Labor and Employment

JurisdictionUnited States,Federal
Publication year2020
CitationVol. 71 No. 4

Labor and Employment

W. Jonathan Martin II

Patricia-Anne Brownback

[Page 1059]

Labor and Employment


by W. Jonathan Martin II* and Patricia-Anne Brownback**


I. Introduction

This Article focuses on case law concerning federal laws pertaining to labor and employment. The following is a discussion of those opinions.1

II. Supreme Court Decisions

The Supreme Court of the United States issued two decisions affecting labor and employment laws in 2019.

In Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis,2 the Court held that Title VII's3 charge-filing requirement was not a jurisdictional requirement.4 When a requirement is jurisdictional, it means that Congress specifically targeted it to take away the courts' subject-matter jurisdiction if that particular requirement is not met.5 Under Title VII, an employee is required to file a charge with the Equal Employment opportunity

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Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the date the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.6 Here, the Court held that federal courts do not lose jurisdiction over a Title VII civil suit if the employee fails to meet Title VII's charge-filing requirement.7

In Davis, a former county employee filed a complaint with the County Human Resources Department, alleging that her director had sexually harassed and assaulted her.8 Davis filed an EEOC charge in March 2011 claiming the same. Davis's supervisor informed her that she was still expected to report for work while her EEOC charge was pending, but Davis told her supervisor that she planned to attend church on a day she was scheduled to work. Her supervisor cautioned her that if she did not report to work, she would be terminated. Davis went to church instead of reporting to work, as requested by her supervisor, and she was subsequently terminated by the county.9

Davis then filed civil suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in January 2012, alleging both religious discrimination and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment.10 The district court granted Fort Bend's motion for summary judgment on all claims. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed as to Davis's retaliation claim but reversed as to her religion-based discrimination claim.11

on remand, Fort Bend claimed, for the first time, that the district court did not have jurisdiction over Davis's religion claim because she had not asserted that claim before the EEOC.12 The district court found that Davis had not met the charge-filing requirement under Title VII, and that because the requirement was jurisdictional, the district court no longer had adjudicatory authority to hear her civil case. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that Title VII's charge-filing requirement was not jurisdictional. Instead, the requirement is a procedural prerequisite to a civil suit, and since Fort Bend did not raise this procedural issue until the case was back on remand, it lost the opportunity to use it as a defense.13

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on appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit's holding that the charge-filing requirement in Title VII is not jurisdictional.14 Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, stated that federal courts are granted "jurisdiction over Title VII actions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331's[15 ] grant of general federal-question jurisdiction, and Title VII's own jurisdictional provision, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3) . . . . Separate provisions of Title VII, § 2000e-5(e)(1) and (f)(1), contain the Act's charge-filing requirement."16 Instead, the charge-filing requirement requires an employee "to submit information to the EEOC and to wait a specified period before commencing a civil action."17 In other words, the procedural requirements under Title VII are mandatory but not statutorily tied to the jurisdictional prescription found in Title VII.18

on April 24, 2019, the Supreme Court held 5-4, in Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela,19 that under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA),20 an ambiguous agreement cannot provide the necessary contractual basis for compelling class arbitration.21

Here, Varela filed state and federal claims on behalf of a putative class of approximately 1,300 fellow employees of Lamps Plus whose tax information had been compromised as a result of a security breach at Lamps Plus. Lamps Plus then moved to compel arbitration on an individual rather than a class-wide basis, and to dismiss the suit—citing the arbitration agreement its employees signed before beginning work with the Company. While the district court granted the motion to compel arbitration and dismissed Varela's claims, it rejected the request to compel individual arbitration and allowed the arbitration to move forward on a class-wide basis. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the arbitration agreement was ambiguous regarding class arbitration. The Ninth Circuit followed California law in construing the ambiguity against the drafter, Lamps Plus, and adopted Varela's interpretation of the agreement which authorized class arbitration.22

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The Supreme Court reversed.23 Writing for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice Roberts stated that "an ambiguous agreement [cannot] provide the necessary 'contractual basis' for compelling class arbitration [under the FAA]."24 The Court held that because of the marked distinctions between individual and class arbitration, it is not appropriate for courts to infer consent to participate in individual or class arbitration "absent an affirmative 'contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so.'"25 Because of this, "courts may not rely on state contract principles [of ambiguity] to 'reshape traditional individualized arbitration by mandating classwide arbitration procedures without the parties' consent."26 In relying on this basic contract principle of consent, the Court has put employers and employees on notice that any arbitration agreements entered into need to explicitly state whether they will be conducted on an individual or class-wide basis.27

III. Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)28 prohibits discrimination by employers against qualified disabled individuals.29 A "disability" under the ADA includes "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities . . . a record of such impairment; or [] being regarded as having such an impairment . . . ."30 Major life activities include, among others, "caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working."31

Cases brought under the ADA are examined under a burden-shifting analysis, where the employee must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination.32 To establish a prima facie case of ADA discrimination, an employee must show "(1) a disability, (2) that she was otherwise qualified to perform the job, and (3) that she was discriminated against

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based upon the disability."33 once an employee has made out a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden then shifts to the employer to demonstrate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions.34 If the employer meets this burden, the presumption of

discrimination disappears, but the plaintiff can still prove discrimination by offering evidence demonstrating that the employer's explanation is pretextual.35

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. STME, LLC,36 the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the ADA only protects individuals from "discrimination because of a current, past, or perceived disability—not a potential future disability."37 Here the employee, Lowe, began working for Massage Envy-South Tampa (Massage Envy) as a massage therapist in January 2012. In September 2014, Lowe requested time off so that she could visit family in Ghana. Her request was initially approved by her manager but was later denied by one of the owners of Massage Envy out of fear that Lowe might contract Ebola by visiting West Africa. Lowe was also threatened termination if she proceeded with her trip. Lowe traveled to Ghana regardless, and was not allowed to work at Massage Envy upon her return.38

In November 2014, Lowe filed an EEOC charge alleging that Massage Envy discriminated against her because it "'perceived [her] as disabled or . . . as having [the] potential to become disabled,' in violation of the ADA."39 The EEOC filed suit on Lowe's behalf, alleging that Ebola constitutes a disability under the ADA, and that Massage Envy discriminated against Lowe by terminating her upon her return from Ghana because it regarded her as disabled.40 Also, that Massage Envy violated the ADA by terminating Lowe based on its fear of Ebola and "her association with people in Ghana whom Massage Envy believed to be disabled by Ebola."41 The EEOC later moved to amend its complaint to include an ADA unlawful interference claim. In the new claim, the

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EEOC alleged that Massage Envy violated Lowe's "right to a reasonable accommodation if Lowe actually developed Ebola; and [] the right to associate with disabled persons, i.e., people in Ghana with Ebola."42 Massage Envy moved to dismiss the EEOC's amended complaint.43

The district court granted Massage Envy's motion to dismiss and denied the EEOC's motion to file a second amended complaint. The court found that the ADA's "regarded as having" language does not apply to instances where the employee is currently healthy, with only the potential to become disabled due to voluntary conduct. The district court also rejected the EEOC's association claim because the EEOC did not allege that Massage Envy had knowledge that anyone associated with Lowe was exposed to or disabled by Ebola at the time she was terminated.44

on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit held that the "relevant time period for...

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