EEOC charges filed with the agency from 1997-2011.  http://eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/charges.cfm  What is immediately apparent from this chart is the relationship between the overall economy and the number of filings. The chart begins in the prosperous 90’s (this is how far back the EEOC’s historical online information goes). As the country continued with the dot-com boom, you can see the number of filings going down. The filings, however, tick up again beginning in 2000 as the economy worsened into recession and…

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20 Dec 2012 Businesses Brace for Another Round of EEOC Challenges

On Dec. 17, 2012, the EEOC revealed its “priorities and goals,” giving businesses some forecast of the EEOC climate and danger zones during next four years. In technical terms, the Commission approved (by a 3-1 vote) its formal Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), which identified the following six (6) national priorities: – Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring – Protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers – Addressing emerging and developing employment discrimination issues – Enforcing Equal Pay Laws – Preserving Access to the Legal System – Preventing Harassment through Systemic Enforcement and Outreach In other words,…

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12 Dec 2012 Outreach Agreement May Signal EEOC Focus on National Origin Discrimination

The EEOC recently announced that its Phoenix District Office entered a Memorandum of Understanding with several consulates of Mexico in Arizona. The Agreement establishes a collaborative relationship between the EEOC and the Mexican consulates with the purpose of addressing issues and providing resources aimed at preventing employment discrimination involving Mexican nationals in the workplace. As part of the Agreement, the EEOC will provide the Mexican consulates with Spanish-language materials “explaining the laws enforced by the EEOC.” Further, the EEOC will supply representatives to meet with Mexican nationals in Arizona for…

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10 Dec 2012 “Employee” Status Not Necessarily Dependent on Compensation

While Title VII discrimination claims apply only to “employees” and “employers,” the statute’s definitions of those terms are spectacularly unhelpful. An employee is someone who is employed by an employer. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b) & (f). Thanks, Congress! In light of this thoroughly circular definition, courts use agency principles to determine employment status when such is not clear. An illustrative opinion was recently issued by the Northern District of Illinois in Volling v. Antioch Rescue Squad. In Volling, one of the main questions was whether the members…

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05 Dec 2012 Census Bureau Release Workforce EEO Numbers

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2006-2010 American Community Survey EEO tabulation that examines the diversity in the U.S. labor force. In the past, the Census Bureau has produced the tabulation after every 10-year census. However, for the first time, the bureau used the 2006-2010 American Community Survey estimates in its report.  The actual tables produced by the tabulation can be generated at the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder page available here. Federal agencies use the numerous tabulations as a monitoring device while employers…

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27 Nov 2012 Supreme Court Examines “Supervisor” Definition In Bias Suits

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the definition of a “supervisor” as it relates to an employer’s vicarious liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In Vance v. Ball State University, the Court pressed both sides to explain what the impact would be should it expand the “supervisor” definition under Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998), and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998) should the Court choose to expand the…

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26 Nov 2012 Seventh Circuit Rejects EEOC’s Claim of Confidentiality Violations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

In its opinion issued in EEOC v. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, No. 11-2848, which can be found here, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the award of summary judgment to Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (Thrivent), and rejected the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) arguments that Thrivent had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it had revealed information regarding a former contract employee’s migraine condition to a prospective employer. The Seventh Circuit’s rationale hinged on the fact that Thrivent had…

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21 Nov 2012 Hand it Over: Federal Judge Orders Plaintiffs in Discrimination Lawsuit to Produce Cell Phones and Facebook Account Passwords

Plaintiffs in an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently were ordered to hand over their cell phones and Facebook account passwords for in camera (i.e. private) inspection by a federal Magistrate Judge. In this case, the EEOC brought suit alleging the defendant employer had subjected a class of female employees to sexual harassment and retaliation. During the course of discovery, the employer moved to compel the production of various text messages and social media posts. According to the Magistrate…

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