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In Our Judgement: In Law & In Life

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In Our Judgment

The official Frantz, McConnell, and Seymour, LLP blog.

Providing insight on developments in labor and employment law affecting East Tennessee employers and employees.

Federal Appeals Court Holds Title VII Prohibits Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Federal Appeals Court Holds Title VII Prohibits Sexual Orientation Discrimination

In the last 9 months, I have twice posted on efforts by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a number of private litigants to have federal courts construe federal statutory protections against certain forms of workplace discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for employers subject to the Act to discriminate against employees on account of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. . ..” During the last 40 years, a number of federal courts, including federal appellate courts, regularly rejected efforts to interpret the term “sex” as including sexual orientation and thereby refused to extend anti-discrimination protections to LGBT employees. This was often done on a perfunctory basis and without much reflection or debate on the question.

More recent efforts, however, have proven to be more successful. With the EEOC’s backing, several federal trial courts have reevaluated these previous decisions refusing to extend Title VII protection and concluded that LGBT employees asserting those claims can proceed. A very significant milestone occurred on April 4, 2017, when a United States federal court of appeals held for the first time that Title VII’s prohibition against “sex” discrimination protects employees against discrimination on account of their sexual orientation. What makes this decision even more significant is it was decided by the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (referred to as en banc) rather than a panel of only 3 judges.

This recent decision of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals does not directly impact Tennessee employers. Tennessee is situated within the jurisdiction of the federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Current 6th Circuit precedent holds that sexual orientation discrimination is not prohibited by Title VII. That precedent, however, like in the 7th Circuit, is currently under challenge and litigants no doubt will ask the 6th Circuit to reevaluate its prior holdings within the context of 21st century American society. Ultimately, there can be little doubt this issue will proceed to the United States Supreme Court for ultimate review.

Employers need to understand that while current law in Tennessee may not expose employers to liability on account of claims of sexual orientation discrimination, one judicial decision can immediately change years of legal precedent. As this is a fast developing area of employment law, I urge employers to consider obtaining legal advice whenever addressing complaints of discrimination brought to them by LGBT employees or when considering any action that may be perceived as unfair or discriminatory on account of an employee’s sexual orientation. Experienced employment counsel can assist you when addressing these situations and hopefully in avoiding potential future liability.

If you would like to speak to John Lawhorn on this or any other matter, he may be reached at (865) 546-9321.

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Employee Beware: Understand Your Rights Before Signing or Litigating a Non-Competition Agreement or Other Employment Contract

Employee Beware: Understand Your Rights Before Signing or Litigating a Non-Competition Agreement or Other Employment Contract

I am regularly asked by employees to review various types of employment contracts, including employee non-competition agreements. More often than not these employees are Tennessee residents who work in a Tennessee-based office (or home office) and whose job duties are typically performed in Tennessee. Despite those factors, the contracts presented to them often contain two terms quite troubling to lawyers, but which go unnoticed by our clients.

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UPDATE: TEXAS FEDERAL COURT BLOCKS IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW OVERTIME RULES

UPDATE: TEXAS FEDERAL COURT BLOCKS IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW OVERTIME RULES

Public and private employers throughout the United States received an early holiday gift from a United States district court in Texas on November 22, 2016. As I have discussed previously in this blog, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) issued new rules earlier this year substantially changing the federal law criteria for determining which employees can be deemed “exempt” from overtime requirements. Those new rules were to go into effect December 1, 2016. Currently, to be considered exempt from overtime requirements, an employee had to perform executive, administrative, or professional duties (the “duties test”); had to be paid a set weekly salary that did not change based upon the number of hours worked (the “salary level test”); and, pertinent to the current discussion, had to be paid at least $455.00 per week ($23,660 annually). This last criteria is referred to as the “minimum salary test.”

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Further Developments On Extending Title VII Protection To Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Further Developments On Extending Title VII Protection To Sexual Orientation Discrimination

In August 2016, I discussed a recent decision of the United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeals which held “that Title VII does not redress sexual orientation discrimination.” As I mentioned in that post, the 7th Circuit’s decision was the first federal appeals court opinion on that subject since the United States Supreme Court decision guaranteeing same sex marriage rights under the United States constitution. It is also the first decision of a federal appeals court on that subject since the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced its intention to file federal court lawsuits seeking extension of Title VII protection to claims of sexual orientation discrimination.

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Mandatory Flu Vaccination Policies for Healthcare Workers Are Receiving Court Approval

Mandatory Flu Vaccination Policies for Healthcare Workers Are Receiving Court Approval

As fall approaches, many employers are preparing to offer flu vaccinations to their employees. In most work settings, this is a voluntary benefit that employees may choose to accept or not, based on their own personal beliefs regarding such vaccinations. In the healthcare sector and more particularly within hospital settings, there has been a growing movement to require flu vaccinations of all hospital personnel.

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