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- Fired for Taking the Fifth: Famous Firings in History
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Showing 19 posts in Title VII.
The ongoing trial in Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers has made headline news across the country. It’s being covered by the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, among other national publications. Those interested in following the trial can monitor the #ellenpao hashtag on Twitter, or watch liveblogs from Re/code or the San Jose Mercury-News.
Why is the trial so newsworthy? As we reported here, Pao claims that Kleiner Perkins, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm, discriminated against her because of her gender and then retaliated because she complained. She claims that she was not promoted to a plum senior partner position because she was a woman, and that the firm fired her because she complained and later sued it. Her story involves sex, boorish behavior, and office intrigue that ranges from the mundane to the highly dramatic.
With that introduction, here are some -- of many -- takeaways for employers from what has transpired thus far: Read More ›
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard argument in the religious discrimination case of EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., which made our list as one of our five issues to watch for 2015. The case arises under Title VII, the federal law that makes it illegal for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to h[er] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s . . . religion.” The EEOC alleges that Abercrombie, purveyor of “authentic American clothing,” discriminated against Samantha Elauf on religious grounds. The company refused to hire Elauf because she wore a headscarf, or hijab, to her job interview, and the company’s “Look Policy” prohibited employees from wearing “caps.”
In earlier depositions in the case, Elauf’s interviewer at Abercrombie testified that she “assumed that [Elauf] was Muslim,” and “figured that was the religious reason why she wore her head scarf.” The interviewer said that she went to her district manager to discuss the headscarf issue, and told him that “[Elauf] wears the head scarf for religious reasons, I believe.” The interviewer testified that the district manager then told her not to hire Elauf because of the headscarf and said, “[S]omeone can come in and paint themselves green and say they were doing it for religious reasons, and we can’t hire them.” As a result, the interviewer lowered Elauf’s “appearance” score on her evaluation, and Elauf didn’t get the job.
Despite this testimony, the Tenth Circuit still entered summary judgment for Abercrombie, holding that the EEOC’s discrimination claim could not proceed to trial because Elauf “never informed Abercrombie prior to its hiring decision that she wore her headscarf or ‘hijab’ for religious reasons and that she needed an accommodation for that practice, due to a conflict between the practice and Abercrombie’s clothing policy.”
The fact that the Tenth Circuit granted summary judgment, even though the interviewer admitted that she assumed that Elauf wore the scarf for religious reasons, helps explain the concerns, and potential solutions, that the Justices raised in yesterday’s argument. Read More ›
Did you hear the one about the Buddhist marketing director who refused an order to add Bible verses to the daily morning e-mail he sent to all employees – and then got fired the next day, after an otherwise successful eight-year career?
This is, of course, not an opening line to a joke, but another installment in our occasional series about the intersection of religious beliefs (of all types) and employment – also of all types. Religion and employment issues – whether it’s an employee in the C-suite or someone further along the hierarchy – almost never mix well. Just this week, of course, nine of our fellow lawyers who happen to sit on the Supreme Court are hearing arguments in two cases about whether a company with a religious belief about contraception is exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for employer-provided health insurance.
Far away from the hallowed marble home of the Supreme Court (which, by the way, we think is in a fine building -- unlike former Justice Harlan Fiske Stone) and down in the Eastern District of Texas, a new suit raises an interesting question of prohibited religious discrimination under Title VII: namely, can a fired Buddhist employee win damages from a company that, he says, fired him after eight years because he refused to put Bible quotations in the daily e-mail his employer had him write and send to all of the company’s 500 employees? Read More ›
If You Can't Be Fired For Being Old, Can You Be Fired For Being Old AND Ugly? Why This Is A Harder Question Than You Might Think
There’s been another important development in the legal landscape with respect to age discrimination cases, as last week a federal district court in Oklahoma ruled that the EEOC could proceed to trial on behalf of an employee who alleges that she was terminated by her employer for being “old and ugly.” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Kanbar Property Mgmt., LLC, Case No. 12-CV-00422-JED-TLW (Aug. 23, 2013). (Although similar factually, this is a different lawsuit than the “you’re not that pretty” case discussed by our colleague Bill Schreiner last week, which survived a motion to dismiss.)
If you’re not an employment lawyer, this might strike you as the proverbial “dog bites man” headline. After all, if you can't be fired for being old, certainly you can't be fired for being old and ugly, right? Right?
Well, as it turns out, the law isn’t quite so straightforward. Read on…. Read More ›
The toughest part of this post, for me, is how to categorize this one: does this go in my file of “Things Not To Do At Work?” Or is this one another example of “Lawyers Behaving Badly?” Or maybe “Generally Unacceptable Management Styles?”
Well, I’ll let you decide. But here is the takeaway: however you categorize it, it’s likely a bad idea to tell a woman that works for you that she’s “not that pretty,” that prior female employees were “smart…good-looking…just gorgeous” and used to wear tight sweaters, and that “it’s all been downhill since women got the vote.”
Statements like that can give rise to allegations of gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that can survive a motion to dismiss. That’s what the City of Evanston, Illinois learned last week, in Elke Tober-Purze v. Evanston, pending in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois. Read More ›
In the previous part, we looked at Elke Tober-Purze’s lawsuit against her employer, the City of Evanston. The federal court hearing the case ruled in Tober-Purze’s favor on Evanston’s motion to dismiss her claim that it had discriminated against her by paying her male colleagues more and ultimately terminating her from her job as an assistant city attorney.
In the same opinion, the court also denied Evanston’s motion to dismiss Tober-Purze’s claim for age discrimination based on federal law. That law – the Age Discrimination in Employment Act – requires an aggrieved employee to demonstrate that he or she: 1) is over forty; 2) otherwise meets the employer’s expectations; 3) suffered an adverse employment action – such as being terminated or passed over for promotion; and 4) was treated less favorably than others who are not over forty. Read More ›
Paula Deen Ruling Also Reminds Us: Title VII Protects Employees Who Are Discriminated Against for Their Association with People of Other Races Outside of the Workplace
On Tuesday, we examined the dismissal by a Georgia federal court of Lisa T. Jackson’s race-based discrimination claim against Paula Deen and others, and noted that, under Title VII, an employer may not discriminate against an employee for associating with employees of another race. But we don’t want you to be left with the impression that the association has to be between co-workers. Courts also have recognized “interracial association” Title VII claims for associations occurring outside of the workplace. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is one such court. Read More ›
Paula Deen Ruling Reminds Us: Title VII Protects White Employees Who Are Discriminated Against for Their Association with Black Employees
Last week, a federal court in Georgia dismissed Lisa T. Jackson’s race-based discrimination claim against Paula Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Heirs, and their restaurant businesses. Earlier events in the Jackson v. Deen case – including Deen’s deposition testimony and what it may mean for alter ego liability – caught our attention at Suits by Suits. This recent ruling interests us as a reminder that it is not always the case that a white employee who works in an environment that is hostile to blacks has no claim for damages against her employer for race-based discrimination. Read More ›
This week in suits by suits:
- St. Louis-based Reliance Bank founder Jerry Von Rohr sued the bank for more than $400,000 in back pay and benefits, seeking a declaratory judgment that the bank is not prohibited from paying his severance package under the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which otherwise limits payments of so-called "golden parachutes."
- Maximillian Coreth, former managing director for Lehman Brothers, appealed a bankruptcy court's dismissal of his $19.6 million breach of contract lawsuit against Barlcays Capital Inc. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Coreth is arguing that Barclays assumed the obligations under his employment contract with Lehman Brothers when Barclays purchased Lehman Brothers in September of 2008. Barclays successfully argued to the bankruptcy court and the U.S. district court that its Asset Purchase Agreement did not grant third-party beneficiaries any rights. We'll discuss this case (and these important issues) in depth in the coming days.
- A federal district court judge split the baby in a lawsuit brought by former Detective William Hawkins against the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, upholding the Department's general policy regarding its employees' disclosures of information to the media under the First Amendment, but found that the policy was unconstitutional as applied to Hawkins when he was disciplined for speaking to the Washington Post in 2009.
- A Texas state appellate court held that the architectural firm Nortex Foundation Designs, Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas wrongfully terminated a draftsman, Adam Young, who objected to copying designs that he felt infringed upon others' copyrights, holding that Young could not be fired for refusing to follow orders for which he had a "good faith belief" to be criminal.
- In a pair of excellent articles we think will be of interest to many of our readers, the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation (1) tackled the critical question: "How Costly Is Corporate Bankruptcy for Top Executives?" and (2) hosted a survey piece by Richard J. Sandler, a partner at Davis Polk, entitled "Recent Developments in Executive Compensation Litigation." Both are well worth a read.
- A former schoolteacher, Teresa Kemmer, has sued the Cumberland, Tennessee County Board of Education in federal court, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ms. Kemmer's complaint alleges, among other things, that after she reported the alleged harassment to her supervisor, she requested to transfer schools but was told "that if she wanted a job she needed to stay where she was."
- Finally, here's one that's just bizarre. In October of 2012, Oxbow Carbon executive Kirby Martensen filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer billionaire William Koch; he's supposedly the "quiet" one, unlike his more high-profile brothers Charles and David (although William donated $2 million to a Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's "Restore Our Future" SuperPAC in 2012). Martensen's lawsuit alleges that Koch kidnapped him, imprisoned him at Bear Ranch in Aspen, Colorado, and interrogated him in the company of a Gunnison County deputy allegedly on hand to "make sure he didn't run away." Koch is back in the news after having filed a motion to dismiss in mid-January of this year; Martensen says that local police officers support his version of events. You can bet we'll continue to monitor this case.
A necessary part of life that no one particularly enjoys is the job interview: it’s tricky for the interviewee and taxing for the interviewer. Unless the interviewer gets a thrill out of asking why manhole covers are round or testing the applicant’s knowledge of medieval saints.
We’ve written about questions that shouldn’t be asked on interviews, because they can suggest a discriminatory basis for the employer’s failure to hire the job applicant. But can an interview that doesn’t include potentially discriminatory questions – just the failure to hire the applicant after the interview itself – provide the basis for the rejected applicant to allege discrimination?
Hiring executives may be interested to know the answer to this question, which was the central issue in an opinion in Hill v. Virginia Department of Transportation, released by a federal court in Virginia at the end of January. Read More ›