Move Over Dred Scott: NY Appeals Court Upholds Age Discrimination by Feds

Unfortunately, many federal court decisions live in infamy.

Now the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City has added a new one to the list.

A three-judge panel ruled last week that a discriminatory federal hiring program does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because it involves age discrimination, rather than race or sex discrimination.

The Equal Protection Clause states the government shall not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.

Former President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2010 creating the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Pathways Recent Graduates Hiring Program. The program, which took effect in 2012, created a back-door exception to the Age Discrimination in Hiring Act of 1967, allowing federal agencies to limit hiring to applicants who graduated within the past two years. The Pathways program has had an overwhelmingly disparate impact on older workers, who have been barred from applying for 100,000 jobs and counting. This is clear disparate impact discrimination.

The 2nd Circuit panel states in its decision that the federal government proffered a “rational basis” for allowing age discrimination under the Pathways Program – “to replenish a workforce containing an evergrowing number of Federal employees near[ing] retirement age with students and recent graduates.”  Moreover, the panel said the government’s rationale is connected to a “legitimate” government purpose.

How can it be “rational” and “legitimate” to discriminate based on a trait (age) that is not relevant to a job and over which group members have no control?

Continue reading “Move Over Dred Scott: NY Appeals Court Upholds Age Discrimination by Feds”

Age Discrimination in Employment Became More Visible in 2017

Victoria A. Lipnic, the acting chairperson of the EEOC, earlier this month called for a “thorough review” of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).

The chairperson of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, Sen. Susan Collins, questioned why age discrimination is treated differently under the law than discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color and national origin.

The above statements represent a sea change in thinking about age discrimination in employment, which has long been epidemic, unaddressed and invisible in American society.

It is also significant that an attorney for the AARP suggested in 2017 – for the first time – that the ADEA is not up to the task of addressing age discrimination. The AARP claims to advocate for Americans over the age of 50 but has had little impact on age discrimination in employment in the past 50 years, while reaping billions from licensing deals with medical, internet and travel providers that exploit its supposed 38 million membership base  Over the years, the AARP issued press releases (a.k.a.marketing materials) about surveys and studies and a tiny AARP legal advocacy team filed occasional lawsuits or “friend of the court” briefs in age discrimination cases.  But the AARP never put its money where its mouth is, which raises questions about whether the AARP’s advocacy mission is overwhelmed by a conflict of interest with AARP’s mammoth profit-making enterprise. Continue reading “Age Discrimination in Employment Became More Visible in 2017”

Is “Poise” a Qualification or a Subjective Assessment Prone to Bias?

Qualifications normally are an  important consideration in discrimination cases.

In recent weeks, however, the EEOC has ruled in two age discrimination cases that subjective assessments  outweigh objective qualifications.

In both cases, Carlton M. Hadden, Jr. director of the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, held that federal agencies did not engage in age discrimination when they ignored the superior qualifications of older applicants and hired younger, seemingly far less qualified workers. The EEOC, which has declined to comment, upheld both decisions.

In one of the cases, Hadden ruled that an African-American female in her 20s was more qualified for the position of lead police officer at a veteran’s center in Dallas than a 48-year-old white male who was then serving as lead police detective at the center.  The male had 20 years of high-level experience in policing; the female had served a stint in the Army military police.

Hadden said the female candidate “arguably has more experience in the intangible areas sought by the (hiring panel), such as poise, compassion, leadership, and the ability to cope with stress…” But are “poise” and “compassion” really “qualifications” or are they subjective assessments that are subject to cultural bias? And why doesn’t an officer who is in a leadership position show more leadership potential than an individual who is not? These decisions raise questions about whether the EEOC is implementing its own vision of affirmative action rather than federal law.

In the past, courts have looked skeptically at subjective assessments in hiring  because research shows that hiring managers often harbor subconscious bias.

An older candidate may not seem poised if members of the hiring panel harbor bias that older people are ugly, sickly or lacking in enthusiasm.

The issue is important because today there is rarely direct evidence of  discrimination. Plaintiffs must show that the employer’s non-discriminatory explanation for a negative employment action was a pretext for discrimination.  It’s hard to disprove an employer who says the other candidate had more poise and compassion.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 discussed how courts should assess  “plainly superior qualifications”  in the  case of  Ash, et al. v. Tyson Foods, Inc. The U.S. Supreme Court clearly was not talking about  the employer’s subjective assessment of the candidates – that’s what the Court was concerned about.

In the Ash case, the plaintiffs, two African-Americans, argued that Tyson used job qualifications that were not required by company policy to exclude them and justify promoting two white males. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta dismissed their complaint, ruling they had ailed to raise an inference of discrimination.

The 11th Circuit ruled that a plaintiff must show the disparity in qualifications was “so apparent as virtually to jump off the page and slap you in the face.”  The Supreme Court rejected this standard, calling it “”unhelpful” and “ambiguous.”

In the Ash decision, the U.S. Supreme Court referred approvingly to far less stringent standards than the one articulated by the 11th Circuit. The Court noted a federal appeals court in California ruled  that a pretext of discrimination can be found where a candidate was not hired despite  “clearly”superior qualifications.” The Court cited a ruling by a federal appeals court in the District of Columbia that a fact-finder might infer pretext if a “reasonable employer would have found the plaintiff to be significantly better qualified for the job.”

Hadden did not cite any legal authority to justify equating subjective assessments with objective qualifications. The EEOC has declined to comment.

The EEOC routinely rejects subjective assessments in race and sex discrimination cases. Why is there a different standard for age discrimination?

The other age discrimination case dismissed by the EEOC in August condoned hiring workers based on “cultural fit.” This concept is so widely regarded as an invitation for bias that it is now considered taboo even in the business community.

The bottom line is that the EEOC is locked in a time warp, despite the fact that it was designated by Congress to implement the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and should be in the forefront on the issue of equal rights. And, since EEOC cases are secret, we have no way of knowing how many older workers have had their cases dismissed on the basis of reasoning that follows no legal precedent and appears to be the equivalent of a whim.

Federal Courts Criticized for Dismissive Treatment of Employment Discrimination Victims

There is overwhelming evidence that federal courts for years have ignored and marginalized plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases.

Judge Richard A. Posner, one of the nation’s leading appellate judges, recently resigned from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals citing his disgust for the dismissive treatment that his fellow jurists accorded to pro se litigants. The vast majority of pro se litigants are victims of a justice system that is too expensive for all but a privileged few. Most Americans cannot afford to hire an attorney and either must proceed on their own or passively suffer gross injustice. Posner told abovethelaw.com that pro se litigants “deserve a better shake.”

Posner says judges divert the cases of pro se litigants to staff attorneys and then routinely dismiss the case after the employer files a motion for summary judgment.

In addition to Posner, attorneys for the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University School of Law are questioning the high rate of dismissals in lawsuits involving employment discrimination. They filed an amicus brief last month that points to research showing that from 1979 to 2006, the plaintiff win-rate in federal employment cases was only 15%, compared to the 51% success for plaintiffs (a.k.a. businesses) in the non-employment context.

The win rate for victims of employment discrimination was 15% compared to 51% for plaintiffs in the non-employment context.

Continue reading “Federal Courts Criticized for Dismissive Treatment of Employment Discrimination Victims”

Sexual Harassment Victims Forgotten in U.S. Supreme Court Appeal

CRSTOne of the most outrageous court rulings in modern history may be the dismissal of a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by hundreds of female truck driver trainees against CRST Van Expedited Inc., which was then awarded  $4.7 million in attorneys’ fees.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Missouri upheld the lower court’s dismissal of all but two of the plaintiffs but vacated the attorneys’ fee award. One  of the surviving plaintiffs dropped out of the litigation and the other secured an out of court settlement of $50,000.

This week, CRST asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the attorneys’ fee award.

The case was a complete train wreck for the EEOC, which initially represented a class of 270 women. Some of the plaintiffs were subject to shocking and violent incidents of  sexual harassment during training runs with CRST male drivers. When they called CRST to complain about the harassment, they were told they had to remain on the truck overnight with the harasser.

After almost six years of litigation, Iowa Chief Judge Linda R. Reade abruptly dismissed the case in its entirety and awarded $4.7 million in attorney fees to CRST.

The 67 alleged sexual harassment victims were denied justice because the EEOC or the U.S. District Court of Iowa (or both) screwed up. Will taxpayers now be forced to pay CRST’s legal bills?

Continue reading “Sexual Harassment Victims Forgotten in U.S. Supreme Court Appeal”

The Big Short in the Federal Courts

I recently saw an unsettling movie, The Big Short, about the blatant fraud and corruption on Wall Street  that led to the  global economic collapse and the.Great Recession.

Like many film goers, I felt deeply troubled about the Titanic-sized failure of the American government to protect ordinary Americans from predatory behavior and  criminality by Wall Street bankers and brokers.  But later my thoughts turned to another failure that  is currently being ignored by American government and the press, one that I see as an attorney who writes about  the law and workers who are victims of abuse and discrimination in employment.

There has been undisputed and powerful evidence for years that the federal court system, like America’s  financial system, operates to benefit powerful moneyed interests at the expense of ordinary American workers.  A major indicator of this trend is that federal courts routinely dismiss employment discrimination lawsuits at a far higher rate than other types of business lawsuits.

My book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, painstakingly documents how the U.S. Congress and  Supreme Court have made it inordinately difficult for workers to prevail in an age discrimination lawsuit.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ia weak and riddled with loopholes compared to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin and color. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a completely unnecessary ruling in 2009 requiring that age discrimination victims  prove a far higher level of causation than is required under Title VII.  A proposed federal law that would fix the Court’s disastrous ruling has languished in a Congressional committee for six years.  Congress and the Court have legalized discrimination in employment based on age that would be illegal if the victim wore a hijab or hailed from Zimbabwe or Yemen.

At one point last spring, I attempted to contact the Judicial Conference of the United States, a 16-member body (with no citizen representative) that ostensibly runs the federal court system. I wanted to point out that discriminating against employment discrimination victims is tantamount to actual discrimination. I found the Conference’s web site but it contained no contact information. A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC)  suggested that I send my correspondence to the federal circuit court in my jurisdiction, which has a seat on the Conference body.  In exasperation, I submitted  an “open letter” to whom it might concern requesting legal reform via a web form on the AOC web site. I have concluded, rightly or wrongly, that the “leadership” of our federal court system is unapproachable.

In the movie, The Big Short, some savvy observers figured out the housing market was about to collapse and they found a way to make money on the collapse.  It seems likely to me that one day the “bubble” surrounding the federal court system will burst.  Just as there was almost universal faith in the housing market, Americans historically  have shown a high degree of trust in the courts.  That trust is eroded every time the court permits  unscrupulous employers to use the legal system to deny workers respect, dignity and fundamental fairness.

Trust is lost when courts permit employers to use the legal system as a weapon against American workers.

Meanwhile,  President Barack Obama  encouraged age discrimination in hiring when he signed an executive order in 2010 that permits federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire “recent” graduates and  U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez earlier this year endorsed a private initiative by America’s largest corporations that openly discriminates against older workers. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer.

All of this  is happening in plain sight but it has gone largely unreported by the tattered shreds of what remains of America’s once vigorous media.  (I may sound a bit cynical on this score because the 18th richest man in the world, Sheldon Adelson,  a casino operator and major Republican donor who owns a free newspaper in Israel, recently secretly purchased  Nevada’s largest newspaper and immediately began testing the limits of journalism ethics.)

Like the housing market bubble, the bubble in the federal court system is attributable in large part to inattention, neglect and failure of accountability. Continue reading “The Big Short in the Federal Courts”

Thoughts About the EEOC’s New Direction

For an employee advocate, there is something vaguely troubling about the EEOC’s 2015 performance report.

For one thing, the agency touts as an achievement that it provided 3,700 “no-cost” educational training and outreach events to business. But why are taxpayers offering free training to business?  Employers have a legal obligation to follow U.S. law. Isn’t this the cost of doing business?

As an attorney, I have to pay each year to take legal education programs so that I can keep abreast of the law and renew my law license. Can’t Walmart and Microsoft afford a few bucks to learn how to conform to the nation’s discrimination laws.

More importantly, the EEOC brags that it secured a record $356.6 million for victims of discrimination in private, state and local government, and federal workplaces through mediation, conciliation and settlements.  This compares to $65.3 million recovered through litigation.  It’s pretty clear where the EEOC’s focus is these days –  conciliation and mediation. (It’s hard to know what the EEOC’s $356.6 million in conciliation and mediation settlements really signifies without knowing how many cases were settled, the details of the complaints and the settlements.)

It’s fair to ask what is the cost of  this new focus on settlements?

For an employer, a settlement can be more like a pat on the hand than a visit to the woodshed.  The worst case scenario is that employers are permitted to  partnershipworm their way out of serious discrimination liability through free EEOC-sponsored dispute resolution, by paying modest recompense to their victims and agreeing to follow the law for the life of the settlement agreement.  Best of all they can avoid paying court costs and attorney fees associated with litigation. Is this  the best way  to deter discrimination in employment?

It’s not hard to understand the EEOC’s focus on settlements, given the hostility of federal courts to discrimination claims  (and the EEOC) and the drum beat of criticism by federal legislators who are beholden to big business for campaign contributions. But is it a good thing?

The EEOC is required by law to engage in conciliation or to “permit” employers to voluntarily comply with discrimination laws before the EEOC files a lawsuit. A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year held that federal courts may conduct a “narrow” review of whether the EEOC met its statutory obligation with respect to conciliation.  The Court in the case of Mach Mining v. EEOC overturned a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit that held courts lack  the authority to second-guess the EEOC’s conciliation efforts. This ruling may have emboldened employers to demand more acquiesence from the EEOC.

It’s not hard to understand why the victim would buy into a settlement. Poor and middle-class Americans cannot afford legal counsel and federal discrimination law is a hopeless morass as a result of federal court decisions. One retired federal judge says the courts have essentially “gutted” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  Moreover, federal courts dismiss employment discrimination cases at a far higher rate than other business cases. A discrimination victim cannot be blamed for taking a pittance rather than spending years  before hostile federal court judges, at great personal and financial expense, only to end up with the same pittance or nothing.

You might say, “Well at least the victim got something.”  But this kind of thinking makes us all complicit in our broken system of workplace justice

The EEOC states that it achieved “record success” in its conciliation of private-sector charges, with 44 percent of conciliations successfully resolved and 64 percent of systemic investigations resulting in voluntary resolutions. The agency states these “achievements” led to a 6 percent increase in charge resolutions by the EEOC.

Approximately 4,000 fewer charges were filed with the EEOC in FY 2015 compared to FY 2013 (93,727 charges) and there were  10,000 fewer charges compared to FY 2011 (99,947 charges). The economy has certainly improved but are workplaces becoming any fairer?   Or have Americans lost faith that our system of justice will do anything about unfairness in the workplace?

The EEOC resolved 92,641 charges and received 89,385 charges in fiscal year 2015.

In FY 2015, the agency filed  142 lawsuits, which is a  slight increase from the 133 lawsuits filed in FY 2014 and FY 2012 (122 merits lawsuits) but a sharp decline compared to the number of suits filed in past years (250 or more).

Mediation involves a disinterested third-party who guides the parties to a voluntary resolution.

Amazon’s Brutal Conditions No Surprise to Warehouse Workers

Amazon has come full-circle. Not only is Amazon a harsh and stingy place for low-paid hourly warehouse workers, it is also a  Darwinian nightmare for white-collar workers.

The New York Times recently outlined Amazon’s assault on the respect and dignity of  its white-collar workers, who are encouraged to inform on each other and are pushed out  if their performance flags due to a family tragedy or health crisis (i.e. miscarriage, cancer).

Bezos on Monday issued a statement expressing shock about the Times expose, stating he won’t tolerate these “shockingly callous management practices.” He encouraged workers who are victims of this kind of treatment to contact him personally.  “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.” Jeff Bezos

However, Amazon has a history of poorly treating its low-paid   hourly workers at Amazon “wish-fulfillment” centers in Nevada. These workers are subject to  relentless schedules for unpacking and repackaging of goods, constant electronic surveillance, and a system of demerits designed to weed out”weak” performers. They also are forced each workday to donate a half-hour of their personal time to Amazon.

Amazon pays a company called Integrity Staffing Solutions to operate two warehouses in Nevada that serve as storage and order-filling facilities. Integrity has an anti-theft screening procedure that requires workers to wait in line at the end of their shifts, empty their pockets, and walk through metal detectors.  However, Integrity refuses to pay workers for the time it takes to complete this mandatory screening process.

After two hourly workers filed a lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ordered Integrity to pay the warehouse  workers overtime because the time spent for anti-theft screening was a job requirement that benefited only the company.

Integrity took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year reversed the 9th Circuit court and ruled the screenings were “noncompensable postliminary activities.” In other words, the nation’s highest court said the workers weren’t entitled to be paid for the time it took to undergo the mandatory screenings because it wasn’t technically “work.”

All of this is a legal shell game; Amazon  dictates the slim profit/loss ratio that determines the working conditions and pay for warehouse workers.

Amazon’s market valuation is $250 billion and Bezos’ net worth is estimated at $47.7 billion, making him the 15th richest billionaire in the United States.

In his statement to Amazon workers on Monday, Bezos said Amazon is not a “soulless dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard … Hopefully, you’re having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.”Does Bezos really think that Amazon warehouse workers who are forced to donate a half-hour of their workday to Amazon for anti-theft screening are “laughing along the way”?  One can’t help but think that if Bezos really cared about his workforce, he would not cheat already under-paid workers who labor in his warehouses out of a few bucks for time they are forced to spend at work.

If all of this isn’t pathetic enough … Forbes published an article on Monday by Oliver Pursche stating that investors shouldn’t worry about the Times’ depiction of Amazon’s brutal working conditions for white-collar employees, including long hours, infrequent vacations, and a data-based evaluation system some describe as unfair. He contends these conditions technically are not illegal, and the “reasoning behind the company’s corporate culture should be taken as a positive for investors. Amazon’s practices increase efficiency–a plus for a company that reinvests so much that its profits are, at best, razor-thin–and encourage innovation.”

 

High Court Backs Religion

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that an employer may be engaging in illegal discrimination when it implements a neutral policy that fails to accommodate a job applicant’s religious practices, whether or not the applicant has requested a religious accommodation.

The ruling expands protection for religious minorities in the workplace.

Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman, was denied a sales associate position at an Abercrombie store in Tulsa, Okla., in 2008 because she wore a black scarf or hijab during her interview. A hiring official rated Elauf as qualified but asked Abercrombie’s district manager if Elauf’s hijab violated Abercrombie’s “Look Policy,” which prohibited employees from wearing “caps.” She had not discussed the hijab with Elauf but told the manager that she thought it was being worn for religious reasons. Elauf was not hired after the manager said the policy prohibits all headwear, religious or otherwise.

The EEOC sued Abercrombie on Elauf’s behalf, arguing the store violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII requires employers to make exceptions to certain policies, such as dress code, where religion is concerned, provided the accommodation doesn’t incur an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”

The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in Equal Employment Opportunity v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores that Title VII “requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for accommodation.”

The Court said job applicants do not have to specifically ask for a religious accommodation or prove that an employer had actual knowledge of the applicant’s need for a religious accommodation. 

The Court said plaintiffs need only show that their need for an accommodation was a “motivating factor in the employer’s decision” not to hire them.

The decision represents a defeat for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supported Abercrombie in the litigation, but it is not believed to be much of a departure for the Court, which has made religious freedom a priority. The Court last year ruled 5-4 that the government could not require the owners of private companies like Hobby Lobby to provide female workers with contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act when it violated their religious beliefs.

Continue reading “High Court Backs Religion”

Judicial Conference: To Whom it May Concern

The evidence has been building for years that federal courts are hostile to discrimination plaintiffs, and that corporate plaintiffs fare much better than individual plaintiffs.

The U.S. Courts were created under Article III of the Constitution to administer justice fairly and impartially.  So  it doesn’t seem right that federal judges appear to be biased, either consciously or unconsciously, against the discrimination victims and the individual plaintiffs who appear before them.

Individual federal judges are working to improve the operation of federal courts but this obviously is a systemic problem that deserves a systemic solution. Shouldn’t the entity that runs our nation’s federal court system be working to insure that our courts are independent and unbiased forums for all.

It seems the Judicial Conference of the United States runs our federal court system. The Conference describes itself as the “national policy making body” for U.S. courts and it is charged with “studying the operation and effect of the general rules of practice and procedure in the federal courts.”  The conference appears to be a 16-member body (with two observers) that is run by Chief Justice John G. Roberts. It includes the Chief Judge of the Court of International Trade and a district judge from each regional judicial circuit. There are no citizen representatives.

How do you contact the Judicial Conference? The web site of the Judicial Conference lacks  contact information, stating: “Requests for consideration of items by the Judicial Conference of the United States or one of its committees should be directed to the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.” There is no contact information or link to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts but I did a web search and found it here.

Nothing on the AOC landing page indicates how to contact the director of the AOC or what other individual(s) might receive a complaint about apparent systemic discrimination in federal courts. At the bottom of the page there is a “contact us” tab that leads to the AOC’s Washington D.C. address, the phone number of the “Public Information Officer” and a “Send us a Message” form. The “Send us a Message” form states: “Have a comment about uscourts.gov? Find a broken link? Need help finding a publication or statistics? Send us a message by filling out the form below. If you’d like a response, be sure to include your email address.”

I don’t have a comment, didn’t find a broken link and I’m not trying to find a publication. My problem deals with the nationwide apparent systemic unfairness of our federal courts toward discrimination victims and the apparent preferential treatment accorded to corporations. I want to know what, if anything, the leadership of our nation’s federal courts is doing to insure that these courts are independent and unbiased forums for all. Still, I left the following message on the AOC’s web site;

To Whom it May Concern:

I don’t have a comment, haven’t found a broken link, and don’t need a publication or statistics. I am contacting your because I think there is a major systemic problem in our federal court system that has existed for years. There is significant research showing that federal judges dismiss employment discrimination cases at a far higher rate than other types of cases, and that they accord preferential treatment to corporate plaintiffs. This doesn’t seem fair. What, if anything, are you doing to address this? Oh, I guess I do want a statistic after-all. What is the racial composition of the conference?  Thanks! Patricia G. Barnes

I might have directed them to my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, which contains several suggestions for improving federal courts, but I don’t want to seem impudent.

AOC Public  Information Officer, Karen Redmond said the Judicial Conference ordinarily addresses issues that are brought to its attention by the various federal circuits.  She said American citizens who have a problem normally go to the federal circuit court in their geographical area to seek redress.

Frankly, I won’t hold my breath waiting for the  answer from the Judicial Conference.  I get the feeling from its web site that the Judicial Conference isn’t keen on citizen input. But if I do get a response, I’ll be sure to tell you.