The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

HR and the Courts: Recent Rulings and Legislation

Each month, CUPA-HR General Counsel Ira Shepard provides an overview of some labor and employment law cases and regulatory actions with implications for the higher ed workplace. Here’s the latest from Ira:

University Softball Coach Granted Federal Jury Trial on Some of Her Sex Discrimination Claims, Others Dismissed

A female women’s softball coach at Alabama State University will take some of her claims of sex discrimination to a jury trial. The trial court judge recently ruled that the plaintiff’s claims of discrimination based on her sex as a result of the institution’s decision to suspend her, deny her bonuses and retaliate against her because of her claims were appropriate to be decided by a jury (Hall v. Alabama State University (2018 BL 307830, M.D. Ala., No. 2:16-cv-593-GMD, Summary Judgement, 8/27/18)).

The plaintiff had claimed that she was treated differently than male basketball and baseball coaches with regard to the denial of bonuses and a car allowance where similarly situated male coaches received bonuses and car allowances. She also claimed that her denial of bonuses was in retaliation for her raising base-pay disparity claims and that her suspension resulting from parental complaints was not comparable to the treatment of male coaches who received parental complaints and were not suspended.

While the judge ruled she was entitled to a jury trial on these issues, he dismissed other sex discrimination claims (Hall v. Alabama State University (2018 BL 307830, M.D. Ala., No. 2:16-cv-593-GMD, Summary Judgement, 8/27/18)).

Disability Lawsuit Dismissed Following Employer’s Good-Faith But Failed Efforts to Design an Accommodation for Plaintiff

A power company lineman who had his foot partially reconstructed following an accident and was unable to wear the OSHA- and company-required “safety-toe footwear” because of alleged pain lost an Americans with Disabilities Act failure-to-accommodate claim. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (covering North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas) affirmed a trial judge’s decision in dismissing the case (Sharbono v. Northern States Power Co. (8th Cir, No. 16-4532, 9/16/18)).

Although the employer refused in the end to waive the safety-shoe requirement, the court held that the company “put forth good-faith efforts” in pursuing the possibility of designing a custom-made boot for the employee. (The employer abandoned that idea after being advised by an “industry expert” that the custom-made boot would not have the requisite safety-approval stamp to make it compliant with federal law).

DOL Creates New Compliance Office as Alternative to Enforcement Litigation

With the stated goal of reducing enforcement actions, the Department of Labor (DOL) has created a new compliance office. The office has created two new websites — one for workers and one for employers — to disseminate legal requirements. Both websites provide a breakdown of compensation, benefits and safety guidelines required by law and provide contact information for the wage and hour division and state labor offices. The philosophy behind the office is to promote compliance by providing information regarding the applicable rules directly to employers and workers. A director of the office has not yet been named.