Category Archives: EEOC

Top 10 Reasons to Test Adverse Impact Correctly

This one caught my eye. Not that I’ve been a big David Letterman watcher (past my bedtime), but — as Merrily Archer put it in this 101390464 -- gavel and law booksLinkedIn post — “resuscitating the Top Ten list one last time” before it’s long forgotten was intriguing.

Even more intriguing was the content of her post, Top 10 Reasons to Acquire Adverse Impact Testing Skills — starting with 10. “The [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission]’s ‘Systemic Initiative’ to eliminate ‘discriminatory barriers in hiring’ — i.e., qualification standards — [was] launched nearly 10 years ago on April 4, 2006 — it’s not too late to catch up!” …

And ending with “the No. 1 reason HR practitioners and in-house employment counsel must understand the theory behind adverse impact analyses and how to conduct them: Turning over applicant flow data — or a hiring database — to the EEOC or in discovery that you have not analyzed for adverse impact is like disclosing a packet of documents that you’ve not read — i.e., legal malpractice!!”

Archer — an employment-discrimination litigator, legal coach and creator of the EEO Legal Solutions website — is very passionate about imparting what she knows about navigating your way through the ever-more-aggressive EEOC. She began her career as a trial attorney there and knows how it works. Or make that knows how it’s supposed to work and not supposed to work.

“I feel strongly that everyone needs to know how to test for AI and how to analyze their own hiring data, especially before turning anything over to the EEOC,” she says. “I’ve seen attorneys at big law firms hand over entire databases in response to an EEOC request for information, without having a clue about what the data actually reveals.”

For anyone who may not know, adverse impact, according to this post on USLegal.com, “refers to employment practices that appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on a protected group. ”

More specifically, it says:

“Under the EEOC guidelines, adverse impact is defined as a substantially different rate of selection in hiring, promotion or other employment decision which works to the disadvantage of members of a race, sex or ethnic group. The EEOC agencies have adopted a rule of thumb under which they will generally consider a selection rate for any race, sex or ethnic group which is less than four-fifths or 80 percent of the selection rate for the group with the highest selection rate as a substantially different rate of selection. The selection rates for males and females are compared, and the selection rates for the race and ethnic groups are compared with the selection rate of the race or ethnic group with the highest selection rate.”

Sounds pretty convoluted, doesn’t it? In reality, it’s all about the calculations, so EEO and legal consultants would be advised. That said, though, Archer’s No. 7 reason to acquire these skills is worth noting: “Using FREE online adverse-impact calculators … is EASY, even for the math-phobics — i.e., lawyers.”

The Center for Corporate Equality, in its Technical Advisory Committee Report on Best Practices in Adverse Impact Analyses, says determining whether selection, promotion and termination decisions result in adverse impact — i.e., whether “substantial differences in employment outcomes across groups exist” — is an extremely important topic for organizations, yet “there is limited guidance about the specific and proper ways in which these analyses should be conducted.”

In the EEOC’s “Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures,” adverse impact falls under Section 4, item D.  It doesn’t offer much in the way of calculation help, but if you’re not perfectly clear on everything it says, you’d best read up, says Archer. Better yet, consider yourself warned, by her:

“[Many] defense attorneys put employers at the mercy of the EEOC’s AI analysis, which is likely statistically flawed, based on inaccurate assumptions about the hiring process and actual applicant flow, and calculated to maximize ‘shortfalls’ — i.e., the difference between the expected and actual number of hires in that minority, gender or age group — for settlement negotiations.

“Attorneys can be so myopic: ‘If they didn’t teach it in law school, it must not be relevant.’ Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true. … This area of law is still pretty nascent, but one day soon, I’m convinced that failing to audit for AI will become malpractice — it’s just part of the standard of care and protection that employers need in the systemic era.”

A few other compelling reasons to perfect your AI skills, from Archer’s Top 10:

“9. Since the EEOC shifted its enforcement focus nearly 10 years ago, ‘systemic discrimination’ has become the new phrase that PAYS at the EEOC and among employee-side lawyers.

8. The EEOC uses specific statistical tests to measure whether a challenged practice — e.g., criminal-background check, educational standard — has an ‘adverse impact’ and to calculate damages in conciliation negotiations: HR practitioners and attorneys MUST know how the database will be analyzed and what the numbers say.

2. EEOC systemic cases that have reached litigation demonstrate a high likelihood that the EEOC will [do the AI analysis of your database incorrectly] in a way that hurts [you,] the employer.”

 

 

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Mixed Interpretations of Mach Mining Decision

Reactions to last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Mach Mining v. EEOC are plentiful, and mixed. The decision essentially came down 78805354 -- Supreme Court for left sidein favor of employers and against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but just who the real winner is — and by how much — is subject to interpretation.

In the case, Mach Mining was accused by the EEOC of discriminating against women who applied for jobs at its Johnson City, Ill., coal mine. The EEOC filed suit in 2008 after an unsuccessful job applicant complained to the agency that the company never hired a female miner.

In response, Mach argued for an intensive federal-court review of conciliation efforts the EEOC should have engaged in, but Mach argued were not carried out — as required under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — prior to the company being sued.

“In language that is sure to be repeated back to the EEOC for years to come, the Supreme Court held that ‘[a]bsent such review, the commission’s compliance with the law would rest in the commission’s hands alone,’ ” say Seyfarth Shaw attorneys Gerald L. Maatman Jr., Christopher Cascino and Matthew Gagnon in this blog post. “This, the Supreme Court said, would be contrary to ‘the court’s strong presumption in favor of judicial review of administrative action.’ ” They go on:

“While the Supreme Court did not rule that the intensive review that Mach Mining argued for was required, the case nevertheless represents a significant win for employers and resounding defeat for the EEOC. The EEOC will no longer be able to file suit against employers after paying mere lip-service to its conciliation efforts, and to give them the back of the hand in response to requests for fulsome information about liability and exposure in a threatened lawsuit. And employers will, as a result, be in a better position to settle meritorious claims  on reasonable terms before the EEOC files suit, thus saving employers from unnecessary litigation expense.”

But not so fast. According to points raised by Jon Nadler, a Philadelphia-based employment attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, the ruling is actually a win for the EEOC, despite the prevailing commentary and headlines. Though the court ruled the EEOC’s conciliation efforts are subject to some judicial review, “that review is extremely limited (‘relatively barebones,’ in the court’s words,” his notification says.

On the contrary, it goes on, the “EEOC will merely need to show it provided the employer with notice of the allegations — the specific alleged unlawful practices, and identification of those allegedly harmed — and to engage in some bilateral communication with the employer in an attempt to resolve the matter.”

Nevertheless, Nadler points out, though employers have complained in some instances that the EEOC “failed even to provide this basic information, now [it’s] clearly required.”

Further, in points raised by Don Lewis, shareholder with Nilan Johnson Lewis, the Supreme Court also chose not to adopt a “good faith” standard of review previously adopted by the Fourth, Sixth and Tenth Circuits. “Employers,” his notice reads, “will be pleased that the high court has recognized that the EEOC’s obligation to conciliate is enforceable in court, and that its obligation includes a requirement to disclose and discuss the essential elements of its claims and identify the parties for which it seeks relief.”

Meanwhile, in this posting, the EEOC calls the decision a “step forward for victims of discrimination” in its rejection of the “intrusive review proposed by the company and its supporters.”

The agency goes on to say that the “court recognized … the scope of review is narrow and a sworn affidavit is generally sufficient to meet the statutory requirements. If the employer has concrete evidence that such efforts were not made and the court finds in favor of the employer,” it says, “the remedy is [simply] further conciliation.”

This story on the Inside Counsel site, written in January after oral arguments were presented in the case, offers great background on the history, arguments and questions surrounding all this.

So what does it mean? Obviously, it depends on who you talk to … on whose glass is half full or otherwise. Yes, the scope of judicial review articulated in the decision “is a narrow one,” Maatman and company write, but bottom line, the court “vigorously upheld the fundamental principle that judicial review of administrative action [however slight] is [still] the norm in our legal system.”

Further, they state, “the EEOC now has to present its position in a federal court, and its litigation strategies are apt to be very different when it must justify and show the basis for its conciliation positions before a neutral fact-finder.” In their words,

“Suffice it to say, employers’ defense of ‘failure-to-conciliate’ is still alive and well, and the EEOC’s litigation strategies are now likely to be in need of rebooting.”

Or not …

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More in the Coffer to Help Prisoners Find Jobs

It wasn’t that long ago (little more than a month) that I was blogging about an announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor that it was 126268666 -- prisoner workingcreating a $5 million funding opportunity to link inmates to jobs before they’re even released.

The idea there was to place American Job Centers inside local jails where soon-to-be-released prisoners would be able to access job-placement services and counseling to increase their chances of getting work without going through that uneasy “limbo” between living behind bars and earning a living.

Now, again from the DOL, comes significantly more, as this release announces: a whopping $27 million to fund its Training to Work-Adult Re-entry grant program to help, as its release says, “thousands of soon-to-be-released inmates become productive citizens.”

I wish I could tell you specifically how the two programs differ. Numerous calls and emails to the DOL went unanswered. But that doesn’t really matter. What does is the added help — significant help — ex-cons will be getting to rejoin the workforce and the world.

According to the announcement, the department expects to award about 20 grants with a maximum value of $1,360,000 each to provide training and employment services for men and women, ages 18 and older (including veterans), who participate in state or local work-release programs.

The approach is designed to link and coordinate education and training services for these people to get industry-recognized credentials. Those credentials will, in turn, help them find meaningful work (translated: not just assembly line and blue-collar) and give employers what they need to fill their gaps in growing sectors and industries.

Having personal experience with this — a relative who is now trying to re-enter society after paying his dues for some very bad life choices — I confess, what U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez has to say about this latest move resonates with me:

“A good job gives a person a sense of dignity and purpose. It enables [him or her] to find a decent place to live and enjoy a hot meal at home. Good jobs are a pathway to the middle class. Those who have paid their debt to society deserve the opportunity to find and hold useful employment. It puts money in their pocket, most of which is pumped back into the economy. In the best America, everyone shares our prosperity. That’s what these grants can make possible.”

Of course, all the money in the world can’t buy a guarantee that all hiring managers will leave all bias at the door when they enter the interview room. Or follow all the steps of the interview process laid out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its background-check guidelines, including when it’s appropriate to discuss an applicant’s past incarceration.

But it’s safe to say most employers would have to look favorably on an ex-prisoner’s initiative to get the education and credentialing he or she needs to succeed in that particular job in that particular organization in that particular industry.

If there are closed minds out there, this can only help to open them.

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Men Need Not Apply?

76161057That’s the message Ruby Tuesday Inc. is sending some of its workers, according to a lawsuit recently filed by the EEOC, which accuses the restaurant chain of excluding male employees from consideration for coveted temporary assignments at a Utah resort.

Brought on behalf of male Ruby Tuesday employees Andrew Herrera and Joshua Bell, the suit claims an internal Ruby Tuesday job posting violated equal opportunity employment laws from the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991.

More specifically, the EEOC claim alleges that, in the spring of 2013, Ruby Tuesday posted an internal announcement within a 10-state region advertising temporary bartender and server positions in the chain’s Park City, Utah location, with company-provided housing for those selected. Herrera—a Ruby Tuesday employee since 2005 in Corvallis, Ore.—was one of at least two male workers who wanted to apply for one of the positions, “because of the chance to earn more money in the busy summer resort town,” according to an EEOC statement.

The announcement, however, stated that “only females would be considered, and Ruby Tuesday in fact selected only women for those summer jobs, supposedly from fears about housing employees of both genders together,” according to the EEOC.

What may be most surprising about this particular case is “that Ruby Tuesday was pretty upfront about wanting only women to apply for the positions,” according to a recent Washington Post article.

Ruby Tuesday did not immediately respond to the Post’s requests for comment. But if the Maryville, Tenn.-based chain did in fact make clear it would only seriously consider women for these roles, such a move would be a “rare” and “explicit example” of gender discrimination, says William R. Tamayo, a San Francisco-based regional attorney for the EEOC.

“This suit is a cautionary tale to employers,” says Tamayo, “that sex-based employment decisions are rarely justified, and are not consistent with good business judgment.”

This certainly does seem like a unique case, and we’ll have to wait and see if more suits like this one begin to emerge.

But making positions such as those sought by Andrew Herrera and his male colleagues available to men could not only boost overall labor conditions, but may actually help level the playing field for women in some industries, according to UCLA Law Professor Noah Zatz.

“Jobs constructed as being for women pay less [and] have fewer promotional opportunities,” Zatz told TakePart.

“Busting up that single-sex monopoly in waitressing, in-flight service and nursing, for example, could be a strategy for disrupting the ways jobs are disadvantageous to women.”

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Supremes Look at EEOC’s Role in Conciliation

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a key employment case that addresses whether a court may enforce the EEOC’s duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit, legal experts say.

In the Mach Mining case, the EEOC alleged that Mach Mining had discriminated against a class of female job applicants at its mine near Johnston City, Ill. The EEOC notified the company of its intention to begin informal conciliation, and while the parties discussed possible resolution, they did not reach an agreement.

In the federal case, Mach Mining argued that the suit should be dismissed because the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith. Then, in 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that an alleged failure to conciliate is not an affirmative defense to the merits of an employment-discrimination suit brought by the EEOC.

Gerald Maatman Jr., co-chair of the class action defense group of Seyfarth Shaw, says the Mach Mining case has significant implications for employers that are dealing with the EEOC.

“If the Supreme Court sides with the Seventh Circuit, employers will lose a powerful defense against the EEOC’s aggressive litigation tactics,” he wrote recently in Seyfarth’s Workplace Class Action Blog.

Maatman also says the Seventh Circuit’s decision had “far-reaching, real world significance to the employment community, for it means the EEOC is virtually immune from review in terms of the settlement positions it takes… prior to suing employers.”

In the amicus brief in support of Mach Mining on behalf of the American Insurance Association, Mr. Maatman and Seyfarth Shaw argue that insurers and employers facing EEOC litigation require detailed information in order to accurately set reserves and ensure that any settlement not only promptly and fairly compensates meritorious claims, but also satisfies the interests of insurance regulators.

Their brief contends that the Seventh Circuit’s ruling is “wrong as a matter of policy, since it is fundamental to the litigation process for a party to have fulsome information relative to the claims at issue. The Congressionally-mandated conciliation process was intended to provide that core knowledge;

“This is particularly important in EEOC-initiated litigation, where one of the government’s fundamental mandates is to achieve voluntary and informal compliance with anti-discrimination laws.”

And some of the reasoning behind the Seventh Circuit’s decision, as well as similar reasoning in the briefing the EEOC recently submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court—i.e., that it is essentially “too difficult” to articulate a workable standard for determining whether the EEOC met its good-faith conciliation requirement—defies practical experience, adds Steven Pearlman, partner and member of Proskauer’s employment litigation & arbitration group.

Moreover,  says Pearlman, if no limiting principle is imposed in this context, “the EEOC will be empowered to employ an unreasonable ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ approach to pre-suit settlement negotiations. In fact, courts recently have chided and even sanctioned the EEOC for engaging in such tactics.”

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Looking Ahead at Litigation Trends

looking aheadIf December was the time for workplace experts to parse the year that just went by, then January is when those same experts shift into prediction mode and forecast what may happen in the 12 months ahead.

In its 11th annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, Chicago-based labor and employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw does a bit of both.

The 844-page report, an executive summary of which is available here, analyzed 1,219 class-action rulings on a circuit-by-circuit and state-by-state basis to “capture key themes from 2014 and emerging trends facing U.S. companies in 2015,” according to a Seyfarth Shaw press release.

For example, two cases—Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes and Comcast Corp. v. Behrend—continued to serve as “the most influential ‘pivot points’ for Rule 23 decisions in 2014, having a wide-ranging impact on virtually all class actions pending in federal and state courts,” the report notes. According to Seyfarth Shaw, Wal-Mart was cited 571 times across lower federal and state courts in 2014, while Comcast was cited 261 times, “which in turn generated a bevy of new case law.”

These decisions have reshaped settlement strategies, according to the report, which found governmental enforcement litigation settlements dropping to their lowest levels in a decade last year, while ERISA settlements shot up nearly tenfold from 2013. (Employment discrimination and wage-and-hour class-action settlements remained flat, however.)

Other key trends the Seyfarth Shaw report sees as poised to continue in 2015 include:

  • Wage-and-hour litigation, which represents the prime litigation risk in the workplace, as case filings increased yet again in 2014.
  • FLSA collective actions and state law wage-and-hour class actions, which produced more decisions than any other area of complex employment litigation in 2014.
  • The Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continued their aggressive litigation approaches with mixed results in 2014, marked by several losses in the federal courts and their lowest aggregate settlement recoveries since 2006.
  • The Class Action Fairness Act, which experienced a “transformative” year in 2014, solidifying defense strategies to secure removal of class actions to federal courts.

“In response to recent Supreme Court decisions on class-action issues, Rule 23 law is undergoing a major transformation, and as a result, employers litigated an increased number of novel defenses in 2014,” says Gerald L. Maatman Jr., co-chair of Seyfarth Shaw’s class-action defense group and author of this year’s report.

“At the same time, wage-and-hour class actions and collective actions also continued their meteoric rise to new record levels, while the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advanced their litigation agendas in an aggressive fashion,” continues Maatman. “All told, employers face a much more challenging landscape for defending workplace class-action litigation in 2015.”

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EEOC Adds Pregnancy Cases to Controversy

Just an update for those who are following the recent pregnancy-discrimination guidelines issued by the Equal Employment 490128943 -- pregnanct employeeOpportunity Commission — despite the controversy some think the agency created amidst the pending U.S. Supreme Court consideration of Young v. United Parcel Inc.:  The EEOC isn’t waiting on the high court before filing or settling pregnancy-discrimination lawsuits either.

According to the EEOC’s website, press releases were issued on nine lawsuits filed and two settlements since the agency issued its updated Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues on July 14.

Here, for your information — should you choose to venture into this much reading — are all the cases the EEOC has filed and listed on its website against employers accused of pregnancy discrimination since the guidance was issued, from most recent to oldest:

All the suits in question accuse the businesses of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

“I am surprised that this issue continues to be a recurring theme in the workplace in this day and age,” says Robert Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office, which filed the Pharmacy Solutions lawsuit. “We hope that by continuing to increase public awareness through our law-enforcement efforts, we will see more of an awakening by some companies about the right of a woman to hold on to her job and to earn a living when she is expecting and during her maternity leave.”

But critics of the EEOC’s assertiveness and timing in issuing its guidance — which was the focus of this HREOnline news analysis I wrote back in July — say adding cases to the pregnancy-discrimination docket only clutters an already-cluttered legal landscape.

“With its new pregnancy enforcement guidance still in its first trimester, the EEOC has set about vigorously pursuing companies that do not comply,” thereby filling the courts with more to work on as the Supreme Court hearing has yet to be scheduled,  says Philip Voluck, managing partner in the Blue Bell, Pa., office of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck.

“Since the EEOC first gave birth [pun intended, no doubt] to the guidance in July, it has inserted itself as plaintiff in at least nine federal-court lawsuits against employers [allegedly] discriminating against pregnant employees,” he says. “Each decision is accompanied by rather strong remarks from the [agency], which state quite clearly its intent to induce an ‘awakening’ by employers and erase ‘archaic prejudices’ still held by companies toward pregnant women.”

The issue up for consideration in Young v. UPS is whether an employer — in this case, UPS —  is required under the PDA to offer light-duty work to pregnant employees with restrictions, even if light-duty work is available for certain categories of nonpregnant employees.

“This is precisely the issue the Supreme Court has yet to take up,” Voluck told me back in July, “and that decision won’t come out until next year some time. “I honestly have no idea why this was issued at this time,” he said then. “A power move? I have no idea.

“It’s like the Perfect Storm, these two entities colliding,” he said, referring to the 2000 movie, “though my crystal ball tells me there’s no doubt the Supreme Court will expand the rights of pregnant women.”

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Employers Missing ADA Coverage in FMLA Cases

Employers are missing half of Family and Medical Leave Act cases involving employees’ serious illnesses that should also have been reviewed for Americans with Disabilities Act eligibility.

462011275 - disability and gavelThis according to Chicago-based ComPsych, in this report issued last week, June 24 to be exact, titled The Risk of Non-Compliance With ADA. The report breaks down by certain industries the percentage of FMLA cases that need ADA review, yet are being missed.

They include: retail at 13.2 percent, health services at 10.9 percent, manufacturing at 6.8 percent, public administration at 6.7 percent, trades at 6.5 percent and professional services at 5.9 percent.

These numbers, says Matt Morris, a vice president and licensed attorney at ComPsych, are “significant.”

“A common mistake employers make,” he says, “is to deem an FMLA leave request as ineligible, then not review it for ADA purposes.”

The potential consequences of such oversight “can be severe,” says Morris, “since one ADA misstep can lead to an investigation of the employer’s entire leave practices.” Hence the rash of recent ADA class-action lawsuits by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he adds.

Indeed, the EEOC is coming off a record 2013 in terms of ADA penalties paid out by employers, a whopping $109.2 mill. Here are just three of the most sizable payments: $6.2 million by Sears Holding Co. involving 235 plaintiffs, $3.2 million by SuperValu involving 110 plaintiffs and $20 million by Verizon.

I asked Morris for a good example of an ineligible FMLA leave that would be covered under the ADA. Here’s what he said:

An employee has been at the company for six months and breaks his leg. He needs time off for rehab and to recoup, but is denied FMLA leave because he hasn’t been employed long enough. In this case, the employer should still review for ADA accommodation.”

Basically any ineligible FMLA leave for the employee’s own health condition (obviously not for baby bonding, etc.) has the potential to be an ADA leave, he tells me. “Although a ‘serious health condition’ under the FMLA and a ‘disability’ under the ADA are both two different standards, they are each very likely applicable to a health condition that forces someone to be out of work,” says Morris. And while the FMLA requires an employee to have been employed for 12 months and worked 1,250 hours in the last 12 months in order to be eligible, the ADA has no such standard. So, an ineligible FMLA employee still may have an ADA disability.

Perhaps the most common ADA misstep is waiting for an employee to “raise her hand” to request an ADA accommodation specifically or by name, Morris says. Courts have been clear that the “notice requirements under the ADA are nearly identical to those under the FMLA,” he says, but employers often don’t recognize that requests for FMLA leave are “hidden” requests for an accommodation — i.e., leave — under the ADA.

Interestingly, he tells me, employers all share a common misstep, which is that the company created and tried to enforce a standard policy — strange, in part, because generally this is exactly what HR tries to do: create uniformity and equality.

“But … they don’t consider whether the leave should be continued on a case-by-case basis,” says Morris. Maybe the more important thing is to note how easily one mistake can turn into something broader. What can happen — and, in fact, has been the way most of these cases start, he says — is:

1) The employee has an adverse action taken against her (usually, she’s fired).

2) She files a charge of discrimination with the EEOC (such charges are free to file, don’t require a lawyer, and often list several bases on which the employee believes she was discriminated against — for instance, race, sex, religion and then disability).

3) If the EEOC determines that, in that one case, the disability policy had a uniform cutoff — what it calls an ‘inflexible’ policy — it then uses its subpoena power to request the names of all employees who were subject to that policy (fired because they crossed that inflexible line).

4) The EEOC then sues on behalf of all, or most, employees subject to the policy and suddenly there are hundreds of plaintiffs.”

Thus far, this has only arisen because the policy was clear (“if you take more than X amount of time on leave, your job will not be protected”), but even if employers are detecting the right employees [for FMLA leave], they still have to have the expertise to apply such ADA standards as “reasonable accommodation,” “undue hardship” and “significant limitations (of a major life function)” appropriately.

So what should you be keeping top-of-mind? Here’s Morris’ caution:

Employers have been pining for three to four years for additional guidance from the EEOC on how to conduct the interactive process (how to determine a ‘reasonable’ amount of time, etc.). Chances are, given indications from the EEOC itself, the guidance will not come soon. Until then, employers will still be held responsible for appropriately applying these vague standards to a host of factors (e.g., What does the employee do? Could others help? Are there other jobs she could do? How long will the disability last? Are there things [you] can do to help reduce the time?)”

Hope this is helpful.

 

 

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Chamber Renders a Scathing EEOC Assessment

85449254 -- gavel and flagI have Michael J. Lotito’s LinkedIn group, Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute, to thank for cluing me in to this latest blast against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that is so weighty with criticism, it comes in two parts: one, an examination of what it calls the agency’s “unreasonable enforcement efforts,” and two, a detailed review of its “unsuccessful 2013 amicus program, in which its legal interpretations were rejected by federal courts approximately 80 percent of the time.”

The conclusions of each part give a clear sense of just how scathing this assessment of the EEOC is. Here’s part one’s:

Combating discrimination in the workplace is a worthy goal and one that the Chamber supports. However … EEOC’s abusive enforcement tactics can no longer be ignored. While some federal judges are pushing back in some cases, EEOC clearly has not received the message. Moreover, relying on judges as the final check on EEOC enforcement is often a case of ‘too little, too late': by that time, employers have already spent significant time and resources defending themselves against unmeritorious allegations. In other words, even when employers win, they lose. The time has come for EEOC to adopt institutional procedures to provide for internal accountability, more efficient use of resources and adherence to its own statutory conciliation requirement. If EEOC continues to ignore the problem, then Congress should use its oversight authority to install much needed safeguards within EEOC.”

And here’s part two’s:

Whether EEOC’s 2013 amicus program’s success is measured on a pure numerical won/los[t] basis, or on the importance of the substantive interpretations of federal law it supported in its amicus efforts, one thing is clear: It was an overwhelming failure. What’s more, the courts’ rejection of EEOC’s underlying regulatory guidance leaves employers searching as to where to find accurate, reliable guidance on their legal obligations under federal non-discrimination laws. And, with a fully staffed Commission, several new guidance positions are possible on a broad range of topics including: wellness plans, reasonable accommodations, pregnancy and national-origin discrimination, and credit-related background checks. Of course, whether any future guidance would fare better than EEOC’s 2013 track record is unknown. However, if the best predictor of future performance is past performance, in light of EEOC’s 2013 amicus performance, it is unlikely.”

I contacted Christine Nazer, public spokesperson for the EEOC, to get her agency’s reaction to this hefty slap. Here’s what she had to say: “The EEOC’s litigation program is a critical part of the success of our mission to stop and remedy unlawful employment discrimination. By any measure, the EEOC has achieved a remarkable record at trial in recent years: We prevailed in nine out of 10 jury trials in 2013.  The agency also takes the concerns raised by members of Congress seriously, and will continue to work with them to ensure the nation’s workplaces are safe and free of discrimination.”

Still, as we report in our July-August HRE cover story, “Get Ready to Rumble,” which went live earlier today, and in last year’s June 16 cover story, “Watch Your Step!” the EEOC does, indeed, need to be reckoned with by employers and their HR departments because of its stepped-up enforcement tactics. And when it does come knocking, and it will, you and your counsel better be prepared with well-documented answers and proof of compliance.

Mind you, as the Chamber points out, and as many news stories and blog posts by us corroborate, including this one of mine on April 17, the agency hasn’t exactly been without its missteps in trying to carry that enhanced enforcement out.

But EEOC missteps haven’t stopped the agency from marching in and clamping down. At least, not yet.

As Merrily Archer — a Denver-based attorney, head of EEO Legal Solutions and a former staff attorney with the EEOC — put it in a recent blog post quoted by writer Will Bunch in “Get Ready to Rumble,” EEOC lawyers and human resource executives should ideally be acknowledging their shared goals in reducing discrimination — “but that level of peace and understanding is not likely anytime soon.”

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A Big Potential Win for Telecommuting

telecommutingJane Harris, a resale steel buyer for Ford Motor Co., suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and sought accommodation from her employer to work from home four days per week, as her job mostly involved contact with suppliers and co-workers via phone and computer. Ford denied her request and later terminated her.

Harris and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against Ford, charging that the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it denied Harris’ request to work from home as an accommodation for her IBS. The agency also charged that Ford’s firing of Harris was in retaliation after she filed a charge with the EEOC alleging discrimination under the ADA.

A lower court ruled in the company’s favor, holding that attendance at the job site was an essential function of Harris’ job and that her disability-related absences meant she was not a “qualified” individual under the ADA. The court also said the EEOC could not prove Harris’ firing was retaliatory because it was based on attendance and performance issues that pre-dated her charge filed with the EEOC.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District reversed the lower court’s rulings on both counts and said that the EEOC’s claim against Ford has enough merit to go to trial.

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez hailed the ruling as “the latest in a series of cases ensuring persons with disabilities are allowed the opportunity to use their talents fully.” The court’s decision “reaffirms the employer’s important obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation unless it can show it results in undue hardship,” he said in a statement.

For its part, Ford issued a statement that seems to suggest it will appeal the decision:

“Ford is disappointed with the court’s decision, which conflicts with earlier rulings by this court and other courts. We are evaluating our options for further review.”

Pavneet Singh Uppal, an employment attorney and regional manager partner with Fisher & Phillips in Phoenix, told the Phoenix Business Journal that the ruling could mean telecommuting is a viable option for accommodating disabled employees:

Under the ADA, regular and predictable attendance is usually considered to be an essential job function. In prior years, attendance meant physically showing up for work in person. However, as this case shows, employers must respond to technological advances. … [Telecommuting] cannot be summarily rejected and must be considered as one possible type of reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee.”

 

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