An applicant for a job posting in education lists his most recent relevant experience as occurring in 1973.  You don’t bring him in for an interview.

Is it gender discrimination?

Beyond that, if he says that he is the most qualified candidate — do you have to hire him?

And if you don’t hire the most qualified person, is that evidence of gender discrimination?

No to all three, says one recent federal court decision.

The decision by the court was quietly released late last month and might otherwise go unnoticed, but it underscores an important point for employers.

In the matter, the Plaintiff argued that the employer discriminated against him because of his gender by denying him the opportunity for a job interview.   The employer chose four female and two male candidates for interviews.

The Plaintiff argued that he was more qualified than the female candidates who were interviewed and ultimately hired by the employer.

The court said, however, that the mere fact that the employer hired people of a different gender does not suggest that it failed to hire the Plaintiff “on account of his gender”.

Indeed, the employer had various reasons as to why the Plaintiff was not interviewed:

  • he hadn’t filled out the entire job application and didn’t answer whether he had any criminal offenses in the last ten years.
  • his resume was “perceived to be outdated, as the most recent job listing in education was from 1973.”

So, you might not think much of the case.

But the court’s decision is notable because it contains language that will be helpful in other cases for employers.  Says the court: “[T]here is no legal requirement that the most qualified candidate be hired.”

In doing so, the quote revisits a quote from an 1980 decision.

Title VII does not require that the candidate whom a court considers most qualified for a particular position be awarded that position; it requires only that the decision among candidates not be discriminatory. When a decision to hire, promote, or grant tenure to one person rather than another is reasonably attributable to an honest even though partially subjective evaluation of their qualifications, no inference of discrimination can be drawn. Indeed, to infer discrimination from a comparison among candidates is to risk a serious infringement of first amendment values. A university’s prerogative to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach is an important part of our long tradition of academic freedom.

All that being said, employers should have SOME rational basis for their decisions. Even if the candidate is “more qualified”, the employer may determine that there are other reasons why the employee should not be hired; maybe the employee’s qualifications cannot overcome a bad job interview, etc.

Keeping bias out of your decision-making process is central to employers.  But it’s nice to know that employers don’t have to be perfect in its determinations of qualifications either.

gavelIn an decision of first impression in Connecticut, a federal court on Friday ruled that a transgender discrimination claim based on a failure to hire can proceed under both Title VII and Connecticut’s counterpart, CFEPA.

While the groundbreaking decision in Fabian v. Hospital of Central Connecticut (download here)  is sure to be the subject of discussion, as the court notes, Connecticut has — in the interim — passed a state law explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Thus, for a few years now, Connecticut has already explicitly prohibited transgender discrimination under state law. (The case was based on facts that occurred before passage of the state’s anti-discrimination law.)

But the decision obviously goes further than that and takes up the logic advanced by the EEOC and others of late — namely that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination “because of…sex” should be read to include transgender discrimination.  The court’s opinion should be mandatory reading not only in the state, but for practitioners nationwide faced with similar claims.

The decision addresses the notion of gender-stereotyping discrimination noting that such discrimination is sex discrimination “per se”.  In the court’s view, the Supreme Court’s decision years ago in Price Waterhouse has led to a “significant shift in the direction of decisions examining alleged discrimination on the basis of transgender identity”.

In doing so, the court notes the split in the circuits that has been developing, even though the Second Circuit hasn’t truly spoken yet on the issue:

In sum, discrimination on the basis of transgender identity is now recognized as discrimination “because of sex” in the Ninth Circuit (as Schwenk recognized the abrogation of Holloway), the Sixth Circuit (as recognized in Smith), and in the Eleventh Circuit (as recognized in Glenn); and the E.E.O.C. (in Macy) and has agreed with that authority.  Discrimination on the basis of transgender identity is regarded as not constituting discrimination “because of sex” in the Tenth Circuit (under Etsitty). The continued vitality the pre–Price Waterhouse decisions in the Seventh and Eighth Circuits (Ulane II & Sommers, respectively)  is unclear.

Judge Underhill, who penned the decision, then goes on to discuss the language of “because of…sex” found in the statute itself.  He notes that:

discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes, or on the basis of being transgender, or intersex, or sexually indeterminate, constitutes  discrimination on the basis of the properties or characteristics typically manifested in sum as male and female — and that discrimination is literally discrimination “because of sex.”

On the basis of the plain language of the statute, and especially in light of the interpretation of that language evident in Price Waterhouse’s acknowledgement that gender-stereotyping discrimination is discrimination “because of sex,” I conclude that discrimination on the basis of transgender identity is cognizable under Title VII.

For employers in Connecticut, this decision is likely to be closely followed by other federal courts in Connecticut. Judge Underhill is well-regarded and until this decision gets reviewed by the Second Circuit, it’s hard to see how other judges in Connecticut will decline to follow it.

In other words, employers in Connecticut should be alert that a plaintiff may make a gender identity claim under Title VII in Connecticut.

But, as I noted at the top, this decision’s impact in Connecticut may be more muted because Connecticut has now explicitly protected gender identity in the state’s anti-discrimination statutes.

Nevertheless, the decision is an important one to read in the field of gender identity claims.

As I said before, the notion that this might be a quiet year for employment law legislation at the Connecticut General Assembly has long since left the train station.

Indeed, we’ve appear to be swinging completely in the opposite direction. Anything and everything appears up discussion and possible passage this year — including items that really stood no chance in prior years.

GA2I’ll leave it for the political pundits to analyze the why and the politics of it all. But for employers, some of these proposals are going to be very challenging, at best, if passed.

One such bill, which appeared this week on the “GO” list (meaning its ready for considering by both houses) is House Bill 6850, titled “An Act on Pay Equity and Fairness”.  Of course, you won’t find those words in the bill itself which is odd.  There is nothing about pay equity in the bill; indeed, it is much much broader than that.

It stands in contrast to, say, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which tried to tackle gender discrimination in pay directly.

This bill would make it illegal for employers to do three things. If passed, no employer (no matter how big or small) could:

  • Prohibit an employee from disclosing, inquiring about or discussing the amount of his or her wages or the wages of another employee;
  • Require an employee to sign a waiver or other document that purports to deny the employee his or her right to disclose, inquire 1about or discuss the amount of his or her wages or the wages of  another employee; or
  • Discharge, discipline, discriminate against, retaliate against or otherwise penalize any employee who discloses, inquires about or discusses the amount of his or her wages or the wages of another employee.

You might be wondering: Isn’t this first bill duplicative of federal law? And the answer is yes, and then it goes beyond it.  Federal labor law (the National Labor Relations Act) already protects two or more employees discussing improving their pay as a “protected concerted activity”.  It’s been on the books for nearly 80 years. So, as noted in an NPR article:

Under a nearly 80-year-old federal labor law, employees already can talk about their salaries at work, and employers are generally prohibited from imposing “pay secrecy” policies, whether or not they do business with the federal government.

This provision goes beyond that by making it improper for an employer to prohibit an employee from even disclosing another employee’s pay.

Continue Reading “Pay Secrecy” Bill Goes Above and Beyond Other Proposals

IIMG_9091 don’t care who you are: Somewhere, in a doctor’s waiting room, or a supermarket checkout line, you’ve seen the headlines of Cosmopolitan magazine.

But, as luck would have it as an employment lawyer, imagine my surprise when I saw this headline:

“He Did WHAT?! The Cosmo Guide to Surviving Sexual Harassment at Work“.

Of course, this was right below the $10 Beauty Bonanza headline, but for the sake of the blog, I was determined to get to the bottom of this.

But just then, the nurse called me back for the doctor’s appointment.  Oh well.

As luck would have it though, the articles are now online for all.  And while it would be easy to dismiss this as just “headlines”, it’s actually worth a passing read by employers. Cosmo did a survey of 2235 women on this issue and while I wouldn’t take the statistical authenticity all too seriously, the survey did have some surprising and troubling results.

I’ve read it so you don’t have to and here are the tips I’ve gleaned:

1. The women surveyed report a higher rate of harassment or sexual conduct in the workplace than you might think. 

Here are some of the findings:

  • One in three women aged 18-34 believes that they have been sexually harassed;
  • Just 29 percent of those who believe they have been harassed reported it to their employer;
  • 75 percent surveyed said it was male co-workers who sexually harassed them, though 50 percent or so report harassment by male clients or customers.

There are several takeaways from this but here are two: Harassment by co-workers is still prevalent and that a lot of it is going unreported.

2. There are ways to respond to harassment besides filing a claim.

In another article entitled “Six Ways to Respond to Sexual Harassment”, Cosmo provides some tips to its readers. Notably, the first tip is a solid one: Tell the person to stop.  And even more notably, filing a claim isn’t really listed as the best option.  Nevertheless, employers need to remind employees that they should report harassment (and must report it if, as a manager, they hear or see about it.)

3. Technology is a blessing and a curse.

Technology has been great for the workplaces. E-mail allows us to communicate better and faster, for example. But there is a dark side to it as well. The Cosmo article and survey reports 25 percent of the women who were harassed faced lewd texts or e-mails.  For employers, this is a constant reminder that your systems still need monitoring and employers ought to be reminded about what is (or is not) appropriate.

 

 

With Congress in gridlock, we haven’t seen any federal laws impacting employment law for several years. Instead, we’ve now started to see a lot more action at the state legislative level where proposals to modify everything from family leave to the minimum wage are being passed in, it seems, increasing numbers.

Therefore, what happens in other states is becoming much more important.  For instance, we saw that Connecticut was considering an immigration-related employment bill that was modeled on laws in other states. 

Because of this, and because many employers now have businesses in multiple states, I’ve asked my friend, Courtney Ward-Reichard, a shareholder at Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis, to share her insights about a pretty broad employment law bill that was just signed into law earlier this week in Minnesota.  While Connecticut already has adopted some of these items, others may be on the horizon, such as lowering the employee threshhold for family leave to 20 or more employees. After all, if one state has passed it, propoants can argue that Connecticut’s passage won’t put us as a competitive disadvantage when compared with similar states. 

In any event, my thanks to Courtney for her insights here.

On May 11, 2014, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed landmark legislation – a group of bills that became known as the Women’s Economic Security Act (“WESA”). WESA will most directly affect employers with operations and employees in Minnesota. But employers in Connecticut and elsewhere should take note: this legislation – or its components – may well serve as a model in other states.

Here are the most significant changes:

• Creates new protected class for familial status: WESA expands the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) by adding familial status as a new protected class. Employers will likely face new state charges and lawsuits alleging discrimination on the basis of this status, and victorious plaintiffs may seek not only damages, but also their attorneys’ fees. This expansion makes Minnesota unusual, as federal law and most states’ laws do not include familial status as a protected class. This change became effective the day after Governor Dayton signed the bill.

• Expands pregnancy and parenting leave: Covered employers (with over 20 employees) must provide up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees for: 1) the birth or adoption of a child; or 2) prenatal care, or incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions (for female employees). Employees may take the first type of leave within twelve months of the birth/after the child leaves the hospital. These changes will be effective July 1, 2014, and will affect numerous employers who are not covered by the federal FMLA. Employers will be allowed to require employees to use their sick leave during parental leave, and the leave will also run concurrently with any FMLA leave.

Continue Reading Guest Post: Women’s Economic Security Act May Serve As Model for Other States

Not every case that comes out from the Connecticut Appellate Court makes headlines.

Take the case of Walker v. Department of Children & Families, a new case that will be officially released next week (download here).

It is a fairly ordinary discrimination case — albeit a rare one where the employer has been successful on a motion for summary judgment. It is also a textbook example of how slow the legal system can be, with the court decision coming eight years after the employee was fired.

The plaintiff was hired as a social worker in June 2004 and was notified that he needed to successfully complete a “ten month working west period.”  His first performance review, about 10 weeks in, was generally favorable.  By December, though, he was transferred to a new unit and was required to prepare documents to be filed in court and attend court proceedings.

Continue Reading Appellate Court Upholds Summary Judgment for Employer

Let’s play the “law school hypothetical” game for a minute.  (I know, not as exciting as a cat being chosen in Monopoly, but bear with me.)

You hear the following allegations:

  • An gay, male employee starts works as a teacher in an “New Beginnings Alternative” program at a public school.
  • During his employment, he is subject to derogatory statements by a fellow teacher, a school police officer and a supervisor.
  • Allegedly a supervisor tells a social worker that the employee is “too flaming” or “too flamboyant”. Also, a fellow teacher is alleged to have said to the employee at a department meeting that “You are so overdramatic, you are being a bitch just like a woman.”
  • The employee is criticized for not being a “team player” and that his “apparent proneness towards using sarcasm and humor (that is often not understood by others) must change.”
  • The employee believes that the supervisor’s comments regarding how he and others cannot understand the employee’s sense of humor “stems from their divergent social views and pervasive stereotypes on gender and sexuality.”
  • Ultimately, the employee is informed that his contract may not be renewed which does, in fact, lead to a non-renewal of the contract.

Assuming, as you must for the moment, that the allegations are all true, does the employee have any claims? If so, what are they?

Continue Reading Can Being Called “Too Flamboyant” Be Basis for State Gender Discrimination Claim?

Over the last week, two unrelated stories caught my eye.  For employers, they are a reminder that claims of pay inequality based on gender are still something to be concerned about. 

Photo Courtesy Library of Congress c. 1943

The first story is that Governor Malloy announced plans for a new study to examine “factors that contribute to the gender wage gap in Connecticut’s workforce.” 

The study will be run by  new Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer and Department of Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith.  The Governor has asked the commissioners to make recommendations on the issue by October 2013.   

I’ve talked about this issue before; there are some who believe that the wage gap is overstated.  But the study will make headlines this year and this renewed focus in Connecticut on the issue should have employers revisiting their own practices.

The second story illustrates the claim in much more real world terms and shows the perils of trying to navigate your way through such claims. 

In Morse v. Pratt & Whitney, decided last week, a federal court — among other issues — denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment on an Title VII unequal pay claim.

Continue Reading Gender Inequality Claims Make Headlines in Case and in New Study

I have plenty of “guilty pleasures” when it comes to television watching.  Dancing with the Stars isn’t one of them.

Chaz Bono - Poster Child?

(Though considering how my Yankees did last night, I probably should’ve just changed the channel to watch DWTS instead).

But DWTS has a knack for making headlines (Bristol Palin, anyone?) and this season is no different.

Chaz Bono, the child of Sonny Bono and Cher, has been making headlines though for his appearance on the show.  H Chaz — formerly known as Chastity and who underwent sex reassignment surgery — is being credited by some as raising the issue of gender identity to the forefront in the United States.

His appearance comes at a fortuitous time, at least in Connecticut when it comes to gender identity issues.  A new gender identity anti-discrimination law went into effect over the weekend and employers need to be aware of the implications of this law in the workplace.  (I’ve previously recapped the law here.)

An article in this week’s Connecticut Law Tribune has many attorneys opining on what the impact will be of this new law.

Perhaps the only thing that all the attorneys agreed upon is that courts may be asked to resolve the ambiguities present.

With the enactment of Connecticut’s new law, however, some questions are bound to surface, lawyers agree. “That’s why courts exist,” said [Joshua] Hawks-Ladds, of Pullman & Comley. “Having litigated discrimination cases for over 20 years now, I can tell you these types of laws often result in litigation over subtle definitions and meanings.”

For employers, that means that these issues — including enforcement of dress codes and use of bathrooms — will need to be carefully considered as the parameters are defined.

 

As I’ve lamented from my very first post, too often the press focuses on new cases that are brought without placing them in context. Yet every month, federal and state courts in Connecticut consider dozens of employment law cases that never make the headlines.

What We Can Learn...

One such case is Jacobs v. Connecticut Community Technical Colleges, decided by the federal court a few weeks ago. In that case, an instructor at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, claimed that he was discriminated against based on his gender and sexual orientation.

But the court dealt with this matter on summary judgment in a fairly routine basis.  From a legal perspective, there isn’t anything novel about the decision.

First, it found that sexual orientation claims are not covered by federal law — not a surprising development at all. Second, it found that many of his allegations were time-barred (each discrimination claim has a deadline by which it must be brought).

Third, it said that even on the remaining claims of discrimination and retaliation, the employee had not satisfied the “prima facie” case — the bare minimum that a plaintiff must show to get past this stage of the case. While he claimed that his teaching schedule was materially different from female faculty members, the court failed to see that and said that any differences could not be attributed to his gender.

So, if this case is so routine, why do I bring this up? Because the press tends to focus on the sensational cases.

But there are dozens of cases like this that occur all the time and they’re still time-consuming, tedious, and ultimately costly to the employer. Even cases like this one that, in the court’s view, don’t seem to have much merit, have to be litigated, briefed and fought. Employers that are ultimately in the right, may still have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees to get to that point.

And you’re not likely to see those points in the headlines.