Many employers require employees and applicants to take personality testing (think Myers-Briggs). Others are seriously considering adding this as a component of their hiring and employee engagement efforts. Companies want to get a sense of an individual’s opinions, attitudes, feelings, motivations, preferences, interests, emotional makeup, and style of interacting with others. This information, some believe, can help employers make predictions regarding job performance and success. At the very least, it allows employers to get to know an applicant through more than just the traditional interview process. These tests, however, raise many legal issues, particularly in the areas of potential discrimination claims and privacy concerns.

As an initial recognition, personality is not a protected class. Indeed, courts have routinely held that someone’s personality is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to not hire an applicant or take adverse employment action against an employee. Yet personality testing still has the potential of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). For example, if an applicant can show that the personality trait for which the employer screened was really a mask for discrimination of a protected class, the employer could be found to violate federal discrimination laws. So, if the employer is screening for a personality trait it connects with a protected class and makes its decisions based on that trait (possibly as a proxy or substitute for that class), that can constitute discrimination.

Furthermore, Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA all have requirements for all employee testing that employers must adhere to when giving a personality test. For example, Title VII permits employers to administer professionally developed ability tests and take action based on the result. But, such tests must be implemented in a way that does not discriminate against protected classes, and ideally validated in advance as not having a discriminatory effect. Furthermore, employers are prohibited from adjusting the test scores based on an individual’s protected characteristics; using different cut-off scores for different protected classes; or otherwise altering the results of the test in any way. Lastly, the test must be job-related for the position at issue and consistent with a business necessity.

Testing clearly presents risks – of claims of discrimination, in addition to actual proof of such behavior. There have been numerous lawsuits related to personality testing under the ADA, Title VII, and the ADEA, with topics litigated including:

  • allegations of bias in determining traits important for the job
  • an employer purportedly asking questions that implicate protected characteristics
  • claims of bias in administration and scoring
  • whether the testing is a prohibited pre-offer medical examination
  • whether the test suggests a disability or a perceived disability based on the results, and
  • allegations of administering the test to discriminate based on age.

So, before you implement, add or change tests for employees or applicants, you will want to consider the risks they pose and balance that against the expected benefits of the testing.

Personality tests also raise potential privacy issues. While personality tests do not appear to violate the federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act, they may violate more restrictive state laws. For example, a Massachusetts law prohibits testing that renders an opinion on a job applicant’s honesty. Employers may also face claims based on the intrusiveness of the questioning (i.e., the questions are highly personal and/or offensive), or a failure to protect the privacy of the results. These state-law claims have thus far been brought have not seen notable success, but they have also not been tested nationwide, and new state and local privacy laws are enacted every year.

As personality testing becomes more and more popular among employers, interpretations of existing laws will inevitably become clearer and more settled. But new laws will likely join them, creating regular confusion and doubt. The best bet is to work your favorite employment counsel to help review and craft a personality testing policy that both conforms with existing law and is flexible enough to evolve as the issue changes over time.

For the past several years, folks in the HR space have had to pay special attention to the language in their handbooks and employment policies out of fear of violating rules established by a series of decisions from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Those decisions established a tough standard for evaluating facially neutral employment policies that complied with their interpretations of labor law. Combined with an aggressive NLRB enforcement strategy, employers have understandably been on edge with respect to their workplace rules and policies.

Under that standard, the NLRB found that employers violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by maintaining workplace rules that did not explicitly prohibit protected activities, were not adopted in response to such activities, and were not applied to restrict such activities, if the rules would be “reasonably construed” by an employee to prohibit the exercise of his or her NLRA right to engage in “protected, concerted activity.”

On December 14, 2017, however, the NLRB replaced that standard with a new one. In The Boeing Company, 365 NLRB No. 154 (2017), the NLRB established a new test for workplace rules and policies:  when evaluating a facially neutral policy, rule or handbook provision that, when reasonably interpreted, would potentially interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights, the NLRB will evaluate two things: (i) the nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights, and (ii) legitimate justifications associated with the rule.

This standard is much more favorable to employers. Many policies which would have violated the previous standard will now be considered appropriate and lawful.

Additionally, the NLRB also announced three categories of rules will be delineated to provide greater clarity and certainty to employees, employers, and unions:

  • Category 1: This will include rules that the NLRB designates as lawful to maintain, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. (An example of a Category 1 rules is the no-camera requirement maintained by Boeing in the case.)
  • Category 2: This will include rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case as to whether the rule would prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights, and if so, whether any adverse impact on NLRA-protected conduct is outweighed by legitimate justifications.
  • Category 3: This will include rules that the NLRB will designate as unlawful to maintain because they would prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct, and the adverse impact on NLRA rights is not outweighed by justifications associated with the rule.

In the Boeing case, the NLRB concluded that Boeing lawfully maintained a no-camera rule that prohibited employees from using camera-enabled devices to capture images or video without a valid business need and an approved camera permit.  The NLRB explained that the rule potentially affected the exercise of NLRA rights, but that the impact was comparatively slight and outweighed by important justifications, including national security concerns.

Overall, while employer policies and rules must still be evaluated to ensure compliance with the NLRA, such policies and rules will now be judged under much less stringent standards than they have been for the past several years, which is very good news indeed for employers.

Last year, we heard the federal government announce that it would increase the number of raids and site inspections to ensure businesses were going through the proper procedures to hire employment-authorized workers.  Well, we are beginning to see the government live up to its word.

On January 10, Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents visited 98 7-Eleven stores in 17 states and in Washington, D.C. in search of undocumented workers and employers who hired them.  The raid ended with 21 arrests, the largest operation against a single employer since January 2017 when President Trump took office.  Then, just a few weeks later, ICE visited 77 businesses in northern California, serving Notices of Inspection that typically give employers 3 days to comply with their document requests.  A raid of this scale devoted to a single region is also unprecedented.

ICE has always been in the business of conducting raids such as these to catch individuals who are in the U.S. without proper status (and therefore has no authorization to work for a U.S. employer).  But after ramping up the scale of their activities, ICE has been in the limelight more recently.  Some experts posit that the goal of these large-scale raids at places of employment is to discourage undocumented workers from showing up to work.  Whereas previously ICE agents typically arrested undocumented workers at their residences, ICE is shifting its focus to place greater pressure on employers who hire such workers.  Indeed, ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan stated following the 7-Eleven raids that this was to “send a strong message to U.S. businesses that hire and employ an illegal workforce.  ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable.”  This year, ICE is planning to increase worksite enforcement actions by 4 to 5 times.

Northern California became a regional target due to its reputation for protecting immigrants from the reaches of the government.  But in other places throughout the United States, it seems that there is no particular industry or size of business that ICE is making their priority.  Also, since the agencies enforcing employer compliance have increased their staff by about 4 times, the chances of being audited are greater than before.

It is critically important that businesses take proactive steps to do an internal review/audit of their records before they are visited by ICE (this is because remedying I-9 errors to the extent possible before an audit can reduce the amount and degree of fines).

For starters, ensure that an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form is completed for every employee following an offer and acceptance of employment. Even if you completed an I-9 for an employee but it ends up going missing, that is the same as if an I-9 was never completed (and that’s a serious violation).   Then, conduct an internal audit of the Forms I-9 with the help of an experienced immigration attorney.  The earlier you examine and assess where your violations lie and identify ways to avoid those violations in the future, the sooner you will begin to eliminate perpetual I-9 errors and thereby reduce the overall penalties should you be faced with an I-9 audit.

An immigration attorney with I-9 experience can also advise you of the difference between certain I-9 violations.  While some errors are considered technical and can be corrected, some are substantive and cannot be remedied after the fact.  Being able to identify what the substantive violations are and taking proper actions to avoid repeating errors in the future is vitally important to demonstrating that the employer has made a good faith effort to comply with the rules.

Lastly, train your workforce so they know how to respond when a government agent pays you a visit.  For example, employees who will be the first to interact with them need to know what information to obtain, and where to direct them.  The designated point of contact needs to know things such as whether the company wants their attorney to handle the situation, where the Forms I-9 are kept, and whether there are any laws or regulations that need to be complied with before any forms are handed over to the government.  An unprepared workforce might be more susceptible to acquiescing to an officer’s request prematurely, and other inadvertent mistakes can be committed to the detriment of the employer.

Part I of this post offered predictions related to DOL Opinion Letters and a likely rule increasing the minimum exempt salary level under the FLSA.  This Part II offers three more predictions involving legal issues quite different from wage and hour concerns.

Prediction 3: Continuing and Increasing Focus on Harassment in the Workplace.

2017’s #MeToo movement empowered and emboldened individuals to bring forward stories of sexual harassment and assault in and out of the workplace. Allegations of sexual harassment continue to dominate headlines and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. 2018 will likely see these claims leveled against managers and executives at companies of all sizes and types, not just celebrities or very high-profile figures. It seems that the #MeToo movement has greatly reduced the negative stigma associated with raising these allegations, so the overall volume will likely increase as the year continues.

If you have not already done so, your Company should implement appropriate written policies and training at all levels of the organization to actively try to change or better the culture at work. The two-part process of training employees and holding them strictly accountable is the only proven way to create the major paradigm shifts that some employers need to end and prevent this type of behavior from happening in the workplace.

Prediction 4: Retaliation Claims Will Continue to Dominate.

The EEOC’s data shows that the number of retaliation claims continue to outpace other claims in charges of discrimination filed with that agency. One reason for this is because retaliation claims are often included with other claims as “tag-along” claims. While there are certainly instances where a retaliation claim is filed alone, most frequently retaliation claims (often flimsy ones) are tacked on to more substantive discrimination allegations.

There are two primary reasons behind this. First and foremost, the more claims there are in a charge or lawsuit, typically the more it will cost the employer to defend the case. Charging parties (and their attorneys) try to use the greater defense costs of additional claims as leverage for a more favorable settlement. Second, retaliation claims are often easier to pursue than other claims, since all an employee must do in many instances to survive summary judgment and get their case in front of a jury is complain verbally about discrimination or harassment to someone in management relatively close in time prior to the employee’s termination or other adverse employment action. Sometimes that’s all they need to show to get in front of a jury.

So, it’s no huge surprise at all that retaliation claims continue to surge, and there’s no reason to think this trend will slow in 2018. Employers should consider any complaints from employees (either in writing or verbally) prior to taking any action against employees to help prevent retaliation claims arising (and to reduce the risk they might have any merit).

Prediction 5: Marijuana in the Workplace Will Get Renewed Focus.

Medical and recreational marijuana is now legal in 8 states. More than half of all states allow for limited use of medical marijuana under certain circumstances. For instance, Louisiana, West Virginia, and a few other states allow only cannabis-infused products, such as oils or pills, for medical uses. Other states have passed narrow laws allowing residents to possess cannabis only if they suffer from select medical illnesses. There are 21 states with broader medical marijuana laws.

Marijuana is, however—whether for medicinal or recreational purposes—still illegal as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. So, the question remains: If an employee in a state where medical marijuana is legal has been prescribed the medication by a physician, can the employee be fired for testing positive for marijuana on a drug test?

The answer remains unclear. One case from Colorado held that while marijuana is illegal under federal law as a Schedule I drug (which means it officially has no medicinal uses under federal law), an employee is not protected for discipline or discharge for a positive test. Another case from Rhode Island held that an employer could not refuse to hire a medical marijuana cardholder when the prospective employee said that she would fail a pre-employment drug screening. A third case from Massachusetts held that an employee’s off-duty use of medical marijuana was not a “facially unreasonable accommodation” under state law.

Amid this backdrop of uncertainty, employers with operations in states with legalized medical marijuana should evaluate their current drug testing policies (if they haven’t done so recently), consider their legitimate reasons for testing their employees (such as safety or business-related reasons), and be sure to engage in the interactive process when dealing with employees who establish their marijuana use is prescribed for medical purposes.

Conclusion

2018 is sure to be full of exciting and even surprising developments in the world of labor and employment law. We will continue to update you on these topics, re-visit our “predictions” and address any unexpected changes throughout the year.

With the holidays now over and everyone settling back into our regular work routines, some predictions on labor and employment law developments for 2018 might be helpful. Overall, federal agencies are expected to continue last year’s trend of taking more employer-friendly positions under the current Administration. In addition to that general theme, however, here are five specific “predictions” for what employers will likely see in 2018.  

Prediction 1: We’ll Get (A Lot of) New Opinion Letters from the Department of Labor.

For years the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Opinion Letters were a helpful source of information for employers as they answered questions received from members of the community (primarily on wage and hour issues). For example, if an employer or other entity had a question about how a particular wage and hour regulation applied to its employees and an answer wasn’t clear from the case law or administrative decisions, the employer could send in its question and DOL officials would issue an Opinion Letter offering guidance.

While the Opinion Letters functioned as the DOL’s official, written opinion on how a specific law applied to a given situation, they weren’t binding authority on the DOL or any courts. But they were certainly helpful for employers when there was no other guidance (or differing opinions) available on a sticky issue. Courts also found the letters helpful and they were (and still are) cited to support reasoning offered in judicial decisions.

In 2010, however, the DOL stopped issuing Opinion Letters. Instead it started issuing more general “Administrator Interpretations” which were intended to provide general interpretations of certain laws applied to a specific type of employee or industry. Notably, the DOL only issued 11 Administrator Interpretations between 2010 and 2016. Opinion Letters were issued with much greater frequency, sometimes with dozens being issued in a single year.

Now, however, the DOL has reinstated the issuance of Opinion Letters. “Reinstating opinion letters will benefit employees and employers as they provide a means by which both can develop a clearer understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. The DOL “is committed to helping employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities so employers can concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”

So, it seems probable that the DOL will issue many Opinion Letters in 2018 on a variety of topics.  To date, the DOL has already issued 17 Opinion Letters in 2018 on the FLSA. The Department’s Opinion Letters can be found at https://www.dol.gov/whd/opinion/flsa.htm. Keep an eye on the site for plenty more this year.

Prediction 2: We’ll See A(nother) New Overtime Rule.  

According to the DOL’s regulatory agenda (which you can see here), a new overtime rule will likely be issued this coming October. Based on comments from Labor Secretary Acosta, it seems like a good bet that the new rule will raise the exempt salary threshold for white-collar workers above the current $23,660 minimum annual salary threshold, though almost certainly not as high as was proposed under the Obama Administration’s ill-fated 2016 rule (which more than doubled the annual minimum to $47,476).

In addition to raising the minimum exempt annual salary level, the new rule may again contain a provision allowing for automatic adjustments so that the numbers keep pace with inflation (as the 2016 rule did as well). Inclusion of such a provision is far from certain, however, because there is some debate as to whether the DOL has the authority to implement such a feature under the language of the FLSA. Assuming such a provision is included, this could cause some problems for employers as it may require them to implement pay raises at times that do not coincide with employers’ fiscal years or follow performance evaluations.

Employers should begin planning now for a possible increase to the minimum exempt salary level. Speculation is that the new threshold will be in the $30,000 to $35,000 range. Planning and considering options and impacts now could be smart business strategy.

The beginning of the new year often brings fresh resolve, brightened attitudes, and a renewed sense of hope for the coming year.  Savvy employers harness those emotions in their workforce and engage their employees to reach new goals and achievements.  But behind the scenes, employers also need to be aware of new laws and regulations that must be implemented to keep things on track.

One of the best ways to capture critical updates is to conduct an annual review of your company handbook and employment practices.  Many states and localities have adopted regulations that require certain procedures and information be included in a company handbook.  Employers should review those updates for each location where employees work, paying special attention to the following:

  • Minimum Wage: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington have all implemented an increase of the minimum wage for 2018.
  • Ban the Box: California and other states have also prohibited questions regarding an applicant’s criminal history from being included on an application for employment.  While employers may still check an applicant’s or employee’s criminal background, these laws specify when it may be done and what may be considered.
  • Equal Pay and Salary History: Joining Massachusetts, Delaware, California and other states and some cities (Philadelphia, for one) have recently enacted various statutes to prohibit questions regarding an applicant’s salary history on an employment application.  While confirmation of prior salary may be done in certain circumstances, basing an employee’s salary on prior compensation is generally prohibited by these laws.  Recruiting managers and their teams need to be trained to avoid such inquiries unless and until the point in the process where they may lawfully ask about prior salary.
  • Anti-Harassment Policies and Training: Ensure that your non-harassment policy is compliant with applicable federal, state and local laws by including at least two methods to report complaints and checking to be sure that your policy covers all forms of potential harassment and discrimination against protected classes.  Employers should also check their training records to be sure that trainings are being conducted with appropriate frequency and that all required persons have timely completed them.
  • Update Labor Law Postings: Many of the new laws enacted for 2018 require updated labor law postings.  California and New York both have new poster requirements, as do cities including New York City and San Francisco.  Employers should consult with counsel regarding these new requirements and be sure that their postings are up to date.  A government agency conducting an on-site inspection of a workplace will look for updated posters, and out-of-date posters can lead to fines under some laws, or at least signal that an employer does not focus on compliant employment practices.
  • New Mileage Rate: As of January 1, 2018, the IRS mileage reimbursement rate for the use of a car for business travel has been raised to 54.5 cents per mile.

With up-to-date policies and practices in place, employers can focus on building great teams and achieving business success in the new year.

Late last year, to protect hospitality workers from sexual harassment and assault, the Chicago City Council passed what is known as the “Hands Off Pants On” ordinance.  This legislation requires all Chicago hotels to:

  1. provide a “panic button” for employees working alone;
  2. adopt an effective anti-sexual harassment policy; and
  3. face real “teeth” such as fines and other penalties for repeat offenses or for retaliating against workers who raise complaints.

While the law’s details are interesting, what it represents more broadly offers a lesson for all employers.

First, the ordinance appears unique in requiring a specific action to protect vulnerable workers:  employers must provide all employees who work alone in guest rooms or restrooms a “panic button” (or other portable emergency contact device) that alerts and summons hotel security or management to their location in response to a crime, sexual harassment or assault, or other emergency.  While existing federal and state laws created a duty for employers to protect its employees, this legislation uniquely sets out a specific method they must use to address a specifically risky situation.  This law resulted after many hospitality employees reported on years of assaults and being subjected to hotel guests’ inappropriate behavior.

Second, this local law requires hotels to develop, maintain, and comply with a written anti-sexual harassment policy that protects employees from assaults and harassment by hotel guests.  While many hotels likely already had general policies, this ordinance suggests that local lawmakers concluded the policies were not being complied with or were ineffective.  The new law includes detailed requirements for the policy that go beyond normal employer rules, including (i) instructing employees to stop working and leave the area of any perceived danger, (ii) providing temporary work assignments for complaining employees while a guest remains at the hotel, and (iii) providing paid time off for employees to file police reports or testify in resulting legal proceedings.

Finally, clearly anticipating a possible weakness in the panic button provision, the ordinance also makes it unlawful for hotels to retaliate against employees for reasonably using a panic button or speaking out about a violation of this law.  Further, the ordinance provides daily fines for violations, and states that hotels with 2 or more violations in any 12-month period may have their business license suspended or revoked.  For local hotel operators, those are potentially serious penalties.

But if you are not a Chicago area hotel, why does this law matter?  Well, it should remind all employers that they need to take specific steps to protect all employees, including uniquely vulnerable employees, from assaults and sexual harassment.  One-size-fits-all policies that are not effective will not be enough.  If employers do not take sufficient steps that really work, local or state authorities may require certain additional actions.  As with this Chicago ordinance, those requirements might be detailed and costly, with a real impact on business operations.

Likewise, this Chicago law underscores that employers must seriously address issues of employee sexual harassment and assault – whether by co-workers, visitors or customers – and take all reasonable steps to prevent it, as well as addressing it when it happens anyway.  Failing to act, whether in a community generally, an industry specifically, or at a single worksite, causes real harm to employees and liability to employers.  Further, employers who are deemed “unresponsive” to such issues or “unwilling” to protect their employees may receive public scorn, harm employee relations and their public reputations, and may even get legislative attention they certainly should want to avoid.

In today’s internet-driven world, employers have never had more options from which to recruit new hires. Sites like Zip Recruiter, Monster.com, and Career Builder specialize in talent acquisition, serving as stand-alone classified pages of sorts. Employers also can utilize ever-present social media channels, like Facebook and LinkedIn, to find the best candidate for a position. The old rules of hiring, however, still apply even to these modern recruiting avenues.

Recently, the Communications Workers of America (“CWA”) filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon, T-Mobile, Cox Communications, and Cox Media group alleging age discrimination in their Facebook ads. Specifically, the complaint alleges these employers, and many others, have adjusted the settings on their job advertisements to target potential employees under 40. Furthermore, Facebook has a feature that allows the advertiser to see why an individual saw the specific add (i.e., did he or she meet the targeting criteria for the ad).

This suit poses many interesting questions. First, does advertising on Facebook and other social media sites alone mean the pool from which employers are pulling candidates skews younger, or is social media so ubiquitous that it does not make a difference?  If the ubiquity of social media means it does not create discrimination issues, then can employers engage in targeted advertising?  In other words, are there non-discriminatory criteria employers can use to take advantage of social media’s wealth of built-in information?  Can they create ads that will reach those best qualified to apply versus creating a general ad that may flood their HR team with wholly unqualified applicants?

Another interesting question will be how social media differs from traditional advertising. In an earlier era, employers could similarly target younger applicants by selecting when and where they advertise. For example, an employer could take out an ad in a magazine it knows is popular among the age 18-35 demographic. Or a company could advertise a job opening during a television show popular with the same section of the population. Is advertising through targeted Facebook ads truly different simply because there is written proof the employer selected an age range?

These are all very complex questions that do not have an immediate answer. Employers, however, always need to be cognizant of how and to whom they focus their job-opening advertisements so as not to run afoul of the various anti-discrimination laws – or even draw unwanted attention from plaintiff’s lawyers or labor unions. We are happy to advise and assist in creating hiring processes and policies that will both protect your business and help you find the best candidates for your positions.

California companies with five or more employees are subject to new legislation that prohibits criminal background screenings prior to a conditional offer of employment.  This legislation also prohibits requesting information about criminal history on an application or at a preliminary point in the hiring process.  Affected employers should carefully review the law’s requirements as set out in this advisory from attorneys from Troutman Sanders’ Labor & Employment and Financial Services Litigation Sections.

Read “California’s Statewide “Ban-The-Box” Law To Go Into Effect January 2018” here.

United States executive agencies are practically always on the same page when presenting to the public. So, it is incredibly unusual to see two such agencies taking positions directly contrary to one another in pending litigation. This, however, is exactly the current situation between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), chaired by Victoria Lipnic.

Last week, Mr. Sessions issued a memo setting out the Justice Department’s stance that Title VII does not protect individuals against discrimination on the basis of “gender identity per se, including discrimination against transgender individuals.” The memo states that the DOJ is now taking the position that “sex” (as used in Title VII) only means “biologically male or female.” This is a reversal of its 2014 policy under then-Attorney General Eric Holder that the word “sex” in the statute “extends to claims of discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity, including transgender status.”

Notably, the DOJ’s position now is directly contrary to the EEOC’s position on the matter. The EEOC’s position is that transgender status is protected under Title VII. In fact, the EEOC just filed suit against a tire company in Denver over alleged discrimination against a job applicant on the basis of transgender status. This is consistent with the EEOC’s 2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan, which includes “[p]rotecting lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination based on sex” as a top enforcement priority.

The DOJ has also come out swinging against the EEOC in a pending lawsuit on this very issue. In a case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Zarda v. Altitude Express, the plaintiff, a skydiver, claimed that his employer fired him because of his sexual orientation. A three-judge Court of Appeals panel previously ruled that the instructor had no claim for sex discrimination under Title VII. However, the full court (as opposed to a three-judge panel) has agreed to review that decision.

So, the Second Circuit then asked the EEOC to file an amicus (“friend of the Court”) brief in the case. The EEOC argued that sexual orientation discrimination claims “fall squarely within Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex.” Among other reasons, the EEOC’s brief states that any line drawn “between sexual orientation discrimination and discrimination based on sex stereotypes is unworkable and leads to absurd results.”

Not to be outdone, the DOJ also filed an amicus brief with the Second Circuit in opposition to the EEOC (even though the Second Circuit had not asked for the DOJ’s input). The DOJ argued that this issue has been “settled for decades” and that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination “as a matter of law.” The DOJ went on to state that the question of whether “sexual orientation discrimination should be prohibited by statute, regulations, or employer actions” is one of “policy” and “[a]ny efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.” The Court heard oral arguments in the case in late September 2017, with the EEOC and DOJ completely at odds.

This is not the only case where the DOJ has taken a position adverse to the EEOC’s position.  In a well-known case involving a Colorado cake shop which refused to make a cake for a gay couple in 2012 known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Civil Rights Commission (which is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court), the Colorado Civil Rights Commission relied on a state statute that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations to order the cake shop to stop discriminating against same-sex couples. The shop owners contend that violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

The DOJ has recently filed an amicus brief in favor of the cake shop owners. The DOJ argues that baking a cake for money is “expressive conduct” and “association” that raises First Amendment concerns, and a state’s interest in protecting gay residents is not strong enough to justify “compelling” this “creative process” for same-sex couples. While not an employment case, this position is clearly contrary to the EEOC’s position on these issues when the workplace is involved.

It seems that the EEOC and the DOJ will remain at odds on these issues in the coming months (and possibly years). It will be interesting to watch how this impacts courts’ analysis in these cases and whether any enforcement efforts or positions will change as a result.