D.C. Circuit Lessens Burden of Proof for Title VII Job Transfer Claims

On June 3, 2022, the full court of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned long-standing precedent regarding the burden of proof a plaintiff must carry in pursuing a Title VII Claim.  In Chambers v. District of Columbia (D.C. Cir. 2022), the D. C. Circuit held in a 9-3 en banc decision that when an employer transfers an employee or denies an employee’s request for a transfer because of the employee’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the employer violates Title VII by discriminating against the employee in his or her “terms, conditions, or privileges” of employment. The court’s opinion overruled a nearly 24-year old precedent that held the denial or forced acceptance of a job transfer is actionable only if an employee suffers “objectively tangible harm.”  See Brown v. Brody (D.C. Cir. 1999).  The court’s decision could have sweeping effects on Title VII litigation throughout the country, as the diminished burden of proof is significantly more plaintiff-friendly and causes concern for employers when evaluating job transfers and potentially other employment actions.

Background

The plaintiff worked in the Attorney General’s office in the District of Columbia for more than two decades as a clerk, Support Enforcement Specialist, and investigator.  She requested several transfers to other units in the Attorney General’s office after complaining that she had a much larger caseload than her comparators.  All of her transfer requests were denied, and she ultimately filed an EEOC charge and a lawsuit in 2014 alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. 

The district court relied on Brown in granting the District of Columbia’s motion for summary judgement.  On appeal, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit upheld the district court’ ruling.  However, two of the three judges highlighted that Title VII does not make any reference to “objectively tangible harm” and requested the full court to further review the matter. 

The D.C. Circuit, in common with many other federal courts, has long imposed this tangible harm requirement articulated in Brown because of the view that Title VII is not a general “civility code” and that employees challenging discriminatory decisions should show more than de minimis harm lest courts be involved in supervising myriad routine business decisions. However, the en banc panel overruled Brown – holding that the refusal of a transfer request for one employee while granting similar requests to a similarly situated co-worker on the basis of a protected trait is discriminatory because it “deprives the employee of a job opportunity.”

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US Supreme Court Splits the Baby on Arbitrability of PAGA Claims

By Megan S. Shaked and Samuel S. Rose

In the latest chapter in the enforceability of employment arbitration agreements in California, the United States Supreme Court in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana (Viking River) weighed in on whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts California Supreme Court precedent set in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation (2014) preventing the enforceability of California Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) waivers.

In Iskanian, the California Supreme Court held, in part, that the FAA does not preempt state law prohibiting waiver of PAGA representative actions in employment agreements.  Specifically, the California Supreme Court determined that “an arbitration agreement requiring an employee as a condition of employment to give up the right to bring representative PAGA actions in any forum is contrary to public policy.”

Now with the Viking decision, rather than treating a PAGA waiver as simply unenforceable in its entirety, the US Supreme Court, relying on a severability clause in the arbitration agreement at issue, decided that Continue reading

Artificial Intelligence in the Workforce

On June 7, 2022, Conn Maciel Carey LLP partners Kara Maciel and Jordan Schwartz interviewed EEOC Commissioner Keith Sonderling about the EEOC’s recent focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact on workplace discrimination. 

AI refers to a “machine-based system that can, for a given set of human-defined objectives, make predictions, recommendations or decisions influencing real or virtual environments.”[1]  It can feature in software used to complete tasks previously completed by human beings.  Relevant to the discussion with Commissioner Sonderling, employers can use AI in most employment and/or hiring decisions, such as who to inform about a new position, who to interview, and who to select for a position. 

When making those decisions, employers could suffer liability if they discriminate against an individual based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, pregnancy, disability status, or genetic information[2].  Unlawful discrimination can occur two ways – disparate treatment and disparate impact.  Disparate treatment occurs when individuals are intentionally discriminated against by an employer, whereas disparate impact refers to unintentional discrimination – where an employer’s neutral policies or procedures negatively impact individuals in a particular protected class.  

Employers should be aware, as Commissioner Sonderling stressed in his remarks, that AI technologies are only as good as the data and training used to develop them.  There have been numerous instances where employers who used AI tools to assist in employment and/or hiring decisions have been left with discriminatory results and potential disparate impact liability as a direct result of the technology.

Commissioner Sonderling offered some examples of ways that AI could unintentionally produce discriminatory results in employment decisions:

A Chat with EEOC Commissioner Keith Sonderling: Artificial Intelligence in the Workforce in 2022 and Beyond [Recording]

​On Tuesday, June 7, 2022, Kara Maciel and Jordan Schwartz presented a very special bonus event in Conn Maciel Carey’s 2022 Labor and Employment Webinar Series in the form of a panel webinar program regarding The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on the Workforce in 2022 and Beyond.

Presented by
Conn Maciel Carey LLP with Special Guest
EEOC Commissioner Keith Sonderling

On May 12, 2022, the EEOC issued a Technical Assistance (“TA”) document entitled, “The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Use of Software, Algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence to Assess Job Applicants and Employees” focused on providing “clarity to the public regarding existing requirements” under the ADA and agency policy. This is the first guidance document the EEOC has issued regarding the use of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) in employment decision-making since announcing its Al Initiative in October 2021.

It’s no secret that more employers have turned to AI to enhance their work processes over the years. An estimated 83% of employers have Continue reading

CMC Spotlight: Meet Mikel Koon!

Mikel Smith Koon is Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s first Chief Operating Officer. She brings over 20 years of experience in business management, including 10 years in law firm management, focusing on operations and human resources.

As the COO, Ms. Koon manages CMC’s day-to-day operational efficiency by identifying key procedural issues. She crafts core processes to improve essential business functions that align with the firm’s objectives. She also oversees the administrative divisions of the firm—marketing, accounting, IT, and human resources. As part of the firm’s leadership team, she works directly with the Managing Partners, playing a pivotal role in developing and executing CMC’s strategic plan as the firm continues to expand.

Ms. Koon has an entrepreneurial spirit with special expertise in project and people management. Prior to joining the legal industry, she founded and ran a consulting firm, Mosaik Strategies, for 16 years. Here she was dedicated to coaching small business and nonprofit leaders to establish growth initiatives and build strategic relationships to achieve greater success.

In her spare time, Mikel enjoys running, and she practices Jhoon Rhee-style Tae Kwon Do. She and her husband have two daughters.

Get to Know Mikel!

Where is your favorite vacation spot?  

Any place on a warm beach! For short breaks, I love Cape May, New Jersey. For longer vacations, OBX. If money is no object, Hawaii.

What was your first job?   Continue reading

Chambers USA Recognizes Conn Maciel Carey as 1 of Only 3 “Band 1” Ranked Law Firms for OSHA Law

Conn Maciel Carey LLP (CMC) is honored to announce that the firm has been recognized as one of only three national law firms ranked in Band 1 Nationwide for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Law. CMC is the only “boutique” firm among all of the law firms recognized.

The recognition comes from Chambers and Partners, an independent research company that delivers detailed rankings and insight into the world’s leading lawyers. This is the first year that Chambers has ranked the OSHA Law practice area.

Chambers’ researchers identified CMC as a “leading national boutique handling the full spectrum of labor and employment litigation with particular emphasis on workplace safety issues. The group…maintains a strong track record in complex OSHA inspections and enforcement matters.”

Among the client comments collected by Chambers about the firm, one stated that CMC’s OSHA Team “offers impressive expertise in federal- and state-level workplace safety laws, and has been especially active in recent months guiding clients through COVID-19 compliance…The firm is the real deal; it is a top OSHA firm.”

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[Panel Webinar] A Chat with EEOC Commissioner Keith Sonderling: Artificial Intelligence in the Workforce in 2022 and Beyond

​Join Kara Maciel and Jordan Schwartz on Tuesday, June 7th at 2 PM ET for a very special bonus event in Conn Maciel Carey’s 2022 Labor and Employment Webinar Series in the form of a panel webinar program regarding The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on the Workforce in 2022 and Beyond.

Presented by
Conn Maciel Carey LLP with Special Guest
EEOC Commissioner Keith Sonderling

On May 12, 2022, the EEOC issued a Technical Assistance (“TA”) document entitled, “The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Use of Software, Algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence to Assess Job Applicants and Employees” focused on providing “clarity to the public regarding existing requirements” under the ADA and agency policy. This is the first guidance document the EEOC has issued regarding the use of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) in employment decision-making since announcing its Al Initiative in October 2021.

It’s no secret that more employers have turned to AI to enhance their work processes over the years. An estimated 83% of employers have Continue reading

Employment Law Updates in D.C., MD, VA and Illinois [Webinar Recording]

On Thursday, May 19, 2022, Daniel C. Deacon and Ashley D. Mitchell presented a webinar regarding Employment Law Updates in D.C., MD, VA and Illinois.

CaptureThe District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have enacted or are considering a host of changes that employers need to keep track of in 2022, including increases to the minimum wage and amendments to anti-discrimination laws. Maryland revised its Fair Employment Practices Act to extend the time period for filing a charge of discrimination alleging an unlawful employment practice other than harassment, introduced new requirements for employers to comply with when conducting mass layoffs, amended its leave laws to account for paid bereavement leave, and passed a law permitting employers to file for peace orders on behalf of an employee facing threats or acts of violence in the workplace. The District of Columbia passed a law banning non-compete agreements for almost all employees. Virginia amended its Overtime Wage Act, which now provides overtime protections for employees under state law and establishes a three-year statute of limitations. Virginia also added “disability” to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination under the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA), which came shortly after the VHRA was expanded last year to cover most Virginia employers.

Participants in this webinar learned about: Continue reading

California Supreme Court Adds Fuels to Meal and Rest Break Litigation by Adopting Cumulative Penalties

By Andrew J. Sommer and Samuel S. Rose

For the last couple of years, we have been keeping an eye on Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc. as it’s made its way through the California state courts. Now, the California Supreme Court has issued its unanimous decision with wide-ranging ramifications over meal and rest break violations. As a result of the Court concluding that premium pay for meal and rest break violations is “wages,” it has paved the way to award as well waiting time and wage statement penalties based on meal/rest period violations. The practical impact of this decision is to encourage class action and PAGA (Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act) litigation within the state, providing plaintiffs’ attorneys further remedies in meal and rest period litigation and inflating the settlement value of these cases.

Meal and Rest Break Premiums Are Considered “Wages”

The first issue that the Court considered in Naranjo was whether premium pay available pursuant to Labor Code section 226.7 for meal/rest period violations is considered “wages.” Section 226.7 provides that an “employer shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each work day that [a] meal or rest period is not provided.”

The Supreme Court found that “[a]lthough the extra pay is designed to compensate for the unlawful deprivation of a guaranteed break, it also compensates for the work the employee performed during the break period.” Therefore, the Court concluded, “[t]he extra pay…constitutes wages subject to the same timing and reporting rules as other forms of compensation for work.”

In reversing the Court of Appeal, which held that meal/rest period premium pay did not constitute wages, the Supreme Court noted that the reasoning rested on a “false dichotomy,” namely that the payment must be either a legal remedy or wages. The Court held, for purposes of Section 226.7, premium pay is both a legal remedy and wages, which leads us to the next holding in the case.

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“Pay Now, Dispute Later” Rule Bares Its Teeth

Under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (“MPPAA”), an employer that withdraws from a multiemployer pension plan is assessed “withdrawal liability” which the fund must demand in accordance with a schedule of installment payments in amounts determined under the statute. Any disputes the employer has as to the fund’s assessment must be resolved through arbitration.

Importantly, however, initiating a dispute of the withdrawal liability does not relieve the employer of the duty to make the installment payments as they come due. That is, even where an employer challenges the assessment by requesting review and then initiating arbitration, it still must make interim payments of the assessed amounts in accordance with the fund’s demand and payment schedule. These interim payments must begin within 60 days of the assessment, notwithstanding any request for review, and are colloquially referred to as the “pay now, dispute later” rule.

A recent decision from the District of Columbia district court serves as a useful reminder of the potentially strict application of this rule. In Trustees of the IAM National Pension Fund v. M&K Employee Solutions, LLC, No. 1:20-cv-433 (D.D.C. 2022), the Court held that where an employer refused to make the required interim payments until after successfully challenging and reducing through arbitration the amount demanded by the fund, it was nevertheless liable for the statutory penalties and liquidated damages associated with its failure to make interim payments.

Relying on cases from the Seventh Circuit, the Court stated:

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