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11th Circuit Updates: Wages, Title VII, Rehabilitation

Darryl Walker, et al., v. Jefferson County Board of Education, et al., ____F.3d____ (11th Cir. November 4, 2014).

Brief Summary: Consolidated appeals of school board employees regarding wrongfully calculated wages and overtime. Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

In Walker, employees sued the Jefferson County School Board of Education and Madison City Board of Education, and made various claims for various violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Both Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss asserting that as school boards, they were “arms of the state” and entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit held that a determination of whether an entity is an “arm of the state” must be “assessed in light of the particular function in which the [entity] was engaged when taking the actions out of which liability is asserted to arise.” The Eleventh Circuit held that local school boards are not considered “arms of the state” with respect to employment-related decisions and concluded that the Jefferson County Board of Education and the Madison City Board of Education were not immune under the Eleventh Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the Motion to Dismiss in the Weaver case, and reversed the dismissal of the Complaint in the Walker case.

Lara W. Swindle v. Jefferson County Commission, et al., ____F.3d____ (11th Cir. November 26, 2014).

Brief Summary: Employee filed a lawsuit against her supervisor in his individual capacity for Title VII claims. The employee appealed the district court’s grant of the supervisor’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

In Swindle, the employee filed a personnel complaint with her employer, Jefferson County Commission (JCSO), alleging that two other employees (one which was not a supervisor, but had the authority to assign the employee tasks), had been sexually harassing her for two years. Following an investigation by JCSO, both employees accused of the harassment were terminated. The employee filed a Title VII charge of Discrimination with the EEOC and upon receipt of right-to-sue correspondence, filed a Title VII claim against JCSO, as well as Sheriff Mike Hale, in his individual capacity. In the complaint, the employee alleged that the actions of the two employees constituted sex discrimination, created a hostile work environment and further that she was retaliated against for filing the personnel complaint regarding their behavior. The Eleventh Circuit held that where an employee suffers no adverse employment action, the employer may assert theFaragher-Ellerth affirmative defense, however they must successfully demonstrate the following: (1) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct harassing behavior, and (2) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the employer’s preventative and corrective opportunities or to otherwise avoid harm. The Eleventh Circuit found that Sheriff Hale successfully established the Faragher-Ellerth defense as he sufficiently demonstrated that the JCSO had a formal sexual-harassment policy, there was no dispute about what the policy’s reporting requirements actually were, and that he exercised reasonable care to promptly correct the harassing behavior by promptly investigating the claims, placing the accused employees on administrative leave, and eventually terminating their employment. In sum, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s granting of summary judgment in Sheriff Hale’s favor on the Plaintiff’s title VII claims. In addition, the Eleventh Circuit found that the information which the employee labeled in her amended EEOC charge as sex discrimination, did not serve only to amplify, clarify or focus her EEOC charge and judicial complaint, but rather, were being used to support a separate theory of discrimination. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and held that the employee failed to administratively exhaust her sex-discrimination claim to the extent that it relied on post complaint incidents. Finally, the Eleventh Circuit Eleventh Circuit concluded that the employee failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation “because each post-complaint incident, whether administratively exhausted or not, neither had a tangible, negative effect on her employment nor would have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s granting of the Defendant’s summary judgment on the Plaintiff’s retaliation claim.

Stacey Meyer v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ____F.3d____ (11th Cir. November 17, 2014).

Brief Summary: Employee appealed district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of employer on employee’s claims for violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

In Meyer, the Plaintiff suffered from a myriad of psychological disorders and brought these disabilities to the attention of her supervisor. Thereafter, the Plaintiff was assigned to a different position, requiring less field work. The Plaintiff began accumulating unscheduled absences and was ultimately placed on a leave restriction, which required her to report her arrival and departure times daily and provide certification from a physician each time she was absent from work, which lasted for six (6) months. The Plaintiff was placed on leave restriction on one more occasion, which prompted the Plaintiff to formally request a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act. The Plaintiff came to an agreement with her employer for a different work schedule, however, the employer was advised that the Plaintiff was pursuing recreational activities (going to the park) during work hours. The employer performed surveillance on the Plaintiff which confirmed these claims, however, when confronted by her employer, the Plaintiff refuted the allegations. Thereafter, the Plaintiff was terminated for misconduct. The Eleventh Circuit held that Rehabilitation Act precludes federal employers from subjecting a qualified person with a disability to discrimination “solely by reason of her disability.” The Eleventh Circuit held that the Plaintiff could not prevail if it was demonstrated by either direct or circumstantial evidence that her employer based her termination partially on her disability and partially on other factors. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that there was insufficient evidence to allow a reasonably jury to infer that she was terminated solely by reason of her disability. Further, the Eleventh Circuit held that the Plaintiff only demonstrated temporal proximity, which was not a sufficient demonstration of causation to substantiate a claim for retaliation. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s granting of a judgment as a matter of law in favor of the employer.

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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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