Employment Law This Week: EEOC Enforcement Data, Definition of “Religion,” ACA Class Action, Justice Scalia’s Death

Episode 16: Week of February 22, 2016

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Bonus Footage: An Extended Interview with Ronald M. Green

We invite you to view Employment Law This Week - a weekly rundown of the latest news in the field, brought to you by Epstein Becker Green. We look at the latest trends, important court decisions, and new developments that could impact your work. Join us every Monday for a new five-minute episode! Read the firm's press release here and subscribe for updates.

This week’s stories include ...

(1) EEOC Releases FY 2015 Data
Our top story this week: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its fiscal year 2015 enforcement data. Retaliation claims were once again the number one type of charge filed, up 5% from last year, for a total of 44.5% of all charges. Race claims were second, making up 34.7% of all claims. Also, 30.2% of all charges alleged disability discrimination, up 6% from last year. Ronald M. Green from Epstein Becker Green has more on what’s behind the numbers. For information about the EEOC’s new proposed retaliation guidelines, click here. See also our extended interview with Ronald M. Green.

(2) Religious Discrimination Claim Examines Definition of "Religion"
Unorthodox company policies lead to an EEOC religious discrimination claim. The EEOC and United Health Programs of America, Inc. (UHPOA), have filed competing summary judgment motions in a suit about a belief system called “Harnessing Happiness,” or “Onionhead.” Employees of UHPOA are compelled to participate in the program, which includes thanking “God” for their employment and telling co-workers "I love you." UHPOA fired three employees for not participating in the program. In doing so, the EEOC claims that UHPOA violated a religious discrimination prohibition under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “Religion” and “religious beliefs” are defined broadly under Title VII, so the court could conclude that the discrimination prohibition applies in this case, even though Onionhead is not a religion based in any recognized or avowed theology. For more information about the UHPOA suit, click here.

(3) ACA Case of First Impression Moves Forward
The first case alleging denial of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can proceed. A New York Dave & Buster’s restaurant transitioned a group of employees who had been working more than 30 hours per week to part-time status, effectively disqualifying them from getting health insurance under the ACA. In a case of first impression, a class action lawsuit claims that the decision to cut employee hours was made to avoid health care costs. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied Dave & Buster’s motion to dismiss and also ruled that the company may be required to repay the employees for lost wages under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act if the court decides in their favor. Read about how the ACA exposes employers to new class action risks.

(4) The Employment Law Impact of Justice Scalia’s Death
The recent death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia could have an immediate impact on employment law this term. In his nearly 30 years on the court, Justice Scalia left his mark on employment law, writing important decisions in favor of employers and employees. But the sudden passing of the Court's most influential conservative justice could change the outcome of a landmark California case alleging that mandatory union dues violate the First Amendment. The possibility of 4-4 split decisions has implications for all of the cases that the justices are considering this term but most importantly for those expected to be contentious, as in the union dues case. Such a split in this case would leave in place the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that allowed public employers to require union and nonunion members alike to pay union fees. Click here for more information.

(5) In-House Counsel Tip of the Week
Shawn Smith, General Counsel for Nice-Pak Products, gives some advice on effective social media policies.

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