Employment Discrimination

This month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed several employment-related bills into law. The laws go into effect January 1, 2020, and include an extension to the deadline to file certain state discrimination claims and address harassment training and prevention, as well as mandatory arbitration agreements.
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The #MeToo movement has placed sexual harassment on the front pages of newspapers, has galvanized some states to reconsider their own sexual harassment laws, and has encouraged employers to take a closer look at their policies and procedures. With such heightened awareness of sexual harassment, employers may feel an inclination to resolve doubts in favor of the accuser.  A recent Second Circuit decision, however, illustrates a counterweight to this outlook.
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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a District Court’s ruling in favor of employer Medtronic, Inc. in a lawsuit alleging Medtronic unlawfully terminated employee Jose Valtierra’s employment because he was morbidly obese, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In doing so, the Court declined to decide whether morbid obesity is a disability, leaving this issue unsettled in the Ninth Circuit.
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The United States District Court for the Western District of New York recently granted an early dismissal of a class action lawsuit prior to class certification. According to plaintiffs in the case, the employer’s criminal background check policy for job applicants illegally discriminated against African-American job candidates.
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Yesterday, Governor Cuomo signed the last of several bills that massively overhauls New York State’s discrimination and harassment laws. Employers are advised to take a fresh look at their policies and practices to ensure that they are in line with all the recent changes in New York employment laws.
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After a nearly six-year legal battle, the Fifth Circuit has struck down the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2012 Enforcement Guidance on the consideration of criminal history in employment decisions.  On August 6, a three-judge panel held that the Guidance was a substantive rule the EEOC had no authority to issue and that the EEOC can no longer enforce the Guidance or treat it as binding in any respect.
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In a unanimous 9-0 decision authored by Justice Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a split amongst the circuit courts of whether filing a charge of discrimination pursuant to Title VII is a jurisdictional prerequisite or a claims-processing rule.
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There may be some changes coming to how California enforces its antidiscrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  In February 2017, a bill was introduced in the California Senate proposing to allow local government entities to enforce antidiscrimination statutes. 
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On October 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a formal letter on behalf of the United States Department of Justice stating the DOJ’s official position that Title VII “does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status,” officially retracting the DOJ’s previous position under the Obama Administration and setting up a direct conflict with the EEOC’s current position on the scope of Title VII.
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