The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on March 7 that employer R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes unlawfully discriminated on the basis of sex when it fired a transgender employee after she informed the company that she would begin presenting consistent with her gender identity. In so doing, the court emphatically rejected the employer’s defense invoking religious liberty to discriminate on the basis of sex and other protected minorities. On the heels of the Second Circuit’s decision in Zarda v. Altitude Express, this case represents a further affirmation that existing civil rights laws protect LGBTQ employees from both gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination.
Phew – it has been a whirlwind of a month in the employment law world! Just in time for spring, new laws are popping up like crocuses just about everywhere we turn.
Here is your monthly rundown of the most recent developments in labor and employment law: The Supreme Court significantly narrowed whistleblower protections under Dodd Frank with its decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers. The Second Circuit became the second circuit court to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination when it issued a decision holding that sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination under Title VII. In New York, just as employers finished preparing for and implementing the New York Paid Family Leave law, New York City passed new legislation requiring employers to grant temporary schedule changes for qualifying personal events, and amending the requirements for employers and employees engaging in a cooperative dialogue concerning a reasonable accommodation. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office issued guidance on the pay equity law scheduled to take effect in July; Austin, Texas became the first Texas municipality to enact a paid sick and safe leave law; and new legislation intending to crack down on sexual harassment has been proposed in several jurisdictions, including Connecticut and New York City. Stay tuned for further updates and more details on these developments which we will be covering more extensively here in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, don’t forget to register to attend our Fourth Annual Employment Law Summit on April 19!
On Monday, for the second time in less than a year, a federal appeals court ruled that Title VII forbids sexual orientation discrimination because it is a form of sex discrimination. This time, in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. the Second Circuit overturned decades of precedent and ruled that Title VII’s ban on discrimination “because of . . . sex” encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation. The decision is also an apparent rebuke of the position taken by the United States Department of Justice (contrary to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s position) that sexual orientation discrimination was never intended to by Congress to be covered by Title VII. The issue is almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court in its next term.
On April 19, 2018, Mintz Levin will be hosting its Fourth Annual Employment Law Summit at the Princeton Club in New York City. This half-day seminar will feature as its keynote speaker Kevin Berry, the District Director of the EEOC’s New York District Office. District Director Berry will discuss the main objectives of the EEOC’s recently-released Strategic Enforcement Plan, as well as sexual harassment in the workplace and best practices for responding to charges of discrimination. The seminar will also offer various segments on the most important workplace issues of the day, including sexual harassment in the wake of #metoo, family leave and caregiver accommodations, implications of the new federal tax law, wage and hour issues, and more. It’s a program you will not want to miss, so register now!
This event is intended for C-Level Executives, HR Executives, Compliance Officers, In-house Counsel, and HR Directors and Staff.
For more information and to register, click here.
On Wednesday this week, all nine justices agreed that the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provision does not extend to an individual who has not reported a violation of the securities laws to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). In other words, making only internal complaints does not shroud an employee in whistleblower protection under the Dodd-Frank Act.
Now that January has come to an end, and we’ve navigated compliance with our own resolutions and employment obligations (as discussed on our latest post on The Bubbler), we’re going to take a look at a few topics of legislation that are brewing on the state and local level. While federal law does not govern these areas, the activity within state and local governments should catch all of our attention, particularly as employers with operations in multiple states deal with the overlapping (and, at times, seemingly in conflict) provisions of these various laws. These will, quite undoubtedly, continue to expand.
2017 is in the books and 2018 is now upon us. A dramatic close to 2017 on Capitol Hill ushered in sweeping changes to the tax code that will begin to impact both employers and employees in a number of ways – some more immediately – from employers losing deductions for sexual harassment settlement payouts, to penalties for high nonprofit executive compensation, to tax deferral on exercise of stock options for public company executives, to employee benefit plans. Wage and leave-related issues are also likely to dominate in 2018, as more states (and employers on their own initiative) increase wage thresholds and broaden employee paid and unpaid leave entitlements (even for some smaller employers). Salary history bans, such as those already enacted in New York City, Massachusetts, and California, will continue to get traction in 2018 as more states and municipalities jump on that bandwagon. We also expect to continue to witness a significant shift in the NLRB’s enforcement policy and decision-making; the NLRB’s new General Counsel has already announced a number of changes that are sure to make employers sigh with relief. Also in 2018, employers could continue to face rising uncertainty with respect to health plans in the wake of the tax bill’s repeal of the individual mandate that was central to keeping health plans affordable under the Affordable Care Act. Finally, so that we can help keep you accountable to the five New Year’s resolutions we made for you over the holidays (that we know you were eager to adopt as your own), we have collected them for you here: (1) review and refresh your non-harassment policies and training; (2) update your leave policies; (3) make sure your job applications comply with new state ban-the-box laws and salary history inquiry bans; (4) assess the strength and enforceability of your post-employment covenants under changing state law; and (5) make sure your employee benefit plans are compliant.
On April 2, 2018, significant changes to ERISA’s disability claims procedures will take effect. These new rules will require all ERISA-covered plans which provide disability benefits to make significant modifications to the way disability benefit claims are reviewed and decided. This post describes what is changing and why, and the steps employers must take now to ensure compliance.
In the case of DiFiore v. CSL Behring, LLC, the Third Circuit ruled for the first time that the more demanding “but for” causation standard applies to retaliation claims under the False Claims Act (“FCA”), rejecting the lower “motivating factor” (also commonly known as the “mixed-motive”) standard. The Third Circuit’s ruling is a welcome result, especially for employers who deal with the federal government and may, therefore, be exposed to FCA retaliation claims. But, employers need to be mindful that different causes of action have different causation standards. For example, the more stringent “but for” standard applied by the Third Circuit to FCA retaliation claims also applies in Title VII retaliation and ADEA cases, but the lower “mixed motive” standard applies in other cases, including “status based” Title VII and ADA discrimination claims. So, employers are left with a mishmash of different causation standards to consider when assessing risk around employment decisions and defending cases.
Taking note of the #MeToo movement, Congress included a new provision in the tax code overhaul bill — Section 13307 – which is titled “Denial of Deduction for Settlements Subject to Nondisclosure Agreements Paid in Connection with Sexual Harassment or Sexual Abuse.” While the title of the section makes its purpose clear, the provision raises more questions than it answers.