Employer’s Ultimatum Supports Employee’s ADA Failure to Accommodate Claim

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in McClain v. Tenax Corp. recently denied in part an employer’s motion for summary judgment on a disabled employee’s failure to accommodate claim under the ADA.  The Court held the ADA-required interactive process never took place where the employer’s issued an ultimatum to the disabled employee in response to his request for a reasonable accommodation.  The facts show the importance of a well-documented interactive accommodation program.  In this case, an employee suffering from hand and foot deformities worked full-time as a janitor until the employer faced a production slowdown.  The slowdown led to the employee’s position becoming part-time.  In an effort to restore him to full-time, the employer offered a part-time pallet-wrapping position to supplement his part-time janitorial position.  After just two days of performing the part-time pallet-wrapper position, the employee advised his manager he could not perform the job because of his physical impairments.  The employee requested an accommodation whereby he be permitted to return to work as a full-time janitor.  Despite his complaints to multiple managers, they indicated he could either do both positions or quit.  Given no other options, the employee resigned.  He was not fired, but an ultimatum was presented.

The Court determined that under the ADA the employer had no obligation to create a new position (i.e., a full-time, rather than a part-time, janitorial position) for the employee as a reasonable accommodation.  However, the Court ruled that the employer’s actions could be viewed by a jury as unlawful.  By giving the employee the all-or-nothing ultimatum it failed to engage in the mandatory interactive process, which requires interactive discourse between the employer and employee.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2018
This article was written by Henry S. Shapiro of Jackson Lewis P.C.

R2-Me2? How Should Employers Respond to Job Loss Caused by Robots?

There is no question that the use of robots, along with other similar technological changes in the workplace, will continue to eliminate or downgrade jobs. Indeed, it has been estimated that on average, each workplace robot eliminates six jobs. This article will examine (1) the impact such changes will have on women and (2) whether these changes can be subject to legal challenge as prohibited gender discrimination.

The gender pay gap has become a much debated and controversial topic, but this article will stay out of the fray. However, data produced by the consultancy firm Korn Ferry has concluded that women in Britain make just one percent less than men who have the same function and level at the same employer.  Therefore, some have suggested that the main problem today is not necessarily unequal pay for equal work, but rather the forces and circumstances that lead women to be forced into and stuck in lower-paid jobs at lower-paying organizations. According to The Economist, this is the true gender “pay gap,” which is a much more difficult problem to solve.

Current research suggests that, unless addressed, this gender “pay gap” will increase rather than decrease. Last month, a report to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, predicted that “artificial intelligence, robotics and other digital developments,” and the consequent job disruption, are likely to widen rather than diminish the gender pay gap. See “Towards a Reskilling Revolution” at p. 3. Citing statistics published by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report concluded that of the 1.4 million U.S. jobs that are projected to become “disrupted” because of robotic and other technological changes between now and 2026, 57 percent will be held by women.

But there could be good news for those concerned about gender wage equality. The report argued that an increased awareness of the impending effect of these changes, along with a concerted plan by governments, employers, businesses, labor unions and employees themselves to retrain or “reskill” disrupted workers, will present displaced workers with more opportunities for jobs at higher pay levels than their current wages. In a summary of the main report, the authors predicted that reskilling programs could result in higher wages for 74 percent of all currently at-risk female workers, thereby narrowing the gender wage gap.

Although job disruption from the use of robots will disproportionately impact women, the fact that it will result from “business necessity” means that employees may have difficultymounting successful legal challenges to this practice. Instead, thoughtful employers may want to focus their energies on learning more about the scope of this looming problem and, wherever possible, create or participate in programs that will reskill impacted employees, and thereby provide them with more opportunities in expanding and higher-paid occupations.  Nor is this an unrealistic proposition as, overall, in the decade ending in 2026, the U.S. job market is projected to create 11.5 million new jobs.

 

© 2018 Foley & Lardner LLP
This post was written by Gregory W. McClune of Foley & Lardner LLP.

When Nursing Homes Feed Into Corporate Web, Patient Care Fails

According Kaiser Health News, an analysis of nursing home financial records revealed that nearly three-quarters of all nursing homes in the U.S. are owned by people who also have vested interest in companies that in turn sell services and goods to these same nursing homes.

These business dealings are known as “related party transactions.” These transactions enable a nursing home owner to arrange contracts with their related businesses above a more competitive price, allowing them to turn around and siphon off the extra profit.

As an additional benefit, creating these corporate “webs” provides a layer of legal protection to nursing home owners. When a nursing home is sued, it is often very difficult for victims and their families to collect from the other related companies an owner holds stake in, thereby allowing them to “shore” away money.

Unfortunately, nursing homes which deal in “related party transactions” tend to have significant shortcomings which specifically affect their patients. The Kaiser Health News analysis showed that nursing homes which outsource to related organizations “have fewer nurses and aides per patient, have higher rates of patient injuries and unsafe practices, and are the subject of complaints almost twice as often as independent [nursing] homes.”

In order for related companies to be brought into a nursing home lawsuit, the client’s attorney needs to convince the judge that all the companies acted together as “one entity,” meaning that the nursing home was unable to make standalone decisions. This is a complicated and often time and money intensive decision, as it often requires obtaining evidence like company documents and emails to prove the connections.

 

COPYRIGHT © 2018, Stark & Stark.
This post was written by Sherri Warfel of Stark & Stark.
More health news is available on the National Law Review’s Health Page.

Recent Challenges to the Use of Hair Follicle Drug Testing

Without question, the trucking industry must do all it can to make sure its drivers are drug-free. However, employers must establish policies and procedures that recognize the diversity in the work force and the need to be flexible in the types of drug tests it administers to drivers and applicants. Hair testing is very effective in detecting drugs but should not be used as an end all for all applicants and experienced drivers. The National Minority Trucking Association reports that of the 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States, 1.5 million are minorities. As demands for new drivers increases, minorities are increasingly entering the profession. In addition, employers seek to retain experienced drivers. Recent court cases and EEOC settlements point to the need for those wishing to hire and retain minority drivers to have flexibility when it comes to the types of drug testing used on minority drivers and candidates.

Race-Based Challenges to Hair Follicle Testing

A recent decision from the United States District Court of Appeals for the First Circuit revived a lawsuit filed by eight police officers, a cadet, and a 911 operator. All are African American. All tested positive for cocaine after a hair follicle test was administered by the Boston Police Department. This was the second time the First Circuit found that the hair follicle test had a statistical disparate impact on African American officers in violation of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title 7 prohibits employers from utilizing “employment practices that cause a disparate impact on the basis of race,” unless those practices are justified by business necessity. A disparate impact claim can succeed even when the employer did not intend to discriminate against persons in a protected class. The Boston Police Department’s officers and cadets had been subject to annual hair follicle drug tests. When the testing agency reported that a sample tested positive for cocaine, a physician chosen by the department checked to see if the individual had been administered certain medications during a medical procedure. If not, the individual could elect to have a “safety net” test of a different hair sample. The safety net tests were much more sensitive than the initial tests in detecting the presence of cocaine and its chemical by-products.

Plaintiffs challenged the reliability of hair testing. They pointed out that the federal government has refused to authorize hair testing in drug screening of federal employees and employees of private industries for which the government regulates drug testing. Plaintiffs argued that black individuals have higher levels of melanin in their hair and that causes cocaine and cocaine metabolites to bind to the hair at higher rates. If someone snorts or smokes cocaine its “aerosolized powder” will deposit on any nearby surface, including non-users hair. These deposits cannot be distinguished from the effects of actual use by current hair testing methods.

The plaintiffs also pointed to statistics kept by the department over a seven-year period. The statistics showed that out of 4,222 blacks that were hair follicle tested, 55 were positive. That compared to 10,835 whites being tested and 30 being positive. This resulted in a standard deviation of 7.14. The court acknowledged Mark Twain’s quip that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. However, the statistical analysis provided by plaintiffs provided to the court that “…we can be almost certain that the difference in outcomes associated over race over that period cannot be attributed to chance alone.”

The court then discussed whether the testing was job related. The court readily agreed that the hair test was job related since abstention from drug use was an important element of police behavior and that having a work force that did not consume drugs was a legitimate business need for the department. It noted that there was no reason why a test need be anything near 100% reliable – as few tests are – to be job related and consistent with business necessity. However, the disparate impact claim of the plaintiffs survived if they could show that an alternative test would decrease the chances of impacting innocent officers. Plaintiff’s suggested that those who had a positive hair follicle test go through a series of random follow up urinalysis tests in order to reduce the number of experienced officers being terminated and recruits being denied the opportunity of joining the force. The court found that a jury could agree with that approach and ordered that the suit go forward.

Religious Challenges to Hair Follicle Testing

In a charge filed with the EEOC, four East Indian Sikh applicants challenged J.B. Hunt’s drug testing policy. The policy required applicants to provide a hair sample for follicle testing. One of the five Articles of Faith for a Sikh is to maintain uncut hair. The Sikhs sought a religious accommodation, but were denied by J.B. Hunt. Though other testing methods were available, J.B. Hunt elected to require hair follicle testing, arguing that hair follicle testing was more accurate – and therefore more likely to assist in the company’s compliance efforts in having a drug-free driver force – than other methods.

The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that Hunt failed to accommodate the Sikhs’ religious beliefs and effectively failed to hire a class of individuals due to race, national origin and religion in violation of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC believed that alternate testing methods were a reasonable accommodation for the Sikhs, even if marginally less accurate than hair follicle testing. Hunt agreed to pay $260,000 and extend unconditional offers of employment to the complainants. In addition, it agreed to designate an EEOC consultant, develop written policies and procedures, and conduct training for all employees participating in the hiring, compliance, and grievance process.

These cases highlight the need for trucking companies to balance their responsibilities of keeping a drug-free driver corps while also respecting the rights of their diverse applicants and employees. Though hair follicle testing is common in the industry, it is important to note that there are some situations where trucking companies need to be flexible in its use.

 

© 2018 Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, P.C.
This post was written by Doug Heise of Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, P.C.
Read more at the National Law Review’s Transportation Page.

Ninth Circuit Issues Decision in Novel Clean Water Act Case

The Ninth Circuit issued its long-anticipated decision in the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui case yesterday. County of Maui affirmed a decision awarding summary judgment to environmental groups based on what the court viewed to be undisputed proof that four effluent disposal wells at a wastewater disposal facility were known to discharge into the Pacific Ocean and that the County of Maui had failed to secure an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for them.

We have previously blogged regarding existing regulatory uncertainty under the Clean Water Act (CWA). In this case, the Ninth Circuit’s decision focuses on whether a CWA “point source” that indirectly transfers material to relevant waterways falls within the statute. The Ninth Circuit essentially rejected the connection that the wells were “indirect,” instead holding that they were analogous to stormwater collection systems, which had previously been found to be regulated by the CWA.

The court supported this conclusion based on the evidence that the County of Maui knew from the time the wells were constructed “that effluent from the wells would eventually reach the ocean some distance from shore.” The court also noted that the fact that “groundwater plays a role in delivering the pollutants from the wells to navigable water does not preclude liability under the statute.”

 

© 2018 Schiff Hardin LLP
This post was written by J. Michael Showalter of Schiff Hardin LLP.
Read more Environmental News on the National Law Review Environment News page.

New OCR Checklist Outlines How Health Care Facilities Can Fight Cyber Extortion

As technology has advanced, cyber extortion attacks have risen, and they will continue to be a major security issue for organizations. Cyber extortion can take many forms, but it typically involves cybercriminals demanding money to stop or delay their malicious activities, which include stealing sensitive data or disrupting computer services. Health care and public health sector organizations that maintain sensitive data are often targets for cyber extortion attacks.

Ransomware is a form of cyber extortion where attackers deploy malware targeting an organization’s data, rendering it inaccessible, typically by encryption. The attackers then demand money in exchange for an encryption key to decrypt the data. Even after payment is made, organizations may still lose some of their data.

Other forms of cyber extortion include Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. These attacks normally direct a high volume of network traffic to targeted computers so the affected computers cannot respond and are otherwise inaccessible to legitimate users. Here, an attacker may initiate a DoS or DDoS attack against an organization and demand payment to stop the attack.

Additionally, cyber extortion can occur when an attacker gains access to an organization’s computer system, steals sensitive data from the organization and threatens to publish that data. The attacker threatens revealing sensitive data, including protected health information (PHI), to coerce payment.

On January 30, 2018, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published a checklist to assist HIPAA covered entities and business associates on how to respond to a cyber extortion attack. Organizations can reduce the chances of a cyber extortion attack by:

  • Implementing a robust risk analysis and risk management program that identifies and addresses cyber risks holistically, throughout the entire organization;
  • Implementing robust inventory and vulnerability identification processes to ensure accuracy and thoroughness of the risk analysis;
  • Training employees to better identify suspicious emails and other messaging technologies that could introduce malicious software into the organization;
  • Deploying proactive anti-malware solutions to identify and prevent malicious software intrusions;
  • Patching systems to fix known vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers or malicious software;
  • Hardening internal network defenses and limiting internal network access to deny or slow the lateral movement of an attacker and/or propagation of malicious software;
  • Implementing and testing robust contingency and disaster recovery plans to ensure the organization is capable and ready to recover from a cyber-attack;
  • Encrypting and backing up sensitive data;
  • Implementing robust audit logs and reviewing such logs regularly for suspicious activity; and
  • Remaining vigilant for new and emerging cyber threats and vulnerabilities.

If a cyber extortion attack does happen, organizations should be prepared to take the necessary steps to prevent any more damage. In the event of a cyber-attack or similar emergency an entity:

  • Must execute its response and mitigation procedures and contingency plans;
  • Should report the crime to other law enforcement agencies, which may include state or local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and/or the Secret Service. Any such reports should not include protected health information, unless otherwise permitted by the HIPAA Privacy Rule;
  • Should report all cyber threat indicators to federal and information-sharing and analysis organizations (ISAOs), including the Department of Homeland Security, the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and private-sector cyber-threat ISAOs.
  • Must report the breach to OCR as soon as possible, but no later than 60 days after the discovery of a breach affecting 500 or more individuals, and notify affected individuals and the media unless a law enforcement official has requested a delay in the reporting. An entity that discovers a breach affecting fewer than 500 individuals has an obligation to notify individuals without unreasonable delay, but no later than 60 days after discovery; and OCR within 60 days after the end of the calendar year in which the breach was discovered.
© 2018 Dinsmore & Shohl LLPDinsmore & Shohl LLP. All rights reserved.

IP Litigation: Raising an Ensnarement Defense Defeats the Doctrine of Equivalents

Is the Doctrine of Equivalents (DOE) dead, once again? Effectively, yes.

All an alleged infringer needs to do is raise an ensnarement defense (a claim that a DOE enlarged hypothetical claim reads on the prior art), and then show that the equivalent element was known in the prior art. Most equivalent elements (not considering other claim elements) are known in the art, which is why they are equivalent!

Under current CAFC precedent, all an alleged infringer has to do is offer some prior art. There is no burden on the alleged infringer to show that a DOE enlarged claim is either anticipated or obvious in view of the prior art.For example, if the equivalent element is presented in any prior art reference, the burden then shifts to the patent owner to prove patentability. But patentability cannot be proven. To do that, one would have to present all that is known in order to argue that the prior art does not disclose the invention. And, of course, this is impossible. Could one even begin to present all knowledge in order to show the absence of some knowledge? Certainly not.

That is why, outside of a DOE enlarged hypothetical claim, at either the U.S. Patent Office (PTO) or before any court, someone arguing a claim is invalid first has the burden of at least presenting a prima facie case of anticipation or obviousness. The burden then shifts to the one urging claim validity to refute the prima facie case. Outside of ensnarement, the concept of proving patentability simply doesn’t exist, and for good reason.

The CAFC’s current precedent regarding how to consider the validity of a doctrine of equivalents enlarged hypothetical claim (hereafter hypothetical claim) is summarized In JANG v. BOS. SCI. CORP. & SCIMED LIFE SYS., INC., 2016-1275, 2016-1575, decided: September 29, 2017.

The Court stated:

“The first step is “to construct a hypothetical claim that literally covers the accused device.” Next, prior art introduced by the accused infringer is assessed to “determine whether the patentee has carried its burden of persuading the court that the hypothetical claim is patentable over the prior art.” Emphasis added.

“The burden of producing evidence of prior art to challenge a hypothetical claim rests with an accused infringer, but the burden of proving patentability of the hypothetical claim rests with the patentee.” Emphasis added.

This precedent does not require the alleged infringer to do any more than merely present the prior art. It fails to require the alleged infringer to provide a prima facie case of anticipation or obviousness.

Before Jang, there was an acknowledgment that the hypothetical claim should be one that would have been allowed by the USPTO. “The pertinent question then becomes whether that hypothetical claim could have been allowed by the PTO over the prior art. WILSON SPORTING GOODS CO. V. DAVID GEOFFREY & ASSOCIATES, 904 F.2d 677 (1990).” But the CAFC has failed to recognize that this means the alleged infringer must then first provide a prima facie case of claim invalidity, as would be required at the PTO.

Thus, the Doctrine of Equivalents is for all intents and purposes dead.

 

Copyright Davis & Kuelthau, s.c.
This post was written by James E. Lowe, Jr of Davis & Kuelthau, s.c.