Tuesday, April 24, 2012

EEOC says federal law protects transgender status

In a precedent-setting ruling, the EEOC last week ruled unanimously that federal gender discrimination law apply to discrimination against transgender people. The ruling held that discrimination against a person based on their gender status is, in fact, sex (i.e. gender) discrimination and prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964. Several federal courts have previously ruled that discrimination against transgender persons amounts to gender discrimination, but the EEOC ruling is particularly significant because the federal agency prosecutes and enforces discrimination laws and thus sets a national standard for their interpretation.

In Massachusetts, the state's discrimination law was recently amended to expressly cover transgender status. The amendment goes into effect July 1, 2012.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Colleges facing increased litigation from both the accused and accusers in sexual assault cases

The Boston Globe published an interesting article on Saturday about the competing demands on institutes of higher education caused by sex-related crimes. On the one hand, institutions face liability from female victims when their policies do not sufficiently protect students from such attacks. On the other hand, accused male students are now beginning to file claims of gender discrimination based on the theory that such policies are biased against male students. This isn't an employment discrimination issue, of course, but it's indicative of the difficulties that decision-makers and employers face in balancing the rights of employees who allege harassment and discrimination versus the rights of the accused.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Iowa judge rejects implicit bias lawsuit

Back in February, I posted about a class-action discrimination lawsuit in Iowa against the state government based on the novel theory of "implicit bias." The claim asserted that the class members could recover for unconscious discrimination in the government's hiring practice and attempted to prove that claim through statistics alone. A state court judge has now rejected that theory and dismissed the case. The judge ruled that the Plaintiffs did not prove that "subjective, discretionary decision-making" caused any discriminatory hiring or promotional decisions. The judge also wrote that there was no legal precedent for the Plaintiffs' implicit bias theory.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Indefinite leave not a reasonable accommodation, federal court rules

Employers are not required to allow indefinite leaves of absence as an accommodation to disabled employees, according to a recent decision from the District of Massachusetts federal court. Whether disability discrimination laws, like the American with Disabilities Act and Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, mandate leaves of absence as an accommodation has been hotly contested. Both laws require that an employer provider a "reasonable accommodation" to disabled employees, provided that the employee can perform the essential job functions with (or without) such an accommodation. What the federal court ruled is that an indefinite leave is not reasonable, and therefore not required. The ruling is supported by a previous ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. However, as the federal court recognized, a limited leave of absence, and extensions on an existing leave of absence, may be reasonable accommodations under a specific factual situation where there is a definite end date to the leave.