The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

HR and the Courts

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

EEOC Brings Its First COVID-19 Teleworking Denial Lawsuit Under the Americans With Disabilities Act  

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently brought its first denial of a disability accommodation lawsuit connected to the pandemic. The employer in question denied an employee’s request to continue teleworking. The employee claimed that her heart problems heightened her COVID-19 risk. The case was filed in federal district court in Georgia (EEOC v. ISS Facility Services Inc. (N.D. Ga., No. 1:21-CV-3708-SCJ-RDC, comp filed, 9/7/21)).

The employee’s accommodation request was that she be allowed to work from home two days per week. The plant where she worked reopened following a multi-month period where all employees telecommuted, including the plaintiff. The employee also asked to be allowed to take frequent breaks when working on-site three days per week because her pulmonary condition caused her to have difficulty breathing. The EEOC alleged that while the employee’s accommodation request was rejected, other employees were allowed to work from home. Additionally, the EEOC alleged that the employee was terminated after her accommodation request was denied.

The EEOC released the following statement about the case: “In light of the additional risks to health and safety created by COVID-19, it is particularly concerning that an employer would take this action several months into a global pandemic.” The EEOC is seeking back pay, compensation for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses, punitive damages and a permanent injunction.

Union Decertification Elections and the Percentage of Actual Union Losses Rise in the First Half of 2021 Compared to 2020

Union decertification elections in the first half of 2021 increased by 30 percent over the number of decertification elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) during the same period in 2020. In contrast, NLRB-supervised certification elections increased by only 4 percent during the same period in 2021 as compared to 2020 according to NLRB reports published by the Bloomberg Daily Labor Report.

Unions lost two-thirds of the decertification elections supervised by the NLRB in the first half of 2021. This is an increase of 64 percent over the number of losses unions incurred in the first half 2020.

Community College Disability Plans Exempt From ERISA as a Governmental Plan — Federal Court Remands Plaintiff’s Case to State Court to Proceed Under Applicable State Law

A former community college employee can seek relief from denial of disability benefits under state law as the federal court hearing the case ruled that community college plans are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) as a governmental plan. The federal court ruled that relief may be available to the employee under state law, as there is no federal jurisdiction.

The case involved a former employee of St. Louis Community College who had been receiving disability benefits under the plan for about five years. Disability benefits continuation was denied by the plan administrator. The plan was administered by American General Life insurance. The case was originally filed in state court but was removed to federal court alleging jurisdiction under ERISA. The federal district court judge dismissed the case, concluding that the plan was established by a governmental entity and as such there was no ERISA jurisdiction. The judge remanded the case to proceed in state court to determine whether the plaintiff is subject to relief under state law (Glover v. American General Life Insurance Company (2021 BL 297552, N.D. Ill., no. 3:21-cv-50205, 8/6/21)).

Former Director of University Family Law Clinic Who Was Denied a Permanent Position to Head the Clinic and a Professorship Alleges Ageism

A Pennsylvania attorney who was over 60 when he was recruited to run the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Law Family Law Clinic has filed an age discrimination lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 after he was passed over when the position became a full-time faculty position and the university allegedly chose an attorney who was under 40 with little experience in parental custody issues routinely handled by the clinic (Congelio v. University of Pittsburgh (W.D. Pa. No. 2:21-cv-902, complaint filed 7/13/21)).

According to the age discrimination complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the person who was hired for the position and as a faculty member was not licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania where the university and the law clinic are located. The plaintiff was a visiting professor at the law school when he was not selected for the position to continue running the clinic with the accompanying full-time faculty appointment.