UPDATES FOR CALIFORNIA EMPLOYERS – JUNE 2015
RELIGION A MOTIVATING FACTOR FOR NOT HIRING?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship. In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, the EEOC sued Abercrombie & Fitch on behalf of Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim who had applied for and been denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch. Elauf wears a headscarf, and was wearing one during her job interview, but did not explicitly state that she wore it for religious reasons. Elauf was denied a job based on Abercrombie & Fitch’s Look Policy, a dress code that prohibits the wearing of hats. At trial, Elauf prevailed, and Abercrombie & Fitch appealed, arguing that they could not be liable for religious discrimination because Elauf never informed them that she required religious accommodation based on her religion. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Abercrombie & Fitch, and the EEOC appealed to the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found in favor of the EEOC, reasoning that Abercrombie & Fitch knew, or at least suspected, that Elauf wore her headscarf for religious reasons, and that they potentially needed to accommodate her based on her religion. The Supreme Court therefore found that Elauf’s religion could have been a motivating factor for their decision not to hire her.
EMPLOYER SELECTS LITIGATION JURISDICTION TO AVOID CALIFORNIA LAW
In Verdugo v. Alliantgroup, LP, the plaintiff was employed in California by Alliantgroup pursuant to an employment agreement stating that any dispute arising out of her employment would be litigated in Texas. The plaintiff filed a wage and hour class action in California. The court granted Alliantgroup’s motion to stay the action, holding that the employment agreement’s forum selection clause was valid. The Court of Appeal reversed. The court reasoned that, when claims at issue are based on unwaivable rights created by California statutes, the party seeking to enforce a forum selection clause bears the burden of proving that doing so “will not diminish in any way the substantive rights afforded…under California law.” The court found that Alliantgroup had failed to show that litigating the plaintiff’s claims in Texas would not diminish her rights under California law.
EMPLOYEE SITES "STRESS" RELATED TO SUPERVISOR'S OVERSIGHT
In Higgins-Williams v. Sutter Medical Foundation, the plaintiff complained to her employer, Sutter Medical Foundation, that she suffered stress from interactions with her supervisor. The plaintiff’s doctor diagnosed her with adjustment disorder and anxiety, placing her on intermittent leave. After months of leave, Sutter Medical Foundation terminated the plaintiff, who subsequently filed an action against them for disability discrimination and wrongful termination. The trial court granted Sutter Medical Foundation’s motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. The court reasoned that the plaintiff did not suffer from a disability and could not prevail on her discrimination and/or wrongful termination claims because, “An employee’s inability to work under a particular supervisor because of anxiety and stress related to the supervisor’s standard oversight of the employee’s job performance does not constitute a disability under FEHA.”