Lots to talk about in the Labor & Employment world!  The Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect on April 1, 2018, imposing stricter non-discrimination rules on employers of pregnant workers. The U.S. Department of Labor launched the Payroll Audit Independent Determination program, which encourages employers to self-report wage and hour violations. The Sixth Circuit issued a decision in EEOC v. R.G. & R.G. Harris Funeral Homes, holding that transgendered employees are protected under Title VII, even mounted against an employer’s religious objections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts lost a step in the legal challenge to the contraceptive mandate exemptions in the Affordable Care Act, on the grounds that it did not have standing to assert the relief it sought. Still on the federal landscape, Congress added an amendment to the FLSA in the recent omnibus budget bill, providing that an employer may not keep tips received by its employees for any purpose. The Supreme Court issued an important ruling holding that service advisors are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements and rejecting the principle that FLSA exemptions should be narrowly construed.   The State of Washington followed suit with many other states, including California, New York, and Massachusetts, becoming the most recent state to add an updated Equal Pay Act, and a “Ban the Box” law.  In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Washington also barred nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment suits.  As always, stay tuned for further updates and more details on these developments which we will be covering more extensively here in the coming weeks, including a post on the Massachusetts Pay Equity Act coming up later this week.

Finally, there’s still time! Don’t forget to register to attend our Fourth Annual Employment Law Summit on April 19.

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.

Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Delivers One-Two Punch Knocking Out Transgender 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.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Becomes the Second to Prohibit Sexual Orientation Discrimination

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.

Continue Reading Third Circuit Rules that Employer-Friendly “But For” Causation Standard Applies to False Claims Act Retaliation Claims

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.

Continue Reading Legislation Limiting an Employer’s Ability to Inquire About and Consider Applicants’ Prior Salary History Gains Momentum

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.

uniform

Continue Reading March A-Wear-Ness: Uniforms, Dress Codes, and Employee Choice

The Second Circuit recently adopted the “Cat’s Paw” theory of liability in Title VII cases.  This was hardly a surprise as other Circuit Courts had done the same after the United States Supreme Court endorsed Cat’s Paw in a USERRA case.  But the Second Circuit went even further, allowing for the use of the Cat’s Paw argument in Title VII retaliation cases and in cases where a non-supervisory employee’s discriminatory actions lead the employer to take an adverse employment action against that employee’s co-worker.  Until now, Cat’s Paw had mostly focused on employer liability based on the actions of misbehaving supervisors in hostile work environment cases.  The decision puts additional pressure on employers to identify and eliminate discriminatory behavior in their workplaces. This post will briefly examine the Cat’s Paw doctrine and explain how the Second Circuit’s expanded its use in Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc., No. 15-3239 (2d Cir. Aug. 29, 2016).

Continue Reading Negligent Employers May Be Held Liable For a Non-Supervisory Employee’s Discriminatory Actions Under “Cat’s Paw” Theory Says Second Circuit

The growing prevalence of the Zika virus in the United States has already presented a number of hurdles for employers striving to create a safe and healthy workplace environment for their employees.  These concerns are more immediate than ever.  The recent and continuing outbreak in Florida and the emergence of state-to-state transmission within the U.S. reinforce the need for employers to stay informed of best practices for minimizing workplace health risks without overstepping critical legal boundaries between employer and employee.

Continue Reading Addressing Zika’s Continued Threat to the Workplace