California Employment Law Notes - July 2015

Author:Mr Anthony Oncidi
Profession:Proskauer Rose LLP
 
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Employee's Inability To Work For A Particular Supervisor Does Not Constitute A "Disability"

Higgins-Williams v. Sutter Med. Found., 237 Cal. App. 4th 78 (2015)

Michaelin Higgins-Williams worked as a clinical assistant in Sutter's Shared Services Department. Higgins-Williams reported to her treating physician that she was stressed because of interactions at work with human resources and her manager. Her physician diagnosed Higgins-Williams with "adjustment disorder with anxiety," and Sutter granted her a stress-related leave of absence of slightly more than 30 days. After returning from the leave of absence, Higgins-Williams received a negative performance evaluation and had additional conflicts with her manager. Shortly thereafter, she submitted a disability accommodation request form in which she sought a transfer to a different department and an additional leave of absence. Following additional leaves of absence, which extended for more than a year, Sutter eventually terminated Higgins-Williams' employment. In her lawsuit, Higgins-Williams alleged disability discrimination, wrongful termination and related claims. The trial court granted the employer's motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeal affirmed on the ground that Higgins-Williams was not disabled because "an employee's inability to work under a particular supervisor because of anxiety and stress related to the supervisor's standard oversight of the employee's job performance does not constitute a mental disability under FEHA." Because Higgins-Williams had failed to indicate to the employer when or if she could return to work, her claim for violation of the CFRA/FMLA was also properly dismissed. See also Roman v. BRE Properties, Inc., 2015 WL 3767790 (Cal. S. Ct. 2015) (unsuccessful plaintiffs in housing disability discrimination lawsuit may not be liable for defendant's costs under the FEHA).

Muslim Applicant Can Proceed With Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2028 (2015)

Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, wore a headscarf when she interviewed for a job with Abercrombie & Fitch. Although the headscarf was not discussed during the interview, the store allegedly decided not to offer Elauf a position after speculating that Elauf had probably worn the headscarf for religious reasons and concluding that the headscarf would violate the store's "Look Policy," which prohibits the wearing of "caps" as too informal for Abercrombie's desired image. The EEOC, which sued Abercrombie on Elauf's behalf, obtained summary judgment from the district court based on its claim that the store had violated Title VII by refusing to hire Elauf. The appellate court reversed the district court on the ground that an employer cannot be liable under Title VII for failing to accommodate a religious practice until the applicant or employee provides the employer with actual knowledge of his or her need for an accommodation. In this opinion, the United States Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and held that in order to prevail in a disparate treatment claim, an applicant must show only that his or her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision - not that the employer had actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation.

Unpaid Interns Who Are "Primary Beneficiaries" Of The Relationship Are Not Employees Under The FLSA

Glatt et al. v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc. et al., 2015 WL 4033018 (2d Cir. 2015)

Plaintiffs Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman were retained as unpaid interns on the Fox Searchlight-distributed film Black Swan; Plaintiff Eden Antalik interned at Fox Searchlight's corporate offices in New York City. Glatt and Footman sued for unpaid wages (minimum wage and overtime) under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the New York Labor Law, while Antalik moved to certify a class of unpaid interns who were retained at certain Fox corporate divisions in New York and a nationwide FLSA collective of unpaid interns retained by those same divisions nationwide. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Glatt and Footman, concluding they had been improperly...

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