The federal employment law landscape saw some interesting developments in 2017, as well as some anticipated changes that were ultimately halted or delayed. Below is a summary of major federal employment law headlines and a look at what employers can expect in 2018.
For Missouri and Illinois employers specifically, a review of 2017 updates and a look forward at 2018 can be found here.
Employers in Missouri and Illinois saw the passage of several new employment-related laws in 2017. Below is a look at some legislative highlights of 2017 and how they might affect your business in 2018.
Missouri employment laws
In a landmark decision released April 4, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title VII protection extends to sexual orientation. The Seventh Circuit has become the first appeals court to rule in such a manner, directly contradicting the recent decisions of the Eleventh and Second Circuits.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals created a likely split in federal courts of appeals this week when it upheld a district court’s dismissal of a complaint alleging harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.
The 11th Circuit’s decision in Jameka Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital rested on the ground that discrimination on the basis of an employee’s sexual orientation is not prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Case No. 15-15234). The plaintiff in this case, a former hospital security guard, alleged that she was harassed because she is a lesbian and because she did not conform to gender norms. As precedent for its decision, the 11th Circuit cited to a 1979 case out of the 5th Circuit (Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 926).
With a new year and a new presidential administration, the restroom access debate is a hot topic again.
On Feb. 22, 2017, the Trump administration withdrew the Obama-era directive to public schools that instructed schools to permit transgender students access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their expressed gender identity or risk violating Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination. The Trump administration clarified that its action in rescinding President Obama’s guidance was not an attack on the LGBTQ community, but an action taken on the premise that this is a state’s rights issue. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos explained in a statement: “We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment…This is an issue best solved at the state and local level. Schools, communities, and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.”
On July 28, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in a precedential decision that existing civil rights laws do not protect against sexual orientation discrimination. Although it was a unanimous decision, the court expressed great displeasure and conflict with the “illogical” legal structure in which “a person can be married on Saturday and then fired on Monday for just that act.”
In a groundbreaking ruling released recently, Unknown v. Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirmed that allegations of sexual orientation discrimination necessarily state a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).
In a concise, seven-page decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, denied employment by clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (“Abercrombie”) after wearing a headscarf to her interview. The plaintiff was denied employment because her headscarf violated Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” which described the image Abercrombie sought to project within its stores.
By a 6-3 majority, the Supreme Court created a potentially new standard by which employers’ accommodations given or denied to pregnant women will be judged under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”).
In Young v. UPS, the plaintiff, Peggy Young, was deemed unable to work her part-time driver position once her physician placed her on a 20-pound lifting restriction. Young was placed on an unpaid leave, and returned to work after the birth of her child; however, Young subsequently filed a lawsuit against UPS alleging the company violated the PDA in refusing to accommodate her pregnancy-related lifting restriction and not assigning her to a light duty position.
What is the Illinois Pregnancy Fairness Law?
Effective January 1, 2015, the Illinois Pregnancy Fairness Law provides workplace protections to all expectant mothers, regardless of an employer’s size. The Illinois Pregnancy Fairness Law amends the Illinois Human Rights Act, adding “pregnancy” as a protected class under state law. “Pregnancy” is defined broadly to mean “pregnancy, childbirth, or other medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.” Accordingly, effective 1/1/15, the IHRA prohibits discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy” against applicants and employees and also requires employers to provide accommodations to expectant mothers to enable them to perform the job the job held or sought unless the employer can establishing that doing so would cause an undue hardship on the ordinary operation of the business. The Illinois law also prohibits retaliation against individuals who exercise their right to an accommodation under the law.