Discrimination doesn’t just include refusing to hire someone based on a protected characteristic, such as race or gender. Harassment based on a protected characteristic can also give rise to a discrimination claim, if the harassment is “severe or pervasive enough” to create a hostile work environment.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of employees working from home was skyrocketing. But now, that trend has accelerated even faster. This raises the question: can an employee suffer from a hostile work environment—while working from home?
In our last post, we analyzed the complaint that Jones Day ex-associates Julia Sheketoff and Marc Savignac filed against the firm. Sheketoff and Savignac, a married couple, allege that the firm discriminated against them and retaliated against Mark when he complained. They focus on the firm’s parental leave policy, under which new birth mothers receive 18 weeks of paid leave but new fathers receive 10 weeks.
On Tuesday, married couple Julia Sheketoff and Mark Savignac filed an attention-grabbing lawsuit against their former law firm, Jones Day, for gender discrimination and retaliation. Jones Day is one of the largest law firms in the United States, and was the subject of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by female lawyers alleging a “fraternity culture.”
According to their complaint, Sheketoff and Savignac each clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer, and then joined Jones Day’s prestigious Issues & Appeals practice as associates. They eventually each received half-million-dollar salaries. But all was not well.
Under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), employers are required to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees with certain family or medical issues. These issues include attending to serious health conditions that make the employee unable to work, or caring for newborns or family members.
A frequent dilemma that employers often face is what to do when an employee has exhausted all available FMLA leave and still cannot return to work. One employer, Gold Medal Bakery, currently finds itself in litigation surrounding this issue.
When the calendar flips from December to January, it’s a good time to take stock of what to expect over the next 12 months. Here are four major issues in employment law that we’ll be watching in 2018:
An employer isn’t immune from a discrimination claim when an employee quits instead of being fired. An employee who quits can still bring a “constructive discharge” claim, arguing that his working conditions were intolerable and that he had no other option but to quit.
This is a high bar to clear. For example, in the recent case of Coleman v. City of Irondale, the employer won summary judgment on a constructive discharge claim, despite racial slurs, inappropriate screensavers, and—yes—a pro wrestling photo.
White male discontent has been a major media talking point since the presidential election, and even long before. This talking point has made its way into the workplace, where tech firms are now being targeted for allegedly discriminating against white males in favor of women or non-white males.
Of course, discrimination lawsuits aren’t just for women or minorities; a white male can also sue for discrimination. A claim of discrimination by a white male based on gender or race is sometimes referred to as “reverse discrimination”—discrimination based on membership in a historically majority or advantaged group.
Federal employment law protects against a number of different types of discrimination, including treating employees differently because of age, gender, or race.
More and more often, employees bring discrimination claims based on harassment, rather than (or in addition to) claims based on employer decisions that appear to be discriminatory.
However, an employee can only bring a harassment claim under federal law if the employer has engaged in "discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult" that was "sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment." See Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993).
Federal law—specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on a number of protected characteristics, including sex, race, national origin, and religion.
One major open question, however, is whether Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation. For example, if a job candidate is openly gay, can the employee refuse to hire that person because of his sexual orientation without violating federal law?
The Supreme Court has never spoken on the issue.
When an employee brings a lawsuit alleging that his employer retaliated or discriminated against him, courts typically assess the claim by using a burden-shifting approach. Under this approach, after the employer offers a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for its actions, the employee has to come forward with evidence showing that the reason was pretextual.
The recent decision in Stephenson v. Potterfield Group LLC serves as an example of how an employee can meet this burden.
As the regulatory and business environments in which our clients operate grow increasingly complex, we identify and offer perspectives on significant legal developments affecting businesses, organizations, and individuals. Each post aims to address timely issues and trends by evaluating impactful decisions, sharing observations of key enforcement changes, or distilling best practices drawn from experience. InsightZS also features personal interest pieces about the impact of our legal work in our communities and about associate life at Zuckerman Spaeder.
Information provided on InsightZS should not be considered legal advice and expressed views are those of the authors alone. Readers should seek specific legal guidance before acting in any particular circumstance.