The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) has always required employers with 50 or more employees to submit annual reports, known as “EEO-1” submissions, to the Commission. These report are required to include data concerning the number of employees the company employs based on gender, race, and ethnicity. At two pages long, they were relatively straightforward and the data fairly easy to submit. The requirement has yo-yoed back and forth from being much more onerous over the past several years, with recent developments casting a shadow of uncertainty over the current EEO-1 obligations.

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As we enter the 3rd year of the #MeToo movement, all signs point towards another year of heightened legal activities in the area of gender discrimination and gender equality. Sexual harassment claims will continue to garner news headlines, but there are bigger threats for employers. For many employers, 2019 will be less about whether their female employees are being harassed, and more about whether they are being treated fairly and equally.

What’s the difference you ask? The answer is everything else outside of harassment, including pay equity, opportunity equality, and fair treatment for employees who are pregnant and new parents.

There is no greater indication of this heightened focus on equality than the 116th Congress, which has a record number of women serving. Naturally, legislation aimed to combat gender inequality will be at the forefront. In this post, we identify the legislative and legal trends employers should pay attention to in 2019 as we declare it “The Year of the Woman.”
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Article written for Law360, published on February 6, 2019.

In the past few months, we have seen three different cases of religious accommodation claims, with three very different results.

  • In case one, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failure-to-hire case, on very

Last week, the EEOC released preliminary data on sexual harassment claims for its 2018 fiscal year. The report (not surprisingly) shows an eye-popping rise in sexual harassment claims and enforcement activity – a trend acting EEOC chair Victoria Lipnic anticipates will continue for a while.

Even for employers not affected by New York and New York City’s sweeping sexual harassment prevention laws, or other new state or local laws, the EEOC report underscores the need for HR departments to shore up their discrimination and harassment prevention programs now.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT ENFORCEMENT BY THE NUMBERS

Here is what the EEOC reports:

  • Sexual harassment charges with the EEOC increased by more than 12% from last year. This is the first time in a decade that the EEOC had an increase in annual sexual harassment complaints from the year prior.
  • Sexual harassment lawsuits filed by the EEOC’s attorneys – 41 in 2018 – increased by 50% from the previous year.
  • Reasonable cause findings in sexual harassment cases increased from 970 to nearly 1,200, an increase of over 23%.
  • Successful conciliation proceedings (a formalized mediation process run by the EEOC) jumped from 348 to nearly 500, a 43% increase.
  • Monetary awards recovered for the victims of sexual harassment rose to $70 million, an increase of over 22% from last year’s recovery.
  • The public’s interest in the EEOC’s sexual harassment enforcement efforts also appears to have increased: the EEOC reported that visits to its sexual harassment website page more than doubled compared to last year.


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Recent filings show healthcare employers remain susceptible to religious discrimination claims.

In August, the EEOC filed suit against Hackensack Meridian Health (“Hackensack”), a New Jersey healthcare network, alleging an employee was harassed due to religion. According to the complaint, Hackensack hired Jojy Cheriyan in August 2015 to perform clinical informatics work. The EEOC alleges that his supervisor discovered that Mr. Cheriyan was Catholic, which sparked a strong negative reaction. According to the complaint, the supervisor “exhibited disapproval” when he observed a crucifix in Mr. Cheriyan’s office, and began treating Mr. Cheriyan in a hostile and verbally abusive manner, which included screaming at Mr. Cheriyan during meetings, belittling him and his work, tearing his work up and throwing objects at him.

The EEOC claims that Hackensack was aware of the harassment – due to Mr. Cheriyan’s complaints to management – yet failed to take reasonable corrective actions to put an end to the treatment.

At this time, the litigation is in its infancy with only the August complaint on the docket and an answer due in a few weeks. In its press release about the case, the EEOC’s New York District Director stated, “[p]eople of all religions are entitled to go to work and do their jobs without fear of harassment.”
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Anti-harassment policies are nothing new and we would be shocked to find an employee handbook without one.

But, have they really worked?

In the #MeToo era, it has become clear that these policies have not really been effective and employers are facing increasing scrutiny over why they cannot prevent harassment, and how they handle claims of harassment once they are filed.

Layering onto this is recent federal and state legislation, which makes harassment more expensive and public — like the federal tax law that prohibits companies from deducting harassment settlements if the settlement is subject to a nondisclosure agreement, and New York State’s anti-harassment legislation which will prohibit mandatory arbitration of those claims.

These laws coupled with the increased scrutiny make it essential for employers of all sizes to take a hard look at their anti-harassment program, and determine whether it is doing its job — namely: preventing, disclosing, and dealing with bad behavior in the workplace, before that behavior becomes a lawsuit or explodes on the front page.
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In the past two weeks, we saw two major decisions in the area of LGBTQ rights in the workplace.

First, the Second Circuit in New York held that Title VII does prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., No. 15-3775, 2018 WL 1040820 (2d Cir. Feb. 26, 2018). In Zarda, the New York court overturned past precedent and held that the late Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who claimed that he was fired because he was gay, had a viable claim of gender discrimination under Title VII.

Second, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s decision on EEOC v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral, rejecting the notion that religious beliefs offer an excuse or reason to discriminate. This case took a sharp turn last week when the court held that the Harris Funeral Home had violated Title VII when it terminated Aimee Stephens, a transgender female employee, because she wanted to wear a skirt to work. No. 16-2424 (6th Cir. March 7, 2018). Ms. Stephens transitioned from male to female and the owner of the home (Thomas Rost) claimed that it violated his religious beliefs to allow plaintiff, a biological male, to wear a skirt to work. Ms. Stephens was ultimately fired over this issue. The District Court agreed with Mr. Rost citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which entered final judgment on all counts in the Funeral Home’s favor in August 2016.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit found that Mr. Rost’s Christian beliefs did not override the employee’s right to express her gender. Thus, even considering the employer’s rights under the RFRA, Mr. Rost did not have the right to dictate his employee’s attire. In other words, Ms. Stephens had a right to wear a skirt to work and therefore, was unlawfully terminated.
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Earlier, we blogged about James Damore, an engineer at Google who was terminated for his memo, which openly expressed his belief that women were not “biologically suited” for certain types of positions and criticism of the company’s efforts to diversify its work force.

The engineer challenged his termination by filing a charge with the