$100 Million Pattern-or-Practice Gender Discrimination Suit Doomed By Company’s Arbitration Agreement

A federal district court in Massachusetts effectively gutted a prominent plaintiff’s class action firm’s attempt to avoid arbitration agreements and litigate on a class-wide basis in federal court in Boston. This ruling comes on the heels of a series of class and collective actions filed in federal courts against major U.S.-based and international employers by the Sanford Wittels & Heisler law firm.

In Karp v. CIGNA Healthcare, Inc., the plaintiff-employee was a senior contract manager at CIGNA who asserted discrimination claims in a proposed $100 million putative class action alleging systemic gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Karp’s efforts to represent a class of potentially thousands of current and former female employees were halted when, the district court effectively foreclosed her from proceeding on a class-wide basis either in federal court or in arbitration.

To read the full alert authored by John Ridley and Larry Del Rossi click here.

Meal and Rest Breaks: The Brinker Wait is Over

Ever since the California Supreme Court granted review in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court of San Diego County (Hohnbaum) in October 2008, California employers have anxiously awaited the California Supreme Court’s standards for meal and rest breaks provided to non-exempt employees.   To read our full alert authored by Pascal Benyamini and Fey Epling click here.

9th Circuit Follows 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, DC and Federal Circuits in Finding the Relaxation of an Attendance Policy is Not Always a Reasonable Accommodation

By: Fey Epling

 In Samper v. Providence St Vincent Medical Ctr 2012 DJDAR 4559 (9th Cir. 04/11/2012), the plaintiff, a part-time neonatal intensive care unit (“NICU”) nurse sought an accommodation from her employer, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, that would allow her to opt out of its attendance policy which permitted five unplanned absences in a rolling twelve month period, in addition to other scheduled absences.  When Providence refused the request, Samper sued for failure to accommodate her disability (fibromyalgia) in the federal district court for the District of Oregon, which granted summary judgment for the employer.  The 9th Circuit affirmed, citing to its many sister courts, finding that “[t]he commonsense notion that onsite regular attendance is an essential job function could hardly be more illustrative than in the context of a neonatal nurse.”  The 9th Circuit provided some guidance and reassurance to employers in distinguishing as “an unusual case” Humphrey v. Memorial Hosps. Ass’n., in which the court stated, “regular and predictable attendance is not per se an essential function of all jobs.”

The Samper court does not, however, grant employers carte blanche to refuse similar accommodations in all situations, making clear that the inquiry remains highly fact-specific.  Employers should note the court’s favorable discussion of  Providence’s long history of accommodations and interactive processes with the plaintiff prior to her termination.

How ICE Can Freeze Your Business Operations!

By: Pascal Benyamini

ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was formed in 2003 “as part of the federal government’s response to the 9/11 attacks and its mission is to protect the security of the American people and homeland by vigilantly enforcing the nation’s immigration and customs laws.” With an annual budget of more than $5 billion and more than 19,000 employees in over 400 offices in the U.S. and around the world, ICE is the largest investigative agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security.  ICE may conduct raids or sweeps at a particular place of business. ICE can also send Notices of Inspections to employers to alert them that it will be inspecting their I-9s and hiring records to determine whether or not they are complying with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations.  ICE’s increased focus is on holding employers accountable for their hiring practices and their efforts to ensure a legal workforce.  ICE also seeks to ensure that employers are compliant with I-9 forms and hiring records.

In the event of audits or raids, employers’ non-compliance may result in civil penalties and lay the groundwork for criminal prosecution of employers who have knowingly violated the law.  According to ICE’s Assistant Secretary John Morton, “ICE is focused on finding and penalizing employers who believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces.”  He added that ICE is “increasing criminal and civil enforcement of immigration-related employment laws and imposing smart, tough employer sanctions to even the playing field for employers who play by the rules.”

While the presence of illegal aliens at a business does not necessarily mean the employer is responsible, consulting with legal counsel is paramount to limiting your potential exposure in your hiring practices.

Revised guidelines for both employers and veterans regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act

By: Marion Cooper

On February 28, 2012, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced the publication of revised guidelines for both employers and veterans regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).  The new publications address changes to the ADA’s definition of the term “disability”, which was broadened under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 to include, among other conditions, a wider range of military service related disabilities such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Before the amendments, the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” had been construed narrowly, significantly limiting the law’s protections.

With large numbers of veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, attention is now being focused on veterans’ challenges in obtaining and successfully maintaining civil employment.  According to the EEOC, approximately “25 percent of recent veterans report having a service-connected disability, as compared to about 13 percent of all veterans.”  And, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in October, unemployment for post-9/11 veterans hovers around 12 percent, which is more than three percentage points higher than the overall unemployment rate.  The EEOC wants “veterans with disabilities to know that the EEOC has resources to assist them as they transition to, or move within the civilian workforce,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.

The Guide for Veterans answers questions about an injured veteran’s rights when returning to civilian life and explains the kind of work adjustments or reasonable accommodations that may help veterans be successful in the workforce.  It explains that, in addition to the ADA protections for disabilities, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) protects veterans from discrimination on the basis of their military status.

The Guide for Employers explains how the ADA applies to recruiting, hiring, and accommodating veterans with disabilities and differentiates the protections available to veterans with disabilities under the ADA from the protection afforded to veterans under USERRA from discrimination in employment.  The Employer’s guide provides information on additional laws and regulations that employers may find useful if they decide to make recruiting and hiring veterans with disabilities a priority.

Both guides may be found at the EEOC website at:

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/ada_veterans.cfm http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/ada_veterans_employers.cfm

EEOC Discrimination Charges Reach Record High

By: Aaron M. Moyer

According to the EEOC’s recently released statistics, the Commission received a record number of new employment discrimination charges last year.  For fiscal year 2011, the Commission received 99,947 charges of employment discrimination.  The Commission also obtained $455.6 million in relief, another record high.  This is a $51 million increase from the previous year and continues the upward trend of the past three years.

The statistics provided by the EEOC offer employers some guidance on the hottest issues before the Commission right now:

• Charges alleging retaliation under all of the statutes enforced by the EEOC were the most numerous, accounting for 37.4% of all charges.
• The agency’s enforcement of disability claims under the ADA resulted in a total of $103.4 million of the total $455.6 million obtained.
• The most common alleged disabilities were back impairments, orthopedic impairments, depression, anxiety disorder and diabetes.
• 2011 was the first full fiscal year of the EEOC’s enforcement of the Genetic Nondiscrimination Information Act (GINA).  Only 245 GINA charges were filed, none of which proceeded to litigation.

According to EmploymentLaw360, in a January 2012 speech to the New York State Bar Association, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum discussed the growing number of EEOC cases alleging ADA violations in the service sector, particularly the healthcare and restaurant industries.  The Commissioner cautioned employers in specific areas: one-size-fits-all attendance policies, medical questionnaires that are unrelated to the job at hand, and rescinding job offers strictly on the basis of disability.  h/t Employment Law 360 (http://www.law360.com/employment/articles/303314?nl_pk=6f740239-75f3-4574-ac7d-3486fe3ce6dd&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=employment)

The EEOC’s complete statistics can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm.