The Employment Law Toolkit

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Chapter 2 The Employment Law Toolkit: Resources for Understanding the Law and Recurring Legal Concepts

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Learning Objectives (1)

Understand how to read and digest legal cases and citations

Explain and distinguish the concepts of stare decisis and precedent

Evaluate whether an employee is an at-will employee

Determine if an at-will employee has sufficient basis for wrongful discharge

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Learning Objectives (2)

Recite and explain at least three exceptions to employment-at-will

Distinguish between disparate impact and disparate treatment discrimination claims

Provide several bases for employer defenses to employment discrimination claims

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Learning Objectives (3)

Determine if there is sufficient basis for a retaliation claim by an employee

Identify sources for further legal information and resources

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Stare Decisis and Precedent (1)

Stare decisis (stand by a decision)

Process of a court using prior decisions to determine decision for case before it

Decision may be a concurring or a dissenting opinion

States have court systems parallel to the federal court system

Trial court  intermediate court of appeals  state supreme court

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Stare Decisis and Precedent (2)

Interplay between states and the federal court system

U.S. Supreme Court decisions are final

Congress can pass a law to change a Court decision if it believes the Court’s interpretation is not in keeping with the law’s intended purpose

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Understanding the Case Parties

Key Terms Meaning
Plaintiff One who brings a civil action in court
Defendant One against whom a case is brought
Appellant One who brings an appeal
Appellee One against whom an appeal is brought
Petitioner One who appeals a case to the Supreme Court
Respondent One against whom a case is appealed at the Supreme Court

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Understanding the Case: Information

Key Terms Meaning
Law reporter Book in which court opinions are placed
Case citation The line after the case name in the law reporter that has several numbers and a few letters
Motion to dismiss Request by a defendant for the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s case
Motion for summary judgment Defendant’s request for the court to rule on the plaintiff’s case based on the documents submitted, alleging there are no triable issues of fact to be decided
Per curiam Brief determination made by an appellate court, not issued by a particular judge

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Prima Facie Case

Cause of action: Right provided by law for a party to sue for remedies when certain legal rights are violated

Prima facie case: Presentation of evidence that fits each requirement of a cause of action

Establishes plaintiff’s claim to a cause of action

Requires defendant to establish all the elements of the claim(s)

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At-Will Employment

Employment relationship where there is no contractual obligation to remain in the relationship

Employee could work for the employer as long as he or she wished and leave when he or she no longer wished to work

Either party may terminate the relationship

Employer cannot terminate a worker based on race, gender, religion, national origin, age, or disability

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Exclusions from At-Will Employment

Government employment

Employees under a collective bargaining agreement

Employees who have an individual contract with their employer

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Public Policy Exception

Public policy: Legal concept intended to ensure that no individual lawfully does that which may injure the public or damage the public good

Whistle-blowing: Occurs when an employee reports an employer’s wrongdoing

Protections

Federal Whistleblower Statute

Whistleblowers Protection Act

State protection

 

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Retaliatory Discharge

Terminations in response to an employee exercising rights provided by law

E.g., filing a claim charging discrimination

Constitutional protections

Employer is prohibited from terminating a worker or taking other adverse employment action against a worker on the basis of the worker’s engaging in constitutionally protected activities

State action – Protections vary from state to state

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Retaliatory Discharge: Prima Facie Case

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White

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Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing Exception

Implied contractual obligation to act in good faith in the fulfillment of each party’s reasonable contractual expectations

The court examines the parties’ actions to ascertain whether termination demonstrated bad faith

Case: Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc.

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Implied Contract Exception

Implied contract: Contract that is not expressed but is created by other words or conduct of the parties involved

Courts have found contracts implied from off-hand statements made by employers during preemployment interviews

Melott v. ACC Operations, Inc.

 

 

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Promissory Estoppel Exception: Prima Facie Case; other statutes of note

Similar to the implied contract claim except that the promise, implied or expressed, does not rise to the level of a contract

Other statutory exceptions to employment at-will

Occupational Safety and Health Act

Fair Labor Standards Act

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

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Constructive Discharge

Constructive discharge: Occurs when the employee is given no reasonable alternative but to end the employment relationship

Considered an involuntary act on the part of the employee

Restricts employers’ actions of wrongful termination

Paloni v. City of Albuquerque Police Department (no)

Nassar v. Univ. of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas (yes)

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Other Restrictions on At-Will Doctrine

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN)

Requires that employers with over 100 employees must give 60 days’ advance notice of a plant closing or mass layoff to affected employees

Exceptions

Faltering company exception

Sudden, dramatic, unexpected business changes

Certain natural calamities

 

 

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Other Exceptions to At-Will Doctrine

Wrongful Discharge Based on Other Tort Liability

Tort of intentional and outrageous conduct

Tort claim for emotional distress

Tort action of defamation

Wrongful invasion of privacy

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Federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information

Generally two types of discrimination claims:

Disparate treatment

Disparate impact

Employment Discrimination

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Disparate treatment: Treating similarly situated employee differently because of prohibited Title VII or other employment discrimination law factors

Considered intentional discrimination

Employment Discrimination Concepts: Disparate Treatment

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Employment Discrimination Concepts, Disparate Treatment: Prima Facie Case

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Employment Discrimination Concepts, Disparate Treatment: Defenses

Employer’s defense

Legitimate, Nondiscriminatory Reason Defense

Employee’s counter – Employee can counter with evidence that the employer’s legitimate, non-discriminatory reason was a mere pretext for the employer to discriminate

The Bona Fide Occupational Qualification Defense: Permissible discrimination if legally necessary for employer’s particular business

Legalized discrimination, narrowly construed by the courts

Case: Wilson v. Southwest Airlines Company

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Employment Discrimination Concepts: Disparate Impact (1)

Disparate impact: Discriminatory effect of a facially neutral policy on a Title VII group

Facially neutral policy: Workplace policy that applies equally to all appropriate employees

Case: Griggs v. Duke Power Company

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Employment Discrimination Concepts: Disparate Impact (2)

Screening device: Mechanism used to separate applicants from the general pool of candidates

Four-fifths rule: Minority group must perform at least 80 percent (four-fifths) as well as the majority group under a screening device

If the requirement is not met, a presumption arises that the screening device has a disparate impact on the minority group and must be shown to serve a legitimate business necessity

Subjective or objective criteria are a concern

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Employment Discrimination Concepts: Disparate Impact (3)

Preemployment interviews

Employment applications

Business necessity: Defense to a disparate impact case based on the employer’s need for the policy as a legitimate requirement for the job

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Other Defenses to Employment Discrimination Claims

Employee’s evidence is not true

Employer’s “bottom line” comes out correctly

Case: Connecticut v. Teal

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Other Common Concepts (1)

Accommodation: Employer’s duty in Title VII religious discrimination claims and under Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to accommodate workplace conflicts

Should not cause undue hardship to the employer

Extent of duty varies between religious and disability accommodations

Retaliation: Provisions allowing employees to file separate claims for negative consequences experienced from their employers for pursuing their lawful rights

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Other Common Concepts (2)

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Going through the EEOC administrative procedure before being permitted to seek judicial review of an agency decision

 

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Exhibit 2.9 – Employment Discrimination Remedies

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Employment Discrimination Remedies (1)

Key Terms Meaning
Back pay Money awarded for time employee was not working because of illegal discrimination
Front pay Equitable remedy of money awarded to claimant when reinstatement is not possible or feasible
Retroactive seniority Seniority that dates back to the time the claimant was treated illegally

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Employment Discrimination Remedies (2)

Key Terms Meaning
Make-whole relief Attempt to put the claimant in position he or she would have been been in had there been no discrimination
Compensatory damages Money damages given to a party to compensate for direct losses due to an injury suffered
Punitive damages Money over and above compensatory damages, imposed by a court to punish employer or deter future acts

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