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McKenna Employment Bulletin – April 2013


No Religious Discrimination Where There Is No Adverse Action

In Almeder v. Town of Bourne, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2013 WL 452938 (D.Mass. 2013), a town employee whose termination was reduced by an arbitrator to a one-year suspension and who self-identified as a “born-again Christian” filed a complaint asserting violations of federal and state law for alleged religious discrimination. According to the plaintiff, two co-workers called him “Father Bill” whenever they addressed him, others told “St. Peter's jokes” that plaintiff found offensive, derided him while reading his Bible during lunch, placed pornography in his work area, and, in 2007, placed a life-sized nativity scene in front of his truck. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the town, finding that there was insufficient evidence to show that any adverse employment decisions were motivated by religion.

Your Supervisor’S Dismissive Attitude Can Support A High Punitive Damages Award

In E.E.O.C. v. AutoZone, Inc., 707 F.3d 824 (7th Cir. (Ill.) 2013), the Seventh Circuit addressed punitive damages in an ADA case. The EEOC brought an action against an automotive store chain on behalf of a disabled former employee, a parts sales manager, who was terminated because he was unable to mop floors due to a chronic back injury. He alleged discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The jury ruled that the employee had been qualified to perform his job, and awarded $115,000 in back pay, $100,000 in compensatory damages, and $500,000 in punitive damages. After trial, the magistrate judge remitted the punitive damages to $200,000 to bring the compensatory and punitive damages within the ADA's $300,000 statutory cap. On Appeal, the Seventh Circuit upheld both the compensatory and punitive damages awards. It found that the supervisor’s “dismissive attitude” regarding the employee’s back injury, a failure to address the disability through defendant’s typical procedures and efforts to cover up a prior failure to accommodate, was sufficient to support such an award for punitive damages and the punitive award of $200,000 did not violate due process.

No Cause Of Action Against Eeoc For Eeoc’S Alleged Negligent Claim Processing

In Brown v. Berrein, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2013 WL 500587 (D.D.C.,2013), the Plaintiff sued the EEOC for refusing to take his claim. Plaintiff alleged that he sustained a head injury in February 2009, which exacerbated a preexisting cognitive disability. He attributed these injuries and their effects on his judgment and motor speed as the causes for his failure to file his charge of discrimination within the 300–day limitations period. The Plaintiff claimed that the EEOC erred

by summarily dismissing his charge of discrimination as untimely without taking his disability into account. The district court dismissed the claim, stating “Congress has not authorized, either expressly or impliedly, a cause of action against the EEOC for the EEOC's alleged negligence or other malfeasance in processing an employment discrimination charge.”

Stray “Old Man” Comment Insufficient For Age Discrimination

In Hollister v. Mrs. Gooch's Natural Food Markets, Inc., --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2013 WL 253844 (D.Hawaii, 2013), the District Court dismissed an age discrimination case because it found no relationship, sufficient to establish discriminatory animus on the part of Defendant, between a same-aged supervisor calling the 60 year old employee “Old Man” and the employment decision to terminate the employee.

Is Veganism A Religion

In Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children’s Hosp. Medical Center, 2012 WL 6721098 (S.D. Ohio 2012), the District Court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the employee’s claim of religious discrimination. The plaintiff was terminated for refusing to submit to a flu vaccine because of the employee’s veganism. The employee alleged that veganism is a protected religion under Title VII. The Court found that in the context of a motion to dismiss, it merely needs to determine whether the employee has alleged a plausible claim. The Court found it plausible that the employee could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views.

In its Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace, the EEOC states that for purposes of Title VII, religion includes not only traditional, organized religions, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. An employee’s belief or practice can be “religious” under Title VII even if no other people adhere to it. The Questions and Answers further state that religious beliefs include theistic beliefs as well as “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” However, the Questions and Answers also state that beliefs are not protected merely because they are strongly held. Rather, religion typically concerns “ultimate ideas” about “life, purpose, and death.” Social, political, or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences are not “religious” beliefs protected by Title VII.

This Employment Bulletin is intended to provide information of general interest and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should consult with their counsel before taking any action based on the information in this publication. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013, McKenna Storer. 

Categories Employment Bulletin Publications

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