Employment Law This Week®: Missing Comma Affects Case, Sexual Orientation Discrimination, DOL Budget Cuts, New Complaint Filing System

Episode 65: Week of March 27, 2017

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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) Drivers Win Overtime Dispute Because of Missing Comma

Our top story: “For Want of a Comma.” It seems that punctuation was a key factor in a recent class action suit from a group of dairy delivery drivers in Maine. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that an exemption in the states overtime law is ambiguous enough to support the drivers’ overtime claim. The drivers argued that the exemption applies only to workers who pack perishable food products for distribution—and not those who actually distribute the products. On appeal, the First Circuit agreed that a missing “Oxford” comma makes the drivers’ reading of the exemption a reasonable one. Michael Thompson, from Epstein Becker Green, has more:

“Different courts will apply different standards when they’re evaluating ambiguous statutes or regulations. Some courts will look only at the text of the statute or regulation itself. Some courts will look at the legislative history of the statute. In this case, the First Circuit said that the Maine wage-hour law had a real purpose and was intended to pay employees time and a half when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek. It was unclear if it applied in this case, but, given the purpose of the statute, the First Circuit would presume that it was intended to pay these plaintiffs time and a half when they worked more than 40 hours in the workweek.”

Read a recent blog post on this topic.  Watch the extended version of this interview.

(2) Eleventh Circuit: Title VII Doesn’t Cover Sexual Orientation

The Eleventh Circuit rules that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. A security guard at a hospital in Georgia alleged that she was harassed at work because she is a lesbian and does not conform to gender norms. A split panel of the Eleventh Circuit partially affirmed a district court’s dismissal of the case, holding that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation. However, the panel gave the pro se plaintiff a chance to amend her complaint to claim that she was discriminated against for not conforming to female gender stereotypes. The decision is at odds with an interpretation of Title VII by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and pending cases in the Second and Seventh Circuits could create a circuit split that will likely result in this issue being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

(3) White House Proposes DOL Budget Cuts

President Trump calls for cuts to the budget of the Department of Labor (DOL). The White House’s 2018 preliminary “skinny” budget proposal would cut $2.5 billion of funding from the DOL, scaling back the agency’s budget by 21 percent and possibly hampering the DOL’s enforcement and investigation efforts. Among other proposed cuts, the budget would eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which provides job training for seniors, and scale back training programs for disadvantaged young people. The budget would boost funding for investigations into fraudulent unemployment insurance claims.

(4) EEOC Introduces New Electronic Complaint Filing System

Filing a charge of discrimination may get even easier. The EEOC has announced a new online filing system for those claiming discrimination in employment and hiring. The EEOC has launched online portals for people in Charlotte, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Seattle. The new system will allow those living or working within 100 miles of EEOC offices in the pilot program to submit inquiries and schedule intake interviews electronically.

Click here for more details on the new system: http://bit.ly/2mxc5B4

(5) Tip of the Week

SIFMA’s President and CEO, Kenneth Bentsen, has some advice on how to stay on top of regulatory changes under the new administration:

“There’s a lot of discussion about what’s going to happen with financial rules, what’s going to happen with Dodd-Frank. We think it’s a sea change from where we’ve been, but this is going to take some time. ... I would look for the activity at the regulatory agencies, at the Treasury Department and the Fed, to start to shift, because, again, the posture towards the industry has shifted about 180 degrees. But moving that battleship around is going to take some time. So, you gotta keep moving forward on what you have in front of you. But start thinking about where you could make changes in the future.”

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