On July 8, 2020, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination statutes. This exception is grounded in the First Amendment’s protections for religious institutions. In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Court considered two cases involving elementary school teachers in Catholic schools who alleged that they were terminated in violation of federal employment discrimination law. Seven justices joined the majority opinion of the Court, holding that “When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.” A link to the full decision of the Court can be found here.
On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court held that Title VII’s prohibition of “sex” discrimination also prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation and transgender status. See Bostock v. Clayton County, Case No. 17-1618 (Slip Opinion). Therefore, “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.” Id. at pg. 1.
On September 24, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued the final rule (the “New OT Rules”) that updates and revises the regulations which govern the exemptions from minimum wage and overtime pay requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Employers should carefully review the New OT Rules and the explanatory commentary. See Final Rule Announcement. The New OT Rules are set to become effective on January 1, 2020.
On June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court held that filing a charge of discrimination is not a “jurisdictional” prerequisite to filing suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Fort Bend County v. Davis, Slip Op. No. 18-525 (June 3, 2019). Although this case deals with what sounds like an obscure legal issue, it is of great practical importance to employers. In short, it means that employers defending against claims of discrimination under Title VII must diligently assert all procedural defenses they may have as early as possible. Otherwise, a failure to assert a defense may allow the plaintiff-employee’s claim to go forward, even if the employee has not technically complied with Title VII’s mandatory charge-filing procedures.
On April 1, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published its third proposal in 30 days to revise regulations interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The April 1 proposed rule would revise and clarify the test for when multiple employers (known as “joint employment”) can be held responsible for wages under the FLSA. The notice and full text of the rule can be found here.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must generally pay non-exempt employees overtime at a rate of one and one half times the “regular rate” of pay when they work more than forty hours in a workweek. Overtime cannot be properly calculated unless the employer knows what to include in the regular rate. As benefits, bonuses, reimbursements and other elements of compensation have evolved, greater ambiguity has developed in determining what is included in and excluded from the regular rate. On March 29, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a proposal (found here) to clarify and update several regulations that interpret the regular rate of pay requirement.
On March 7, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a long-awaited proposal for revising the regulations relating to the white-collar exemptions from overtime and minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), DOL has proposed increasing the threshold salary amount for certain white-collar exemptions from its current $455 per week (or $23,660 per year) to $679 per week, or ($35,308 per year). In 2015, DOL had proposed increasing this threshold to over $47,000 per year ($913 per week). As we reported here, that proposal was blocked by a federal court in Texas in late 2016.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued three new opinion letters for the first time since 2010. The Obama administration had ceased the practice of issuing opinion letters – which answer specific questions from employers or other parties – in favor of general administrative interpretations. Last June, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta announced that he was reinstating the practice of issuing opinion letters for the Trump administration. This announcement was praised by businesses and employment lawyers because the opinion letters apply the law to a specific set of facts and represent official statements of agency policy. In addition to the new letters, WHD republished 17 letters the Obama administration rescinded following their original publication late in the Bush administration.
Today, the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis, Missouri lifted an injunction that had blocked a St. Louis City ordinance increasing the minimum wage for St. Louis City businesses. This action came after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that state law did not prohibit the higher local minimum wage.
Here is a little food for thought for the week. As I’m sure many of you have read, Netflix has received much praise (and some criticism alike) for its approach to company culture, talent management, and HR issues.
In an employer friendly decision, last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that courts may review whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has satisfied its duty to attempt pre-suit conciliation.