Food company settles OFCCP charges of adverse impact hiring discrimination. A national food distributor has agreed to pay approximately $200,000 and change its hiring practices. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) charged that the company’s hiring practices discriminated against women. In a nine-month period, the company hired only six out of 90 qualified female applicants (6.6%) for “order selector” positions at one of its facilities. Out of the male applicants, the company hired 40 of 150 qualified applicants (26.6%). The OFCCP considered this disparity too great to be random and too great to avoid a conclusion of gender discrimination. The situation was heightened by evidence that a number of the rejected female applicants had experience and credentials which were equal to and greater than the men who were hired. The settlement monies will go to women who were not hired, and a number of those will also be offered jobs. This was a no-fault settlement because it was reached in a conciliation process, before the OFCCP proceeded to the enforcement stage. OFCCP v. Nash Finch Co. (Administrative Settlement, 2012).
Religion/National Origin Discrimination
Offensive mannequin and one comment were not enough to create harassment case. A Jewish hospital employee of Mexican origin filed a case on religious/national origin’ harassment and for retaliatory discharge after he complained about the harassment. The harassment consisted of three incidents. There were mannequins in one area of the hospital. The supervisor noticed that one had a “Hitler-style mustache” and thought it would be funny to position the arm in a Nazi salute. The Jewish-Mexican employee saw this, was offended and put the arm back down before the end of the day. He then called the internal complaint hotline about the offensive incident. During the call he also stated that he heard that the same supervisor had previously referred to the hospital’s cleaning crew as “those Mexicans,” allegedly in a negative tone. The employee then transferred to another location. At that location he was critiqued for performance issues and complaints by patients about his work. This critique eventually led to discharge. He filed a Title VII case on religion, national origin and retaliation. In the case, he added the evidence that the supervisor who posed the mannequin had also once noticed the large Star of David necklace worn by the employee and said, “That’s gaudy!” This was further evidence of anti-Semitic animosity.
The court granted summary judgment, dismissing the case. The incidents were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute illegal harassment. Neither the mannequin pose nor the Mexican comment were directed at the employee. Though insensitive, there was no indication the less-than-a-day mannequin pose was intended to be anti-Semitic. Not every Hitler reference or parody has such an intent. The jewelry comment had no religious reference attached. It was a large piece of jewelry, and the court would not interpret a religious meaning to an otherwise neutral comment. Finally, the performance critique and discharge were by a different supervisor, in a different location. The evidence was that this supervisor had no knowledge of the employee’s prior hotline complaint and so could not have acted in retaliation. De La Rosa v. Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc. (D. Ariz., 2012).
National Origin Discrimination
Deputy sheriff can maintain retaliation case for investigation of her citizenship status. A 13-year veteran deputy sheriff of Mexican descent made an internal written complaint about alleged improper treatment of and derogatory and discriminatory comments made to and about Mexican inmates in the county jail. The following day, she was suspended pending an investigation of her own status—was she a U.S. citizen or legal resident? The deputy was able to produce the evidence of citizenship and was reinstated. However, the court validated her ensuing suit for retaliation under 42 U.S. Code § 1983, against the county, the sheriff and two other personally named defendants. The judge found a substantial foundation that the reason for the sudden investigation of the deputy’s legal status was her complaint about improper treatment and national origin discrimination, a matter of public concern. Garcia v. Arapahoe Co. Sheriff’s Office, et al. (C.D. Col., 2012).
Failure to confer with coach/guardian can violate interactive process. Some disabilities render the person less capable of communicating without assistance. This may be true for visual and hearing conditions and is often the case with intellectual disabilities. A kitchen worker with an intellectual disability was capable of doing the job if his supervisor was reasonably sensitive to his understanding abilities and manner of direction. His accommodation plan included a request to consult with a third-party job coach or his guardian regarding accommodation requests and before any tangible employment decisions. The employee did make requests for accommodation, which seem to have been ignored. There was no communication with the designated third party. He was then fired, again with no consultation with the designated third party. This violated the established accommodation plan and the ADA-required interactive process. The company agreed to settle the ensuing case for $255,000 plus a series of compliance requirements. EEOC v. Bannes Health (Administrative Settlement, 2012).
State employee cannot sue under ADA-Title II. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that state agencies are immune from suit under the ADA’s Title I employment sections due to the 11th Amendment’s “sovereign immunity” clause. (Employees can file cases under the Rehabilitation Act if the agency takes federal funds for a program they work under.) Title II of the ADA, however, specifically applies to state and all other government agencies. Title II prohibits discrimination by any public entity “in any public services, benefits or activities.” A university employee alleged she was discharged due to failure to accommodate her spinal conditions. She sued under Title II, claiming the language covered any discrimination, including employment actions, by an entity which provided public services. The court disagreed. It ruled that Title I and II are mutually exclusive. Title II is limited to those who are recipients or participants of the public services and not the employees of those services. Ewell v. Bd. of Regents of the U. of Oklahoma (10th Cir., 2011). This is the fourth court to make this finding (also the 3rd, 6th and 9th Circuits). However, the 11th Circuit has allowed a Title II employment case. So other cases may be brought to test the waters in other circuits.
History of drug use vs. current drug use. The ADA does not protect an employee from the consequences of current drug use. However, there is a “safe harbor” for those who have a “history” of use, have completed a treatment program and are no longer using. Where is the transition point? In Shirley v. Precision Castparts Corp. (S.D. Tex. 2012), an employee was abusing prescription painkillers at work. Instead of discharging him, as it could have, the company allowed a leave for treatment with the condition that he complete treatment. After two days, the employee checked out of the program, against the doctor’s advice. He was fired. He sued under the ADA, claiming he had a protected disability as a “former user.” The court disagreed, finding “current use” means “recent use.” The employer could infer the use was current, especially since the person failed to complete treatment and checked out after only two days. There must be a “sufficient time” after the last use to qualify for the “safe harbor” protection.
One year is enough time, and college perceived employee as drug dependent and disabled. A mailroom supervisor at a private college became dependent on prescription pain medication following a series of back surgeries. He tested positive for an “excessive amount” of opiates. He entered and completed a treatment program for addiction. He continued to take a different prescription medication for his continuing surgeries and pain, monitored by his physician, along with opiate-blocking medications. A year after the completion of the drug-treatment program, the college again ordered a drug test. It again showed the presence of prescription pain medication. The college fired the employee. In this case, the employee did qualify under the ADA’s “safe harbor” as a person with a record of past treatment. Further, the college did not establish that the prescription medication level was “excessive.” It did not ascertain that he was taking the medication under his doctor’s monitoring and treatment advice. Thus, the termination violated the ADA, based on the employer’s perception of drug addiction, instead of a valid foundation. The jury awarded $300,000, plus attorney fees and costs. Fowler v. Westminster College (D. Utah, 2012).
Bob Gregg, a partner in Boardman & Clark LLP, shares his roundup of diversity-related legal issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.