Dallas has been my home for 32 years. Currently, I live and work downtown. The murders of the five Dallas police officers took place just a few blocks from my home. Neighbors in my building heard the firefight as it unfolded. I am a law professor, and three of my students are police officers. I have thought of them a lot lately.
The public-policy issues on race, guns, and violence are being debated and discussed everywhere from the dinner table to the classroom to legislative arenas. Those issues permeate our workplaces as well. Like the Venn diagrams we learned in high school, which use overlapping circles to show relations between different items, the issues overlap—not by a little, but by a lot. Here are some questions HR, company leaders, and anyone else who is grappling with these issues should ask.
President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration were not upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of your employees are probably disappointed and unsure of how to move forward. The disappointment they are experiencing and displaying doesn’t mean they are undocumented workers, and you shouldn’t assume they are. Here are some insights for employers in the wake of the Court’s recent decision.
Background on DACA+ and DAPA
As July 4 approaches, many employers are anxious to declare a holiday so their employees can enjoy the nation’s birthday festivities. But when the fireworks are over, they may be looking to hire the kind of talent so often celebrated on Independence Day—veterans and military spouses.
Many employers have come to appreciate the diversity of experience that people with military ties can bring to a business. And first lady Michelle Obama, along with Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, hope their Joining Forces initiative helps even more employers bring on veterans and military spouses.
If your company regularly interviews and hires qualified female applicants for all available positions, you may think the company is in a strong position to defend against gender discrimination lawsuits filed by rejected applicants. Similarly, if your company refrains from asking applicants about their age and interviews and hires applicants who happen to be older, you should be able to defend against an age discrimination claim, right? Not so fast.
Two recent studies found that older female applicants are less likely to be offered a job than older male applicants. What are the legal ramifications of the studies’ findings for employers? If an employee cannot prove that she was discriminated against because of her membership in a protected class, can she nevertheless argue that she was discriminated against because of her membership in a set of protected classes?
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from banning gay marriage last year, many people who oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons began worrying that the newly recognized constitutional right to gay marriage would conflict with their right to religious freedom. As a result, several state legislatures have enacted “religious freedom laws,” which generally provide statutory protections for people who refuse to act contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs. Religious freedom laws in North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, and Mississippi have caused controversy in recent months, with proponents of these laws arguing that they are necessary to protect religious freedom and opponents arguing that these laws are legalized discrimination. Unfortunately, the conflict between religious freedom laws and the ever-expanding recognition of gay rights is far from over and will almost certainly spill into the workplace and create difficulties for employers.
Tenets of religious freedom laws
Pay equity issues have attracted significant attention recently in political debates, state legislatures, and courtrooms. The latest venue for the conversation: the fields dominated by the U.S. women’s soccer team. In late March, five prominent members of the team filed a wage discrimination complaint against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The women are seeking to be paid the same wages as their male counterparts.
In the complaint, the women allege that the USSF pays male players nearly four times more despite the fact that the women’s team generated nearly $20 million more in revenue than the men’s team in 2015. The allegations can proceed under two separate laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act (EPA). Both laws prohibit wage discrimination based on sex. Although the USSF will likely provide non-sex-based explanations for the wage differential (including the fact that players’ pay is collectively bargained), it is too early to make a reasonable projection about either side’s chances of success.
In 2010, the White House issued a National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States (NHAS). One step identified in the NHAS is to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been utilizing its enforcement and litigation functions in recent years in an attempt to eradicate employment discrimination based on HIV status. In fiscal year 2014, the EEOC resolved almost 200 charges of discrimination based on HIV status and obtained more than $825,000 for job applicants and employees with HIV/AIDS who were unlawfully denied employment and reasonable accommodations.
For example, in one recent case, the EEOC alleged that an employer withdrew a conditional employment offer after the applicant submitted a health status certification that revealed he is HIV-positive but also stated that he was cleared to work. In settling the case, the EEOC received $75,000 for the rejected applicant. In another case, the EEOC sued an employer for terminating an employee after he disclosed that he is HIV-positive. To settle the case, the employer agreed to pay the employee $125,000 and admit that his continued employment after he became HIV-positive was not a health threat.
Society has long understood that war can exact a heavy psychological toll on the soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen, and coast guardsmen who serve in the military. During WWI, servicemembers came home with shell shock. The psychological difficulties military men and women face have been diagnosed as “combat stress reaction,” “combat fatigue,” and “battle neurosis.” Since the 1980s, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been the prevalent diagnosis.
The psychological handicaps suffered by servicemembers are real, and given the sacrifices they have made, federal law protects veterans who enter the civilian workforce. Some of those protections, such as confidentiality for medical information, apply to all employees, whether or not they have served in the military. But others, such as those set forth in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), are unique. Read on to see how one employee, if nothing else, reminded his employer of the unique duties owed to the employees who fight for our country.
After the Norfolk federal district court refused to order the Gloucester County School Board to grant the student’s request, he appealed to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings apply to all Virginia employers). Recently, the appeals court reversed the district court’s decision and issued a ruling favorable to the student.
A recap of the lawsuit