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Showing 5 posts in Civil Rights.

U.S. Supreme Court Evaluates Entitlement to Attorney’s Fees Under 42 U.S.C. 1983

A successful candidate for police chief sued the incumbent chief of police and the town, alleging defamation, federal civil rights claims, and other state law claims. After discovery and investigation concluded that the federal claims had no merit, the federal court dismissed those claims and sent the case back to state court where it originated. Based upon a statutory provision providing for the recovery of fees for the prevailing party in such a claim, the town and incumbent chief asked the court to award attorneys’ fees for their work on the federal court claims. The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, and determined that while defendants may recover fees as the “prevailing party,” defendants may not obtain recovery for fees associated with non-frivolous, successful claims. Thus, when a suit involves both frivolous and non-frivolous claims, under the statute at issue, the courts may award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party, but only for costs that the prevailing party would not have incurred but for the frivolous claims. The potential for attorney’s fees awards is part and parcel of every lawsuit, and must be considered when undertaking the defense of any employment-related claim, especially where there is the possibility of an award of fees in favor of a prevailing defendant.

Help us, Help you: EEOC asks for Input on Regulation Reforms

In a piece of beauracractic master craftsmanship, the EEOC has asked for input on possible regulatory reform by soliciting "Public Comment on Plan for Retrospective Analysis of Significant Regulations." From what we can discern from the press release, the agency is taking a serious look at stream-lining and improving the regulations covering the enforcement of six employment nondiscrimination laws: More ›

Employee must show “Intolerable” Working Conditions to Establish Constructive Discharge

A pregnant employee used nearly all of her annual paid time off during the first three months of the year, leading the employer to advise her that she could have no more absences. When the employee ignored the warning and began a medical leave on the very next workday, the employer told her that the absence “[wasn’t] going to work.” The employee took this as a termination and chose not to return to work. Instead, she sued the employer for constructive discharge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, alleging that the employer had made attendance demands that were impossible for a pregnant woman and did so with the intention of making her quit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that while the employee’s work conditions were “unpleasant and unprofessional,” they were not “intolerable,” as required to establish constructive discharge. Further, the employee had failed to establish that the employer intended to make her quit or should have foreseen that she would quit because of its demands. Employers should remember that an employee alleging constructive discharge will have to prove both that work conditions were “intolerable” and that the employer specifically intended to force the employee to quit or should have reasonably foreseen that the employee would quit.

Trierweiler v. Wells Fargo Bank, Case No. 10-1343 (8th Cir. Apr. 8, 2011)

Employee’s Failure to Report Renewed Harassment Fatal to Racial Harassment Claim

A black employee claimed that two of his co-workers started taunting him with racial epithets soon after he was hired. In accordance with the company’s anti-harassment policy, the employee complained to the company owner. The company owner immediately berated the two co-workers and warned that further harassing incidents would result in immediate termination. One of the co-workers continued to use racial epithets. The employee then complained to another worker, but never reported the later incidents to the owner. The employee sued, alleging that the employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII), for failing to address his co-workers’ continued use of racial epithets. The employee argued that the employer was liable for two distinct failings: (1) inadequate discipline following the initial harassment; and (2) failure to address the later harassment—of which the employer had notice through the employee’s complaints to the other worker. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the employee’s arguments and held that “when co-workers, rather than supervisors, are responsible for the creation and perpetuation of a hostile work environment . . . an employer can only be liable if the harassment is causally connected to some negligence on the employer’s part.” The court ruled that the employer’s response to the initial harassment was “swift and appropriate” and that the employee’s failure to report to the company owner, as ordered, was “fatal to his claim of employer liability.” Employers should adopt an anti-harassment policy that makes clear whom the employee must notify about harassing incidents. By ensuring a swift and initial response to harassment, and a clear directive as to whom employees must notify of current and further harassing incidents, employers will be able to defend against any subsequently filed lawsuit.

Wilson v. Moulison N. Corp., Case No. 10-1387 (1st Cir. Mar. 21, 2011)

Employer’s Statements During Title VII Conciliation Process Cannot Create Oral Contract

A group of employees filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that their employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII), by discriminating against them because of their race. The EEOC initiated an informal “conciliation process” to attempt to resolve the dispute between the employer and the employees. After two weeks of negotiations, the employer withdrew from the process. The EEOC sued, alleging that the employer had verbally agreed to settlement terms before it withdrew. The agency argued that “[w]hat was ‘said or done’ during conciliation must be revealed to determine the existence of an oral agreement.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected the EEOC’s argument and held that disclosure of what the employer said during conciliation would be contrary to the plain language of Title VII’s confidentiality provision, which provides that “[n]othing said or done during and as a part of [the conciliation process] may be made public by the [EEOC].” Moreover, revealing the employer’s statements would conflict with the purpose of the confidentiality provision, which is to encourage employers to participate in voluntary settlements. Employers should be aware that any statements made during a Title VII “conciliation process” will remain confidential and cannot be disclosed in a subsequent action.

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