Tag Archives: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Evaluating Layoff Decision Criteria in the Wake of Bostock

Contributed by Steven Jados, July 29, 2020

Gavel and scales of justice.

Layoffs have become a reality for many businesses and employees in recent months, and this unfortunate trend seems likely to continue as we head toward the fall and winter months. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County highlights additional considerations—beyond simply protecting LGBT employees—that businesses must factor into decisions regarding which employees to layoff, and which to retain.

As we previously wrote, the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision essentially held that the anti-discrimination protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extend to LGBTQ employees. But the way that decision was reached—particularly its focus on how discrimination affects individuals, as opposed to broader groups—is instructive in terms of analyzing whether termination decisions, in the context of layoffs or otherwise, are unlawfully discriminatory.  

The Court gave this hypothetical:  “Consider an employer with a policy of firing any woman he discovers to be a Yankees fan. Carrying out that rule because an employee is a woman and a fan of the Yankees is a firing ‘because of sex’ if the employer would have tolerated the same allegiance in a male employee.” That example illustrates, among other things, that simple binary analyses may not be sufficient to determine whether employment decisions are discriminatory—and that combinations of protected characteristics (sex, race, religion, etc.) and non-protected characteristics (affinity for a certain sports team) can be the basis for viable claims of unlawful discrimination. 

With that in mind, employers attempting to analyze whether layoff criteria are discriminatory cannot simply compare men to women, or older employees to younger employees.  Instead, subgroups and intersections must also be considered.  Employers must ask—for example—whether layoff decisions unfairly affect women over a certain age as compared to men of that age, or whether layoff decisions unfairly affect employees of one race who are unmarried as compared to employees of a different race who are unmarried. 

Simply put, in the wake of Bostock, employers should conduct a deeper analysis than they previously might have in order to determine whether termination decisions implicate the intersection of protected and non-protected characteristics—or multiple protected characteristics. And questions regarding layoff decision criteria and concerns about potential liability should be directed to experienced legal counsel.  

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Landmark Decision Providing Discrimination Protections to LGBTQ Workers

Contributed by John Hayes, June 15, 2020

Judge’s Supreme Court gavel with law books

On June 15, 2020 the United States Supreme Court handed down a momentous decision ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) protects gay and transgender employees from workplace discrimination. The decision consolidated three cases where the employees were terminated from their jobs: two separate cases involving the terminations of gay employees; and one case involving the termination of a transgender employee.

The vote was 6 to 3, with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch writing the majority opinion. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justice Alito wrote a dissent joined by Justice Thomas, and Justice Kavanaugh wrote a separate dissent.

Title VII bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex. The question for the justices was whether discrimination “because of sex” applies to gay and transgender workers. While most federal appeals courts interpreted Title VII to exclude sexual orientation discrimination, both the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (in New York) and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (in Chicago) had previously ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination. 

Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch stated:

An employer who fired an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.

… 

In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee.  We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.

Currently 22 states, including Illinois, have their own laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  While these laws remain in force, the Supreme Court’s ruling means federal law now provides similar protections for LGBTQ employees in the rest of the country.

Employers throughout the United States must now be aware that federal employment law (noting that Title VII covers only employers with 15 or more employees) prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender employees. The upside is that employers will no longer have to navigate inconsistent laws that vary from state to state and it will also likely make employee training easier and more consistent for employers operating in multiple states. Employers should update their discrimination and harassment policies to make sure gay and transgender employees are included in anti-discrimination protections.

It should also be noted that, for most employers, attempting to justify an employment action against gay or transgender employees on religious grounds will not be a successful avenue of defense.  The so-called “ministerial exemption” is very narrowly tailored to cover only churches and religious institutions, and applies only to employees performing a “ministerial” role within the institution.   

The takeaway for the vast majority of employers is that it is now crystal clear that Title VII’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex include gay and transgender individuals. 

Supreme Court Rules Title VII’s Charge Filing Requirement Is Not Jurisdictional…but is Still a Required Rule

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, August 8, 2019

Supreme Court building

This past February we reported that the Supreme Court agreed to review the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Fort Bend County v. Davis on the viability of claims brought in federal courts where the claimant had not first filed her claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court issued its decision holding that Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is a non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule that may be forfeited if not timely asserted. 

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employee is required to first bring his claims of employment discrimination with the EEOC prior to filing suit in federal court. Known as the “exhaustion requirement,” courts have noted that its purpose is to give the EEOC the opportunity to investigate and resolve credible claims of discrimination, and also to provide employers fair notice and a chance to remedy complaints prior to litigation.

In Fort Bend County, the employee initially filed a charge with the EEOC asserting Title VII sexual harassment and retaliation claims. Later, she attempted to add a charge for religious discrimination, but failed to update the formal charge. She filed suit. After years of litigation, only the religious discrimination claim remained. The employer then argued for the first time that the religious discrimination claim should be dismissed because the employee failed to properly file a charge with the EEOC before suing.

Prior to this decision, appellate courts were split on the meaning of the exhaustion requirement. On the one hand, the majority of circuits maintained that the exhaustion requirement was merely a prerequisite to bringing suit, and therefore subject to defenses of waiver and estoppel. On the other, three circuits had ruled that the exhaustion requirement implicated subject matter jurisdiction and could not be waived.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a unanimous decision, settled the question on the side of the majority of circuits and wrote that the charge-filing requirements “do not speak” to a court’s authority or refer in any way to the district court’s jurisdiction, but rather “speak to a party’s procedural obligation…[requiring] complainants to submit information to the EEOC and to wait a specified period before commencing a civil action.” 

What does this mean for employers? It means that while there is still a rule that employees must file a charge and exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, failing to do so will not automatically deprive the court of jurisdiction over the employee’s claim. However, it also means that employees are still required to comply with the rule and may not simply file a lawsuit without first filing a charge of discrimination and exhausting their administrative remedies. More importantly though for employers, it reminds us that if you do not assert failure to exhaust as a defense, it can be inadvertently waived or forfeited by “waiting too long” to raise it. To surely minimize this impact, employers should review the administrative history of pending lawsuits to ensure that an otherwise viable “exhaustion requirement” defense is not inadvertently waived or forfeited by “waiting too long” to raise it.