Race/Sex/Religion Discrimination  Articles

Pregnancy Related Rights Expanded Under Connecticut Law

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 Effective October 1, 2017, Connecticut’s Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA), will provide greater pregnancy related protections.  P.A. 17-118. Under the new law, the definition of “pregnancy” has been expanded to encompass any condition related to pregnancy and childbirth, including, but not limited to, lactation.  This definition is broader than both the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which limits "pregnancy" to related medical conditions, and current state law. It also defines the terms “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship,” instead of leaving those terms more open-ended.

Employees Not Entitled to Punitive Damages Under CFEPA

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On December 30, 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court held employees bringing claims of discrimination under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”) are not entitled to punitive damages.  Tomick v. UPS, 324 Conn. 470 (2016).  In Tomick, a jury awarded $500,000 in punitive damages to the plaintiff, Michael Tomick after finding his employer, United Parcel Service, discriminated against him due to a disability.  The trial court set aside the punitive damage award.  That decision was appealed and upheld by the Appellate Court.  The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court’s decision.

Supreme Court Clarifies Pregnancy Accommodation Requirements

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In July 2014 the EEOC issued guidance on accommodating pregnant employees. Its focus was centered on a section of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), which requires employers to treat pregnant employees in the same manner as non-pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” The EEOC basically took the position that under the PDA any accommodations given to disabled employees must also be made available to pregnant employees. Therefore, greater accommodations could not be provided to employees with non-pregnancy related disabilities than were given to pregnant employees. The EEOC also relied on the 2008 amendments to the ADA, which it argued extended reasonable accommodation protections to pregnant employees, even though pregnancy is not technically considered a “disability” under the law. By applying ADA concepts to pregnancies, it stated that employers could only deny reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees if the accommodation being sought met the undue hardship standard.

Court Eases Ability to Bring Religious Discrimination Claims

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              The U.S. Supreme Court recently made it easier for applicants and employees to bring religious discrimination lawsuits. EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores.  Under Title VII, employers cannot refuse to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice, unless the accommodation creates an undue hardship on the organization. The question in Abercrombie was whether an employer who lacked actual knowledge of the need for accommodation could be sued for its failure to provide the accommodation. In siding with the applicant, the Court held actual knowledge is not required. Instead, an applicant need only show that an employer’s decision to deny employment was motivated by a suspected need for accommodation.

Religious Discrimination Gets Renewed Attention

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               The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released additional guidance on religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC’s Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities. Under Title VII employees may not be discriminated against because of their religion, or denied reasonable accommodations linked to their “sincerely held” religious practices, unless doing so causes the employer an “undue hardship.” To prove undue hardship, employers must show more than a de minimis cost or burden. Further, employees may not be segregated, or harassed, based on their religion. In addition, retaliation against employees who file a claim of religious discrimination, participate in EEOC proceedings, or otherwise oppose religious discrimination is prohibited.


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