Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recent Federal Employee Title VII Opinion

            Tahar Ahmed has been employed as an Immigration Enforcement Agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) since 2003.  In 2009, Ahmed applied for the position of Deportation Officer.  Ahmed was notified on October 1 that he was not selected for the position.  Ahmed brought an employment discrimination action against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security alleging that he was denied the position of Deportation Officer based on his religion, race, and national origin: a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
            The United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit, held that a reasonable jury would find that Ahmed was a victim of discrimination based on one of more of his minority characteristics.  Title VII prohibits an employer to discriminate against an employee solely based on his/her religion, race, and national origin.  The court explained that Ahmed provided sufficient evidence that showed a pattern of bypassing minorities for promotion in the Boston ICE office.  Based on the historical evidence offered by Ahmed that there was a complete absence of black and Arab Deportation Officers, and Hispanics felt discouraged about applying for promotions, the court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings.  Ahmed v. Johnson, 13-1054, WL 2111236 (1st Cir. May 21, 2014).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Free Speech Rights

            Sean P. Smith was employed as an assistant district attorney (“ADA”) for the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, District Attorney’s office from 2004 through July 2010.  In 2010 Smith met with the district attorney, Pete Gilchrist, to announce his decision to run for the office of Mecklenburg County district court judge.  While Smith was still employed as an ADA, he gave an interview to the Charlotte FOX television affiliate to discuss his concerns with the Charlotte defensive-driving course.  After voicing his concerns about the driving course, Smith was asked were there any other policies within the DA’s that he disagreed with: Smith refused to comment.

            The next day Gilchrist terminated Smith and failed to provide Smith with any reason for the termination.  Smith brought an action in federal district court seeking money damages against Gilchrist as an elected government official.  Smith also claimed that he was terminated as a result of the interview and the termination was a violation of his free-speech rights under the US and NC constitutions.  The United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, held that Smith’s speech was protected under the First Amendment and Smith could not be fired for making the statements he made unless his right to speak was outweighed by the district attorney’s legitimate interests.  The court explained that the First Amendment protects speech as well as “the right to be free from retaliation by a public official for the exercise of that right.”

            Under the First Amendment a district attorney running for public office has the right to speak publicly, as a candidate, on matters of public concern.  Based on this reasoning. the court reversed the lower court’s order granting summary judgment against Smith and remanded to the district court for trial.  Smith v. Gilchrist, 749 F.3d 302 (4th Cir. 2014).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chick-fil-A Pregnancy Discrimination Settlement

On June 5, 2014, the Charlotte District Office of the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) announced that a Concord, N.C. Chick-fil-A has agreed to pay $10,000 and provide substantial injunctive relief to settle the pregnancy discrimination lawsuit that was filed against the franchise in 2013.  In 2012, John Charping, the owner, interviewed Heather Morrison for a team member position.  During the interview Morrison was six months pregnant, and was asked a series of pregnancy related questions.  Three days after the interview Morrison was informed that she would not be hired, and to call back after she had the baby and appropriate childcare. The EEOC filed a lawsuit against this Chick-fil-A alleging that Morrison did not receive the position as a result of her pregnancy.  Equal Employment Opportunity Commision v. John Charping d/b/a Chick-fil-A.

            Refusing to hire an applicant, or discriminating against a current employee, due to pregnancy is unlawful pursuant to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.  The PDA, which was an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, was enacted to prohibit discrimination against women on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and/or related medical conditions.  In addition to the monetary relief to Morrison, the company entered into a two-year consent decree that requires the company to implement a policy that prohibits pregnancy-based discrimination, as well as annual training on pregnancy discrimination for employees, supervisors and managers.  The company is also required to report to the EEOC all job openings that come available during the next two years, along with any pregnant applicants.