City of Birmingham Passes Nondiscrimination Ordinance, Creates Human Rights Commission

On September 26, 2017, the Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance that makes it a crime for any entity doing business in the city to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or familial status. The ordinance passed unanimously and is the first of its kind in Alabama. Enforceable through the municipal courts, the local law applies to housing, public accommodations, public education, and employment. It carves out two exceptions: one for religious corporations and one for employers with bona fide affirmative action plans or seniority systems.

In a separate measure passed during the same meeting, the city created a local human rights commission to receive, investigate, and attempt conciliation of complaints. The commission has no enforcement authority. Citizens who believe they have suffered unlawful discrimination must appear before a magistrate and swear out a warrant or summons. The entity or individual will not receive a ticket but will face a trial before a municipal judge in the city’s courts. Ordinance violations are classified as misdemeanor offenses, and those found guilty of discrimination will face fines of up to $500. Alabama municipalities have no authority under state law to create civil remedies for ordinance violations, therefore, an employer would not be required to reinstate an employee or provide back pay if it were found guilty of violating the ordinance in municipal court.

Because the city’s courts, which are courts of criminal jurisdiction, operate much more quickly than federal civil courts do, one would expect that a guilty verdict under the Birmingham ordinance likely could be used as evidence of discrimination in a federal civil claim that is almost sure to follow.

Although the city’s mayor must sign the ordinance for it to become effective, the mayor has announced he will sign it into law immediately. The city also expects that the Alabama Legislature will challenge the ordinance.

This post was written by Samantha K. Smith of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved. © 2017
For more legal analysis, go to The National Law Review

Revised Travel Ban Coming?

The Trump Administration reportedly may replace the current travel ban with a country-specific set of restrictions.

In June, the Supreme Court allowed the government to begin enforcing the 90-day travel ban against individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen who had no bona fide relationship to the United States. The 90-day ban will expire on September 24. The 120-day ban on refugees also went into effect in June. The Supreme Court plans to hear the full travel ban case on October 10.

The Department of Homeland Security’s recently finalized classified report on screening foreign travelers may support anticipated changes to the travel ban. Substituting a new ban could change the dynamics, potentially making the case before the Supreme Court moot or leading to a remand of the case for further hearing at the lower court level.

The new restrictions are expected to be open-ended and based upon the DHS review and identification of countries with deficient security standards. More than six countries may have been identified. Additional countries could be added to the banned list, others could be removed, and still others might become subject to certain visa restrictions.

This post was written by Michael H. Neifach of Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

California’s Equal Restroom Access Act: 5 Facts You Need to Know

California’s Equal Restroom Access Act, which requires some establishments with single-occupancy restrooms to display signs indicating that the restroom is gender-neutral, has been in effect since March 1, 2017. Assembly Bill No. 1732 (AB 1732), which Governor Jerry Brown signed on September 29, 2016, requires these restrooms “to be identified as all-gender toilet facilities” and that the signs used to designate these restrooms comply with Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations.

1. Which Restrooms Are Covered?

The new law applies to “[a]ll single-user toilet facilities in any business establishment, place of public accommodation, or state or local government agency.” AB 1732 defines “single-user toilet facility” as “a toilet facility with no more than one water closet and one urinal with a locking mechanism controlled by the user.”

2. What Does the Law Require?

The law simply requires businesses, agencies, and places of public accommodation to use the proper signage—i.e., gender-neutral signage—on any single-user restrooms that they have.

3. What Must the Sign Look Like?

The signs on single-user restrooms must comply with Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations. This means that each covered single-user restroom must, at minimum, have the following signage:

  • A sign with a geometric symbol of a triangle superimposed on a circle
  • A designation tactile (i.e., capable of being read by touch) sign that indicates that the facility is a restroom

4. Does the Law Require That Specific Language Be Used?

The law does not require any specific wording on the signs as long as the wording used is gender neutral. For example, the sign may state “Restroom,” “All-Gender Restroom,” “Gender-Neutral,” “Unisex,” or “All Welcome.” Similarly, language written in raised letters and/or Braille must also be gender-neutral.

Note that the City of San Francisco has more restrictive laws in place regarding the wording and images on restroom signs.

5. How Will the Law Be Enforced?

The law permits inspectors, building officials, and other local officials who are “responsible for code enforcement” to inspect a restroom for compliance with this section during “any inspection of a business or a place of public accommodation.”

Key Takeaways

Affected employers with single-occupancy restrooms on their premises should ensure that the signs on the single-user restrooms are in compliance with Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations. Employers should also take this opportunity to review the Fair Employment and Housing Council’s gender identity regulations that went into effect on July 1, 2017. The regulations’ restroom access provisions require an employer to allow an employee to use the restroom facility that corresponds to the employee’s gender identity or gender expression, regardless of the employee’s sex assigned at birth.

For more analysis check out The National Law Review.

This post was written by Hera S. Arsen  of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Seventh Circuit Breaks New Ground: Sexual Orientation Discrimination Prohibited by Title VII

sex discrimination seventh circuitIn a landmark decision reflecting a potential turning of the tide for the LGBT community, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has become the first federal appeals court in the nation to hold that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII. Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, No. 3:14-cv-1791 (7th Cir. April 4, 2017).

Last July, a panel of the Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the sexual orientation discrimination claim of Kim Hively, a lesbian who claimed she was denied promotions and a full-time position due to her sexual orientation. (See Seventh Circuit: Title VII Offers No Protection Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination.) The Seventh Circuit voted to rehear the case en banc. Yesterday’s decision followed.

The Seventh Circuit began by observing that the question is not whether the court can, or should, add a new category of protection to Title VII, as that is beyond its authority.  Instead, the court viewed itself as charged with interpreting the existing language of Title VII, specifically, whether discrimination based on “sex” includes sexual orientation.

The court considered a number of interpretive aids. It cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s blessings on expansion of traditional sex discrimination claims in such cases as Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), which expanded the law to include sexual harassment, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998), expanding the law to include same-sex harassment, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), expanding the law to include discrimination based on gender non-conformity, and Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015), upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Seventh Circuit noted that the Congress that enacted Title VII in 1964 may not have envisioned the necessity of these protections at the time, but nonetheless, experience has since caused the Supreme Court to recognize them as forms of prohibited sex discrimination.

The court also cited other Supreme Court decisions favoring sexual orientation-based protections, including Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), holding that a provision of the Colorado Constitution forbidding state government from taking action designed to protect “homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual” persons, violated the federal Equal Protection Clause; Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), wherein a Texas statute criminalizing homosexual sex between consenting adults violated the federal Due Process Clause; and United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), striking down the Defense of Marriage Act’s exclusion of same-sex partners from the definition of “spouse.”

Ivy Tech argued that Congress has repeatedly considered—and refused—to add “sexual orientation” to the language of Title VII, and that should be interpreted as Congress’ intent to exclude it. This argument has been recited by numerous federal appellate courts in denying Title VII coverage to such claims. However, the Seventh Circuit noted that the legal landscape has changed over the years, and the Supreme Court has shed more light on the scope of the statute through its decisions, and for these reasons, the court was unable to draw any reliable inference from the failed “truncated legislative initiatives” in Congress.

As to the existence of the significant contrary authority, the court stated: “[T]his court sits en banc to consider what the correct rule of law is now in light of the Supreme Court’s authoritative interpretations, not what someone thought it meant one, ten, or twenty years ago.” The court reversed dismissal of Hively’s claim and remanded the case to the district court.

Inevitable Result, Uncertain Future

With the landslide of litigation in the courts seeking protections for the LGBT community, it may have been inevitable that one of the federal circuit courts hearing such a case would eventually rule in favor of Title VII protection from sexual orientation discrimination. Indeed, numerous recent decisions that have refused to recognize such protections have acknowledged the untenable results that have come to pass in so holding. The Seventh Circuit’s decision recognized: “It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation.’ The effort to do so has led to confusing and contradictory results…”

Indeed, many courts in other jurisdictions continue to find creative ways to allow sexual orientation-based claims to proceed despite the legal roadblock, including most recently, the Second Circuit’s decision last week that allowed a gay advertising executive to proceed with his Title VII claims based on gender non-conformity as opposed to sexual orientation. Christiansen, et. al. v. Omincom Group, Inc., 2017 WL 1130183 (2nd Cir. March 27, 2017).

With yesterday’s ruling, the Seventh Circuit has created a split in the federal circuit courts, making this issue ripe for U.S. Supreme Court determination. The country likely will receive uniform interpretation of Title VII on this issue from the Supreme Court at some point. Until then, the law in this area is truly a mixed bag. Employees in the Seventh Circuit have an additional cause of action to bring under Title VII, and employers in this jurisdiction may see a rise in these claims in the near term. For most employers outside the Seventh Circuit, employees are barred from pursuing sexual orientation bias claims under Title VII.  However, alternate theories may be advanced, such as the plaintiff successfully did in the Second Circuit case. In addition, many state laws include sexual orientation protections.

While the law of the land is unsettled, one thing remains clear: employers that uphold principles of equal opportunity and fairness, and merit-based employment rewards, will fare the best.

© 2017 Schiff Hardin LLP

Wal-Mart to Pay $75,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Lawsuit

EEOC Wal-mart disability discriminationCHICAGO – Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will pay a former employee $75,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced yesterday.

EEOC’s lawsuit charged Wal-Mart with violating federal discrimination law when the giant retailer failed to accommodate Nancy Stack, a cancer survivor with physical limitations, and subjected her to harassment based on her disability. Stack worked at a Walmart store in Hodgkins, Ill.

As a workplace accommodation, Stack needed a chair and a modified schedule. EEOC alleged that while the store provided Stack with a modified schedule for a period of time, it revoked the accommodation for no stated reason. Further, according to EEOC, the store did not ensure that a chair was in Stack’s work area, telling her that she had to haul a chair from the furniture department to her work area, a task that was difficult, given her disability. Making matters even worse, EEOC alleged that a co-worker harassed Stack by calling her “cripple” and “chemo brain.”

Wal-Mart’s alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, which can include denying reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and subjecting them to a hostile work environment. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; Civil Action No. 15-cv-5796.)

Wal-Mart will pay $75,000 in monetary relief to Stack as part of a consent decree settling the suit, signed by U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman on Dec. 6th. The two-year decree also provides additional, non-monetary relief intended to improve the Hodgkins store’s workplace. Under the decree, the store will train employees on disability discrimination and requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA. The Walmart store will also monitor requests for accommodation and complaints of disability discrimination and report those to EEOC.

“Wal-Mart refused to provide simple, effective and inexpensive accommodations in the form of a chair and modified schedule and failed to protect Stack from mocking because she had cancer,” said John Hendrickson, regional attorney of EEOC’s Chicago District Office. “Both the failure to provide accommodations and to stop the harassment violated federal law, and we are pleased with today’s settlement. Ms. Stack will receive monetary recompense from Wal-Mart, and the company will be required to educate its workforce on employees’ rights and on its own obligations under the law.”

You can review this press release in its entirety on the EEOC website here.

EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of employment discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

ARTICLE BY U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
© Copyright U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

EEOC Issues Guidance on National Origin Discrimination that Applies to Foreign National Employees

EEOC, National Origin DiscriminationThis week the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released guidance regarding national origin discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).  The guidance replaces Section 13 of the EEOC’s compliance manual, with a view toward further defining “national origin” and helping employers and employees understand their legal rights and responsibilities. The guidance specifically states that Title VII applies to any worker employed in the United States by a covered employer (employer with more than four employees), regardless of immigration status, as well as any foreign national outside the United States when they apply for U.S.-based employment.

The new guidance defines “national origin” as an individual’s, or his or her ancestors’, place of origin, which can be a country (including the United States), a former country, or a geographic region.  In addition, “national origin” refers to an individual’s national origin group or ethnic group, which it defines as “a group of people sharing a common language, culture, ancestry, race, and/or other social characteristics.”  Discrimination based on national origin group includes discrimination because of a person’s ethnicity (e.g., Hispanic) or physical, linguistic, or cultural traits (e.g., accent or style of dress).  Discrimination based on place of origin or national origin group includes discrimination involving a mere perception of where a person is from (e.g., Middle Eastern or Arab), association with someone of a particular national origin, or citizenship status.  Title VII discrimination can take the form of unfavorable employment decisions based on national origin or harassment so pervasive or severe that it creates a hostile work environment.

In addition to clarifying the meaning of “national origin,” the guidance provides examples based on how actual courts have applied Title VII to specific facts.  For example, the guidance gives as an example of “intersectional” discrimination a Mexican-American woman who, without explanation, was denied a promotion at a company where she successfully worked for 10 years, despite two non-Mexican women and a Mexican man being selected for the same position.  The guidance also provides examples where national origin discrimination overlaps with other protected bases, such as discriminating against people with origins in the Middle East due to a perception that they follow certain religious practices.  Further, the guidance gives examples of real cases where employment decisions and harassment constituted Title VII national origin violations, as well as cases where Title VII violations were not found.  Finally, the guidance applies Title VII national origin principles to trafficking cases, where employers use force, fraud, or coercion to compel labor or exploit workers, and such conduct is directed at an individual or a group of individuals based on national origin.

Employers of foreign national workers should note that individuals with Title VII claims may also have claims under other Federal statutes, including the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  Form I-9 and the E-Verify program are two areas where discrimination claims could arise under both the INA and Title VII.

©2016 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

Seventh Circuit: Title VII Offers No Protection Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination

sexual orientation discriminationIn the midst of a legal, political and cultural landscape expanding the rights of LGBT individuals, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has held to prior precedent in reaffirming that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. Kimberly Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, __ S.Ct. __, No. 15-720 (July 28, 2016).  According to the court, though “the writing is on the wall” that sexual orientation discrimination should not be tolerated, because the writing is not in a Supreme Court opinion or Title VII, the court’s hands are tied.

In two 2000 opinions, Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., Inc.and Spearman v. Ford Motor Co., the Seventh Circuit had previously held that Title VII offers no protection from sexual orientation discrimination. The court revisited the issue now in order to provide a more detailed analysis in light of recent trends and decisions advancing LGBT rights.

The court recognized the merits of many of Ms. Hively’s arguments, and acknowledged that in light of the recognition of other rights of LGBT individuals the current legal landscape does not make sense. In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unlawful (U.S. v. Windsor) and legalized gay marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges). In 2015, the EEOC held that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. Baldwin v. Foxx (July 16, 2015). Many judicial decisions at the district court level have repeatedly recognized that sexual orientation discrimination cannot be tolerated. Yet, Congress has repeatedly rejected new legislation that would extend Title VII to cover sexual orientation discrimination, and it has not amended the language of Title VII to include sexual orientation.

This creates “a paradoxical legal landscape in which a person can be married on Saturday and then fired on Monday for just that act.” The court observed, “From an employee’s perspective, the right to marriage might not feel like a real right if she can be fired for exercising it.”

Nonetheless, the court stated that Congress’ failure to amend Title VII to include sexual orientation cannot be due to its unawareness of the issue. Thus, Congress must have intended a very narrow reading of the term “sex” when it passed Title VII.

In excluding sexual orientation discrimination from the coverage of Title VII, the Seventh Circuit conveyed its apparent reluctance in doing so:

“Perhaps the writing is on the wall. It seems unlikely that  our  society  can  continue  to  condone  a  legal  structure  in  which employees can be fired, harassed, demeaned, singled  out  for  undesirable  tasks,  paid  lower  wages,  demoted,  passed  over  for  promotions,  and  otherwise  discriminated  against solely based on who they date, love, or marry. The agency tasked with enforcing Title VII does not condone it, … many of the federal  courts to consider the matter have stated that they do not  condone it …; and this court undoubtedly  does not condone it… . But writing  on the wall is not enough. Until the writing comes in the  form of a Supreme Court opinion or new legislation, we  must adhere to the writing of our prior precedent[.]”

The Seventh Circuit went on to offer its further observations:

“Many citizens would be surprised to learn that under federal law any private employer can summon an employee into his office and state, “You are a hard‐working employee and have added much value to my company, but I am firing you because you are gay.” And the employee would have no recourse whatsoever—unless she happens to live in a state or locality with an anti‐discrimination statute that includes sexual orientation.”

Those states are currently California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. Other states apply the prohibition to public employment only: Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio; Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Some local city and county ordinances contain similar anti-discrimination provisions.

The bottom line for both employers and LGBT individuals, in the Seventh Circuit and elsewhere, is that the employment protections afforded to individuals based on sexual orientation remains determined, for now, at the state and local level.

© 2016 Schiff Hardin LLP