Another year has gone by, and yet the lawsuits filed against hotels and other places of public accommodation alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) continues to increase. We still see hundreds of lawsuits filed each month against hotels for their failure to identify and describe accessible features at their properties in sufficient detail on their websites. Many of these lawsuits continue to allege that Online Travel Agencies (“OTAs”) such Expedia, Hotels.com, or Orbitz fail to provide information about the accessible amenities of the hotel, including its rooms, to individuals with disabilities, or fail to allow an individual with a disability to book an accessible guestroom. While it may seem counterintuitive that a Hotel would be responsible for the information provided on the OTAs website, that often is the case.
A ton of ADA lawsuits also continue to be filed every day alleging that hotel websites cannot be used by individuals with visual or hearing impairments (in particular websites that utilize PDFs). Thus, it is extremely important that businesses ensure the accessibility of their websites while also providing an appropriate “accessibility statement” explaining to users the steps you have taken to improve your website’s accessibility.
As COVID-19 infections continue to climb, the EEOC rolled back its guidance that COVID-19 viral screening tests conducted by employers is always permissive under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The updated guidance requires employers to weigh a host of factors and determine whether COVID-19 viral screening is “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” the traditional standard for determining compliance with the ADA.
The Factors Employers Should Consider:
Under the EEOC’s updated FAQs, an employer may, as a mandatory screening measure, administer a COVID-19 viral test, if the employer can show it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” In making this determination, employers should assess these factors:
The level of community transmission
The vaccination status of employees
The accuracy and speed of processing different types of COVID-19 viral tests
The degree to which breakthrough infections are possible for employees who are “up to date” on vaccinations
The ease of transmissibility of the current variant(s)
The possible severity of illness from the current variant
What types of contact employees may have with others in the workplace or elsewhere that they are required to work
The potential effect on operations of an employee enters the workplace with COVID-19
It is worth noting, that employers still cannot require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace.
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.
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.”
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 →
Employee requests for medical and/or religious accommodations in the workplace are not new. However, never before have these accommodation requests been such a hot-button topic, nor have these accommodation requests been used so frequently (and in particular, religious accommodation requests). The imposition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates has changed that, particularly with regard to religious accommodation requests, which has become the ultimate “gray area,” as both employers and employees alike have learned that sincerely held religious belief can include an employee’s religious-based objection to vaccinations. As a result, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance regarding the obligations of employers under Title VII when an employee presents with a religious objection to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, which actually builds upon prior EEOC guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccinations in the employment context. Thus, there are multiple issues that employers need to keep in mind and juggle when addressing these vaccination accommodation requests.
Participants in this webinar learned how to best deal with such requests by their employees, including: Continue reading →
Announcing Conn Maciel Carey’s 2022 Labor and Employment Webinar Series
The legal landscape facing employers seems as difficult to navigate as it has ever been. Keeping track of the ever-changing patchwork of federal, state and local laws governing the workplace may often seem like a full-time job whether you are a human resources professional, in-house attorney or business owner. Change appears to be the one constant. As we enter Year 2 of President Biden’s Administration, employers will continue to closely track the changes taking place at the NLRB, the DOL and the EEOC. At the same time, a number of states will continue introducing new laws and regulations governing workplaces across the country, making it more important than ever for employers to pay attention to the bills pending in the legislatures of the states where they operate.
To register for an individual webinar in the series, click on the link in the program description below. To register for the entire 2022 series, click here to send us an email request, and we will register you. If you missed any of our programs from the past seven years of our annual Labor and Employment Webinar Series, here is a link to an archive of recordings of those webinars.
2022 Labor and Employment Webinar Series – Program Schedule
In October 2020, we published a blog post noting that with relatively low publicity at the time, the State of Maryland had enacted a law titled an “Act for Lodging Establishments – Accessible Rooms for Individuals with Disabilities – Bed Height,” requiring hotels and other places of lodging with at least 4 guestrooms to provide beds of certain heights in accessible guestrooms for individuals with disabilities, even though providing beds of specified heights in accessible guestrooms is not a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Now, once again with little fanfare, the State of Maryland has made an important change to this law, postponing, by one year, when each requirement is phased in over the course of four years. In the original version of the law, at least 25% of the beds in accessible guestrooms would have been required to meet the new requirements (explained below) by December 31, 2021. Now, however, by December 31, 2022 (i.e., instead of 2021), at least 25% of the accessible rooms in a lodging establishment must Continue reading →
Published in the Federal Register on November 5, 2021, the Federal OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard on Vaccination and Testing (“ETS”) first major compliance deadline was December 6, 2021. However, as a result of a stay entered by the 5th Circuit, and the 6th Circuit’s refusal to grant the Biden Administration’s petition to move up the briefing schedule, OSHA cannot begin enforcing, and has ceased all action, including answering employer questions about, the standard. (For continued updates on the status of the ETS review our Employer Defense Report and OSHA Defense Report.) As outlined in greater detail in a previous blog, the ETS generally requires employers with 100 or more employees to: develop employer policies on vaccination; provide paid time off for vaccination and to recover from vaccination; require employees to provide proof of full vaccination or submit to weekly testing; require unvaccinated workers to wear a face covering; remove COVID-19 positive cases from the workplace; and inform employees about the requirements of the ETS, COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and safety, prohibited retaliation, and the criminal penalties associated with knowingly supplying false statements or documentation. Given the robust requirements of the ETS, employers would be well advised to put in place mechanisms for compliance with the ETS in the event the stay is lifted, particularly if there is no delay in compliance deadlines. One important consideration is how to handle ETS-related medical and religious accommodation requests.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation, so long as it does not impose an “undue hardship,” to qualified employees who have a disability. A person with a disability has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment. A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is a person who, with or without a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job. If an employee or applicant with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, employers must engage in an interactive process. In doing so, EEO guidance permits employers to consider whether complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic create a “significant difficulty” in acquiring or providing certain accommodations. For example, it may be more difficult for an employer to provide an employee requesting an accommodation with a temporary re-assignment.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of religion. Employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees with a “sincerely held” religious belief unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden. In Draper v. U.S. Pipe & Foundry Co., the court held Continue reading →
At long last, OSHA has revealed its COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing emergency regulation. The Federal Register site has updated to show the pre-publication package, which is set to run officially in the Federal Register tomorrow, November 5th. The 490-page package includes the Preamble and economic analysis of the regulation, as well as the regulatory text. The regulatory text begins on PDF page 473. Also here is a Fact Sheet about the ETS issued simultaneously by the White House.
We are extremely pleased to report that the rule aligns very well with positions for which CMC’s Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition advocated to OSHA and OMB on the most significant topics, like the responsibility for the cost of COVID-19 testing and a delayed implementation date, as well as very narrow record-preservation requirements, grandfathering of prior vaccine-verification efforts, and other elements. OSHA and the White House clearly listened to our views and the compelling rational we put forward for these positions, making the rule a much better, more effective and less burdensome one for employers.
In the meantime, below is a detailed summary of the rule:
What is the stated purpose of the regulation?
The ETS is “intended to establish minimum vaccination, vaccination verification, face covering, and testing requirements to address the grave danger of COVID-19 in the workplace, and to preempt inconsistent state and local requirements relating to these issues, including requirements that ban or limit employers’ authority to require vaccination, face covering, or testing, regardless of the number of employees.”
Who is covered?
As the president signaled in his announcement and action plan from September 9, the ETS applies only to employers with 100 or more employees, and the rule does make it explicit that the way you count those employees is on a company–wide basis, not establishment-by-establishment.
Earlier this week, the EEOC finally updated its guidance on Title VII and Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates, which will impact how employers will implement their various vaccination, testing, and masking requirements.
US law has long-recognized an exemption from mandatory work policies (including vaccine-mandates) based on sincerely held religious beliefs, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and equivalent state statutes). For employers, evaluating religious exemption requests can be tricky (certainly trickier than requests for medical/disability-based exemptions), as there is often no readily verifiable evidence to help ascertain whether an employee’s religious objection to the work policy is a sincerely held religious belief (or even a religious belief at all). Indeed, although it is permissible to attempt to obtain a supporting statement from a religious leader or another member of their community who is familiar with the employee’s belief system, and employee is not required to provide such a statement, as they may not be affiliated with an organized religion. Furthermore, as an end-around to COVID-19 vaccine-mandates, many employees nationwide are attempting to seek a religious exemption when their actual objections are really based in political, ethical, or personal beliefs.
In response to requests from the regulated community, the EEOC has attempted to provide more clarity so that employers can have more confidence in implementing their accommodations process, and in many instances, to push back on suspect claims by employees of the need for a religious exemption. The guidance does offer some useful tools for employers, but unfortunately, it is not as helpful as we had hoped it might be.
The theme of the EEOC’s updated guidance is that employers must make an individualized evaluation of each employee’s request for a religious accommodation. The EEOC renewed Continue reading →