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Milestones: 2015

  • EEOC and DOJ together enforce the ADA's provisions concerning public sector employers. The MOU directs EEOC and DOJ to coordinate investigations of charges of discrimination on the basis of disability, while respecting the distinct responsibilities and enforcement priorities of each agency. Further, the MOU calls for the agencies to share information, as appropriate and to the extent allowable under law.

Notable Supreme Court Decisions

  • The EEOC had a very good year at the Supreme Court during this year, with three major decisions coming down. These involved: reasonable accommodation of religious garb and when knowledge of the religious nature of the garb can be imputed to an employer; a ruling that a pregnant worker wishing to show disparate treatment through indirect evidence may do so through the applica­tion of the McDonnell Douglas framework; and narrowly spelled out the limited judicial review that courts may exercise in determining whether the statutory obligation for conciliation is met.

Appellate Decisions

  • In EEOC v. New Breed, 783 F. 3d 1057 (6th Cir. 2015), the Sixth Circuit upheld a $1.5 million jury verdict for the EEOC and four workers subjected to unlawful sexual harassment and retaliation.  The holding established new law: an oral complaint to the harasser to stop harassment is protected by Title VII.
  • In Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau,__F.3d__ , 2015 WL 2116849 (4th Cir. 2015) (amicus) (reh'g en banc), a former African American hotel employee brought a lawsuit against her former employer for racial discrimination and retaliation.  On rehearing en banc, the full Court of Appeals held that an employee is protected from retaliation for opposing an isolated incident of harassment when she reasonably believes that a hostile work environment is in progress.
  • In Lewis v. High Point Regional Health System,  __ F.3d __, 2015 WL 221615 (E.D.N.C. Jan. 15, 2015) plaintiff Xyaira Lewis claimed that High Point Regional Health System violated Title VII by refusing to hire her because of her transgender status.  In response to High Point's motion to dismiss, the EEOC filed a brief as amicus curiae.  The district court denied High Point's motion and citing to the Commission's amicus brief, recognized that sexual orientation is different from transgender status.  However, because High Point relied on sexual orientation case law, the court denies High Point's motion to dismiss Lewis' complaint.  The court does not reach the larger issue of whether disparate treatment of an employee because she is transgender is discrimination because of sex under Title VII.

Notable EEOC Resolutions

  • The EEOC resolved a nationwide pattern-or-practice lawsuit, EEOC v. Patterson-UTI Drilling Co., LLC (D. Colo. Apr. 27, 2015), for $14.5 million on behalf of thousands of minority employees (Asians, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders, American Indian, Alaska Natives, African-Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and biracial people) subjected to race and national origin harassment.  The abuse included frequent and pervasive barrages of racial and ethnic slurs, jokes and comments, as well as verbal and physical harassment and intimidation of minority employees.  They were also assigned to the lowest-level jobs, disciplined and demoted more frequently and were denied training and promotions. 
  • On April 9, the Miami District Office enters into a historic $150,000 settlement with a Florida-based organization of health care professionals to resolve EEOC v. Lakeland Eye Clinic, P.A. (M.D. Fla.), a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination on the basis of transgender status. This case and another filed the same day, mark the first time the EEOC filed a case alleging sex discrimination on behalf of a transgender employee.  The EEOC alleged that the charging party had performed her duties satisfactorily but after she began to present as a woman and informed the clinic she was transgender, Lakeland fired her.  In addition to monetary relief, Lakeland agreed to create a new gender discrimination policy, and train its employees on transgender/gender stereotype discrimination.

Notable Federal Sector Decision

  • In Complainant v. Dep't of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133395, the Commission found that the Army's decision to restrict complainant's access to the common women's restroom on account of her gender identity (transgender woman) constituted sex discrim­ination under Title VII.
  • The Commission issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking inviting the public to submit comments regarding the federal sector EEO complaint process in an effort to make the process more efficient and user-friendly.

Significant Guidance

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