Retailers and businesses may soon need to begin preparing for a new public accommodations issue related to an altogether different kind of access barrier: websites. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is developing a plan to amend Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to require websites to become accessible to disabled users. The DOJ is concerned about the accessibility of websites operated by public entities, such as state and local governments, which are subject to Title II of the ADA, as well as those run by private-sector businesses actively involved in e-commerce, which may or may not be covered by Title III of the ADA.
On January 29, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with administering and enforcing the civil rights laws that prohibit workplace discrimination, proposed a significant revision to its Employer Information Report (also known as the EEO-1). The federal government uses the EEO-1 to collect demographic data about an employer’s workforce. The EEOC’s proposed amendment to the EEO-1 would require employers with 100 or more employees to report pay data in addition to their workforce demographics. So what’s the purpose of the proposed change, and how will it impact you?
EEOC’s proposed EEO-1 changes
As backlash is rising steadily in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, France, and San Bernardino, California, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is taking an active approach to addressing current and potential workplace discrimination. EEOC Chair Jenny Yang issued a statement urging employers and employees to be mindful of instances of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination in the workplace against “vulnerable communities” such as employees who are or are being perceived to be Muslim. She cautioned employers to “take steps to directly address potential problems to prevent harassment, retaliation and other forms of discrimination” and encouraged employees to “report incidents to their workplace official and to the EEOC or its state and local partners.”
The agency also released two resource guidance documents, one for employers and one for employees, in Q&A format to explain federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination against individuals who are targeted for being Muslim or perceived to be Muslim. The guides note well-established strategies to curb and prevent workplace discrimination and warn employers that “reactions in the workplace to world events demand increased efforts . . . to prevent discrimination.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) highlights several areas in which the agency is increasing its focus, including the protection of vulnerable immigrant and migrant workers. That focus was recently underscored by the agency’s settlement of a case involving allegations of national origin and race discrimination against an Alabama employer that employed Indian workers through the federal H2-B program.
by Courtney Bru
The last few years have seen a dramatic expansion of rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional the heterosexual definitions of “marriage” and “spouse” in the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). And earlier this year, the Court found same-sex marriage is a fundamental right protected by the federal constitution.
Another potentially more significant development has received less attention: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently taken the position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 affords protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been celebrating its own birthday this year, marking its 50th anniversary. In August, the EEOC published “American Experiences Versus American Expectations,” a report documenting changes in employee demographics since 1965 and using data through 2013 as an update to a 1977 report titled “Black Experiences Versus Black Expectations.”
The full report, available on the EEOC website, details a number of changes over nine job categories for women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives. Drawing on decades of data from mandatory EEO-1 filings, “American Experiences Versus American Expectations” reports that participation of women in the “professionals” category, which was 14 percent in 1966, had increased to more than 53 percent by 2013. Moreover, there have been significant percentage increases for African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans in senior-level positions. However, the report also shows that there are still heavy concentrations of minorities in lower-paying positions. The full report may be accessed at www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/reports/american_experiences/index.cfm.
“Much ado about nothing” is just one literary turn of phrase that comes to mind when considering the initial uproar over Section 342 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the long wait for its implementing regulations. Here’s some background to add some perspective to that observation.
Section 342 of Dodd-Frank, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama at the end of 2010, directed each of 12 affected federal financial industry regulators to establish an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI) and to publish, no later than January 21, 2011, proposed regulations designed to increase diversity in the financial industry, in both employment and contracting. Now, nearly five years later, six of the agencies have finally met their “deadline” with the joint release on June 9, 2015, of their final diversity and inclusion standards.
The legal landscape related to sexual orientation and gender identity has been shifting in recent years. The impact of same-sex marriage on employers and other topics involving homosexual employees and their partners have been featured in previous issues of this newsletter. Recent lawsuits and statements by key governmental officials have now placed transgender/gender identity discrimination and other issues at the forefront.
There is no universally accepted definition of “transgender.” The term usually refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match his or her biological gender. Transgender is sometimes confused with sexual orientation, but gender identity is an independent issue. Further, some transgender people may undergo medical procedures to physically align their gender to their gender identity. As this article illustrates, employers need to keep an eye on this rapidly changing area of the law.
Significant expansion of the antidiscrimination protections afforded to members of the LGBT community was accomplished in 2014 through executive action by President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and the attorney general (AG). The push for more protection of LGBT employees culminated in two lawsuits in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) challenged the layoff and termination of employees undergoing gender transition procedures. The EEOC’s litigation posture, bolstered by executive action, suggests that employers should anticipate increased enforcement activity in this unsettled area.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has always prohibited discrimination, harassment, and retaliation “because of sex” and “on the basis of sex.” Some states have adopted statutes that broaden that concept to include not only “sex” but also “sexual orientation [and] gender identity.” Although Title VII doesn’t explicitly prohibit sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, the EEOC has now taken the position that discrimination based on gender identity (specifically, a “change in gender”) is discrimination “based on sex.” Similar pronouncements are found in the EEOC’s “Strategic Enforcement Plan, FY 2013-2016,” issued on December 17, 2012. However, many federal courts around the country have ruled that the language of Title VII doesn’t extend to the issues encompassed by the new executive actions.