Archive

Archive for the ‘EEOC’ Category

EEOC Releases Guidance on Use of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions

On April 25, 2012, the EEOC issued updated Enforcement Guidance regarding an employer’s use of arrest and conviction records in making employment decisions. The agency also issued a Question and Answer (Q&A) document that helps explain the Guidance.

According to the EEOC, a policy or practice that excludes everyone with a criminal record from employment will not be job related and consistent with business necessity and therefore will violate Title VII, unless it is required by federal law. The Enforcement Guidance explains how the EEOC analyzes the “job related and consistent with business necessity” standard for adverse employment hiring decisions based on criminal records, and provides hypothetical examples interpreting the standard.

Arrests and convictions are treated differently for purposes of Title VII, since the fact of an arrest does not establish that criminal conduct has occurred. The EEOC acknowledges that an arrest may in some circumstances trigger an inquiry into whether the conduct underlying the arrest justifies an adverse employment action. The Guidance notes, “[a]lthough an arrest standing alone may not be used to deny an employment opportunity, an employer may make an employment decision based on the conduct underlying the arrest if the conduct makes the individual unfit for the position in question. The conduct, not the arrest, is relevant for employment purposes.”

In examining whether an employer’s policy of screening individuals based on criminal convictions violates Title VII, the EEOC will look to see whether the employer’s policy provides an opportunity for an individualized assessment for those people identified by the screen in order to determine if the policy as applied is job related and consistent with business necessity. Under the new enforcement rules, the following should be considered by an employer when screening based on criminal convictions:

The Nature and Gravity of the Offense or Conduct. The Guidance notes: “Careful consideration of the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct is the first step in determining whether a specific crime may be relevant to concerns about risks in a particular position. The nature of the offense or conduct may be assessed with reference to the harm caused by the crime (e.g., theft causes property loss). … With respect to the gravity of the crime, offenses identified as misdemeanors may be less severe than those identified as felonies.”

The Time that Has Passed Since the Offense, Conduct and/or Completion of the Sentence. The Guidance points out that the amount of time that had passed since the applicant’s criminal conduct occurred is probative of the risk he poses in the position in question. For example, the Guidance notes that the risk of recidivism may decline over a certain period of time.

The Nature of the Job Held or Sought. Linking the criminal conduct to the essential functions of the position in question may assist an employer in demonstrating that its policy or practice is job related and consistent with business necessity because it “bear[s] a demonstrable relationship to successful performance of the jobs for which it was used.”

The Guidance also lists examples of employer best practices for considering criminal records in connection with employment decisions. Among other examples, the Guidance advises employers to (1) develop a narrowly tailored written policy and procedure for screening applicants and employees for criminal conduct, (2) identify essential job requirements and the actual circumstances under which the jobs are performed, (3) determine the specific offenses that may demonstrate unfitness for performing such jobs, (4) determine the duration of exclusions for criminal conduct based on all available evidence, and (5) record the justification for the policy and procedures.

Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal (www.shawe.com).

EEOC Concludes that Title VII Covers Gender Identity and Transgender Discrimination Claims

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued an opinion concluding that under Title VII, employees may bring discrimination claims based on their transgendered status or gender identity.

Mia Macy was a male police detective in Phoenix, Arizona.  In 2010, Macy decided to relocate to San Francisco and pursue a position with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.  After the interview process, a local director for the Bureau informed Macy that she would be able to fill the position provided that she passed a background check.  While her background check was pending, Macy informed the third-party contractor responsible for filling the position that she was in the process of transitioning from male to female.  The contractor relayed this information to the Bureau.  Five days later, the Bureau notified Macy that the position had been cut due to budget restrictions.  An EEO counselor at the Bureau, however, told Macy that another applicant had been hired for the position because that individual was farther along in the background investigation process.  Macy filed a discrimination charge against the Bureau, alleging sex discrimination, and discrimination on the basis of gender identity (as a transgender woman) and sex stereotyping.  When only her sex discrimination claim was accepted, however, Macy appealed.

The Commission reversed the decision, concluding that discrimination claims based on transgender status or gender identity are covered under Title VII.  The Commission based its conclusion principally upon the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989) and subsequent decisions by federal courts.  In Price Waterhouse, the Supreme Court held that discrimination on the basis of gender stereotype (e.g., a woman denied partnership in a company because she was too “macho” and not “feminine” enough) is sex-based discrimination prohibited under Title VII.  Several United States Circuit Courts of Appeals have subsequently held that under this holding, Title VII bars “not just discrimination because of biological sex, but also gender stereotyping—failing to act and appear according to expectations defined by gender.”  Following this approach, the Commission reasoned that when an employer discriminates against someone because the person is transgender, the disparate treatment is “related to the sex of the victim.”  According to the Commission, this includes a person allegedly discriminated against for expressing his or her gender in a non-stereotypical fashion, and a person allegedly discriminated against because an employer is uncomfortable with or dislikes the fact that he or she has or is transitioning from one gender to another.

Going forward, employers should assume that the Commission’s opinion is legally correct.  While the Supreme Court has not specifically addressed whether transgender or gender identity discrimination claims are covered under Title VII, many lower courts have held that this is a protected class.  Therefore, given the current trend in federal courts to recognize the validity of such claims, the Commission’s opinion will certainly bolster an employee’s ability to bring gender identity and transgender discrimination claims under Title VII.

Article written by Josh Meeuwse and provided courtesy of Worklaw Network firm Franczek Radelet (www.franczek.com)>

Categories: Discrimination, EEOC

Age Discrimination Standard Revised

In 2009 the US Supreme Court pretty much cut out “mixed-motive” cases in the age arena. Meaning you now have to show that “but for” age discrimination you would have suffered that loss of job, etc. If there is any legit reason for your termination then you lose. In response to this ruling the legislatures are busy trying to work their way around it and the EEOC has updated its regulations as follows (underlining mine):

§ 1625.7   Differentiations based on reasonable factors other than age (RFOA).

(b) When an employment practice uses age as a limiting criterion, the defense that the practice is justified by a reasonable factor other than age is unavailable.

(c) Any employment practice that adversely affects individuals within the protected age group on the basis of older age is discriminatory unless the practice is justified by a “reasonable factor other than age.” An individual challenging the allegedly unlawful practice is responsible for isolating and identifying the specific employment practice that allegedly causes any observed statistical disparities.

(d) Whenever the “reasonable factors other than age” defense is raised, the employer bears the burdens of production and persuasion to demonstrate the defense. The “reasonable factors other than age” provision is not available as a defense to a claim of disparate treatment. (Meaning individual harassment, discrimination, etc.)

(e)     (1) A reasonable factor other than age is a non-age factor that is objectively reasonable when viewed from the position of a prudent employer mindful of its responsibilities under the ADEA under like circumstances. Whether a differentiation is based on reasonable factors other than age must be decided on the basis of all the particular facts and circumstances surrounding each individual situation. To establish the RFOA defense, an employer must show that the employment practice was both reasonably designed to further or achieve a legitimate business purpose and administered in a way that reasonably achieves that purpose in light of the particular facts and circumstances that were known, or should have been known, to the employer.

(2) Considerations that are relevant to whether a practice is based on a reasonable factor other than age include, but are not limited to:

(i) The extent to which the factor is related to the employer’s stated business purpose;

(ii) The extent to which the employer defined the factor accurately and applied the factor fairly and accurately, including the extent to which managers and supervisors were given guidance or training about how to apply the factor and avoid discrimination;

(iii) The extent to which the employer limited supervisors’ discretion to assess employees subjectively, particularly where the criteria that the supervisors were asked to evaluate are known to be subject to negative age-based stereotypes;

(iv) The extent to which the employer assessed the adverse impact of its employment practice on older workers; and

(v) The degree of the harm to individuals within the protected age group, in terms of both the extent of injury and the numbers of persons adversely affected, and the extent to which the employer took steps to reduce the harm, in light of the burden of undertaking such steps.

(3) No specific consideration or combination of considerations need be present for a differentiation to be based on reasonable factors other than age. Nor does the presence of one of these considerations automatically establish the defense.

Word to the wise: Make sure you can fit any promotion, termination, or layoff type decision into the guidelines set forth above.

EEOC Releases Updated Guidance on Use of Conviction Records

Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released the first updates in nearly 25 years to its guidelines on when and how employers may inquire into an applicant’s arrest and conviction history.  According to the EEOC, the new Guidance clarifies and updates the EEOC’s longstanding policy concerning the use of arrest and conviction records in employment, which will assist job seekers, employees, employers, and many other agency stakeholders.  Our preliminary analysis confirms that the Guidelines do not appear to represent a fundamental shift in the EEOC’s positions, but rather summarize pre-existing guidelines and principles based on applicable case law and available demographic research.

The EEOC’s Updated Guidance

No federal law explicitly prohibits employers from so inquiring into an applicant’s past criminal history, however, court decisions and EEOC guidelines have previously recognized that, in some cases, disqualifying an applicant because of an arrest or conviction record could violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  The updated Guidance notes that the use of criminal history may violate Title VII in one of two ways.  First, Title VII may be violated when an employer treats criminal history information differently for different applicants or employees, based on their race or national origin (i.e., disparate treatment liability).  Second, a violation may occur where an employer’s facially neutral policy of excluding applicants from employment based on criminal history disproportionately impacts African American and/or Hispanic applicants and is not job related and consistent with business necessity (i.e., disparate impact liability).

The Guidance distinguishes between the use of arrest and conviction records. According to the EEOC, an employer’s reliance on an arrest record in and of itself is not job related and consistent with business necessity because the fact of an arrest does not establish that criminal conduct has occurred.  However, an employer may make an employment decision based on the conduct underlying an arrest if that conduct makes the individual unfit for the position in question.  The EEOC further recognizes that a conviction record in most cases will usually serve as sufficient evidence that an individual engaged in particular conduct, but notes that in certain circumstances there may be reasons why an employer should not rely on a conviction record alone.

The Guidance cites to nationwide statistical data showing that African American and Hispanic individuals are arrested and convicted at a rate 2 to 3 times their proportion of the general population and states that this nationwide data provides a basis for EEOC to investigate an employer’s use of criminal records.  During an investigation, the EEOC will look to whether the particular employer’s use of criminal history has a statistically significant disparate impact on any protected group.

Once a disproportionate impact is shown, the employer may only avoid liability if it can show that the reliance on criminal history is job related and consistent with business necessity.  The revised Guidance sets out two circumstances in which the EEOC believes employers will consistently meet this defense:

  1. The employer validates the criminal conduct exclusion for the position in question under the EEOC Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures; or
  1. The employer develops a targeted screen that considers at least the nature of the crime, the time elapsed, and the nature of the job.  The employer’s policy must also provide an opportunity for an individualized assessment of those people identified by the screen to determine if the policy as applied is job related and consistent with business necessity.

As to the first defense, the Guidance recognizes that in most cases this will not be a viable option because of the lack of currently available studies that could provide a framework for formal validation.  For the second defense, the Guidance notes that while an “individualized assessment” is not required under Title VII under all circumstances, the lack of an individualized assessment is more likely to result in a violation.

Best Practices Identified by the EEOC

The Guidance provides several examples of best practices for employers who consider criminal record information when making employment decisions (beyond a recommendation for more training).  In general, the EEOC advises employers to eliminate policies or practices that “exclude people from employment based on any criminal record” and to replace them with “narrowly tailored” policies that provide for targeted, individualized screening of specific offenses based on a job’s essential requirements and actual duties.  The Commission also recommends that employers keep a record of the justifications and research that supports those policies.  Finally, the EEOC suggests that when asking questions about criminal records employers should limit their inquiries to records for which an exclusion would be job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.

Conclusion

Background checks remain fraught with potential pitfalls for employers.  However, employers should not let those hazards stop them from performing proper due diligence on potential employees, provided that they do so in a targeted and individualized manner that relies only on criminal history in a manner that is consistent with the EEOC Guidance.  We will be providing clients with more detailed guidance and training opportunities in the coming weeks on this important update of the EEOC’s views on the use of criminal history records in hiring.

Article written by attorneys Doug Hass and Mike Warner and provided courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Franczek Radelet.

All in an EEOC Week

The EEOC is proud of its lawsuits. I used to be proud of mine too…until I realized thy cause more damage than good…even where there was bad conduct. According to the EEOC’s press release page these are the claims from just one week:

EEOC Sues Owner of Golden LivingCenter – Dartmouth for Disability Discrimination 3/19/12

Agricultural Supplier Olam Settles EEOC Pregnancy Discrimination Suit for $140,000 in Fresno 3/15/12

Warren Tricomi to Pay $30,000 to Settle EEOC Pregnancy Discrimination Suit 3/15/12

Hal Leonard to Pay $150,000 to Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment Charge 3/14/12

Family Video to Pay $70,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit 3/14/12

Sterling and Sterling to Pay $120,000 to Settle EEOC Suit for Retaliation 3/14/12

EEOC Sues GGNSC Administrative Services For Disability Discrimination 3/13/12

Menorah House Settles EEOC Religious Discrimination Lawsuits 3/12/12

As you can see from the titles, disability and pregnancy leave have been major targets. Employers must do two things to better manage these claims: First, take disability requests and harassment complaints seriously. If you don’t know what to do, then get help. Secondly, get Employment Practices Liability Insurance. See the checklist on HR That Works. I bet every one of the companies sued that didn’t purchase it wishes it had.  Also understand this – these settlements and verdicts are LESS than they would be if brought by private attorneys in state courts.

EEOC Issues Revised Guidelines on Employment of Veterans with Disabilities

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a revised publication addressing veterans with disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The revised guide reflects changes to the law stemming from the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which make it easier for veterans with a wide range of impairments – including those that are often not well understood — such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to get needed reasonable accommodations that will enable them to work successfully.  [Prior to the ADA Amendments Act, the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” had been construed narrowly, significantly limiting the law’s protections.] 

As large numbers of veterans return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan it is important for employers to be prepared.

The Guide for Employers explains how protections for veterans with service-connected disabilities differ under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and how employers can prevent disability-based discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations.

Categories: ADA, Disability, EEOC, USERRA, Veterans

Watch Those Doctors Notes Required by Attendance Policies

Attendance policies that require employees to provide a doctor’s note stating the nature of the absence before the health-related absence would be excused could result in unlawful medical inquiries under the ADA. In a case filed by the EEOC against Dillard’s department stores on behalf of employees who were affected by such an attendance policy (EEOC v. Dillard’s, Inc.), the EEOC claimed that the employer violated the ADA when it required that doctor’s notes in support of an absence specifically identify the nature of the illness, or the absence would be treated as unexcused. Some employees were disciplined and terminated for these “unexcused” absences.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California concluded that Dillard’s attendance policy, on its face, permitted supervisors to conduct impermissible disability-related inquiries. Dillard’s policy required employees to disclose “the nature of the absence (such as migraine, high blood pressure, etc ….)” and “the condition being treated.” Such an inquiry by Dillard’s, the court held, may tend to elicit information regarding an actual or perceived disability and invited intrusive questioning into the employee’s medical condition in violation of the ADA. Indeed, the ADA regulations make clear that an employer “shall not … make inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” The court found that there was no evidence indicating that Dillard’s policy was job-related or a matter of business necessity.

This case provides a strong reminder for employers to review their attendance policies to ensure that they comply with today’s interpretation of workplace laws to avoid the EEOC’s scrutiny. The court did provide some guidance for Dillard’s, and employers in general, when it noted that “Dillard’s could have required its employees to submit a doctor’s note specifying the date on which the employee was seen, stating that the absence from work was medically necessary, and stating the date on which such employee would be able to return to work.”

Categories: ADA, Disability, EEOC