Posted: June 21st, 2011 | Author: jliace | Filed under: Employee Sexual Discrimination, Employment Discrimination | Tags: Class Action, Employment discrimination
This morning the Supreme Court rejected a sex discrimination class action of 1.5 million women against Wal-Mart. The opinion, widely anticipated, held that there was not enough “glue” to make the individual claims into a class action. Although the ruling is unfavorable to workers, the Court cited one of its cases where an employment discrimination class action consisted of 334 persons. Implicit in today’s opinion is that a class that size could still proceed after today’s ruling. How much larger an employment discrimination class can be after today’s ruling is unclear.
Quoting a lower court judge, the Supreme Court stated that class members “held a multitude of different jobs, at different levels of Wal-Mart’s hierarchy, for variable lengths of time, in 3,400 stores, sprinkled across 50 states, with a kaleidoscope of supervisors (male and female), subject to a variety of regional policies that all differed. . . . Some thrived while others did poorly. They have little in common but their sex and this lawsuit.”
The case is Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes.
Posted: June 10th, 2011 | Author: jliace | Filed under: Employment Discrimination | Tags: Racial Discrimination, Racial Harassment
On June 9, 2011, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a Court whose decisions are binding on the federal district courts in Illinois, affirmed a district court decision in the employer’s favor. Nurses, working for a private jail, alleged that the jail created a hostile environment based on race discrimination. They also alleged that they were constructively discharged based on the severity of the racial harassment.
Although the Court accepted that the nurses subjectively believed that they had been harassed, it held that a reasonable person would not have concluded that the occurrences constituted a hostile environment. The alleged harassment included reassigning African-American nurses to another shift, co-workers wearing T-shirts with the confederate flag on them, referring to a patient’s name as “black ass coal”and a remark about monkeys on the jail’s intercom as well as a book on the desk of the Administrator making references to monkeys in the workplace.
The Court stated that these allegations were too infrequent and not sufficient to create a hostile environment. In particular, the Court went into a detailed analysis why the book’s references were not descriptions of African-Americans. Finally, the Court rejected the nurse’s constructive discharge claims because they could not establish a hostile environment and the burden of establishing a constructive discharge is heavier for claimants to meet.
Significance of Decision:
Courts in Illinois are reminded that relatively minor acts of unlawful discrimination will not create a hostile environment. Also, employees are cautioned that if they resign from a position, courts are generally unwilling to find that the unlawful harassment is so severe that a reasonable employee would feel compelled to resign. As a practical matter, when an employee alleges constructive discharge she must prove the underlying unlawful discrimination and constructive discharge.
The case is Ellis v. CCA of Tennessee, 10-2768 (7th Cir. June 9, 2011).