What is happening in employment law? We will be providing you with quick employment law updates on a bi-monthly basis in a new series called “The Bubbler.” It will let you know what’s what and who’s who in the continually-evolving, ever-important, hard-to-keep-track-of employment law world. The Bubbler delivers current events and other important news to our readers without the time or the interest to piece through the recent legislation, the ever-growing release of regulations and other agency guidance and the lengthy court decisions. We’re your colleagues at the water cooler who tell you just enough to pique your interest (but then provide links to satisfy your curiosity). Enjoy!
In a recent series of articles, we asked whether “class arbitration” — meaning the utilization of a Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 class action protocol in an arbitration proceeding — is ultimately viable. Given the nature of arbitration, we suggested that it arguably is not. We noted that the United States Supreme Court and various Courts of Appeal had examined several related procedural questions, but that they had not gotten to the core issues that would ultimately determine the viability of a class arbitration award.
As we recently blogged about here, efforts to ban inquiries related to applicants’ salary history have gained momentum across the country. Last Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined this trend by signing into law a bill prohibiting New York City employers from inquiring about prospective employees’ salary history. When it takes effect on October 31, 2017, the law will prohibit employers from communicating “any question or statement to an applicant, an applicant’s current or prior employer, or a current or former employee or agent of the applicant’s current or prior employer, in writing or otherwise, for the purpose of obtaining an applicant’s salary history, or to conduct a search of publicly available records or reports for the purpose of obtaining an applicant’s salary history.” “Salary history” includes the applicant’s current or prior wage, benefits or other compensation.
As we observed in a recent post on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College extending Title VII to sexual orientation claims, the Supreme Court will probably have to resolve the disagreement among the federal circuit courts over whether the statutory language “because of…sex” should be interpreted to include “because of…sexual orientation.” And sure enough, on the heels of one Second Circuit panel decision late last month that refused to extend Title VII to cover sexual orientation, a different panel of that court again declined last week to reverse its own precedent, finding that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination does not extend to discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees based purely on their sexual orientation.
We had such a spirited panel discussion on pay equity at our Third Annual Employment Law Summit recently that we wanted to follow up with a post addressing the current state of play on pay equity legislation, particularly with respect to salary history disclosure laws. This is a rapidly advancing area of the law in which we continue to see new developments.
In a landmark en banc decision rejecting its earlier panel ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit became the first federal appellate court to hold that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. While the employer in the case, Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, No. 15-1720 (7th Cir. April 4, 2017), has indicated that it does not intend to appeal the Seventh Circuit’s ruling, the conflict between the court’s holding and recent Second and Eleventh Circuit decisions makes it likely that this issue will reach the Supreme Court in the near future.
The basketball court isn’t the only place you’ll see interesting uniforms this month. Many employers choose to implement and enforce their own uniform requirements and dress codes at work. But if done incorrectly, uniforms or dress codes may reinforce stereotypical gender roles and put transgender employees and applicants in a very uncomfortable place. In addition, some religious people in the workplace require exceptions to uniform requirements and dress codes in order to adhere to their beliefs. There was even a hotly debated Supreme Court opinion a couple years ago about a religious headwear exception to an employer’s dress code. These increasing changes in the law are forcing employers to take a time out to rethink their uniform and dress code strategies to make sure they do not travel out of bounds.
March Madness isn’t the only thing we are excited about over here at Employment Matters. Right on the heels of the tournament, we will be hosting our annual Employment Law Summit. One of the issues my colleague Andrew Bernstein will address with a panel of key players is pay equity. No, not play equity – pay equity.
We have co-authored an alert with our affiliate government relations consulting group, ML Strategies entitled, “Massachusetts State Legislature Takes Action on Major Employment Reform as Legislative Session Ends”, which addresses key legislation concerning pay equity, transgender anti-discrimination, non-compete agreement reform, credit checks reform and wage theft. The alert provides a review of the new laws and their implications for employers.
My colleague Tyrone Thomas, was quoted in the Bloomberg BNA article entitled Managing Bias Risks While Increasing Workplace Diversity in which he analyzes the threat of reverse racism claims arising from employer diversity efforts. Thomas notes that diversity strategies should be tailored to the workplace and provides steps for employers to develop well-crafted diversity plans. The article outlines examples of reverse bias claims, methods to avoid these risks, and employers’ options in implementing diversity strategies.