We have blogged on a number of the following cases but it is sometimes helpful to have a single article that briefly summarizes recent U.S. Supreme Court employment cases. This article provides that single source.
EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch 575 U.S. ___ (2015) was a case alleging religious discrimination under Title VII. In this case the employer had a “Look Policy” that prohibited caps and head wear. The Plaintiff, a Muslim, applied for a position with the company. She wore a headscarf during the interview. At no time did she request an accommodation based on her religion and at no time did the employer ask about the headscarf. Plaintiff was denied employment based on the headscarf violating the Look Policy. The court said the employer may be liable for religious discrimination for failure to accommodate a religious practice where the need to accommodate is a “motivating” factor in the employment decision. An unsubstantiated suspicion of a need to accommodate is enough knowledge on the part of the employer. In this case the employer suspected that the Plaintiff wore her headscarf due to her religious beliefs.
Lesson: Employers, suspecting a need for religious accommodation, must now inquire as to whether or not an applicant needs an accommodation for religious purpose even if the employee does not ask for an accommodation.
Young v. UPS, 575 U.S. __ (2015) was a case involving disparate treatment under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (Title VII). The Plaintiff sought a work accommodation from her employer due to her pregnancy. The employer had a policy of accommodating injured workers and providing accommodation as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The employer did not accommodate pregnant employees. The court held that a blanket policy of not accommodating pregnant employees while accommodating others may constitute disparate treatment under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Lesson: Employers should be prepared to accommodate employees for pregnancy related disabilities. Illinois amended the Illinois Human Rights Act to require accommodation for pregnancy. See PA-98-1050 and 775 ILCS 5/2-102 (I).
Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 574 U.S. ___ (2014), was a case involving interpretation of the Portal to Portal Act under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In this case the Plaintiff alleged that time spent by Amazon warehouse workers waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings was compensable time. These screening benefited the employer and were designed to catch employee theft. Relying on a 1951 Department of Labor letter, the court held that time spent in these post shift security screening did not constitute time worked for purposes of the FLSA. The post shift screening is not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ primary work of retrieving product from the warehouse shelves
Lesson: Employers may institute pre and post shift security measures and such measures are not compensable under the FLSA as long as they are not “integral and indispensable” to the primary work of the employee. The issue may however be subject to negotiation in a collective bargaining work environment.
M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, 574 U.S. ___ (2015). In this case a collective bargaining agreement provided free health insurance for retirees during the term of the agreement. When the agreement expired the employer sought to require the retirees to pay a portion of their health premiums. The retirees claimed that their right to free health benefits continued despite termination of the collective bargaining agreement. The court said ordinary contract principles should be used to decide if the parties intended that benefits expire with the bargaining agreement. Courts should not infer that the parties to a collective bargaining would intend retiree benefits to vest for life.
Lesson: Employers need to exercise caution when granting retiree health benefits in a collective bargaining agreement.
EEOC v. Mach Mining LL, 575 U.S. ___ (2015). In this case the defendant received a letter from the EEOC advising of a complaint and that the EEOC would be conducting conciliation. A year later the EEOC filed suit without ever conducting conciliation with the parties. The court held that a court can review whether or not the EEOC satisfied its statutory obligation to attempt conciliation before filing suit. The court said however because the EEOC has extensive discretion to determine what kind and amount of communication with an employer is appropriate in any given case, the scope of that review is narrow.
Lesson: Conciliation by the EEOC is very limited and easily met by the agency. It may simply involve a letter from the EEOC inviting discussion.